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We return here to the more usual form, the tetrastich. Be not thou envious against evil men (see on Proverbs 23:17, where a similar warning is given, and comp. Proverbs 23:19 below). "Men of wickedness," wholly given over to evil. Neither desire to be with them. Their company is pollution, and association with them makes you a partner in their sinful doings. The Septuagint prefaces the paragraph with the personal address, υἱέ "son."
For their heart studieth destruction. The grounds of the warning arc here given, as in Proverbs 1:15. "Destruction" (shod); Vulgate, rapinas, "violence" of all kinds, e.g. robbery, murder. Their lips talk of mischief; utter lies and slanders which may injure other people or bring themselves profit. Admiration of such men and intercourse with them must be repugnant to every religious soul. The LXX. refers the verse to evil imaginations issuing in evil talk; "For their heart meditates falsehoods, and their lips speak mischiefs (πόνους)."
Proverbs 24:3, Proverbs 24:4
In contrast with the conversation of the evil, wisdom is commended.
Through wisdom is an house builded (see on Proverbs 14:1). By prudence, probity, and the fear of God a family is supported and blessed, maintained and prospered. Established (see on Proverbs 3:19); Septuagint, ἀνορθοῦται
(Comp. Proverbs 1:13 and note Proverbs 3:10.) With all precious and pleasant (Proverbs 22:18) riches. Material prosperity, copious store of necessaries, and wealth, follow on wisdom; how much more do spiritual blessings attend the fear of God!
Proverbs 24:5, Proverbs 24:6
Wisdom is beneficial in peace and war.
A wise man is strong. בעוז, "in strength," full of strength, because, however feeble in body, he is wise in counsel, firm in purpose, brave in conduct, thoroughly to be depended upon, and supported by his perfect trust in God (comp. Proverbs 21:22). The Septuagint, with which agree the Syriac and Chaldee, reading differently, renders, "A wise man is better than a strong man"—a sentiment which Lesetre compares to Cicoro's "cedant arma togae." A man of knowledge increaseth strength; literally, strengtheneth power; shows greater, superior power, as Amos 2:14. The Septuagint, from some corruption of the text, renders, "And a man having prudence (is better) than a large estate (γεωργίου μεγάλου);" i.e. wisdom will bring a man more worldly advantages than the possession of extensive farms. The gnome is proved by what follows.
Thy war; war for thyself, for thy profit, equivalent to "successful war" (comp. Exodus 14:14). The clause is an echo of Proverbs 20:18 (where see note). The last line is a repetition of Proverbs 11:14 (comp. also Proverbs 15:22). Septuagint, "War is made with generalship (κυβερνήσεως), and help with a heart that counsels."
Some distichs now follow, concerned with wisdom and its opposite.
Wisdom is too high for a fool. It is beyond his reach, he cannot follow its lead, and has nothing to say when his counsel is asked, and no ability to judge of any question presented to him. "Wisdom" (chochmoth) is in the plural number, intimating the various attributes connoted by it, or the different aspects in which it may be regarded (see note on Proverbs 1:20). "Too high" (ראמוֹת, ramoth) is also plural; and Delitzsch and Nowack take it to mean, not so much "high things" as "precious things," such as pearls or precious stones, in accordance with Job 28:18, "No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; yea,. the price of wisdom is above rubies." In this sense Delitzsch translates, "Wisdom seems to the fool to be an ornamental commodity," a costly and unnecessary appendage, which is not worth the sacrifices entailed by its pursuit. Whichever way we take it, the point is the rarity and inaccessibility of wisdom, and the repugnance of fools to make any exertion in order to obtain it. St. Augustine thus sums up the steps by which wisdom is reached: fear of God, piety, knowledge, fortitude, mercifulness, sincerity ('De Doctr. Christ.,' 2.7). He openeth not him month in the gate. When men gather in the usual place of assembly (Proverbs 8:3; Proverbs 22:2), to take counsel on public matters, he has nothing to say; he listens fatuously, and is silent. Septuagint, "Wisdom and good thought are in the gates of the wise; the wise turn not aside from the mouth of the Lord, but reason in assemblies."
He that deviseth to do evil. He who shows a certain kind of misapplied cleverness (in contrast to the true wisdom) in planning and pursuing evil schemes. Shall be called. Defined and explained, as Proverbs 16:21 (comp. Proverbs 21:24). A mischievous person; literally, lord of mischief; i.e. owner, possessor of mischief. One must not be led by such a man's apparent astuteness to attribute; to him wisdom; he is an impostor, a mere intriguer, who is sure to be exposed ere long. Septuagint, "Death befalls the undisciplined."
The thought of foolishness is sin. "Sin" is the subject in this clause as "the scorner" is in the next; and what it says is that sin is the exeogitation, the contriving of folly. The stoner is the real fool, m that he does not pursue his proper end, prepares misery for himself, is blind to his best interests. The connection between sin and folly, as between wisdom and righteousness, is continually enforced throughout the book. The scorner is an abomination to men. The man who scoffs at religion and every high aim is an object of abomination to the pious, and is also a cause of evil to others, leading them to thoughts and acts which are hateful in the eyes of God. Septuagint, "The fool dieth in sins (John 8:24), and uncleanness belongeth to a pestilent man." The text here followed, as in other passages of this chapter, is quite different from the received one.
If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small. The gnome seems to be unconnected with the preceding. There is a paronomasia between צָרָה (tsarah), "adversity," and צַר (tsar), "small," narrow, which is retained by Fleischer: "Si segnis fueris die angustiae, angustae sunt vires tuae." So we may say in English, "If thou faint in time of straitness, straitened is thy strength." If you fail, and succumb to anxiety or danger, instead of rising to meet the emergency, then you are but a weakling or a coward, and the strength which you seemed to possess and of which you boasted, perhaps, is nothing worth. Such a man hearkens not to the Sibyl's counsel (Virgil, 'AEneid,' 6.95) ―
"Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito,
Quam tua te fortuna sinet."
The LXX. again varies from the received text, "He shall be polluted in an evil day, and in a day of affliction, until he fail," or "die" (ἐκλίπῃ).
Proverbs 24:11, Proverbs 24:12
A hexastich, inculcating humanity on the ground of God's omniscience.
If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death. The sentence is not conditional, אם in the second line being equivalent to לוּ, utinam, "oh that!" "would that!" So the first hemistich should be rendered, "Deliver them that are haled to death," and the second, "And those that are tottering to slaughter, oh, hold them back!" The sentence is somewhat obscure, but Cheyne well explains it thus: "Some victims of a miscarriage of justice are about to be dragged away to execution, and the disciple of wisdom is exhorted to use his endeavours to deliver them" ('Job and Solomon'). In the case supposed a moral obligation lies on the pious and well-informed to save a human life unjustly imperilled. At the same time, there is nothing in the passage which absolutely, shows that the punishment of the guiltless is here deprecated; it looks rather as if Wisdom had no pleasure in the death of men, innocent or not, and that the victims of an extreme sentence claimed pity at her hands, whatever might be the circumstances of the verdict. Septuagint, "Deliver those that are being led away to death, and redeem (ἐκπρίου) those that are appointed to be slain; spare not (to help them)" (comp. Psalms 82:3, Psalms 82:4).
If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not. The disciple of Wisdom may excuse himself from making any effort for the prisoners' release, by saying he had not heard of the case. St. Jerome makes the excuse to be inability, vires non suppetunt. The LXX. makes it a personal matter, ignoring the plural form of the previous paragraph. "I know him not, he is no friend of mine; why should I trouble myself about him?" Such a selfish person, like the priest and Levite in the parable, would "pass by on the other side." Doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? God knows the truth—knows that the excuse is vain; for he is the Weigher and Searcher of hearts (Proverbs 16:2; Proverbs 21:2). Cain's plea, "Am I my brother's keeper?" is unavailable; the law of love is limited by no circumstances. He that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? The expression, "keeping the soul," may be equivalent to "preserving the life;" but it more probably means watching, observing, the inmost secrets of the nature (Job 7:20). The verb used is נָצַר (natsar), which has both significations. The sense of "forming." which some give it, seems not allowable. (For "heart" (leb) and "soul" (nephesh), see note on Proverbs 2:10.) Shall not he render to every man according to his works? Knowing the heart and the motive, God deals out retributive justice (Proverbs 12:14; Psalms 62:12; Romans 2:6). Septuagint, "But if thou say, I know not this man, know that the Lord knoweth the hearts of air; and he who formed (πλάσας) breath for all, himself knoweth all things, who rendereth to every man according to his works."
Proverbs 24:13, Proverbs 24:14
An exhortation to the study of wisdom, with an analogy.
Eat thou honey, because it is good. Honey entered largely into the diet of the Oriental, and was regarded not only as pleasant to the taste and nutritious, but also as possessed of healing powers. It was especially used for children's food (Isaiah 7:15), and thus becomes an emblem of the purest wisdom. "I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey," says the lover in So Proverbs 5:1; and the psalmist says that the ordinances of the Lord are "sweeter than honey and the honeycomb" (Psalms 19:10; see on Proverbs 25:16). Palestine was a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8); hence is derived the continual reference to this article of diet in the Bible.
So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul; better, know, apprehend wisdom to be such for thy soul—to be as pleasant and nourishing and profitable to thy soul, as honey is to thy taste and thy body. The moralist would have his disciple feel the same relish for wisdom that he has for sweet food, recognize it not simply as.useful, but as delightful and enjoyable. When thou hast found it. To find wisdom is to get possession of it and use it (comp. Proverbs 3:13, and note there). Then there shall be a reward. The apodosis begins here. We have had the same assurance in Proverbs 23:18 (where see note). The word is literally future. One who has obtained wisdom has a glorious hope before him; habebis in novissimis spem, Vulgate; but his hope is better than that—it goes with him, not in his last hour only, but all his life long. Septuagint, "Then shalt thou perceive wisdom in thy soul; for if thou find it, fair shall be thine end, and hope shall not fail thee."
Proverbs 24:15, Proverbs 24:16
A warning against plotting for the ruin of a good man's house, with a view doubtless of profiting by the disaster.
Lay not wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous. רָשָׁע (rasha) is vocative (comp. Ezekiel 33:8); taken appositionally, as in Revised Version margin, "as a wicked man," it is senseless; for how could he lay wait in any other character? Spoil not his resting-place. "Spoil," as Proverbs 19:26 (where see note). Drive him not from his house by violence and chicanery. Vulgate, "Seek not impiety in the house of the righteous;" do not attempt to cloak your insidious designs by detecting some evil in the good man, and making yourself the instrument of retribution, as if you were doing God service in afflicting him (John 16:2). Septuagint, "Bring not an ungodly man into the pasture (νομῇ) of the righteous, neither be thou deceived by the feasting of the belly."
A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again. The fall may be taken of sin or of calamity. Preachers, ancient and modern, have made much use of this text in the first sense, expatiating how a good man may fall into venial or more serious sins, but he never loses his love of God, and rises from his fall by repentance on every occasion. We also often find the words in die, "a day," added, which indeed occur in some manuscripts, but are not in the original. But the verb naphal seems not to be used in the sense of "falling" morally; and the meaning here is that the just man frequently falls into trouble,—he is not secure against worldly cares and losses, or the insidious attacks of the man mentioned in Proverbs 24:15; but he never loses his trust in God or offends by fretfulness and impatience, and always God's providence watches over him and delivers him out of all his afflictions. "Seven times" means merely often, that number being used to express plurality or completeness (see on Proverbs 6:31; Proverbs 26:16; and comp. Genesis 4:24; Job 5:19 (which is like our passage); and Matthew 18:22). The expectation which the sinner conceived when he saw the good man distressed, that he might seize the opportunity and use it to his own benefit, is woefully disappointed. In contrast with the recovery and reestablishment of the righteous, when the wicked suffer calamity there is no recuperation for them. The wicked shall fall into mischief; Revised Version better, are overthrown by calamity (comp. Proverbs 14:32, and note there). Septuagint," But the ungodly shall be weak in evils."
Proverbs 24:17, Proverbs 24:18
A warning against vindictiveness, nearly approaching the great Christian maxim, "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44).
Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour" was a Mosaic precept (Le Proverbs 19:18); the addition, "and hate thine enemy," was a Pharisaic gloss, arising from a misconception concerning the extermination of the Canaanites, which, indeed, had a special cause and purpose, and was not a precedent for the treatment of all aliens (see Proverbs 25:21, Proverbs 25:22). When he stumbleth; rather, when he is overthrown. The maxim refers to private enemies. The overthrow of public enemies was often celebrated with festal rejoicing. Thus we have the triumph of Moses at the defeat of the Amalekites, and over Pharaoh's host at the Red Sea; of Deborah and Barak over Sisera (Exodus 15:1-27; Exodus 17:15; Judges 5:1-31); and the psalmist, exulting over the destruction of his country's foes, could say, "The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked" (Psalms 58:10). But private revenge and vindictiveness are warmly censured and repudiated. So Cato, 'Distich.' 4.46—
"Morte repentina noli gaudere malorum;
Felicesobeunt quorum sine crimine vita est."
Of very different tone is the Italian proverb, "Revenge is a morsel for God;" and "Wait time and place to act thy revenge, for it is never well done in a hurry" (Trench).
Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him. This malignant pleasure at others' misfortunes (which Aristotle, 'Eth. Nic.,' 2.7. 15, calls ἐπιχαιρεκακία) is a sin in the eyes of God, and calls for punishment. And he turn away his wrath from him; and, as is implied, direct it upon thee. But it seems a mean motive to adduce, if the maxim is taken baldly to mean, "Do not rejoice at your enemy's calamity, lest God relieve him from the evil:" for true charity would wish for such a result. Bode considers "his wrath" to be the enemy's ill will against thee, which God by his grace changes to love, and thou art thus covered with confusion and shame for thy former vindictiveness. But the point is not so much the removal of God's displeasure from the enemy as the punishment of tile malignant man, either mentally or materially. To a malignant mind no severer blow could be given than to see a foe recover God's favor and rise from his fall. The moralist then warns the disciple against giving way to this ἐπιχαιρεκακία lest he prepare for himself bitter mortification by having to witness the restoration of the hated one, or by being himself made to suffer that evil which he had rejoiced to see his neighbour experience (comp. Proverbs 17:5, and note there).
Proverbs 24:19, Proverbs 24:20
A warning against envying the prosperity of the wicked.
Fret not thyself because of evil men (comp. Proverbs 24:1 and Psalms 37:1). The verb (charah) means "to burn," "to be angry;" so here we may render, "Be not enraged on account of evil doers." The anger would arise on account of the apparent inequitable distribution of blessings. St. Jerome has, Ne contendas cum pessimis; Septuagint, "Rejoice not over (ἐπὶ) evildoers." Neither be thou envious at the wicked; i.e. do not fancy that their prosperity is to be desired, nor be led to imitate their doings in order to secure like success. The new verse shows the solemn reason for this warning.
For there shall be no reward to the evil man. He has no happy "future" to expect, as Proverbs 24:14; Proverbs 22:18 (where see note). The candle, etc. (see Proverbs 13:9, where the clause appears). Septuagint, "For the evil man shall have no posterity, and the torch of the wicked shall be quenched."
Proverbs 24:21, Proverbs 24:22
An injunction urging loyalty to God and the king.
Fear thou the Lord and the king. The king is God's vicegerent and representative, and therefore to be honoured and obeyed (see Ecclesiastes 8:2; Ecclesiastes 10:20; 1 Peter 2:17). Meddle not with them that are given to change. There is some doubt about the intepretation of the last word שׁוֹנִים (shonim), which may mean those who change, innovators (in which transitive sense the verb does not elsewhere occur), or those who think differently, dissidents, who respect neither God nor the king. The verb שָׁנָה signifies transitively "to repeat," and intransitively "to be changed;" so it may be most accurately translated here, with Delitzsch, "those who are otherwise disposed," who have not the proper sentiments of fear and honour for God and the king. St. Jerome has, Et cum detractoribus non commiscearis, by which word he probably means what we call revolutionists, persons who disparage and despise all authority. Septuagint, "Fear God and the king, and disobey neither of them." The verse has been largely used as a text by preachers who desired to recommend loyalty and to censure disaffection and rebellion. It has been a favourite motto for discourses on the Gunpowder Treason and the execution of Charles I.
For their calamity shall rise suddenly. Though these dissidents seem to succeed for a time, yet retribution shall fall suddenly upon them. And who knoweth the ruin of them both? This seems to mean the two classes, those who dishonour God and those who dishonour the king; but no such distinction is made in the previous verse; the rebels are classed under one category. Wordsworth renders, "the stroke of vengeance from them both," i.e. from God and the king. Otherwise, we must give another signification to שׁניהם, and, with the Syriac and many modern commentators, take it in the sense of "years," which שְׁנֵיהֶם will bear, as Job 36:11, and translate, "The destruction [equivalent to 'end'] of their years, who knoweth?" No one can tell when the crisis of their fate shall come; but it will arrive some day, and then the time of their prosperity will be at an end. Septuagint, "For they (God and the king) will suddenly punish the ungodly; and who shall know the vengeance of both (τὰς τιμωρίας ἀμφοτέρων)?" After this the LXX. inserts three proverbs not found now in the Hebrew, which, however, Ewald considers to have been translated from a Hebrew original: "A son that keepeth the commandment shall be safe from destruction (Proverbs 29:27, Vulgate), and he hath fully received it (the word). Let no lie be spoken by the tongue of the king; and no he shall proceed from his tongue. The king's tongue is a sword, and not of flesh; and whosoever shall be delivered unto it shall be destroyed; for if his anger be inflamed, he consumes men with their nerves, and devours men's bones, and burns them up as a flame, so that they are not food for the young eagles." The allusion at the end is to animals killed by lightning. Here follows the series of proverbs (Proverbs 30:1-14) called in the Hebrew, "The words of Agur." The second part of "the words of Agur," and "the words of Lemuel" (Proverbs 30:15-9) follow in the Greek after Proverbs 24:34 of the Hebrew. Delitzsch explains the matter thus: In the copy from which the Alexandrines translated, the appendix (Pr 30-31:9) was divided into two parts, half of it standing after "the words of the wise" (Proverbs 22:17-22), and half after the supplement containing further sayings of wise men (Proverbs 24:23-34).
Part V. A SECOND COLLECTION, forming a second supplement to the first Solomonic book, and containing further "words of the wise."
Partiality and impartiality a hexastich.
These things also belong to the wise; are the sayings of wise men. The following proverbs, as well as the preceding, are derived from wise men. Mistaking this superscription, the LXX. makes it a personal address: "This I say to you who are wise, so that ye may learn." The first line is not a proverb, but the introduction to the ensuing collection. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment (see Proverbs 18:5, and note there; and Proverbs 28:21, where the expression is the same as here). To regard one person before another is to be partial and unjust. To say this error is "not good" is a meiosis, the meaning being that it is very evil and sinful (comp. Proverbs 20:23). The statement is developed and confirmed in the next two verses, which show the results of partiality and its opposite.
He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous. The judge is supposed to be acquitting a guilty person. Him shall the people curse. The Hebrew is "peoples," as Septuagint and Vulgate, maledicient eis populi. Nations shall abhor him. Not individuals, nor families only, but the whole community, wherever such an iniquitous ruler is found, shall execrate and hate him. The voice of the people is universally against him; no one is so blind and degraded as openly to applaud his nets. The verb nakab, "to curse," means primarily "to bore or pierce;" hence some have translated it here, "him shall the peoples stab." But the word is used in the sense of distinguishing by a mark or brand, and thence passes into the sense of cursing, as at Proverbs 11:26; Le Proverbs 24:11; Job 3:8. In Proverbs 17:15 the unjust judge is called an abomination to the Lord. In this case the vox populi is vox Dei.
But to them that rebuke him shall be delight (see on Proverbs 2:10). They who punish the wicked, with them it is well; they are approved by God and applauded by the people. Vulgate, Qui aruunt cum laudabuntur, "They who convict him shall be praised." And a good blessing shall come upon them; literally, a blessing of good—one that has in it all good things, the happy contrast to the curses which meet the unjust judge. Septuagint, "But they that convict them (the guilty) shall appear more excellent, and upon them shall come blessing."
A distich connected with the subject of the preceding paragraph. Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer; or better, he kisseth the lips who giveth a right answer. An answer that is fair and suitable to the circumstances is as pleasant and assuring to the bearers as a kiss on the lips. Such a salutation would be a natural sign of sympathy and affection. Thus Absalom won the hearts of the people by kissing those who came to court with their suits (2 Samuel 15:5). In Genesis 41:40, where the Authorized Version has, "According to thy word shall all my people be ruled," the Hebrew runs, "Thy mouth shall all my people kiss," i.e. they shall do homage to thee, which is another signification of this action. This, however, would not be suitable here, as the kiss is supposed to be given by the speaker, though the LXX. mistakenly translates, "But men will kiss lips that answer good words."
Prepare thy work without. The proverb enjoins a man to look well to his resources before he undertakes to build a house or to establish a family. "Without" (chuts) (Proverbs 7:12; Proverbs 8:26); in the fields. Put in due order all immediate work in thy farm. And make it fit for thyself in the field; and get ready for what has to come next. That is, in short, steadily and with due foresight cultivate your land; provide abundant means of subsistence before you attempt to build up your house. A suitor had, as it were, to purchase his bride from her relations by making considerable presents; it was therefore necessary to provide a certain amount of wealth before contemplating matrimony. And afterwards build thy house. This is, indeed, the meaning of the passage; but the Hebrew makes a difficulty, as it is literally, "afterwards and thou shalt build." Some have supposed that some words have dropped out of the text (Cheyne, 'Job and Solomon'). But vav in וּבָנִיתָ, coming after a date or notification of time, as here after אַהַר (comp. Genesis 3:5), "has the future signification of a perfect consecutive" (Delitzsch), equivalent to "after that, then, thou mayest build." Septuagint, "Prepare thy works for thy going forth (εἰς τη,ν ἔξοδον), and get ready for the field, and come after me, and thou shalt build up thine house." In a spiritual sense, the heart must be first cleared of thorns, and opened to genial influences, before the man can build up the fabric of virtuous habits, and thus arrive at the virtuous character.
Be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause (chinnam); gratuitously (Proverbs 3:30; Proverbs 23:29; Proverbs 26:2), when you are not obliged in the performance of a plain duty. Persons are not to put themselves forward to give testimony to a neighbour's discredit, either officiously as busybodies, or maliciously as slanderers. The maxim is expressed in general terms and is not to be confined to one category, as the Syriac and Septuagint render, "Be not a false witness against thy fellow citizen." And deceive not with thy lips. The Hebrew is really interrogative, "And wouldest thou deceive with thy lips?" (Psalms 78:36). The deceit is not so much intentional falsehood as misrepresentation arising from haste and inconsiderateness consequent on this unnecessary eagerness to push forward testimony unsought. Septuagint, "Neither exaggerate (πλατύνου) with thy lips."
The subject is still continued, as if the moralist would say, "Though a man has done you an injury by gratuitously testifying against you, do not you retaliate in the same way." Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me (see Proverbs 20:22, and note there). The lex talionis should not be applied to private wrongs. The high morality of the Christian code is here anticipated, the Holy Spirit guiding both.
A mashal ode concerning the sluggard (for similar odes, comp. Pro 7:1-27 :41-23; Job 5:3-5; Psalms 37:35, etc.; Isaiah 5:1-6).
The field … the vineyard; the two chief objects of the farmer's care, which need constant labour if they are to prove productive. Moralizing on this passage, St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 20.54) says, "To pass by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding, is to look into the life of any careless liver, and to take a view of his deeds."
Thorns. Kimmashon is the word here used, but the plant has not been certainly identified (comp. Isaiah 34:13). Nettles (charul). The stinging nettle is quite common in Palestine, but the plant here meant is probably the prickly acanthus, which quickly covers any spot left uncultivated (Job 30:7). Revised Version margin suggests wild vetches. Ovid, 'Trist.,' 5.12. 21—
"Adde, quod ingenium louga rubigine laesum
Torpet, et est multo, quam fuitante, minus.
Fertilis, assiduo si non renovetur aratro,
Nil, nisicum spinis gramen, habebit ager."
So spiritual writers have used this apologue as teaching a lesson concerning the soul and the life of man, how that spiritual sloth allows the growth of evil habits, and the carelessness which maintains not the defence of law and prayer, but admits the enemy, and the result is the loss of the true riches and the perishing of the heavenly life. The two verses are thus rendered, or morally applied, in the Septuagint: "A foolish man is as a farm. and a man wanting in sense is as a vineyard; if you leave him, he will be barren, and will be altogether covered with weeds, and he will become deserted, and his fences of stone are broken down."
Then I saw, and considered it well (Proverbs 22:17). I looked in this sight, and let it sink into my mind. I looked upon it, and received instruction (Proverbs 8:10). I learned a lesson from what I saw.
Proverbs 24:33, Proverbs 24:34
These verses are a repetition, with very slight variations, of Proverbs 6:10, Proverbs 6:11 (where see notes), and possibly have been introduced here by a later editor. Proverbs 6:33 seems to be the sluggard's own words; Proverbs 6:34 shows the result of his sloth. There are numberless proverbs dedicated to this subject in all languages; e.g. "No sweat, no sweet;" "No pains, no gains; …. He that wad eat the kernel maun crack the nut;" "A punadas entran las buenas hadas," "Good luck enters by dint of cuffs" (Spanish); "Nihil agendo male agere discimus; … . The dog in the kennel," say the Chinese. "barks at his fleas; the dog that hunts does not feel them" (Kelly). "Sloth and much sleep," say the Arabs, "remove from God and bring on poverty." The LXX. is somewhat dramatic in its rendering: "Afterwards I repented (μετενόησα), I looked that I might receive instruction. 'I slumber a little, I sleep a little, for a little I clasp (ἐναγκαλίζομαι) my hands across my breast.' But if thou do this, thy poverty will come advancing, and thy want like a good runner (ἀγαθὸς δρομεύς)" The word ἐναγκαλίζομαι occurs in Proverbs 6:10, but nowhere else in the Septuagint. It is used by St. Mark. It has been thought that the original mashal ended with Verse 32, the following passage being added by a scribe as illustrative in a marginal note, which afterwards crept into the text.
Sin and folly
However these words are read, they point to an association of sin and folly. This may be regarded from two points of view, according as we start with the thought of the sin or with that of the folly.
I. SIN IMPLIES FOLLY.
1. It chooses the worse of two courses. Thus it blunders into self-injury. Evil is not only culpable in the sight of God; it is hurtful to the evil doer. Its path is dark, degraded, disappointing. It is foolish to turn from the way of light and honour and satisfaction to such a course.
2. It is short-sighted. In choosing a way one should look to the end of it. It is madness for the belated traveller to turn aside to the grassy path when the rough, stony road would take him home, and he knows not whither the pleasanter way will lead him. "The wages of sin is death;" it is, then, nothing but folly to work for the master without considering his direful payment.
3. It perverts the thoughts. Sin involves folly, and it also leads to greater folly. Many sins directly poison and paralyze the intellectual faculties. All sins confuse the lines of right and truth. Thus the man who lives in sin is minding his eyes to the greatest facts. To know of the doctrine we must do the commandment (John 7:17). The wilful sinner obscures the doctrine by breaking the commandment.
II. FOLLY ISSUES IN SIN. We now look at the conjunction from the opposite point of view. We start with the folly. This is to be regarded as a seed of sin. It is true that sin is primarily concerned with the moral nature. A man cannot really sin altogether in ignorance, because if he does not know that he is doing a wrong thing, to him the thing is not wrong. But, on the other hand, there is a culpable ignorance, arising from carelessness, disregard for truth, moral obliquity. Now, as sin is at the root of that ignorance, so the ignorance may, in such a case, serve as a link m the miserable chain of consequences that drags new sins into existence. These facts should lead us to certain practical conclusions.
1. It is our duty to seek the light that we may avoid sin. Truth is not merely given as a luxury, it is, first of an, a beacon light. It is to guide us over the wilderness in the right way.
2. The teaching of children is a moral and religious duty. The advantages of education are usually discussed from a utilitarian standpoint. But the chief advantage is that it should open the eyes of children to the wisdom of doing right and to the folly of wickedness. Many poor children grow up among scenes of vice and crime without having an opportunity of knowing of a better way. The Christian Church is called to be a light in the world, leading from sin, not forcibly, but by showing the clear wisdom of goodness, as well as its moral obligation.
Fainting in the day of adversity
I. STRENGTH IS TESTED BY THE DAY OF ADVERSITY.
1. The day of adversity will come. All have not an equally painful lot. It is only the pessimist who refuses to admit that God sends a happy life to some; and if the lines have fallen in pleasant places, nothing but ingratitude or sentimentality will deny the fact. Nevertheless, the dark day of adversity will rise on every soul of man. It cannot be eluded, though in youth and health the spirit refuses to anticipate it. It is well to be prepared to meet it.
2. Strength is wanted for the day of adversity. This will be a time of assault, strain, pressure. The soul will then be besieged, buffeted, and in danger of being crushed. Therefore there is need of sufficient strength, not only for prosperous times, but for this harder occasion. The lighthouse must not only be strong enough to stand in calm weather; it should be able to resist the battering rams of the tempest. The ship must be built for the storm. The army that can look smart in a review is useless if it goes to pieces on the field of battle. The model navy is an extravagant ornament if it will not serve us in action. The lamp is useless if it goes out in the hour of darkness. Religion is for the time of trial and temptation. The spiritual life needs to be strong enough to hold on through terror, temptation, and trouble; or it is a delusion.
3. Faulty strength will fail in the day of adversity. Trouble is trial. The season of affliction will assuredly be severe enough to prove our strength. It is vain for any one to live on empty beasts and idle pretences. The hollowness of such folly will be exposed at the fatal moment. The soft-metal sword will certainly double up in the battle and bring disaster on its unhappy owner.
II. FAITH AND COURAGE WILL GIVE STRENGTH IN THE DAY OF ADVERSITY.
1. To faint in the day of adversity is to make one's strength small. Such a collapse will undermine one's energy. The coward is always weak. To fear is to fail. But courage inspires strength, and he who is able to keep up a brave heart in the day of adversity is most likely to conquer. Few men have been called upon to endure such hardships and to face such perils as Livingstone, alone in the heart of Africa. Now, Livingstone was characterized by a wonderful buoyancy of temperament, by high spirits and unfailing cheerfulness. Nelson is said not to have known fear. Gordon was as ready to face death as to go to his daily duty. No doubt such heroic courage is largely due to the natural greatness of the men who possessed it But it is not independent of moral qualities. For:
2. The secret of the highest courage is faith. He who trusts God is armed with the might of God. This is higher than natural strength, because "even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isaiah 40:30, Isaiah 40:31). Thus there is a strength that is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
3. Therefore we have no excuse to faint in the day of adversity. With such stores of strength for the weakest, failure is culpable, Note: We are not to blame for meeting with adversity—we cannot escape it; nor for suffering under it—this is natural; but only for fainting, i.e. for collapse and despair. Yet even this may not mean utter failure. We may still have some strength, though it be sickly and fast ebbing away. Like Gideon's heroes, we may be "faint, yet pursuing" (Judges 8:4).
Proverbs 24:11, Proverbs 24:12
Following the Revised Version and the now generally accepted rendering of these verses, we will read the first as an exhortation to deliver men from death, and the second as a warning against neglecting this duty.
I. THE EXHORTATION. "Deliver them that are carried away unto death, and those that are ready to be slain see that thou hold back." Note first the grounds, and then the application, of this exhortation.
1. The grounds of it.
(1) It springs from human need. Men are in danger in war, famine, poverty, disease, sin. The world cannot go on without mutual assistance. The selfish policy of sauve qui peut would be fatal to society.
(2) It is based on human brotherhood. God has made all men of one blood (Acts 17:26). Our fellow creatures of the animal world have claims upon us; for, like us, they are sensitive, and God made both us and them. Much more are our fellow men in our care.
(3) It is urged by Divine commands. The Bible teaches duty to man as well as to God, on Divine authority. The mainly negative requirements of the ten commandments do not cover all our duty. We are called upon to love our neighbours as ourselves.
(4) It is confirmed by the example of God. He has given us our lives, spared them when forfeited by sin, and saved them from many dangers. He has given his Son in death to save us from ruin. Such redeeming mercy makes churlish negligence on our part doubly culpable.
2. The application of it.
(1) There should be mercy in war. It is heathenish to refuse quarter. The Christian soldier will dress the wounds of his enemy.
(2) We should render assistance in cases of accident and danger. It is horrible to read in the newspapers of men who would watch a child drown because they were not officers of the Royal Humane Society, because it was not their business to save life, and even because they had good clothes which they did not wish to soil. Selfish people will see a man half murdered in a street quarrel without interfering.
(3) We should help the poor. This applies to our own poor first, then to those of our neighbourhood, but the obligation extends as far as a China famine.
(4) Hospitals deserve support, for ministrations to the sick directly tend to preserve life.
(5) Social reforms demand Christian assistance.
(6) It is our supreme duty to spread the gospel throughout the world. This is a "Word of life" (Philippians 2:16). To let men perish for lack of the bread of life is culpable negligence. The lepers of Samaria rebuke such conduct (2 Kings 7:9).
I. THE WARNING.
1. Ignorance is no excuse. "Behold, we knew it" (or "him") "not." Of course, this does not apply to unavoidable ignorance. But the rich should know the condition of the poor. It is the duty of the West End to investigate the condition of the East End. While this duty is neglected the comfortable complacency of ignorance is unpardonable. Further, if the attempted excuse be that the sufferer is personally unknown to us, this must not be admitted. He is still our brother. The parable of the good Samaritan shows that the perfect stranger has claims upon us.
2. God observes this negligence. He "pondereth the heart." He reads our secret thoughts and weighs our motives. Thus he knows whether we are kept back by unavoidable ignorance or inability to help, or whether the negligence is wilful. With this awful fact before us, that there is One who "pondereth the heart," all flimsy excuses must shrivel up and leave the negligence of the needy in its naked guilt.
3. God will treat us according to our treatment of our fellow men. "With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7:2). Moreover, in regard to the duty now before us, it is to be observed that God takes note of omissions as well as of transgressions. The "eternal fire" is not spoken of by our Lord for thieves, murderers, etc; but for those who failed to help the hungry, the thirsty, the needy (Matthew 25:41-46).
The fall of a good man
I. IT IS POSSIBLE FOR A GOOD MAN TO FALL.
1. Here is a warning against presumption. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (lCo Proverbs 10:12). No one is so perfect as to be impeccable. Peter, who little expected it, failed in the moment of trial.
2. He is a warning against wrong judgments. If a good man stumbles it is commonly thought that he proves himself to have been a hypocrite from the first. No notion could be more unwarrantable. It is possible that the former life was honest and true and up to its pretension, but that a sudden change for the worse has occurred through yielding to overpowering temptation. The citadel was honestly guarded; but in an unwary moment, when the custodian was sleeping, or careless, or weak, it fell before the assaults of the everwatchful foe. This may even be. repeated many times. We can scarcely think of a really good man lapsing utterly from the right way as many as seven times and as often returning to it. But some measure of sin is committed many times. There is not a Christian who does not fall into numerous sins.
II. IF A GOOD MAN FALLS HE IS LIKELY TO RISE UP AGAIN. We need not now discuss the thorny doctrine of "final perseverance." Without retreating into the tangled thicket of a priori dogmatics, we may discover certain plain and practical. considerations which will encourage us to believe in the recovery of the lapsed.
1. The bent of a good man's life is towards goodness. He is a just man. Righteousness is characteristic of him. It is his habit. His fall is an event, his righteousness is his life. He is not the less guilty in his sin. He cannot shake it off and disown it, fortifying himself against the charge of it under the guise of his habitual righteousness. A long career of goodness is no excuse for a single wrong deed. Nevertheless, beneath and behind the sin into which the man has been surprised are the general tone and temper of his life. This will make his fall an agony. One look from Christ, and the shamefaced disciple goes out to weep bitterly (Matthew 26:75). The Christian who has been surprised in an hour of weakness will be in the greatest distress afterwards. He can have no rest till he is forgiven and restored. Hence there is a hope for him which we cannot cherish on behalf of the bad man who has had no experience of the better way and who has no inclination to follow it.
2. A good man may return. There is danger in despair. The miserable penitent fears that he may have committed the unpardonable sin, forgetting that his very grief is a proof that that dark eternity of guilt has not yet been reached. God is long-suffering and merciful. Seven times the poor man falls; seven times he is forgiven and restored by his compassionate Lord.
3. The grace of God assists recovery. Indeed, without this it were impossible. But with it who shall despair? On the other hand, alter a sicked man has indulged in sin he refuses to open his heart to Divine grace. "The one means by which he might climb up out of his deep ruin is rejected by him.
In conclusion, we may gather from a consideration of this subject that the first essential is the character of a man's life, rather than that of isolated and perhaps exceptional deeds. God notes every deed, and not one can go unavenged. But the fundamental question is—How does a man live in the main? is the set of his life towards goodness? does he habitually face the light or the darkness? Though with many stumbles and shameful bruises, is he, on the whole, going up, not down? If so, he is one of God's sons.
A needless trouble
I. THERE IS TEMPTATION TO BE DISTRESSED AT THE PROSPERITY OF BAD MEN.
1. It is unjust. This was an ancient source of perplexity and trouble of mind. While good men often suffer, bad men are often exceptionally free from the world's ills. This pains us as a frightful discord in the psalm of life. It raises doubts as to the presence, or the power, or the justice of God. If the just Lord is in our midst and is almighty to rule, why does he permit such condition of society?
2. It is hurtful. Prosperity confers power. Thus great resources are at the disposal of bad men, who are able to expend them in extensive schemes of wickedness. A successful Napoleon can deluge a continent with blood, and bring misery into thousands of households. The triumph of bad men not only enables them to inflict suffering to a frightful extent; it gives them exceptional opportunities for spreading the infectious malaria of their sin. When a bad man prospers he contaminates his trade, lowers the character of business generally, and tempts his employes to do wrong on a scale that is proportionate to his enterprises.
3. It seems to be enviable. Sin looks like a short cut to success. It is hard for a good man who resists temptations to be rewarded with distresses which he would have escaped if he had yielded.
II. IT IS FOOLISH TO BE DISTRESSED AT THE PROSPERITY OF BAD MEN.
1. Prosperity is infinitely inferior to character. The great question is not as to what a man has, but as to what he is. It is far more important to be upright and holy in life than to be rich, successful, and happy in one's circumstances. Surely he who values true goodness will feel that it is a pearl of great price—the cost of which would not be compensated for by all the wealth of the Indies. Therefore to envy the prosperity of the wicked is to turn aside from the higher possession which may be enjoyed in poverty and adversity.
2. The prosperity of the wicked is delusive and unsatisfactory. It professes to give pleasure, but it cannot afford real happiness, for it has nothing in it to respond to the deeper cravings of the soul. He who feasts upon it is like a man who would fill himself with chaff and sawdust. In his very satiety he is miserably hungry. Full, he yet starves. Or worse, he is like one who drinks madly of salt water, and is plunged into an agony of thirst in consequence. If, as may happen, however, he feels a measure of satisfaction, this can only be by deadening his higher nature. Such a state is delusive and more terrible than open complaining.
3. This prosperity is short-lived. "The candle of the wicked shall be put out" (Proverbs 24:20). The psalmist who was alarmed at the prosperity of the wicked saw another picture when he came to consider their end. He who would share the purple and fine linen of Dives on earth must also share his bed of fire after death. It is only the short-sighted, earthly minded man who will much envy the prosperity of the wicked. A deeper thinking man will dread it, and be well satisfied if he has the true blessedness of life eternal.
Rendering evil for evil
It is interesting to note that this conduct is not only rebuked by Jesus Christ, but also forbidden in the Old Testament, and even in the Book of Proverbs, which is thought to deal too much in temporal and self-regarding motives. So utterly is it foreign to right mindedness. Yet it is most common, and apparently most natural.
I. LET US CONSIDER HOW IT SEEMS NATURAL TO RENDER EVIL FOR EVIL.
1. It appears to be just. There is a natural fitness m things, and this seems to be satisfied by the lex talionis, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth."
2. It offers to check evil. It appears to be a natural form of punishment. Indeed, it was sanctioned in rough, primitive times, though subject to judicial inquiry (Exodus 21:24).
3. It satisfies the craving for revenge. This is the reason which encourages it far more than considerations of abstract justice or anxiety about the public weal. "Revenge is sweet," and to restrain the impulse to strike an offender in return for his blow is hard and painful.
4. It agrees with prevalent customs. It is "after the manner of man" to avenge a wrong, and apparently the habit springs from innate instincts. At all events, it works without reflection. Therefore it appears to be a part of the economy of nature. To refuse it is like denying a natural appetite.
II. LET US LEARN WHY IT IS WRONG TO RENDER EVIL FOR EVIL.
1. The sense of revenge lies in our lower nature. It is shared by the brute creation, like hunger and. lust. But it is aggravated by the sin of hatred and by selfishness. There is nothing noble or elevating in it. On the contrary, it drags us down. Long-suffering braces the moral fibres of the soul; revenge relaxes them.
2. We are not called upon to execute sentence on our fellow men. If there is to be a requital, this must come from God, to whom belongs just vengeance (Romans 12:19). We are usurping the rights of God when we impatiently take it into our own hands. Moreover, we are the worst possible judges of our own rights. When deeply wounded, or irritated by insults, or blinded. by passion, we are not in a fit condition to exercise judicial functions. Yet it is just on such occasions that we are most tempted to wreak vengeance on the head of an offender.
3. It is our duty to forgive and save our fellow man. Even if punishment be due to him, vengeance from us is not owing. Our business is to seek to reclaim by "heaping coals of fire" on our wrong doer. Instead of doing to him as he has done to as, our Christian motto is to do to him as we would that he should do to us.
4. Revenge is un-Christlike. Christians are called to follow in the footsteps of the patient and brave Jesus, who was patient under provocation, even praying for his enemies.
5. Revenge is unseemly in those who need forgiveness. We are dependent on the mercy of God. He has not taken vengeance on us. But if we forgive not men their trespasses, neither will our heavenly Father forgive us our trespasses. Thus Portia rightly says to Shylock—
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer cloth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy."
The field of the slothful
Nothing is more characteristic of the Book of Proverbs than its scorn of slothfulness and its strenuous inculcation of industry. To doubt these subjects were especially important in view of the perennial indolence of Orientals. But slothfulness is not unknown in the West, and in the fierce competition of modern life a smaller indulgence in idleness will bring sure disasters. Men often blame their circumstances, the injustice of fate, etc; when they should accuse their own lack of energy. The difference between the successful and those who fail to attain anything in life is more often than not just that between hard work and self-indulgent, easy living. Moreover, many men who are diligent in business are most slothful in spiritual matters. Hence applications of the parable in the present day.
I. THE STATE OF THE FIELD.
1. This is visible to the casual wayfarer. The writer simply "went by" it; yet he took in enough at a glance to understand its condition. A man's character is impressed upon his work. A slovenly man will have a slovenly hand. The neglected field and the ill-kept vineyard reveal the idle and foolish nature of their owner.
2. The field is seen to be in a miserable condition.
(1) It is overgrown with thorns and nettles. It is not left empty if it is untilled. Weeds grow on the neglected land. If we fail to do our duty, positive mischief will follow. If we neglect the field of the world, briars of ignorance, folly, and sin will spring up; if we fail to train the vineyard of our own family, nettles of evil will appear in the minds of our children, to sting us for our indolence. Thus was it with Eli, who failed to rebuke his sons. If we do not cultivate the gardens of our own souls, rank weeds of sin will certainly grow up there and bear their poisonous fruits.
(2) Its defences are broken down. The indolent man lets his walls fall into dilapidation. Thus his property lies open to the robber and the destroyer. The wild boar from the wood will root up his vine. If we are not watchful and careful, evil will come in from without and spoil our work, our home, our souls. It needs care to guard against aggression.
II. THE CONDUCT OF THE OWNER.
1. It is slothful.
(1) His evil is negative. He commits no offence. Yet he is ruined. We may be undone by simple omission without any transgression.
(2) His evil is in delaying to do his duty. He does not mean to forego it. He only postpones fulfilment. Yet he is ruined and disgraced. We owe duties to time. We do wrong by not accomplishing our work promptly, though we intend to accomplish it ultimately. We have not unlimited time before us. Today's neglected task cannot be performed tomorrow without hindering tomorrow's work. The foolish virgins failed by being too late.
2. It is self-indulgent. The sluggard enjoys his sleep. Selfishness is the root of idleness. But this, in turn, is stupefying. One does not note how the fresh morning glides away while he lies with his eyes closed in sinful sleep. So also the slumber of the soul that neglects the call to its highest duty is a selfish sleep.
3. It is foolish. The sleep is a poor compensation for poverty and shame.
III. THE CERTAIN CONSEQUENCES.
1. Ruin follows. Poverty comes on the slothful man of business as a natural punishment. Poverty of soul, emptiness, fruitlessness, and finally death follow spiritual sloth.
2. This may be unsuspected. "Like a highwayman."
3. It will be irresistible. The want will come "as an armed man."
CONCLUSION. Sloth is peculiarly liable to creep into one's habits without being noticed, Therefore the need of Verse 32.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Proverbs 24:1, Proverbs 24:2
Warning against evil company
I. THE LOVE OF SOCIETY IS A NATURAL INSTINCT.
II. EVIL COMPANY IS OFTEN MOST FASCINATING.
III. THE ASSOCIATIONS THAT ARE FOUNDED UPON MERE FELLOWSHIP IN PLEASURE ABE SELDOM SATISFACTORY, OFTEN CORRUPTING.
IV. THE BAD MAN'S COMPANY IS MORE TO BE SHUNNED THAN THAT OF ONE SUFFERING FROM A CONTAGIOUS DISEASE. "Wicked companions," said a man of the world, the novelist Fielding, "invite us to hell." "They are like to be short graces when the devil plays the host," said another.—J.
Wisdom edifies and invigorates
How fine a word is "edification," building up, in its moral and Christian uses! Here the image of the house is directly introduced, and may be variously applied.
I. WISDOM THE FOUNDATION OF DOMESTIC STABILITY AND HAPPINESS. (Proverbs 24:3, Proverbs 24:4.) The same great principles apply in the least as well as the most important things. Every day brings humble occasions for the practice of the grandest laws, no less in the house, the farm, or the shop, than in the council chamber or on the battle field. "Method is as efficient in the packing of firewood in a shed, or the harvesting of fruits in a cellar, as in Peninsular campaigns or the files of a department of state." Let a man keep the Law, and his way will be strewn with satisfactions. There is more difference in the quality of our pleasures than in the amount. Comfort and abundance in the home are the certain signs of prudence and sense and action constantly applied.
II. WISDOM THE SOURCE OF MANLY STRENGTH. (Proverbs 24:5, Proverbs 24:6.) It was a great man who said, "Knowledge is power." It is not the force of brute strength, but that of spiritual energy, which in the long run rules the world. The illustration of the text is aptly selected from war, where, if anywhere, brute force might be supposed to prevail. Experience shows that it is not so. The complete failures of men like Hannibal and Napoleon show it in one way. Recent wars have illustrated the truth that it is the deliberate and matured designs of the strategist and far-seeing statesman which command success, rather than the "great battalions" on the side of which Providence was said to be. And in another application, sheer force of intellect is often surpassed and outdone by the steady and constant employment of humbler powers. Strength in any form without prudence is like a giant without eyes. Violence and craft may seem the readiest way to wealth; yet experience shows that prudence and piety lead most surely to desirable prosperity.—J.
Some traits of folly and sin
I. THE GROVELLING MIND. (Proverbs 24:7.) Wisdom is too high for the indolent to climb to, for the sensual and earthly to admire and love. They are like Muck-rake, in Bunyan's parable. From such no good counsel ever comes. They are dumb "in the gate," on every important occasion, when help, light, sympathy, are needed. The base prudence which inspires many popular proverbs—the prudence "which adores the rule of three, which never subscribes, never gives, seldom lends, and asks but one question of any project, 'Will it bake bread?'"—is indeed folly. "Self's the man," says a Dutch proverb. But those who would gain all for self end by losing self and all.
II. THE MALICIOUS TEMPER. (Proverbs 24:8.) There are degrees in vice as in virtue. It is a short step from grovelling egotism to active malice. Extract the root of self-seeking out of any dispute, private or public, in Church or state, and the other differences may soon be adjusted. To make mischief is a diabolic instinct, and it certainly springs up in the mind void of healthy occupation and of interest for the true, beautiful, and good; for the mind's principle is motion, and it cannot cease to act.
III. SIN IN THE THOUGHT AND THE MOOD. (Proverbs 24:9.) When busy invention and meditation are at work in the mind of the wicked and the fool, nothing good is produced. Still more is it the case with the scoffer. In him the ripened and practised powers of the mind are brought into alliance with evil desire. Such a habit of mind, once detected, excites the utmost odium and abhorrence. The man who can sneer at goodness, or hold what is by common consent good and beautiful in contempt, is already an outcast from his kind, and need not complain if he is treated as such.
IV. COWARDLY FAINT HEARTEDNESS. (Proverbs 24:10.) The pressure of circumstances should rouse in us the God-given strength. The man who makes duty his polar star, and trusts in God, can actually do more when things seem to be against him than widen all is in his favour. Moral cowardice is closely connected with the root sin of unbelief. Indulgence in it impoverishes and weakens the soul, so that the man ends by being actually unable to do what once he only fancied himself unable to do. Here is an illustration of Christ's saying, "To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken that which he hath."—J.
Proverbs 24:11, Proverbs 24:12
Compassion for the wronged
I. THE HEART AND HAND SHOULD EVER BE READY AT THE CALL OF DISTRESS. (Proverbs 24:11.) The picture seems to be placed before us of one arriving at the place of judgment, seeing an innocent sufferer yet, like the priest and the Levite in the parable, passing by "on the other side."
"To see and sights moves more than hear them told;
For then the eye interprets to the ear
The heavy motion that it doth behold."
To respond to these mute appeals from any of God's creatures is to obey a law immediately known within our breast; to resist them is to sin against him and against our own souls.
II. NEGLECT OF DUTY CANNOT ESCAPE PUNISHMENT. (Proverbs 24:12.)
1. Human nature is fertile in excuses. For the burden of blame and of conscious guilt is the heaviest we can bear. But searching is the truth of the proverb, "Whoso excuses, accuses himself," Ignorance of duty needs no excuses; but excuses for neglect can never be valid.
2. Excuses may avail with man, but not with God. With fallible men they may and often do pass for truth. At all events, they must often be accepted by those who need in turn to make them. But God knows the truth of every heart, and in every case; and to him excuses are either needless or worse.
3. Judgment will be executed in spite of our excuses. For God is the Vindicator of the wronged, and the Recompenser of all according to their deeds. Scripture is very impressive on the sin of neglect of kindly duties to others, in regard to which the conscience is so often dull (Luke 14:18, etc.). Men content themselves with the reflection that they have not done others positive harm—a negative position. But the other negative position, that we have not done the good we had a call to do, on this the teaching of Christ fixes a deeper guilt. Noble as it is to save a life from bodily death, still more glorious in its consequences is it to save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins.—J.
Proverbs 24:13, Proverbs 24:14
Zeal in the pursuit of wisdom
I. THE SWEETNESS OF WISDOM. (Proverbs 24:13.) Not without deep meaning is the sense of knowing the truth compared to the sensuous relish of the palate for sweet food. Here is, indeed, a
"Perpetual feast of nectared sweets,
Where no crude surfeit reigns."
(Cf. Psalms 19:11.)
II. ENCOURAGEMENT IN ITS PURSUIT. (Proverbs 24:14.) It brings a true satisfaction both during the pursuit and at its end, which can be said of few other objects of eager ambition in this world. The seeker for truth may be compared to the maiden of the parable, who timely fills her lamp with oil, and "hope that reaps not shame." The pursuit of wisdom, or of truth as understood and taught in this book, is no chase of dreams or abstractions; it is the affair of all. Truth is all that touches and convinces man, whether as an individual, or as a member of society, or the citizen of a nation. It is that which tells him that he is not isolated in the midst of unknown beings; but that beyond his individual life he partakes in a life that is universal. All that in the past, whether facts, thoughts, or sentiments, are in question, that makes us contemporary with the facts, fellow heirs with humanity in great thoughts, sympathetic with great sentiments, is truth.—J.
Violence and shameful joy defeated
I. THE ATTITUDE OF THE MAN OF FRAUD AND VIOLENCE DEPICTED. (Proverbs 24:15.) He is like the prowling wild beast, seeking whom he may devour. God the Creator has not armed us with tooth or tusk or other means of defence, like the wild beasts which are formed for making war on others. We are strongly furnished for defence, not for attack. Ferocity is distinctly an unnatural vice in us.
II. HIS ACTIVITY IS DEVASTATING. Here, again, he resembles the wild beast in his blind fury, the boar that uproots and overturns in the cultivated garden.
III. THE SELF-RECOVERY OF THE RIGHTEOUS. (Proverbs 24:16.) To fall into sin and to fall into trouble are two different things. Avoid the former, and God will not forsake thee in the latter. Seven falls stand for many—an indefinite number of falls. There is an elasticity in rectitude like that of the young sapling; bent to the earth, it rebounds with strong upspring. "It may calm the apprehension of calamity to see how quiet a bound nature has set to the utmost infliction of malice. We rapidly approach a brink over which no enemy can follow us." But evil, being purely negative, a zero, the absence of internal power and virtue, has but an illusory existence, and quickly passes sway.
IV. BASE JOY TURNED INTO SHAME. (Proverbs 24:17, Proverbs 24:19.) He who rejoices in the trouble of another, his own trouble stands behind the door. Why should he fear who takes his post with Omnipotence at his back?
"Souls that of God's own good life partake
He loves as his own self: dear as his eye
They are to him; he'll never them forsake.
When they shall die, then God himself shall die;
They live—they live in blest eternity."
The tyrant and his victim are made to change sides. The "wrath" which seems expressed in the calamities of the latter is transformed into the revelation of an "everlasting kindness," while terror strikes the heart of him who sought to infuse it into his foe (compare R. Browning's striking poem, 'Instans Tyrannus').—J.
Religion fortifies the heart against envy
I. THE TEMPTATION TO ENVY THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED. It is very marked in the Old Testament. It is a common temptation. For we look at the outside of man's condition, and are deceived by illusions. A pirate's venal in the distance, a mansion built and inhabited by infamy, are beautiful objects of aesthetic contemplation. So it is that the show and bravery of success master our senses.
II. THE ANTIDOTE TO THESE FEELINGS. (Proverbs 24:20.) "Consider the end"—darkness and the blackness of darkness. The wicked have no future. When this is once clearly seen, the charm on the surface fades away, and the edifice of proud but godless prosperity sinks almost into a smoking ruin.
III. RELIGION AND MORALITY THE ONLY FOUNDATION OF SECURITY AND BLESSEDNESS. (Proverbs 24:21, Proverbs 24:22.) The one comprehensive word for religion is the "fear of Jehovah," reverence for God, and for all that, being true, is of the very nature of God. And obedience to the king includes all those civil and social duties which we incur as members of an ordered commonwealth. Religion and loyalty go together; and the best way to make good subjects to the queen is to make men good servants of God. They will not make conscience of civil duties who make none of Divine.—J.
Partiality and equality in judgment
I. RESPECT OF PERSONS. The literal translation is, "To distinguish persons in judgment is not good." The judge should be impartial as the pair of scales, the emblem of his office, and blind to the persons who appear before him, that is, to their rank and position, as the symbolical figure of Justice is represented to be. "One foul sentence doth more hurt than many foul examples; these do but corrupt the stream, the other corrupteth the fountain."
II. THE WILFUL PERVERSION OF RIGHT. (Proverbs 24:24.) When the just man is suffered to fail in his cause before his adversary, the very nerve of public right is unstrung. It strikes a direct blow at the common weal, and hence brings down the curses of peoples and the enmity of states.
III. EQUAL AND JUST JUDGMENT. (Proverbs 24:25.) "A judge ought to prepare his way to a just sentence, as God useth to prepare his way, by raising valleys and taking down hills; so when there appeareth on either side a high hand, violent persecution, cunning advantages taken, combination, power, great counsel, then is the virtue of a judge seen to make inequality equal; that he may plant his judgment as upon an even ground" (Bacon). In the present text the glance is towards a proper and due severity, which will not allow the wicked to escape. "Odium may equally be incurred by him who winks at crime and by him who has no regard to mercy. For in causes of life and death, judges ought, as far as the law permits, in justice to remember mercy, and to cast a severe eye upon the example, but a merciful eye upon the person" (Bacon). The purity of the judicial bench is one of the greatest of public blessings. Let us be thankful that we enjoy it in our country, and pray that it may ever continue.—J.
Just conduct to our neighbour
I. TRUE WITNESS. (Proverbs 24:26.) He who gives true and faithful answers—especially in courts of justice—delights, even as the sweetest kiss upon the mouth delights. The poet alludes to the effect upon the ear. The understanding can no more be delighted with a lie than the will can choose an apparent evil. "Strange as it may seem," says one playfully, "the human mind loses truth." We may add, "when passion does not blind the intellect to its beauty." In the court of justice, all but the guilty and those interested in his fate see the beauty of truth, and prize it above all things. Hence to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is the solemn oath of witnesses.
II. FALSE AND UNCALLED-FOR WITNESS. (Proverbs 24:28.) To bear false witness strikes at the very root of conscience and moral obligation. But criminal, though in a less degree, is the volunteering of evidence without cause against another; i.e. when no object but private hatred and revenge is to be served. Compare the case of Doeg (1 Samuel 22:9, 1 Samuel 22:10); the Pharisees with the wretched sinner in John 8:1-59; the words of the Lord in John 15:25. Speak evil of no man, not only that evil which is altogether false and groundless, but that which is true, when speaking of it will do more harm than good (Matthew Henry).
III. DELIBERATE DECEPTION. About a court of justice, which represents truth, there gathers a dark shade of roguery and falsehood; "persons that are full of sinister tricks and shifts, whereby they pervert the plain and direct courses of courts, and bring justice into oblique lines and labyrinths."
IV. BLIND INDULGENCE OF VINDICTIVE TEMPER. (Verse 29; comp. Proverbs 20:22.) Nothing is more deeply impressed in the Bible than the truth of compensation or retribution. But men must not take the law into their own hands. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith Jehovah." "Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out. In taking revenge a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over he is superior. It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence. The man who studies revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well" (Bacon).—J.
The prudence and policy of industry
I. ALL LABOUR IS ROOTED IN THE TILLAGE OF THE EARTH. 'Tis thus that bread was first wrung from her—by universal field labour. Our ancestors were all agricultural labourers. All other industry must be fruitless and stop without the action of this spring. It is therefore the part of all prudent and good men to encourage cultivation, to improve the condition of the labourer and the farmer. All honour to the great statesmen of our time who have wrought in this cause. It is edifying to recollect that God has made Mother Earth the eternal mediator and minister to us of material blessings which lie at the foundation of all our life.
II. DOMESTIC COMFORT AND INDEPENDENCE REST UPON LABOUR. It is the "prudence of a higher strain" than that which begins and ends with mere sensual comfort that is taught in this book. It is attention to law, it is unbelief in luck, which constitutes its principle. Self-command, unslothful habits, constant exertion, put the bread a man eats at his own disposal, so that he stands not in bitter and False relations to other men.—J.
The sluggard's vineyard: a parable of sloth
I. A PICTURE OF INDOLENCE. (Proverbs 24:30, Proverbs 24:31.) The vineyard in the East corresponds to the garden, orchard, or small farm in the West. In the parable it is overgrown with nettles and thorns. The stone fence is crumbling for want of repair. We may contrast the picture in Isaiah 5:1, sqq; of what a vineyard ought to be. The way in which God tilled the chosen people is the way in which he would have each of us attend to the garden of the soul.
II. THE SIGHT CARRIES A LESSON AND A WARNING. (Verses 32-34) Let us attend to the parables of Nature. The eye is the great critical organ, and we never want lessons if we use it. The lesson here is—the effect has a cause—the wildness of Nature betrays the sin of man. Neglect marks itself on her truthful face. The sluggard's soul is revealed in her aspect not less than in the unkempt hair and squalid face of the human being. Here is the "vile sin of self-neglect," which involves all other neglect, clearly mirrored. In such spectacles and in the gloomier ones of malarious swamps, once smiling fields, God writes his judgment on the broad earth's face against the crime of sloth. The warning is against poverty and want, which stride on with noiseless footsteps, rushing in at last with sudden surprise upon dreaming self-indulgence, like an armed robber. Sudden seeming woes are long preparing, and no curse "causeless comes."
III. THE MORAL APPLICATION.
1. The analogy of Nature and the human spirit. Both are of God. Both contain principles of life, beauty, and use. Both need cultivation in order to their perfection. In both sloth and neglect are punished by loss and ruin.
2. The personal moral duty. To "awake from sleep," to "stir up the gift within us," to "work out our salvation," to be good husbandmen, good and faithful servants in this garden of the Lord—the soul. If not faithful here, how can it be expected that we shall be faithful in spheres more remote?—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
(See homily on Proverbs 23:17, Proverbs 23:18.)—C.
Building with wisdom
God is the Divine Builder. "He that built all things is God" (Hebrews 3:4). Man, also, is a great builder. The whole scenery of the earth is not a little changed by the houses and temples, by the bridges and factories, by the manifold structures of every size and shape, that he has built. But these are not the most serious and important of his works. We look at—
I. THE HOUSES WE ARE BUILDING. Of these, three are the most deserving of attention.
1. Our estate. The position and provision we secure for ourselves and our family; an honourable place we take among men, as neighbours and fellow citizens. Every man has to set this before him as a thing to be patiently pursued and ultimately attained. Some men think of little else or nothing else, therein making a fatal mistake; but it is the manifest duty as well as the clear interest of us all, to build up a house of this kind.
2. Our character. This is "a house" of the first importance. We are here for this express purpose—that we may be daily and hourly building up a noble and estimable character; such a character as God will himself approve; such as man will admire, and will do well to copy; such as will command the commendation of our own conscience; such as will stand firm and strong against all the perils by which it is beset; such as will contain many virtues and graces in its various "chambers" (Proverbs 24:4). "Precious and pleasant rubies," indeed, are these.
3. Some cause of Christian usefulness. We should all be diligently occupied in raising or sustaining some "work" of holy usefulness, by which the seeds of truth may be scattered, hearts may be comforted, lives may be brightened, souls may be won to righteousness and wisdom, Christ may be honored, and his kingdom advanced.
II. THE INDISPENSABLE MATERIALS. The wisdom which is from above. "Through wisdom is a house built, and by understanding it is established" (Proverbs 24:3). For wisdom includes or secures:
1. The fear and therefore the favor of God. (See Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10.)
(1) To walk and to work in the fear of God is to do all things uprightly and honourably, truly and faithfully, heartily and thoroughly; and this is the way to build up any one of these three "houses."
(2) To enjoy the favour of God is to have behind us that energizing and sustaining power without which all labour is vain (Psalms 127:1); it is to possess the protecting care which will shield us from the storms that might otherwise overthrow us (Psalms 121:1-8.).
2. The various orders of strength which we need for good building (Proverbs 24:5).
(1) It tends to physical health and strength.
(2) It conduces to mental strength and the increase of knowledge; it supplies us with good judgment, with tact, with prudence, with patience, with the very implements of successful labour.
(3) It ministers to moral and spiritual strength; for it brings us into communion with God and to the study of his Word.
3. The power of resistance and attack. By "wise counsel we make war" (Proverbs 24:6). It is a very great matter, in all spheres of activity, to know when to make peace and when to show a fearless front of opposition. And when the latter course has to be taken, there is much true wisdom needed in order that our house, our stronghold, may not be carried and dismantled. We need courage, decision, watchfulness, energy, self-command, readiness to make terms at the right moment. To attain to the wisdom which will thus build up our house, we need to
(1) yield our hearts fully to the only wise God and Saviour;
(2) open our minds daily to receive his heavenly wisdom;
(3) ask of him who "giveth to all men liberally, upbraiding not."—C.
The thought of foolishness.
It will be well to be on our guard against a possible mistake here; for next in importance to our knowledge of what things are wrong and hurtful, is our freedom from imaginary fears and morbid anxieties respecting those things which are perfectly innocent and pure. We look, then, at—
I. THOUGHTS WHICH MAY SEEM TO BE, BUT ARE NOT, CONDEMNED BY THESE WORDS.
1. The serious but not taken thoughts of childhood or of uneducated manhood. It is not every thought which cannot be characterized as wisdom that must be condemned as "foolishness." The honest attempts of artless simplicity to solve problems or to execute commands may be honourable and even commendable failures; they are the conditions of growth.
2. The lighter thoughts of the cultured and mature, thoughts of merriment and frolicsomeness, moving to honest laughter, are far from being sinful. They are clearly in accordance with the will of the Divine Father of our spirits, who is the Author of our nature, with its faculties and tendencies; they are often found to be a necessary relief under the otherwise intolerable strain of oppressive care and burdensome toil. One of the most serious and one of the most kind-hearted and successful servants of our race (Abraham Lincoln) was only saved from complete mental derangement during the terrible time of the civil war by finding occasional refuge in humour. But what are—
II. THE THOUGHTS WHICH ARE HERE CONDEMNED? The thoughts of foolishness.
1. Our responsibility for our thoughts. Impalpable and fugitive as they are, our thoughts are a very real part of ourselves, and they constitute a serious part of our responsibility to God. That they do so is clear; for:
(1) On them everything in human life and action ultimately depends. Action depends on will, will on feeling, and feeling on thought. It is what we think and how we think that determines what we do and what we are. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Thought is the very foundation of character.
(2) Thought is free. We may be compelled to speak or to act in certain prescribed ways; but we are masters of our own minds, and we can think as we like. How we think depends on our own volition.
(3) We either choose deliberately the subject of our thoughts (by selecting our friends, our books and papers, our topics of conversation), or we are led to think as we do by the mental and moral character which we have been deliberate]y forming; we are responsible for the stream because we are responsible for the spring.
2. The sinful character of foolish thoughts. Foolish thoughts may be
(1) irreverent, and all irreverence is sin; or they may be
(2) selfish, and all selfishness is sin; or
(3) impure, and all impurity is sin; or
(4) unkind and inconsiderate, unloving or vindictive, and all unkindness is sin; or
(5) short-sighted and worldly, and all worldliness is sin (1 John 2:15-17). The conclusion of the whole matter is that if we would be right with God, "harmless and blameless," we must be right in our "inward thought" (see Hebrews 4:12); and that if we would be right there, in those central depths or our nature, we must
(a) place our whole nature under the direct rule of the Holy One himself;
(b) seek daily fop the cleansing influences of his Holy Spirit, the continual renewal of our mind by his inspiration;
(c) "keep our hearts beyond all keeping" (Proverbs 2:1-23), especially by welcoming, with eagerness and delight, all the wisdom of God that we can gather from his Word.—C.
Proverbs 24:10, Proverbs 24:15
The test of adversity
We have all of us to expect—
I. THE TESTING TIME THAT COMES TO ALL MEN. It is true that prosperity has its own perils, and makes its own demands on the human spirit. But when the sky is clear above us, when loving friends stand round us with protecting care, when privileges abound on every side, it is comparatively easy to maintain an equable and obedient mind. We can all row with the stream and sail with the favouring wind. But the hour must come to us that comes to all in time, when we have to face difficulty, or to bear obloquy, or to sustain heavy loss, or to go on our way with a lonely heart, or to suffer some keen and all but crusading disappointment. When we are moved to say with Jacob, "All these things are against me;" with Elijah, "Lord, take away my life;" we faint and fall in the day of adversity.
II. THE RESOURCES THAT SHOULD BE AT OUR COMMAND. When that hour comes to us, as it certainly will, we should be prepared to bear ourselves bravely and well; for there are many sources of strength with which we should be supplied. There is:
1. Ordinary human fortitude. Such manliness and strength of will as have enabled many thousands of souls—even without any aid from religion—to confront danger or death, or to show an undisturbed equanimity of mind. in the midst of severe sorrows. But beyond this there is for us:
2. Christian resignation. The willingness to leave the whole disposal of our lives to the wisdom and the love of God; readiness to endure the holy will of a Divine Father, of our best Friend.
3. Christian faith. The assurance that God is dealing with us in perfect wisdom and parental love at those times when we can least understand his way.
4. Christian hope. The confidence that "unto the upright there will arise light in the darkness;" that God will grant a happy issue out of all our afflictions; that though the just man fall seven times, he will rise again (see Proverbs 24:15); that though weeping may endure even for a long and stormy night, joy will come in the morning (Psalms 30:5).
5. Communion with God. To the distressed human spirit there remains that most precious refuge, the leaning of the heart on God, the appeal of the soul to him in earnest, believing prayer.
III. THE INFERENCE WE ARE OBLIGED TO DRAW. If, with all these resources at our command, we "faint;"
(1) if we indulge a rebellious spirit, repining at our lot and thinking ourselves hardly used; or
(2) if we yield ourselves to misery and melancholy, showing ourselves unequal to the duties that devolve upon us, resigning the useful activities in which we have been engaged;—then we must conclude that "our strength is small;" we have failed to enrich our souls with that spiritual power of which we might and should have become possessed. Bat that we may not have to deplore our weakness in the day of adversity, and that we may not give a sorry illustration of Christian life as it ought not to be seen, let us learn what is—
IV. OUR WISDOM AT THE PRESENT TIME. And that is to be gaining strength, to be continually becoming "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." This is an imperative duty (Ephesians 6:10; 2 Timothy 2:1; 2 Peter 3:18). And we are not without the necessary means. If, in the days of sunshine and prosperity, we are daily nourishing our faith, our love, our hope, our prayerfulness, by constant exercise in devotion and in sacred duty, by using the privileges so amply supplied to us, by cultivating and cherishing our onion with Jesus Christ our Lord, we shall be strong, and we shall not faint.—C.
Proverbs 24:11, Proverbs 24:12
The principles contained in this passage are these—
I. THAT ALL HUMAN NEED IS A CLAIM FOR HELP. God has so "fashioned our hearts alike," and has so bound together our lives and our interests, that we are under serious obligation to one another. No man is at liberty to live an isolated life; he owes too much to those that have gone before him, and is too closely related to those who are around him, to allow of such a course. To wish it is unnatural, to attempt it is immoral "We are members one of another;" we are brethren and sisters one of another. And whenever any one about us—whoever or whatever he or she may be—is in any kind of difficulty or distress, is in need of sympathy and succour, there is an imperative demand, as clear as if it came from an angel's trumpet or straight out of the heavens above us, that we should stop, should inquire, should help as best we can (see 1 John 3:17, 1 John 3:18).
II. THAT THE EXTREMITY OF HUMAN NEED IS A MOST POWERFUL PLEA. If any sufferer on life's highway is a man to be pitied and relieved, how much more are they who are "drawn unto death," who are "ready to be slain"! To see our brother or our sister—made like ourselves, and capable as we are of intense suffering, holding life as precious as we ourselves regard it—in circumstances of keen distress or of utmost danger, and to withhold our pity and our aid,—this is condemned of God. Whether we "pass by on the other side" (Luke 10:31), so as to hide our cruel indifference as well as we can from our own sight; or whether we pass close by, clearly recognizing our duty, but cynically and heartlessly declining to do it; or whether we stand awhile and pity, but conclude that help will be too costly, and so pass on without helping;—we are guilty, we are unbrotherly, inhuman, altogether unlike our Lord.
III. THAT EXCUSES WILL NOT AVAIL US. If we want to escape from our plain duty we seldom refuse it point blank. We do not say to our Lord or to ourselves, "We will not;" we say, "We would if—," or "We will when—." When our brother is in difficulty or in sorrow, and urgently needs the extricating hand, the sympathizing word, we may plead, to ourselves or to our neighbours, our ignorance of the sufferer, our imperfect acquaintance with the circumstances, our want of time, our incapacity for assisting in that kind of trouble, our multitudinous and pressing duties and claims, etc. These may succeed with men, but they will not avail with God. God knows the hollowness of these poor pleas; to his eye they are only thin veils that do not hide our cruel selfishness; he judges that nothing justifies us in abandoning the perishing to their fate, and he condemns us.
IV. THAT GOD IS GRIEVED WITH US FOR OUR OWN SAKE. He "that keepeth our soul" knows it. And because God does "keep our soul," he is grieved to see us take up an attitude towards our brother which
(1) proves us to be unbrotherly, and
(2) helps to fix us in our cold-heartedness. For every act and instance of selfishness hardens our heart and makes it more capable of cruel indifference than before.
V. THAT CRUELTY AND KINDNESS MOVE TO THEIR REWARD. "Shall he not render," etc.? Cruelty and kindness must be cursed or blessed by the immediate effects they leave in the soul of the agent. But they also move toward a day of award, Then will a selfish indifference hear its strong, Divine condemnation (Matthew 25:41-45) Then, also, will a generous kindness listen to its warm, Divine commendation (Matthew 25:34-40).—C.
Proverbs 24:17, Proverbs 24:18, Proverbs 24:29
The ignobler and the nobler spirit
(See homily on Proverbs 20:22.) There can be no question at all, for the testimony of human history is everywhere and at all times the same, as to—
I. OUR DISPOSITION UNDER SIN, IN VIEW OF OUR ENEMIES. These two passages indicate it. It is both passive and active.
1. A disposition to rejoice at their discomfiture; to exult in the secret places of the soul when we hear of their failure, of their defeat, or even of their suffering.
2. A disposition to inflict some injury on them by our own effort. The impulse of the man who is struck is to strike again; that of the man who is cheated is to take the next opportunity of overreaching the treacherous neighbour; the prevalent feeling, under the long reign and malignant influence of sin, is to compass, in some way or other, the humiliation, or the loss, or the anger of the man who has injured us. We rejoice when our enemy falls; we do more and worse than that—we do our best, we use our ingenuity and put forth even our patient labour, to bring about his overthrow. So common, so universal, is this sentiment of revenge and retaliation, that no one is in a position so speak severely of his neighbour or to condemn him harshly. Yet we understand now—
II. ITS UNWORTHINESS OF OUR NATURE. It was not to cherish such thoughts as these, nor was it to act in such a way as this, that our Divine Father called us into being, and gave to us our powers.
1. We were made to love and to pity; and for us to harbour in our souls a feeling of positive delight when we witness the misery or misfortune of a brother or a sister is really inhuman; it is a perversion, under the malign power of sin, of the end and purpose of our being.
2. We were made to help and bless; and for us to expend the powers with which we are endowed to injure, to inflict suffering and loss, to send as far as we can on the downward road a human heart or human life,—this is wholly unworthy of ourselves, it is a sad departure from the intention of our Creator. We see clearly—
III. ITS OFFENSIVENESS TO GOD. "Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him."
1. God has told us fully what is his mind respecting it (Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 12:14, Romans 12:20).
2. It is altogether unlike his own action; for he is daily and momently blessing with life and health and innumerable bounties those who have forgotten or disregarded or even denied him.
3. There are two aspects in which it must be obnoxious to him.
(1) He is the Father of our spirits, and how can he look with anything but sorrow on antagonism and hatred between his children?
(2) He is the Holy and the Loving One, and how can he see with anything but displeasure the hearts of men filled with the feelings of malevolence, the hands of men occupied in dealing bitter blows against one another? What, however, is the way by which this deep-rooted disposition can be expelled, and another and nobler spirit be planted in our souls? What is the way to—
IV. THE WORTHIER AND NOBLER SPIRIT. The one way to rise above vindictiveness and retaliation and to enter into the loftier and purer air of forgiveness and magnanimity is to connect ourselves most closely with our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. To surrender ourselves wholly to him, and thus to receive his Divine Spirit into our hearts (John 7:38, John 7:39; John 15:4; John 17:23).
2. To have our hearts filled with that transforming love to our Father and our Saviour which will make us to become, unconsciously and gradually, like him in spirit and behaviour.
3. To let our minds be filled with the knowledge of his will, by patient and prayerful study of his Word and of his life.—C.
The neglected garden
The whole scene is before us. The sluggard is asleep while everything is going wrong; instead of the flower is the thorn; the ground is coloured with the green weeds; the wall is breaking down; where should be beauty is unsightliness; where should be fruitfulness is barrenness or wilderness; ruin is written, on everything, everywhere. So is it with the farmer, with the tradesman, with the merchant or manufacturer, of the sluggard order. Consider it well. Negligence, dilatoriness, half-heartedness, in any department means decay, breakdown, ruin. Poverty is on its way, and will certainly be knocking at the door; want will present itself with a force that cannot be resisted.
1. We have all of us a garden, an estate of our own, Which God has given us to cultivate—that which is of more value than many thousands of acres of fertile soil, that which no riches can buy—our own true self, our own human spirit. God has solemnly charged us to cultivate that, to weed it of error and prejudice, of folly and of passion; to plant truth there, his own living, abiding truth; to plant righteousness there, purity of heart, integrity of soul; to plant love there, such as fills his own gracious Spirit; to build there walls of wise, strong, protecting habits, which will fence and guard the soul from intruding enemies.
2. There are all too many who treat this garden, this estate, with careless negligence; they throw their energy and force into everything else—business, love, politics, art, pleasure, society; but themselves, their own spirit, their own character, they leave to fare as best it may without care and without culture.
3. Very sad indeed are the results of this foolish and guilty negligence. This picture of the sluggard's garden will tell us what they are.
I. UNSIGHTLINESS. What a dreary picture—weeds, thistles, thorns, a broken wall! The eye turns from it with repugnance. And the neglected garden of the soul? Instead of the beautiful flowers of Christian reverence and love, and the lair fruits of holiness and zeal, and the strong walls of a noble character, there are seen by God and man the unsightly weeds of transgression, of selfishness, of untruthfulness—perhaps the thorns of intemperance and impurity and profanity.
II. WASTE. African travellers tell us that passing over uncultivated regions they have to make their way through all kinds of rank growth, grass, or shrub which is high, strong, or thorny, covering many miles at a stretch. What waste is there! What corn, what fruit, would not that land produce? Alas! for the pitiful waste of an uncultured human soul! What beauties might not be seen there, what fruits might not be grown there, what graces and virtues might not be produced there, if only the truth of Christ were received into the mind and welcomed to the heart!
III. MISCHIEF. These weeds will not be confined to the sluggard's garden; their seeds will be carried by the winds into his neighbour's, and do mischief enough them.
A neglected soul is a mischief-working soul. It cannot confine its influence to itself or its own life. Those influences cross the wall and get into the neighbour's ground. And the seeds of sin are hurtful, poisonous things, spreading error, falsehood, delusion, into the minds of men. If we are not blessing our neighbours by the lives we live, we are an injury and an evil to them.
IV. RUIN. The man who neglects his estate is really, steadily, ruining himself. He may not see it until it is too late. Poverty has been travelling toward him, but only at the last bend of the road does it come in sight. Want suddenly appears "as an armed man," strong, irresistible; there is no way of escape; bankruptcy is before him. The soul that is neglected is being ruined; day by day it is being enfeebled, enslaved, deteriorated; the good that was there is lessening and disappearing; the hard crust of selfishness and worldliness is thickening. The soul is being lost; it is perishing. "I considered it well"—"set my heart up in it" (marginal reading) This is, indeed, a thing to be well considered, to "set the heart upon," for the issues of it are those of life or death. There is time to restore it; but a little more negligence, and the hour of "ruin" will have struck.—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 24". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26