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Part VI. SECOND GREAT COLLECTION OF SOLOMONIC PROVERBS, gathered by "the men of Hezekiah," in which wisdom is set forth as the greatest blessing to the king and his subjects.
The superscription: These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah King of Judah copied out. The word "also" implies that a previous collection was known to the compiler of the present book—probably the one which we have in Pr 10-22:16, of which nine proverbs are inserted here. But there was still a large number of proverbial sayings attributed to Solomon, and preserved partly by oral tradition and partly in writing, which it was advisable to collect and secure before they were lost. The zeal of Hezekiah took this in hand. He was not, as far as we know, an author himself, but he evidently felt a warm interest in literature, and "the men of Hezekiah," not mentioned elsewhere, must have been his counsellors and scholars, to whom was entrusted the duty of gathering together into a volume the scattered sayings of the wise king. Among those contemporaries, doubtless, Isaiah was eminent, and it is not improbable that Shebna the scribe and Josh the chronicler were members of the learned fraternity (2 Kings 18:18). The verb rightly translated "copied out" (athak) means, properly, "to remove," "to transfer" from one place to another (transtulerunt, Vulgate); hence it signifies here to copy into a book words taken from other writings or people's mouths. The sayings thus collected, whether truly Solomon's or not, were extant under his name, and were regarded as worthy of his reputation for wisdom. The title is given in the Septuagint, thus: Αὗται αἱ παιδεῖαι Σαλωμῶντος αἱ ἀδιάκριτοι ἂς ἐξεγραψαντο οἱ φίλοι Ἐζεκίου τοῦ βασιλέως τῆς Ἰουδαίας. What is meant by ἀδιάκριτοι is uncertain. It has been translated "impossible to distinguish," equivalent to "miscellaneous;" "beyond doubt," equivalent to "genuine," "hard to interpret," as in Polyb; 15.12, 9. St. James (James 3:17) applies the term to wisdom, but the interpreters there are not agreed as to the meaning, it being rendered "without partiality," "without variance," "without doubtfulness," etc. It seems best to take the word as used by the LXX. to signify "mixed," or "miscellaneous."
Proverbs concerning kings.
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing. That which is the chief glory of God is his mysteriousness, the unfathomable character of his nature and attributes and doings. The more we search into these matters, the more complete we find our ignorance to be; finite faculties are utterly unable to comprehend the infinite; they can embrace merely what God chooses to reveal. "Secret things belong unto the Lord our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29), and the great prophet, favoured with Divine revelations, can only confess, "Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself" Isaiah 45:15; comp Ecclesiastes 8:17; Romans 11:33, etc.). But the honour of kings is to search out a matter. The same word is used for "glory" and "honour" in both clauses, and ought to have been rendered similarly. It is the king's glory to execute justice and to defend the rights and safety of his people. To do this effectually he must investigate matters brought before him, look keenly into political difficulties, get to the bottom of all complications, and watch against possible dangers. The contrast between the glory of God and that of the king lies in this—that whereas both God and the king desire man's welfare, the former promotes this by making him feel his ignorance and littleness and entire dependence upon this mysterious Being whose nature and designs mortals cannot understand; the latter advances the good of his subjects by giving them confidence in his zeal and power to discover truth, and using his knowledge for their benefit. Septuagint, "The glory of God concealeth a word (λόγον): but the glory of a king honoureth matters (πράγματα)."
This proverb is connected with the preceding by the idea of "searching" (chakar) common to both. Such emblematic proverbs are common in this second collection (see Proverbs 25:11). Three subjects are stated, of which is predicated the term unsearchable, viz. The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings. As you can never rise to the illimitable height of the heavens, as you can never penetrate to the immeasurable depth of the earth, so you can never fathom the heart of a king, can never find out what he really thinks and intends (comp. Job 11:8). It may be that tacitly a warning is intended against flattering one's sell that one knows and can reckon on the favour of a king; his good disposition towards you may be only seeming, or may any moment become changed. The Septuagint has for "unsearchable" (חֵקֶר אֵין) ἀνεξέλεγκτος, "unquestionable." The commentators refer to a passage in Tacitus ('Ann.' Proverbs 6:8), where M. Terentius defends himself for being a friend of Sejanus by the fact of the impossibility of investigating a great man's real sentiments. "To us," he says to Tiberius, "it appertains not to judge whom you exalt above all others and for what reason you do so. Facts which are obvious we all notice. We see who is the man upon whom you heap wealth and honours, who it is that has the chief power of dispensing rewards and punishments; that these were possessed by Sejanus no one can deny. But to pry into the hidden thoughts of a prince, and the designs which he meditates in secret, is unlawful and hazardous; nor would the attempt succeed."
Proverbs 25:4, Proverbs 25:5
A tetrastich in an emblematical form.
Take away the dross from the silver. Silver was most extensively used by the Hebrews (see 'Dictionary of the Bible,' sub voc.), whether obtained from native mines or imported from foreign countries, and the process of separating the ore from the extraneous matters mixed with it was well known (Psalms 12:6; Ezekiel 22:20, etc.; see on Proverbs 17:3). And there shall come forth a vessel for the finer (tsaraph); the goldsmith. The pure silver is ready for the artist s work, who from this material can make a beautiful vessel. Septuagint, "Beat untested silver, and all shall be made entirely pure," where the allusion is to the process of reducing minerals by lamination.
Take away the wicked from before the king. Let the wicked be removed from the presence of the king, as dross is separated from the pure silver (see the same metaphor, Isaiah 1:25; Jeremiah 6:29, etc.). And his throne shall be established in righteousness (Proverbs 16:12 : Proverbs 29:14). The king detects the evil and punishes them; and this confirms his rule and secures the continuance of his dynasty. Thus righteousness triumphs, and wickedness is properly dealt with. Septuagint, "Slay the ungodly from the face of the king, and his throne shall prosper in righteousness."
Proverbs 25:6, Proverbs 25:7
Another proverb (a pentastich) connected with kings and great men.
Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king. Do not make display of yourself as though vying with the king in outward circumstances. Septuagint, "Boast not thyself (μὴ ἀλαζονεύον) in the presence of a king." Stand not in the place of great men. Do not pretend to be the equal of those who occupy high places in the kingdom (Proverbs 18:16). Septuagint, "And take not your stand (ὑφίστασο) in the places of chieftains." Says a Latin gnome, "Qui cum fortuna convenit, dives est;" and Ovid wrote well ('Trist.,' 3.4. 25, etc.)—
"Crede mihi; bene qui latuit, bene vixit; et intra
Fortunam debet quisque manere suam …
Tu quoque formida nimium sublimia semper;
Propositique memor contrahe vela tui."
For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither. It is better for the prince to select you for elevation to a high post; to call you up near his throne. The reference is not necessarily to position at a royal banquet, though the maxim lends itself readily to such application. This warbling against arrogance and presumption was used by our blessed Lord in enforcing a lesson of humility and self-discipline (Luke 14:7, etc ). Septuagint, "For it is better for thee that it should be said, Come up unto me (ἀνάβαινε πρὸς μέ)" (προσανάβηθι ἀνώτερον, Luke 14:7). Than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen. The last words have been variously interpreted: "to whom thou hast come with a request for preferment;" "into whose august presence thou hast been admitted, so as to see his face" (2 Samuel 14:24); "who knows all about thee, and will thus make thee feel thy humiliation all the more." But nadib, rendered "prince," is not the king, but any noble or great man; and what the maxim means is this—that it is wise to save yourself from the mortification of being turned out of a place which you have knowingly usurped. Your own eyes see that he is in the company; you are aware of what is his proper position; you have occupied a post which belongs to another; justly you are removed, and all present witness your humiliation. The moralist knew that the bad spirit of pride was fostered and encouraged by every act of self-assertion; hence the importance of his warning. The Septuagint makes a separate sentence of these last words, "Speak thou of what thine eyes saw," or, perhaps, like St. Jerome, the Syriac, and Symmachus, attach them to the next verse.
A tristich with no parallelism. Go not forth hastily to strive. The idea is either of one entering into litigation with undue haste, or of one hurrying to meet an adversary. St. Jerome, taking in the final words of the previous verse, renders, Quae viderunt oculi tui, ne proferas in jurgio cito, "What thine eyes have seen reveal not hastily in a quarrel." This is like Proverbs 25:9 below, and Christ's injunction, "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone" (Matthew 18:15). Lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof. The Hebrew is elliptical, "Lest by chance (פֶן) thou do something (bad, humiliating) in the end thereof." But Delitzsch, Nowack, and others consider the sentence as interrogative (as 1 Samuel 20:19), and translate, "That it may not be said in the end thereof, What wilt thou do?" Either way, the warning comes to this—Do not enter hastily upon strife of any kind, lest thou be utterly at a loss what to do. When thy neighbour hath put thee to shame, by putting thee in the wrong, gaining his cause, or getting the victory over thee in some way. Septuagint, "Fall not quickly into a contest, lest thou repent at the last." There is an English proverb, "Anger begins with folly and ends with repentance;" and "Haste is the beginning of wrath, its end is repentance."
Proverbs 25:9, Proverbs 25:10
A tetrastich without parallelism, connected with the preceding maxim.
Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself (Matthew 18:15; see on Matthew 18:8). If you have any quarrel with a neighbour, or are drawn into a controversy with him, deal with him privately in a friendly manner. And discover not a secret to another; rather, the secret of another. Do not bring in a third party, or make use of anything entrusted to you by another person, or of which you have become privately informed, in order to support your cause.
Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame; i.e. lest any one, not the offended neighbour only, who hears how treacherous you have been, makes your proceeding known and cries shame upon you. And thine infamy turn not away. The stigma attached to you be never obliterated. Thus Siracides: "Whoso discovereth secrets loseth his credit; and shall never find friend to his mind. Love thy friend, and be faithful unto him: but if thou bewrayest his secrets, follow no more after him. For as a man hath destroyed his enemy; so hast thou lost the love of thy neighbour" (Ecclesiasticus 27:16, etc.; comp. also 22:22). The motive presented in our text is not the highest, being grounded on the fear of shame and disgrace in men's eyes; but it is a very potent incentive to right action, and the moralist has good reason for employing it. That it does not reach to the height of Christian morality is obvious. The gnome is thus given in the Greek: "When thy friend shall reproach thee, retreat backward, despise him not, lest thy friend reproach thee still; and so thy quarrel and enmity shall not pass away, but shall be to thee like death." Then the LXX. adds a paragraph, reproduced partly by St. Jerome, "Kindness and friendship set a man free (ἐλευθεροῖ); preserve thou these, that thou become not liable to reproach (ἐπονείδισοτς, exprobabilis); but guard thy ways in a conciliating spirit (εὐσυναλλάκτως)."
One of the emblematical distiches in which this collection is rich. A word fitly spoken. עַל־אָפְנָיו may be translated "in due season," or "upon its wheels" (Venetian, ἐπὶ τῶν τροχῶν αὐτῆς). In the latter case the phrase may mean a word quickly formed, or moving easily, spoken ore rotundo, or a speedy answer. But the metaphor is unusual and inappropriate; and it is best to understand a word spoken under due consideration of time and place. Vulgate, Qui loquitur verbum in tempore suo; Aquila and Theodotion, ἐπὶ ἁρμόζουσιν αὐτῷ, "in circumstances that suit it;" the Septuagint has simply οὕτως. Is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. In these emblematical distichs the words, "is like," in the Authorized Version, are an insertion. The Hebrew places the two ideas merely in sequence; the object with which some, thing is compared usually coming before, that which is compared with it, as here, "Apples of gold—a word fitly spoken" (so in Proverbs 25:14, Proverbs 25:18, Proverbs 25:19, Proverbs 25:26, Proverbs 25:28). There is a doubt about the meaning of the word rendered "pictures," maskith (see on Proverbs 18:11). It seems to be used generally in the sense of "image," "sculpture," being derived from the verb שָׁכָה, "to see;" from this it comes to signify "ornament," and here most appropriately is "basket," and, as some understand, of filagree work. St. Jerome mistakes the word, rendering, in lectis argenteis. The Septuagint has, ἐν ὁρμίσκῳ σαρδίου, "on a necklace of sardius." "Apples of gold" are apples or other fruits of a golden colour, not made of gold, which would be very costly and heavy; nor would the comparison with artificial fruits be as suitable as that with natural. The "word" is the fruit set off by its circumstances, as the latter's beauty is enhanced by the grace of the vessel which contains it. The "apple" has been supposed to be the orange (called in late Latin pomum aurantium) or the citron. We may cite here the opinion of a competent traveller: "For my own part," says Canon Tristram, "I have no hesitation in expressing my conviction that the apricot alone is the 'apple' of Scripture Everywhere the apricot is common; perhaps it is, with the single exception of the fig, the most abundant fruit of the country. In highlands and lowlands alike, by the shores of the Mediterranean and on the banks of the Jordan, in the nooks of Judea, under the heights of Lebanon, in the recesses of Galilee, and in the glades of Gilead, the apricot flourishes, and yields a crop of prodiscus abundance. Its characteristics meet every condition of the 'tappuach' of Scripture. 'I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste' (So Proverbs 2:3). Near Damascus, and on the banks of the Barada, we have pitched our tents under its shade, and spread our carpets secure from the rays of the sun. 'The smell of thy nose (shall be) like tappuach' (So Proverbs 7:8). There can scarcely be a more deliciously perfumed fruit than the apricot; and what fruit can better fit the epithet of Solomon, 'apples of gold in pictures of silver,' than this golden fruit, as its branches bend under the weight in their setting of bright yet pale foliage?" Imagery similar to that found in this verse occurs in Proverbs 10:31; Proverbs 12:14; Proverbs 13:2; Proverbs 18:20. There is a famous article on the analogies between flowers and men's characters in the Spectator, No. 455.
Another distich concerning the seasonable word, of the same character as the last. As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold. In this, as in many of the proverbs, the comparison is not expressed, but is merely implied by juxtaposition. Nezem, in Proverbs 11:22, was a nose ring, here probably an earring is meant; chali, "ornament," is a trinket or jewel worn suspended on neck or breast. The two, whether worn by one person or more, form a lovely combination, and set off the wearer's grace and beauty. Vulgate, Inauris aurea et margaritum fulgens, "A golden earring and a brilliant pearl." Septuagint, "A golden earring a precious sardius also is set." So is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear. The obedient ear receives the precepts of the wise reprover, and wears them as a valued ornament. In Proverbs 1:9 the instruction of parents is compared to a chaplet on the head and a fair chain on the neck. Septuagint, "A wise word on an obedient ear."
A comparative tristich concerning words. As the cold of snow in the time of harvest. This, of course, does not mean a snowstorm or hailstorm in the time of harvest, which would be anything but a blessing (Proverbs 26:1; 1 Samuel 12:17, 1 Samuel 12:18), but either the distant view of the snow on Hermon or Lebanon, which gave an idea of refreshment in the heat of autumn, or more probably snow used to cool drink in warm weather. This luxury was not unknown in the time of Solomon, who had a summer palace on Lebanon (1 Kings 9:19), though it could have been enjoyed by very few, and would not speak to the personal experience of the burgher class, to whom the proverbs seem to have been addressed. Xenophon writes of the use of snow to cool wine ('Memorab.,' 2.1. 30). Hitzig quotes a passage from the old history of the Crusades, called 'Gesta Dei per Francos,' which runs thus: "Nix frigidissima a monte Libano defertur, ut vino commixta, tanquam glaciem ipsum frigidum reddat." So in the present day snow is sold in Damascus bazaars. The LXX; not realizing what harm such an untimely storm might effect, translates, "As a fall (ἔξοδος) of snow in harvest is of use against heat, so a faithful messenger benefits those who sent him." So is a faithful messenger to them that send him. (For "faithful messenger," see on Proverbs 13:17; and for "them that send," see on Proverbs 22:21.) The comparison is explained. For he refresheth the soul of his masters. He brings as great refreshment to his masters' mind as would a drink of snow-cooled water in the burning harvest field.
The Hebrew is, Clouds and wind without rain—he that boasteth himself in a gift of falsehood (see on Proverbs 25:11). The proverb is concerned with promises disappointed. Clouds and wind are generally in the East the precursors of heavy rain, as we read in 1 Kings 18:45, "In a little while the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain." After such phenomena, which, according to current meteorological observation, gave every hope of a refreshing shower in the time of summer drought, to see the clouds pass away without affording a single drop of rain is a grievous disappointment. The metaphor is found in the New Testament. St. Jude (Jude 1:12) calls false teachers "clouds without water, carried along by winds." "A gift of falsehood," equivalent to "a false gift," one that deceives, because it is only promised and never given. A man makes a great parade of going to bestow a handsome present, and then sneaks out of it, and gives nothing. Such a one is, as St. Jerome renders, Vir gloriosus, et promissa non complens. The old commentators quote Ovid, 'Heroid.,' 6.509—
"Mobilis AEsonide, vernaque incertior aura,
Cur tua pollicito pondere verba carent?"
"Deeds are fruits," says the proverb, "words are but leaves;" and "Vainglory blossoms, but never bears fruit." Concerning the folly of making stupid beasts, the Bengalee proverb speaks of a pedlar in ginger getting tidings of his ship. The Septuagint is incorrect, "As winds, and clouds, and rains are most evident (ἐπιφανέστατα), so is he who boasts of a false gift."
By long forbearing; i.e. by patience, calmness that does not break out into passion whatever be the provocation, even, it is implied, in the face of a false and malicious accusation (comp. Proverbs 14:29). Is a prince persuaded. Katson is rather "an arbiter," or judge, than "a prince," and the proverb says that such an officer is led to take a favourable view of an accused person's case when he sees him calm and composed, ready to explain the matter without any undue heat or irritation, keeping steadily to the point, and not seduced by calumny or misrepresentation to forget himself and lose his temper. Such a bearing presupposes innocence and weighs favourably with the judge. The LXX. makes the gnome apply to monarchs alone, "In long suffering is prosperity unto kings." A soft tongue breaketh the bone. A soft answer (Proverbs 15:1), gentle, conciliating words, overcome opposition, and disarm the most determined enemy, and make tender in him that which was hardest and most uncompromising. "Gutta cavat lapidem, non vi, sed saepe cadendo." Similar proverbs are found elsewhere, though probably in a different sense. Thus in modern Greek, "The tongue has no bones, yet it breaks bones;" in Turkish, "The tongue has no bone, yet it crushes;" again, "One drop of honey," says the Turk, "catches more bees than a ton of vinegar."
Hast thou found honey? Honey would be found in crevices of rocks, in hollow trees (1 Samuel 14:27), or in more unlikely situations (Judges 14:8), and was extensively used as an article of food. All travellers in Palestine note the great abundance of bees therein, and how well it answers to its description as "a land flowing with milk and honey." Eat so much as is sufficient for thee. The agreeable sweetness of honey might lead the finder to eat too much of it. Against such excess the moralist warns: Lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it. Thus wrote Pindar, 'Nem.,' 7.51—
Ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἀνάπαυσις ἐν παντὶ γλυκεῖα ἔργῳκόρον δ ἔχει
Καὶ μέλι καὶ τὰ τέρπν ἄνθε Ἀφροδι σια.
Μηδὲν ἄγαν, Ne quid nimis, is a maxim continually urged by those who wished to teach moderation. Says Homer, 'Iliad,' 13.636—
"Men are with all things sated—sleep, and love,
Sweet sounds of music, and the joyous dance."
Says Horace, 'Sat.,' 1.1, 106—
"Est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines,
Quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum?"
The honey is a figure of all that pleases the senses; but the maxim is to be extended beyond physical matters, though referring primarily to such pleasures. The mind may be overloaded as well as the body: only such instruction as can be digested and assimilated is serviceable to the spiritual nature; injudicious cramming produces satiety and disgust. Again, "To 'find honey,'" says St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 16.8), "is to taste the sweetness of holy intelligence, which is eaten enough of then when our perception, according to the measure of our faculty, is held tight under control. For he is 'filled with honey, and vomits it' who, in seeking to dive deeper than he has capacity for, loses that too from whence he might have derived nourishment." And in another place (ibid; 20.18), "The sweetness of spiritual meaning he who seeks to eat beyond what he contains, even what he had eaten he 'vomiteth;' because, whilst he seeks to make out things above, beyond his powers, even the things that he had made out aright, he forfeits" (Oxford transl.).
Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house; literaliy, make thy foot precious, rare; Septuagint, "Bring thy foot sparingly (σπάνιον) into thy friend's house," The proverb seems to be loosely connected with the preceding, as urging moderation. Do not pay too frequent visits to your neighbors' house, or make yourself too much at home there. The Son of Sirach has an utterance on a somewhat similar subject, "Give place, thou stranger, to an honourable man; my brother cometh to be lodged, and I have need of mine house. Those things are grievous to a man of understanding; the upbraiding of house room, and reproaching of the lender" (Ecclesiasticus 29:27, etc.). Lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee. Such a result might easily arise from too constant intercourse. Cornelius a Lapide quotes from Seneca ('De Benefic,' 1.15), "Rarum esse oportet quod diu carum velis," "That should be rare which you would enduringly bear."
And Martial's cynical advice—
"Nulli te facias nimis sodalem;
Gaudebis minus, et minus dolebis."
The same poet ('Epigr.,' 4.29, 3) writes—
"Rara juvant; primis sic major gratia pomis,
Hibernae pretium sic meruere rosae."
Hebrew, A maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow—a man that beareth false witness against his neighbour (see on Proverbs 25:11). One who bears false witness against his neighbour prepares for him the instruments of death, such as those mentioned here. "A maul" (mephits), usually a heavy wooden hammer (compare malleus and "mallet"); here a club, or mace, used in battle, ῥόπαλον. There is a kind of climax in the three offensive weapons named—the club bruises, the sword inflicts wounds, the arrow pierces to the heart; and the three may represent the various baneful effects of false testimony, how it bruises reputation, spoils possessions, deprives of life. The second clause is from the Decalogue (Exodus 20:16).
Hebrew (see on Proverbs 25:11), A broken tooth, and a foot out of joint—confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble. A faithless man is as little to be relied on in a time of need as a loose or broken tooth, and a foot unsteady or actually dislocated. You cannot bite on the one, you cannot walk on the other; so the perfidious man fails you when most wanted. Septuagint, "The way [ὁδὸς, Vatican, is probably a clerical error for ὀδοὺς, al.] of the wicked, and the foot of the transgressor, shall perish in an evil day." A Bengal maxim runs, "A loose tooth and a feeble friend are equally bad" (Lane).
As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather. The proverb gives three instances of what is wrong, incongruous, or unwise, the first two leading up to the third, which is the pith of the maxim. But them is some doubt about the rendering of the first clause. The Authorized Version has the authority of the Syriac, Aquila, and others, and gives an appropriate sense, the unreasonable proceeding being the laying aside of some of one's own clothes in cold weather. But the verb here used, עָדָח (adah), may also mean "to adorn," e.g. with fine garments; hence some expositors understand the incongruity to be the dressing one's self in gay apparel in winter. But, as Delitzsch remarks, there is no reason why fine clothes should not be warm; and if they are so, there is nothing unreasonable in wearing them. The rendering of our version is probably correct. St. Jerome annexes this line to the preceding verse, as if it confirmed the previous instances of misplaced confidence, Et amittit pallium in die frigoris. "Such a one loses his cloak in a day of frost." Vinegar upon nitre. Our nitre, or saltpetre, is nitrate of potash, which is not the substance intended by נֶתֶר (nether). The substance signified by this term is a natural alkali, known to the ancients as natron, and composed of carbonate of soda with some other admixture. It was used extensively for washing purposes, and in cookery and bread making. It effervesces with an acid, such as vinegar, and changes its character, becoming a salt, and being rendered useless for all the purposes to which it was applied in its alkaline condition. So he who pours vinegar on natron does a foolish thing, for he spoils a highly useful article, and produces one which is of no service to him. Septuagint, "As vinegar is inexpedient for a wound (ἕλκει), so suffering falling on the body pains the heart." Schulteus, Ewald, and others, by referring nether to an Arabic source, obtain the meaning "wound," or "sore," titus: "As vinegar on a sore." This gives a most appropriate sense, and might well be adopted if it had sufficient authority. But this is doubtful. Cornelius a Lapide translates the Septuagint rendering, Ὥσπερ ὅξος ἑλκει ἀούμφορον, "Sicut acetum trahit inutile;" and explains that vinegar draws from the soil the nitre which is prejudicial to vegetation, and thus renders ground fertile—a fact in agricultural chemistry not generally known, though Columella vouches for it. A somewhat similar fact, however, is of common experience. Land occasionally becomes what farmers term "sour," and is thus sterile; if it is then dressed with salt. its fertillity is restored. So is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart. The inconsistency lies in thinking to cheer a sorrowful heart by singing merry songs. "A tale out of season," says Siracides, "is as music in mourning" (Ecclesiasticus 22:6). The Greeks denoted cruel incongruity by the proverb, Ἐν, πενθοῦσι παίζειν; "Ludere inter maerentes." As the old hymn says—
"Strains of gladness
Suit not souls with anguish torn."
The true Christian sympathy teaches to "rejoice with them that rejoice, to weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15). Plumptre, in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' suggests that the effervescence caused by the mixture of acid and alkali is taken as a type of the irritation produced by the inopportune songs. But this is importing a modern view into a paragraph, such as would never have occurred to the writer. The Septuagint, followed partially by Jerome, the Syriac, and the Targum, introduces another proverb not found in the Hebrew, "As a moth in a garment, and a worm in wood, so the sorrow of a man hurts his heart."
Proverbs 25:21, Proverbs 25:22
This famous tetrastrich is reproduced (with the exception of the fourth line) from the Septuagint by St. Paul (Romans 12:20).
The traditional hatred of enemies is here strongly repudiated (see Proverbs 24:17, Proverbs 24:18, and notes there). Thus Elisha treated the Syrians, introduced blindly into the midst of Samaria, ordering the King of Israel to set bread and water before them, and to send them away unharmed (2 Kings 6:22). "Punish your enemy by benefiting him," say the Arabs, though they are far from practising the injunction; "Sweet words break the bones;" "Bread and salt humble even a robber," say the Russians.
For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. This expression has been taken in various senses. It has been thought to mean that the forgiveness of the injured person brings to the cheek of the offender the burning blush of shame. But heaping coals on the head cannot naturally be taken to express such an idea. St. Chrysostom and other Fathers consider that Divine vengeance is implied, as in Psalms 11:6, "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares; fire and brimstone and burning wind shall be their portion;" and Psalms 140:10, "Let burning coals fall upon them." Of course, in one view, kindness to an evil man only gives him occasion for fresh ingratitude and hatred, and therefore increases God's wrath against him. But it would be a wicked motive to act this beneficent part only to have the satisfaction of seeing your injurer humbled or punished. And the gnome implies that the sinner is benefited by the clemency shown to him, that the requital of evil by good brings the offender to a better mind, and aids his spiritual life. "Coals of fire" are a metaphor for the penetrating pain of remorse and repentance. The unmerited kindness which he receives forces upon him the consciousness of his ill doing, which is accompanied by the sharp rain of regret. St. Augustine, "Ne dubitaveris figurate dictum … ut intelligas carbones ignis esse urentes poenitentiae gemitus, quibus superbia sanatur ejus, qui dolit se inimicum fuisse hominis, a quo ejus miseriae subvenitur" ('De Doctr. Christ.,' 3.16). Lesetre quotes St. Francis de Sales, who gives again a different view, "You are not obliged to seek reconciliation with one who has offended you; it may be rather his part to seek you; yet nevertheless go and follow the Saviour's counsel, prevent him with good, render him good for evil: heap coals of fire on his head and on his heart, which may burn up all ill will and constrain him to love you" ('De l'Am. de Dieu,' 8.9). And the Lord shall reward thee. This consideration can scarcely be regarded as the chief motive for the liberality enjoined, though it would be present to the kind person's mind, and be a support and comfort to him in a course of conduct repugnant to the natural man. He would remember the glorious reward promised to godliness by the prophet (Isaiah 58:8, etc.), and how Saul had expressed his consciousness of David's magnanimity in sparing his life. "Thou art more righteous than I; for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil … wherefore the Lord reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day" (1 Samuel 24:17,1 Samuel 24:19 and 1 Samuel 26:21).
The north wind driveth away rain. So St. Jerome (Ventus Aquilo dissipat pluvias), Symmachus, Aben Ezra, and others. The north wind is called by the natives of Palestine "the heavenly," from the bright effect which it produces in the sky. "By means of the north wind cometh he (the sun) forth as gold" (Job 37:22). But the verb here used (חול) means "to bring forth, produce" (Psalms 90:2); hence the Revised Version rightly renders, "The north wind bringeth forth rain." This is quite true if "north wind" be taken as equivalent to "wind from the dark quarter" (Umbreit), like ζόφος in Greek; and, in fact, the northwest wind in Palestine does bring rain. Septuagint, "The north wind arouseth (ἐξεγείρει) clouds." So doth an angry countenance a backbiting, tongue. Carrying on the interpretation intended by the Authorized Version, this clause means that an angry leer will check a slanderer and incline him to hold his peace from prudential motives. But with the rendering given above, "bringeth forth," another explanation is involved, viz. "So does a secret, slandering tongue cause a troubled countenance." When a man discovers that a secret slanderer is working against him, he shows it by his gloomy and angry look, as the sky is dark with clouds when a storm is threatened. "Countenance" is plural in the Hebrew, denoting, as Hitzig points out, that the calumniator does not affect one person only, but occasions trouble far and wide, destroys friendly relations between many, excites suspicion and enmity in various quarters Septuagint, "An impudent countenance provokes the tongue."
A repetition of Proverbs 21:9, taken therefore from the Solomonic collection.
As cold waters to a thirsty soul. The particle of comparison is not in this first clause in the Hebrew. (For "cold waters," comp. Jeremiah 18:14.) So is good news from a far country. The nostalgia of an exile, and the craving for tidings of him felt by his friends at home, are like a parching thirst. The relief to the latter, when they receive good news of the wanderer, is as refreshing as a draught of cool water to a fainting, weary man. We do not know that the Hebrews were great travellers in those days; but any communication from a distant country would be very uncertain in arriving at its destination, and would at any rate take a long time in transmission, in most cases there would be nothing to rest upon but vague report, or a message carried by some travelling merchant. There is a somewhat similar proverb found at Proverbs 25:13 and Proverbs 15:30. The ancient commentators have seen in this news from a distant country the announcement of Christ's birth by the angels at Bethlehem, or the preaching of the gospel that tells of the joys of heaven, the land that is very far off (Isaiah 33:17).
Hebrew (see on Proverbs 25:11), A troubled fountain, and a corrupted spring—a righteous man giving way to the wicked. A good man neglecting to assert himself and to hold his own m the face of sinners, is as useless to society and as harmful to the good cause as a spring that has been defiled by mud stirred up or extraneous matter introduced is unserviceable for drinking and prejudicial to those who use it. The mouth of the righteous should be "a well of life" (Proverbs 10:11), wholesome, refreshing, helpful; his conduct should be consistent and straightforward, fearless in upholding the right (Isaiah 51:12, etc.), uncompromising in opposing sin. When such a man, for fear, or favour, or weakness, or weariness, yields to the wicked, compromises principle, no longer makes a stand for truth and purity and virtue, he loses his high character, brings a scandal on religion, and lowers his own spiritual nature. It is this moral cowardice which Christ so sternly rebukes (Matthew 10:33), "Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." Some have assumed that the gnome is concerned with a good man's fall into misfortune owing to the machinations of sinners; but in this case the comparison loses its force; such persecution would not disturb the purity or lower the character of the righteous man; it would rather enhance his good qualities, give occasion for their exercise and development, and therefore could not be described as fouling a pure spring.
It is not good to eat much honey. The ill effects of a surfeit of honey have been already mentioned (Proverbs 25:16); but here the application is different, and occasions some difficulty. The Authorized Version, in order to clear up the obscurity of the text, inserts a negative, So for men to search their own glory is not glory, which seems to be a warning against conceit and self-adulation. This is hardly warranted by the present Hebrew text, which is literally, as Venetian renders, Ἔρευνά τε δόξας αὐτῶν δόξα, "The search of their glory [is] glory." But who are meant by "their"? No persons are mentioned in the verse to whom the suffix in כְּבוֹרָם can be referred, and it is not improbable that some words have dropped out of the text. At the same time, we might naturally in thought supply "for men" after "it is not good," such omissions being not uncommon in proverbial sayings; the suffix then would refer to them. Commentators have endeavoured to amend the text by alterations which do not commend themselves. Schultens supposes that the suffix had reference to the Divine law and revelations, and, as כבד may mean both "glory" and "weight," translates, "Vestigatio gravitatis eorum, gravitas." Bertheau takes kabod in two different senses, "The searching out of their glory is a burden." So Delitzsch, by little manipulation of the pointing (כְּבֵרִם) obtains the rendering, "But to search out hard things is an honour." Taken thus, the maxim says that bodily pleasures sicken and cloy, but diligent study brings honour. This, however, is not satisfactory; it gives a word two different senses in the same clause, and it affords a very feeble contrast. One would naturally expect the proverb to say that the excess, which was deprecated in the first hemistich as regards one department, must be equally rejected in another sphere. This is somewhat the idea given by Jerome, Sic qui scrutator est majestatis opprimetur a gloria. The truth here stated will be explained by translating our text, "The investigation of weighty matters is a weight." Thus the clauses are shown to be well poised. Honey is good, study is good; but both may be used so as to be prejudicial. Eating may be carried to excess; study may attempt to investigate things too hard or too high. That this is a real danger we know well from the controversies about predestination and elation in time past, and those concerning spiritualism and theurgy in our own day (see Jeremy Taylor, 'Certainty of Salvation,' 3.176, edit. Hebrews; and 'Holy Living,' ch. 3, § 5). This is the view taken of the passage by St. Gregory ('Moral,' 14.32), 'If the sweetness of honey be taken in greater measure than there is occasion for, from the same source whence the palate is gratified, the life of the eater is destroyed.' The "searching into majesty" is also sweet; but he that seeks to dive into it deeper than the cognizance of human nature admits, finds the mere gloriousness thereof by itself oppresses him, in that, like honey taken in excess, it bursts the sense of the searcher which is not capable of holding it." And again (ibid; 20.18), "For the glory of the invisible Creator, which when searched into with moderation lifts us up, being dived into beyond our powers bears us down" (Oxford transl.). (Comp. Deuteronomy 29:29; Ecclesiasticus 3:21, etc.) Septuagint, "To eat much honey is not good, but it behoves us to honor glorious sayings."
A proverb like the last, concerned with self-control. In the Hebrew it runs thus (see on Proverbs 25:11): A city that is broken down without wall—a man on whose spirit is no restraint. "A city broken down" is explained by the next words. "without wall," and therefore undefended and open to' the first invader. To such a city is compared the man who puts no restraint on his passions, desires, and affections; he is always in danger of being carried away by them and involved in sin and destruction; he has no defence when temptation assaults him, having lost self-control (comp. Proverbs 16:32). The old gnomes hold always true—
Θυμοῦ κρατῆσαι κἀπιθυμίας καλόν.
Desire and passion it is good to rule."
Ταμιεῖον ἀρετῆς ἐστι σωφροσύνη μόνη
"Virtue's true storehouse is wise self-control."
A Chinese maxim says. "Who can govern himself is fit to govern the world." Septuagint, "As a city whose wails are broken down and which is unwalled, so is a man who does aught without counsel." St. Jerome, by the addition of the words, in loquendo, applies the proverb to intemperance in language, "So is he who is not able to restrain his spirit in speaking." Commenting on this, St. Gregory ('Moral,' 7.59) says, "Because it is without the wall of silence, the city of the mind lies open to the darts of the enemy, and when it casts itself forth in words, it exhibits itself exposed to the adversary, and he gets the mastery of it without trouble, in proportion as the soul that he has to overcome combats against its own self by much talking" (Oxford transl.).
This superscription gives us a hint of a very interesting historical event of which we have no account elsewhere. It suggests a picture of the days of Hezekiah; we see his scribes busily engaged in ransacking the ancient libraries, and bringing together the long-forgotten sayings of his famous predecessor.
I. A REVIVAL OF RELIGION SHOULD LEAD TO A REVIVAL OF LEARNING. The Renaissance preceded the Reformation, and, because it had no deep spiritual basis, it threatened to degenerate into dilletantism and pedantry. But after the second movement had takes hold of Europe, real, solid learning received a powerful impulse, because men were then in earnest in the search for truth. It would seem that a similar result was produced in the days of Hezekiah. Then there was a religious reformation, and that was followed by a newly awakened interest in the national literature. Of course, this was the more natural among the Jews, because their national genius was religious, and their literature was the vehicle of their religious ideas. The danger of a time of religious excitement is that it shall be accompanied by attenuated knowledge. But the more the religious feelings are roused, the more reason is there that they should be directed by truth. Revival preachers should be studious men if they wish their work not to be perverted into wrong and false courses through ignorance.
II. IT IS WISE TO PROFIT BY THE THOUGHTS OF OTHER MEN. The men of Hezekiah were not above learning from Solomon, who had left a reputation for unparalleled wisdom. But lesser lights have also their claims. It is a mistake to live on one's own thoughts without guidance or nourishment derived from the thoughts of other men. Private thinking tends to narrowness unless it is enlarged by the reception of a variety of ideas from external sources. The mind will ultimately starve if it is left to feed upon its own Juices. We must judge for ourselves, and only accept what we honestly believe to be true—seek truth, and think out our own convictions. But we shall do those things the better if we also allow that others may have light to give us. Above all, the Christian thinker needs to found his meditations on the Bible. Of the New Testament it may be said, "A Greater than Solomon is here." If the men of Hezekiah did well to collect the proverbs of Solomon, much more is it desirable to treasure up the sayings of him who spake as never man spoke.
III. WE MAY LEARN LESSONS FROM ANTIQUITY. Nearly three hundred years had passed between the days of Solomon and the time of Hezekiah—a period equal to that which separates us from the great Elizabethan writers; so that Solomon was as far anterior to Hezekiah as the poet Spenser is to our own generation. He belonged to the antique age. Yet the glamour of the great Hezekiah did not blind men to the glory of the greater Solomon. In the splendid achievements of the present day we are threatened with an extinction of antiquity. The nineteenth century, is the new image of gold that has been set up on our Plain of Dura for all men to worship. We shall suffer an irreparable loss, and our mental and spiritual life will be sadly stunted, if we fail to hearken to the teachings of our forefathers. We are not to be the slaves of the past. The new age may have its new truths, as well as its new needs and duties. But what was true in the past cannot cease to be so by simply going out of fashion; for truth is eternal. The very diversity of the ages may instruct us by widening our notions and correcting the follies of prevalent customs. The age of Solomon was very different from that of Hezekiah; yet the wisdom of the royal sage could profit the newer generation.
Apples of gold in a framework of silver
This is a picture of Oriental decoration. A gorgeous chamber is richly and elaborately ornamented with the precious metals, by fruit carved in gold being set in dainty work of silver—as brilliant a piece of decoration as can well be imagined. This finely turned metaphor is chosen by the writer in order to give the highest possible praise to "the word fitly spoken."
I. THE NATURE AND CHARACTER OF THE WORD FITLY SPOKEN.
1. It is a word. Here we see an immense value set upon a word. Words have weight to crush, force to drive, sharpness to pierce, brightness to illumine, beauty to delight, consolation to cheer. He is a foolish man who despises words.
2. It may be but one word. We cannot value words by the length of them, nor weigh them by their bulk. Many words may be worthless, while one word is beyond all price—if only it be the right word.
3. It must be a real word. It must not be a mere sound of the lips. A word is an uttered thought. The soul of it is its idea. When that has gone out of it, the empty sound is a dead thing, though it be voluminous and thunderous as the noise of many waters.
4. It needs to be an apt word; i.e.
(2) fit to be uttered by the speaker;
(3) suitable for the hearer;
(4) adapted to the occasion;
(5) shaped with point and individual character—a word that will go home and stick.
5. It should be a spoken word. There is a world of difference between living speech and written or printed sentences. The press can never supersede the human voice. We see that the newspaper has not suspended the functions of the political orator; it has only given breadth and. additional enthusiasm to his utterances. The publication of the daily paper has not prevented St. James's Hall from being crowded nor Hyde Park from being thronged by thousands of eager listeners when some great question is agitating the public mind. It is the same with the pulpit. The vocation of the preacher can never cease while the sympathy of personal presence is a power. In private life a short word goes further than a long letter.
6. It ought to be wisely spoken. Here, too, aptness is needed, to find the right moment and speak in the best manner. Formalism, pomposity, hardness or coldness of manner, may spoil the effect of the most suitable word.
II. THE SUPREME EXCELLENCE OF THE WORD FITLY SPOKEN.
1. It is rare. Such decoration as is described in the text could not have been often witnessed even amid the "barbaric splendour" of Solomon's days. It is not often that the best words are spoken. We live in a din of speech; it rains words. But most of the words we hear are neither gold nor silver.
2. It is costly. The ornamentation of gold and silver would be very expensive, first in material, then in artistic skill. It cannot always be truly said that "kind words cost little." The best words cost time, care, consideration, self-suppression, sympathy. What costs the speaker nothing is likely to be valued by the hearer at the same price.
3. It is beautiful. The metaphor describes what would be regarded as exceedingly lovely in Oriental art. But good words are more beautiful still. Poetry is more lovely than sculpture, for it has more soul and life and thought in it. Words of wisdom and love have the beauty of the graces that inspire them.
4. It is precious. Some costly firings are of little value, for one may squander wealth for what is worthless. But words of truth and goodness are beyond price. How supremely is this true of the words of Christ! How well also does it apply to the wise proclamation of the gospel!
Proverbs 25:21, Proverbs 25:22
Coals of fire.
I. THE CHRIST-LIKE DUTY.
1. It is positive. It is more than turning the other cheek to the smiter, or letting the thief of the cloak carry off the coat also. Passive non-resistance is to be surpassed by active kindness. The command is not merely to refrain from acts of vengeance; it is to bestir one's self in active benevolence for the good of an enemy—to return good for evil.
2. It is difficult. Perhaps this is not so exceedingly difficult as silence under provocation; for nothing seems so hard as to be still when one is wronged. Now, a new channel for the energy of vengeance is provided—to do good to the offender. Still this is very difficult.
3. It is Christ like. We have—what Solomon had not—the great example of Christ; not merely led as a lamb to the slaughter, but also freely giving himself in suffering and death for the salvation of those who persecuted him. If we would be Christians, we must walk in the footsteps of our Master. Here, indeed, is a ease in which the disciple is called upon to deny himself—to deny the natural impulse of revenge—and to take up his cross and follow Christ.
4. It is only possible with Divine grace. We ask for grace to bear our troubles. We should seek further grace to inspire us with more than a forgiving spirit—with active benevolence towards a foe.
II. ITS MIRACULOUS CONSEQUENCES.
1. Enmity is conquered. This is the last result that worldly men would expect. They would rather suppose that, if they gave their enemy an inch, he would take an ell. But there are two ways of conquering a foe—by coercing him and by destroying his enmity. When one makes a friend out of an old enemy he does most effectually vanquish and utterly destroy his enmity.
2. This results from the rousing of generous sentiments. It goes on the presumption that there are noble sentiments present, if latent, in the breast of an antagonist. The tendency of enmity is to paint our foe with the blackest colours. But he may be no worse than we are. Or, if he be an exceptionally bad man, still he is not a perfect demon. Though a man does wrong, we dare not assume that there is no capacity for better things in him. Now, the heathen method is to address him only on his evil side; but the Christian method—already anticipated in the Old Testament—is to appeal to his higher self. This is God's way in saving sinners. We deserve wrath and vengeance. But instead of our deserts, God has given us grace and a gospel of salvation. He heaps coals of fire on our heads, and conquers enmity with love. The enemy who is thus treated loses the satisfaction of having provoked his victim. He is chagrined at discovering his own impotence. It is useless to spit malice at a man who is strong and grand enough to give back kindness. Such action reflects on the degradation of the conduct of the enemy. If he has a sense of self-respect, it comes to him as burning coals of shame.
3. This method may be successful in various regions.
(1) In private quarrels.
(2) In religious differences. If the sects laboured to help one another, instead of biting and devouring each other, sectarianism would be consumed in the burning coals of Christian love.
(3) In national quarrels. We have tried the old heathen method of war long enough, and with no good results. It is time we turned to the Christian method of magnanimity.
4. This method receives the approval of God. Besides conquering the foe, it secures God's favour, which the method of revenge loses.
Good news from afar country.
I. THE LITERAL APPLICATION OF THE PROVERB.
1. It may be that a rumour has come that a distant ally is marching to succour a nation in its distress, when it had thought itself forgotten, isolated, and helpless.
2. Or perhaps, when there is famine in the land, the news arrives that "there is corn in Egypt."
3. Or, again, the nation, like Tyro in antiquity, like Venice and Holland later, like England in the present day, may do business on the great waters. She has possessions in distant lands, and her wealth is entrusted to the sea. As she learns that her enterprises are prospering, she rejoices at the good news from a far country.
4. Another way of applying the proverb is in relation to our kinsfolk across the sea. It would be well if England took more interest in her colonies. Coldness, inconsiderateness, and officialism may do much to alienate our children in the new worlds. If we would be drawn together in closer ties of mutual assistance, we must give more attention to colonial affairs.
5. Those who have relations in distant lands anxiously watch for the post. How refreshing to his widowed mother is the soldier's cheering letter from a distant land, telling of his safety! how much more so if it breathes winds of love and gratitude, and reveals a heart kept true among sore temptations!
6. Lastly, good news from the mission field is most refreshing for the Churches at home. We should all be the better for taking a wider view of the world, and rejoicing in everything good and hopeful among our fellow men.
II. THE SYMBOLICAL SUGGESTION OF THIS PROVERB. Such a proverb as that before us cannot but suggest a reference to the good news of which the angels sang at the birth of Christ, and, although we cannot assert that any such idea was in the mind of Solomon, the principle being true in itself, may be applied by us to the Christian gospel.
1. This comes from afar country.
(1) It comes from heaven. Christ came down from heaven, sent to us by his Father. The highest truth is a revelation. Christianity is a God-given religion. If we had to deal with "cunningly devised fables," it would not be worth while to pay much attention to the Christian legend. Its great importance rests on its truth as a message from God.
(2) Heaven is a far country, while we are in our sin. Though God is locally near, spiritually he is far away. The prodigal has strayed into a far country. Yet even there be is not forgotten. God has sent from his distant heavens a message to his wandering children.
2. It is good news.
(1) It tells of God's love and mercy.
(2) It declares Christ's mission to save—his incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection.
(3) It brings to us the offer of free deliverance from all evil and of a heavenly inheritance. The Siberian exile learns from the capital that he is pardoned. The pauper is told that he is heir to untold wealth in a distant land.
(4) It is of universal application. The good news is for all.
3. It is most refreshing. It is "as cold waters to a thirsty soul."
(1) It is much needed. The soul of man naturally thirsts for knowledge of the unseen. A deeper need is that of blessedness in union with God.
(2) It refreshes. We have not enough truth to clear up all mysteries, but we have enough to invigorate us and cheer us on our way. Not yet the full feast, but refreshing waters on the journey.
A city that is broken down.
Elsewhere the wise man has told us that it is greater for a man to get the victory over his own passions than to take a city (Proverbs 16:32). Now we learn the reverse truth—the shame, misery, and ruin of lack of self-control.
I. THE LACK OF SELF-CONTROL. We need to see what this condition really is. Every man is permitted, in a large measure, to be his own sovereign. No tyrant can invade the secret sanctuary of his thoughts. His ideas, passions, and will are his own. Moreover, God has given to us freedom of will, so that we can give the rein to our passions or restrain them. The inner man is like a city full of life. We are each called upon to keep order in our own cities, and, if we do not respond to the call, the result will be riotous confusion. There are wild beasts within that must be chained and caged, or they will break loose and ravage the streets—murderous propensities that must be shut in a deep dungeon; ugly and vile tendencies to sin that need to be crushed lest they usurp the control of the life. When the will is not fortified and exercised against these evil things, we suffer from lack of self-control.
II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF LACK OF SELF-CONTROL. The "city is broken down, and without walls."
1. Dilapidation. The city falls into ruins; its palaces and temples are wrecked; rain penetrates its broken roofs; the wind blows through the crevices of its ill-kept tenements. There is such a thing as a dilapidated soul. Remains of its former glory may yet be detected, but they only add to the shame of its present condition. By failing to control himself, the foolish man has let his passions tear his very soul to pieces. His character is a wreck.
2. An unprotected condition. The walls have vanished. The city lies open to the invader. Self-control serves as a wall to protect the soul from temptation; when this disappears, the soul's shelter is lest. Then worse evils follow. Wolves from the forest join with the unclean creatures of the city in wasting the miserable place. It is given over to the enemy. Such is the final condition of one without self-control. He is subject to all sorts of bad foreign influences. In the end he becomes like a city sacked by devils.
III. THE CAUSE AND THE REMEDY OF THE LACK OF SELF-CONTROL.
1. The cause—weak self-indulgence. At first the man might have held himself under; but he commenced to indulge his passions, and now they have the mastery over him. He did not begin by choosing evil; indeed, he has never decidedly chosen it. All he has done has been to permit "sin to reign" in his "mortal body." This was not the choice of sin, but it was culpable weakness.
2. The remedy—Divine strength. We are all too weak to stand alone; but when we have lost control over ourselves, there is no remedy but in the mighty salvation of Christ. This gives strength for the future, by means of which we may crucify the flesh. If we cannot rule our spirits, we may seek that Christ shall take possession of them and reign within. He will build up the broken wails and restore the ruined dwellings.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Kings: their attributes and duties
I. CONTRAST BETWEEN DIVINE AND HUMAN GOVERNMENT. Divine government is a mystery in its principles and its ends. Partial revelation only is given of its method in the Scriptures and in the actual course of the world. Actual relations are one thing, their secret spring another. The former may be known, the latter is veiled from our scrutiny. On the contrary, human government should be founded on principles intelligible to all and commendable to the conscience and reason of all. In the kingdom of God, says Luther, we must not seek to be wise, and wish to know the why and wherefore, but have faith in everything. In the kingdom of the world a governor should know and ask the why and wherefore, and trust in nothing.
II. THE RESERVE OF RULERS. (Proverbs 25:3.) If the heart in general is unsearchable, much more must theirs be who have not their own merely, but the secrets of nations in their keeping. The lesson is taught of abstaining from hasty censure of the actions and policy of those in power; the grounds of that policy may be far deeper than anything that meets the eye.
III. THE DUTY OF DISCERNMENT IN RULERS. (Proverbs 25:4, Proverbs 25:5.) As the refiner separates the dross from the silver, which mars its beauty and purity, so should the king exclude from his presence and counsels the profligate and the base. A pure or vicious court has immense influence on the manners and morals of the community. Christ speaks in like manner of gathering out of his kingdom at the day of judgment all offenders and workers of iniquity.
IV. THE TRUE FOUNDATION OF AUTHORITY. (Proverbs 25:5.) Not force, but moral power; not might, but right. How often in our time have thrones tottered or the occupant fallen when physical force alone was recognized as the basis of security 1 Justice is imprinted upon the nature of man. And let rulers who would maintain their power ever appeal to reason and to right. He who takes the motto, "Be just and fear not," for the maxim of his policy lays the only stable foundation of law and government.—J.
Proverbs 25:6, Proverbs 25:7
A lesson in courtly manners
Nothing in conduct is unimportant. Fitting and graceful manners are those which become our station in life. Here the relations to our superiors are touched upon.
I. WE SHOULD KNOW OUR PLACE, AND NOT STEP OUT OF IT. (Proverbs 25:6.) As the Arabic proverb finely says," Sit in thy place, and no man can make thee rise." "All that good manners demand," says a great writer," is composure and self-content." We may add to this "an equal willingness to allow the social claims of others as to rely upon our own." Self-respect is complemented by deference. We need a ready perception of worth and beauty in our companions. If it is folly to refuse respect to admitted external rank, much more to the native rank of the soul.
II. WE SHOULD ASSUME THE LOWEST RATHER THAN THE HIGHEST PLACE. (Proverbs 25:7.) The lesson runs all through life, from the outward to the inward and the spiritual (see Luke 14:8-11). "Comme il faut—'as we must be'—is the Frenchman's description of good society." The lesson is mainly against presumption in any and all of its forms, an offence hateful to man and God. To take the lowly place in religion here becomes us, and it leads to exaltation; to grasp at more than our due is to lose all and earn our condemnation. Christianity has a deep relation to manners. There is nothing so beautiful as the code of manners given in the New Testament.
"How near to good is what is fair!
Which we no sooner see,
But with the lines and outward air,
Our senses taken be."
Some social pests
I. THE CONTENTIOUS PERSON. (Proverbs 25:8.) He is irritable, easily takes offence, is readily provoked, barbs even the playful darts of jest with poison. When the consequences of this ill temper have broken out in full force, its mischief is seen and exposed too late. Beware, then, of "entrance to a quarrel." The contentious man may make real in the end the enmity of which he only dreams.
II. MANFUL CONDUCT IN DISPUTES. (Proverbs 25:9.) If an unavoidable dispute has begun, bear thyself in it with energy, but with honour. It is unmanly and base to employ against one's opponent the secrets that have been learned from him in some earlier confidential moment. Go first to your adversary, and seek a cordial explanation of the difference, and a lair and honourable settlement. And do not be tempted to mix up foreign matters with it. "Agree with thine adversary quickly."
III. THE EVIL OF NOURISHING QUARRELS. (Proverbs 25:10.) Lawsuits consume time, money, rest, and friends. Worst of all consequences, however, is that in the man's own mind. He lights a fire in his own bosom and keeps it ever supplied with the fuel of passion, and may turn his heart, and perhaps his home, into a hell.—J.
Similitudes of moral beauty and goodness
I. THE APT WORD. Compared to "golden apples in silver frames." Carved work adorning the ceilings of rooms is perhaps alluded to. The beauty of the groined sets off the worth of the object. Just so the good word is set off by the seasonableness of the moment of its utterance (1 Peter 4:11). The apt word is "a word upon wheels, not lotted or dragged, but rolling smoothly along like chariot wheels." Our Lord's discourses (e.g. on the bread and water of life) sprang naturally out of the course of passing conversation (John 4:1-54.; Luke 14:1-35.). So with Patti's famous discourse on Mars' Hill (Acts 17:1-34).
II. WISE CENSURE IN THE WILLING EAR IS COMPARED TO A GOLDEN EARRING. (Proverbs 25:12.) For if all wisdom is precious as pure gold, and beautiful as ornaments m that material, to receive and wear with meekness in the memory and heart such counsels is better than any other decoration. "The wisest princes need not think it any diminution to their greatness or derogation to their sufficiency to rely upon counsel. God himself is not without, but hath made it one of the great names of his blessed Son, 'The Counsellor'" (Bacon). He who willingly gives heed to wise chastisement does a better service to his ears than if he adorned them with the finest gold and with genuine pearls.
III. A FAITHFUL MESSENGER IS COMPARED TO COOLING SNOW. (Proverbs 25:13.) In the heat of harvest labour a draught of melted snow from Lebanon is like a "winter in summer" (Xen.,' Mem.,' Proverbs 2:1, 30). A traveller says, "Snow so cold is brought down from Mount Lebanon that, mixed with wine, it renders ice itself cold." So refreshing is faithfulness in service. The true servant is not to be paid with gold.
IV. IDLE PRETENSIONS COMPARED TO CLOUDS AND WIND WITHOUT RAIN. (Proverbs 25:14.) Promise without performance. Let men be what they would seem to be. "What has he done? is the Divine question which searches men and transpierces every false reputation ….Pretension may sit still, but cannot act. Pretension never feigned an act of real greatness. Pretension never wrote an 'Iliad,' nor drove back Xerxes, nor Christianized the world, nor abolished slavery."
V. THE POWER OF PATIENCE. (Proverbs 25:15.) Time and patience are persuasive; a proverb compares them to an inaudible file. Here patience is viewed as a noiseless hammer, silently crushing resistance. "He who would break through a wall with his hand," says an old commentator, "will hardly succeed!" But how do gentleness and mildness win their way! "I Paul beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:1).—J.
Excesses and errors
I. WARNING AGAINST SATIETY. (Proverbs 25:16, Proverbs 25:17.) The stories of Samson and of Jonathan may be read in illustration of the saying (Judges 14:8, Judges 14:9; 1 Samuel 14:26). Proverbs 25:27 points the warning against incurring the pain of satiety, "Honey, too, hath satiety," says Pindar—
"A surfeit of the sweetest things,
The deepest loathing to the stomach brings."
1. We should beware of a too frequent repetition of even innocent pleasures. "If a man will not allow himself leisure to be thirsty, he can never know the true pleasure of drinking." Self-indulgence far more than suffering unnerves the soul. It may well be asked—How can men bear the ills of life, if its very pleasures fatigue them?
2. A special application of the warning. Do not weary your friends. There should be a sacred reserve of a delicate mutual respect even in the most intimate relations of friendship. To invade a busy privacy, with a view to enjoy a snatch of gossip or secure some paltry convenience, is an offence against the minor morals. Defect in manners is usually owing to want of delicacy of perception. Kindly utterance must rest on the conscientious observance of peat Christian principles; let daily life be evangelized by their all-pervading power. Let us make our "foot precious" to our neighbour by not intruding it too often in his home. Better that our visits should be like angels', few and far between, than frequent and wearisome as those of a beggar or a dun.
II. THE TONGUE OF THE FALSE WITNESS. (Proverbs 25:15.) Compared to destructive weapons (comp. Psalms 52:4; Psalms 57:4; Psalms 64:4; Psalms 120:4). "The slanderer wounds three at once—himself, him he speaks of, and him that hears" (Leighton). Not only falsehood, but the perverse and distorted way of telling the truth, comes under this ban. "In the case of the witness against our Lord, the words were true, the evidence false; while they reported the words, they misrepresented the sense; and thus swore a true falsehood, and were truly foresworn (Matthew 26:60)" (Bishop Hall).
III. MISPLACED CONFIDENCE. (Proverbs 25:19.) Compared to a broken tooth and a disjointed foot. It is a too common experience, and suggests the counsel to select as confidants only good men. "Be continually with a godly man, whom thou knowest to keep the commandments of the Lord, whose mind is according to thy mind, and will sorrow with thee, if thou shalt miscarry; …and above all, pray to the Most High, that he will direct thy way in truth" (Ec 37:12-15). Above all, "let God be true, and every man a liar."
IV. INAPT AND UNREASONABLE MIRTH. (Proverbs 25:20.) It is like the mixture of acid with soda, by which the latter is destroyed; while the combination with oil, etc; produces a useful compound. It is like laying aside a garment in cold weather. Discordant behaviour, the words or the manner out of tune with the occasion, is the fault pointed at. It springs from thoughtlessness and want of sympathy. The Spirit of Christ teaches us to cultivate imagination and sympathy with others. "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep."—J.
Proverbs 25:21, Proverbs 25:22
Love to our enemy
I. LOVE DELIGHTS IN ITS OPPORTUNITY. (Proverbs 25:21.) And to true Christian love there is no opportunity sweeter than the distress of a foe.
II. LOVE DELIGHTS IN SUPPLYING NEED. It is the opposite of egotism, which clamours for personal satisfaction, and closes the avenues of pity to the distressed.
III. LOVE IS VICTORIOUS OVER EVIL. (Proverbs 25:22.) A wholesome pain is excited in the mind of the enemy. He begins to feel regret and remorse. The torch of a love divinely kindled dissolves the barrier of ice between soul and soul. Evil is overcome good.
IV. LOVE IS SURE OF ITS REWARD. Both present, in conscience; and eternal in the fruits and in the award of God. Not a cup of cold water shall be forgotten.—J.
I. AGAINST SLANDER. (Proverbs 25:23.) Here is a striking picture. Gunning and slanderous habits beget a dark and gloomy expression on the brow; as a homely German proverb says, "He makes a face like three days' rainy weather." The countenance, rightly read, is the mirror of the soul. Without the candid soul the brow cannot be clear and open. If we look into the mirror, we may see the condemnation which nature (that is, God) stamps upon our evil and unholy moods.
II. AGAINST CONTENTIOUSNESS. (Proverbs 25:24.) Better solitude than the presence of the quarrelsome in the home. A wife is either the husband's most satisfying delight or the cruetlest thorn in his side.
III. UNHOLY COWARDICE. (Proverbs 25:26.) Faint heartedness springs from need of genuine faith. To see the chief struck down in battle dismays the band.
"He is gone from the mountain,
he is lost to the forest,
Like a summer-dried fountain,
when our need was the sorest!"
And if the good man is a fountain of help and encouragement by his example, how does the drying up of such a spring—the failure to assert the truth and confront the gainsayer—dismay and paralyze those who look on!
IV. EXCESS IN SPECULATIVE THOUGHT. (Proverbs 25:27.) There may be too much of any good thing, even of the pursuit of knowledge. It is too much when it disturbs the health; as a common proverb of the Germans says, "To know everything gives the headache." It is too much when it disturbs the moral balance and unfits for society. We must know when to leave the heights of speculation and nestle in the lowly vale of faith.
V. WANT OF SELF-CONTROL. (Proverbs 25:28.) It is like an undefended city or one in ruins. How weak is it to be able to endure nothing, to deem it a mark of strength to resist every provocation and injury! Let us learn, after Christ's example, to be abused without being angry; to give soft words and hard arguments; and to cultivate self-control in matters of small moment, in preparation for those of greater. For "if we have run with the footmen, and they have wearied us, how shall we contend with horses?"—J.
Good news from abroad
I. IT IS REFRESHING AND EVER WELCOME. This needs no illustration. Absence and distance raise a thousand fears in the fancy. Division and space from loved ones chill the heart. The arrival of good tidings bridges over great gulfs in thought.
II. IT IS A PARABLE OF THE SPIRITUAL SPHERE. God has sent us good news from what, in our sins and ignorance, seems a far country. We have friends there. There is a real link between us. We are really near. There is the prospect of a final reunion.—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
God's glory in concealing
A contrast is here drawn between the glory of God and the honour of man, especially of one class of men—the order of kings.
I. THE HONOUR OF MAN IN INVESTIGATING.
1. The honour of royalty. This is "to search out a matter." The king is acting in a way that honours him when
(1) he searches human nature and knows all that he can learn about mankind, all, therefore, that he can know about his subjects;
(2) he acquaints himself with the character, the disposition, the career, of those immediately about him, in whom he trusts, on whom he leans;
(3) he investigates different affairs as they arise, probing and sifting most carefully, not satisfied until he has searched the whole thing through. It becomes a king to make the most complete and patient investigation into all national affairs.
2. The honour of mankind generally. This is to "search out" and become practically familiar with
(1) all the resources this earth will yield us for our use and our enlargement;
(2) the physical, mental, moral, and spiritual necessities of those around us;
(3) what is the true way to supply their need. This is that which most honours the disciples of that Son of man who came to minister and to redeem.
II. THE GLORY OF GOD IN CONCEALING. The thought of the writer is obscure. We shall certainly get into the track of it if we consider the three truths:
1. That God has no need to investigate. "All things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do;" all the dark places of the earth, the hearts of men, the most abstruse problems which are so perplexing in our sight.
2. That he himself is the Inscrutable One. "His thoughts are very deep," his "ways past finding out."
3. That it is necessary for him to conceal in order that he may truly bless; that he knows more than he can wisely reveal at once. Parents readily understand this, for they have frequently, constantly, to keep some truths our. of sight, ready for a later day and fuller powers; also to decline to reveal, and to leave their children to find out by their own patience and ingenuity. This is very frequently the case with our heavenly Father. For our own sake he half reveals to us and half conceals from us
(1) the way to become materially enriched, leaving us to find out what we need to know about agriculture and the stores of wealth that are far below the surface;
(2) the way to be mentally enlarged and established;
(3) the way to moral and spiritual good. God l,as designedly and for our ultimate benefit and blessing left much to be searched for and brought out of the Bible—his providential dealings with us, our future, both here and hereafter. It is the glory of man that he can discover and reveal what his fellow men are unable to make out. It is the glory of God that he cannot make known to us all that is present to his eye, or such revelation of present good and future blessedness would injure us; that he must hide from us a part of his infinite wisdom, some of his inexhaustible stores, and leave us to search and ascertain, that by our searching we may be "lifted up and strengthened."—C.
Proverbs 25:6, Proverbs 25:7
Modesty and self-assertion
Some amount of self-assertion is no doubt necessary for honourable success and fruitful achievement. But nothing is more common than for this quality to go beyond its true limit and become distasteful and even offensive both to God and man. What Solomon here deprecates, our Lord also condemns; what he honours, the Divine Teacher also prefers (see Luke 14:9).
I. THE DANGER OF SELF-ASSERTION. Its temptation is to assume such proportions that
(1) it becomes immodesty, and this is a positive evil, a blemish in character, and a blot upon the life; and
(2) it defeats its own ends, for it provokes antagonism and is discomfited and dishonoured. Every one is pleased when the presumptuous man is humiliated.
II. THE PREFERENCE OF MODESTY.
1. It is frequently successful. Modesty commends us to the good; we secure their good will; they are inclined to help us and to further our desires; they promote our prosperity. Every one is gratified when the man who "does not think more highly of himself than he ought to think" is the object of esteem, and takes the place of honour.
2. It is always beautiful. It is quite possible that, as a matter of worldly policy, modesty may not "answer." It may be, it will often happen, that a strong complacency and vigorous self-assertion will pass it in the race of life. Yet is it the fitting, the becoming, the beautiful thing. It is an adornment of the soul (see 1 Peter 3:3). It makes the other virtues and graces which are possessed to shine with peculiar lustre. It gives attractiveness to Christian character and lends a sweetness and influence which nothing else could confer. To be lowly minded is a far better portion than to have the gains and honours which an ugly assertiveness may command (see homily on Luke 14:7-11).—C,
Proverbs 25:8, Proverbs 25:9
The wise way of settlement
We look at—
I. THE INEVITABLENESS OF DISPUTES. It is quite impossible that, with our present complication of interests—individual, domestic, social, civic, national—differences and difficulties should not arise amongst us. There must be a conflict of opinion, a clash of wishes and purposes, the divergence which may issue in dissension. What reason would teach us to anticipate experience shows us to exist.
II. THE TEMPTATION OF THE HASTY. This is to enter at once upon strife; to "carry it to the court," to "enter an action," to make a serious charge; or (in the case of a community) to take such hostile action as threatens, if it does not end in, war. The folly of this procedure is seen in the considerations:
1. That it interposes an insurmountable barrier between ourselves and our neighbours; we shall never again live in perfect amity with the man with whom we have thus strives; we are sowing seeds of bitterness and discord which wilt bear fruit all our days.
2. That we are likely enough to be discomfited and ashamed.
(1) Those who judge "hastily" are usually in the wrong,
(2) No man is a wise and good judge in his own cause; to every man that which makes for himself seems stronger, and that which makes for his opponent seems weaker, than it appears to a disinterested observer.
(3) Whether a case will prosper or not at law depends on several uncertainties; and even if we have a righteous cause we may be entirely defeated—a brilliant advocate against us will easily "make the worse appear the better cause."
(4) The issue may be such that we shall be impoverished and ashamed. And that which will aggravate our misery will be that we have so foolishly neglected—
III. THE WAY OF THE WISE. To go at once to the offender and to state our complaint to him. This is in every way right and wise.
1. It is the way of manliness and honour. To talk to a third person about it is more easy and pleasant "to the flesh," but it is not the straightforward and manly course.
2. It is the way that is becoming. It is not the fitting thing to disclose our secrets to another; personal and domestic and ecclesiastical contentious are hidden by the wise and the worthy rather than made known to the world.
3. It is the way of peace; for, in the majority of cases, a very little explanation or a very simple apology at the beginning will set everything right.
4. It is the distinctly Christian way (Matthew 5:25, Matthew 5:26; Matthew 18:15).—C.
But what are—
I. THE WORDS THAT ARE WELCOME. They are:
1. Words that travel; "words upon wheels" (literally). They are words that do not "fall to the ground like water which cannot be gathered up again;" but words which are not allowed "to fall to the ground," which pass from lip to lip, from soul to soul, from land to land, from age to age.
2. Words that are level with our human understanding; which do not require special learning, or profundity, or experience to be appreciated, but which make their appeal to the common intelligence of mankind.
3. Words that meet our spiritual necessities; that direct us in doubt, that comfort us in sorrow, that strengthen us in weakness, that nerve us in duty, that calm us in excitement, that sustain us in disappointment, that give us hope in death.
II. THEIR COMMENDATION. They are like golden apples in silver caskets; i.e. they are things that excite our admiration and bring us refreshment. We do well to admire the true and wise word; the saying or the proverb, the terse, sagacious utterance which holds a little world of wisdom in its sentences, is a thing to be admired by us all. The man who first launches it is a benefactor of his people. And we do still better to appropriate and employ it; to find refreshment and even nourishment in it. Many a wise word has given needed strength to a human soul in the very crisis of its destiny.
III. THEIR CULTIVATION. How shall we learn to speak these "words upon wheels"—these fitting, wholesome, strengthening words? They come:
1. From a true heart; a heart that is true and loyal to its God and Saviour. First of all we must be right with him; only from a pure fountain will come the healing stream.
2. From a kind heart. It is love, pity, sympathy, that will prompt the right utterance. Where the learned deliverance or the brilliant bon-mot would entirely fail, the simple utterance of affection will do the truest work, will hit the mark in the very centre. Love is the best interpreter and the ablest spokesman as we make the pilgrimage and bear the burdens of our life.
3. From a thoughtful spirit. It is not the superficial talker, that discourses upon every possible topic, but rather the man who thinks, who ponders and weighs what he knows and sees, who tries to look into things, and who takes the trouble to look back and to look onward,—it is he who has something to say which it will be worth our while to listen to.
4. From practised lips. We do not acquire this sacred art of wise and helpful speech in a day or in a year; it is the happy and exquisite product of patient effort, it is a growth, it is a holy and beneficent habit, it is a thing to be cultivated; we may begin poorly enough, but by earnest eudeavour we shall succeed if we will only "continue in well doing."—C.
Proverbs 25:16, Proverbs 25:27
The wisdom of moderation
We can only eat a small quantity of honey; it we go beyond the limit we find out our mistake. Of this, as of all very sweet things, the words of the great dramatist are true, that "a little more than enough is by much too much." This is particularly applicable to that to which it is here referred.
I. SELF-PRAISE. We may go a little way in that direction, but not far. If we transgress the narrow bounds allowed, we shall soon find that we have done ourselves harm in the estimation of our neighbour. And even to talk, without praise, of ourselves is a habit to be held well in check, or it will run into an offensive and injurious egotism (see homily on Proverbs 17:2).
II. SELF-EXAMINATION. TO "search out our own glory" is not glorious, but rather inglorious. It is allowable enough for a man sometimes to recall what he has been to others, and what he has done for others; but he may not practise this beyond a very circumscribed limit. To hold up his own achievements before his own eyes is to beget a very perilous complacency; to find them out for other people's edification is quite as dangerous. And, on the other hand, for men to be searching their hearts or their lives to discover what is evil in them, to be instituting a constant examination of their souls to ascertain whereabouts they stand,—this is open to grave mistake, and may soon become unwise and hurtful. Self-examination is very good up to a certain point; beyond that point it becomes morbid and is a serious mistake.
III. BODILY EXERCISE AND INDULGENCE. This is very pleasant and (the latter) very "sweet," like the eating of honey. And to go some way in both of these is good and wise. But let the athlete beware lest his very love of bodily exercise betrays him into excesses which undermine his strength and bring on premature decline and death. And as to bodily indulgence, let us be often reminding ourselves that only in the cup of strict moderation—whatever that cup may be—is real pleasure or lasting health to be found. All excess here is as foolish as it is sinful.
IV. SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT. Can we have too much of this? Undoubtedly we can. Those who are perpetually partaking of one particular kind of religious nourishment, however good that may be in its way and measure, are over-eating of one kind of food, and they will suffer for so doing. They will not grow as God meant them to grow, proportionately and symmetrically; there will be a lopsidedness about their mind or character which is very noticeable and very ugly. Whether it be the contemplative, or the poetical, or the speculative, or the evangelistic, or the didactic, or any other side of truth in which men surfeit their souls, they make a mistake in so doing. They should understand that Divine truth has many sides and aspects, that there is not any one of them that constitutes wisdom or is sufficient to fill the mind and build up the character of a man. Our wisdom is to partake of the various dishes which are on the table our bountiful Host has provided for us; for as the body is the better for eating of many "meats," so is the soul all the stronger and all the fairer for partaking in moderation of all the various sources of spiritual nutrition that are within its reach.—C.
Proverbs 25:20, Proverbs 25:25
The inopportune and the acceptable
"A man that hath friends must show himself friendly" (Proverbs 18:24). And if we would do this we must be careful to choose our time for speaking the truth to our friends, and must study to do not only the right but the appropriate thing. We must—
I. ABSTAIN FROM THE INOPPORTUNE. (Proverbs 25:20.) It should require but a very humble share of delicacy to understand that what is very valuable at one time is altogether misplaced and unpalatable at another. We should carefully abstain from:
1. All merriment in the presence of great sorrow. By indulgence in it then we only add fuel to the fire of grief.
2. The discussion of business or the proposals of pleasure in the presence of earnest spiritual solicitude. When men are profoundly anxious about their relations with God, they do not want us to harass and burden them with talk about temporal affairs or about social entertainments; these are good in their time, but not at such a time as that.
3. Entering into the affairs of life in the presence of the dying. Those who stand very near indeed to the future world do not want to be vexed with matters which they are leaving behind for ever. Similarly, it is a mistake to be always or even often discussing death and the future with those who, while not unready for either, are charged with the duties and responsibilities of active life.
4. An urgent insistance upon spiritual obligations in presence of acute bodily suffering or severe destitution. The Christian course, in such a case, is to call in the doctor or the baker.
II. CULTIVATE THE ACCEPTABLE. (Proverbs 25:25.) How acceptable to the human heart is:
1. Good news from our friends and kindred when afar off from us. It is worth while to take much trouble, to a put ourselves quite out of our way," in order to convey this; it is one of the friendliest of friendly acts.
2. Society in loneliness; the kindly visit paid to the solitary, a conversation (however brief and simple) with those whose hearth is uncheered by companionship.
3. Encouragement in depression. The heart often aches and hungers for a word of cheer, and one very short sentence may lift it up from depths of disappointment and depression into the bracing air of hopefulness and determination.
4. Sympathy in sorrow. Grief does not crave many or fine words; it asks for genuine sympathy—the "feeling with" it; if it has this, it will gratefully accept any simplest utterance in word or deed, and will be comforted and strengthened by it. Real sympathy is always the acceptable thing.
5. Guidance in perplexity. When we do not know which way to turn, then the brief word of direction from one who has "gone that way before us" is valuable indeed. There is no kinder friend than the true and faithful guide. If we would take our part well and be to our brethren all that it is in our power to become, we must study to do the congenial and acceptable thing. The man who has acquired this art is worthy of our admiration and our love; we are sure that he will not go without our Master's commendation; for is it not he who is feeding the hungry, and giving the thirsty to drink? is it not he who is clothing the naked and healing the sick? While we do these two things, should we not also—
III. BE PREPARED FOR EVERY POSSIBLE CONDITION? We may be sure that uncongenial and congenial things will be said to us, timely and untimely attitudes will be taken toward us; some men will aggravate and others will heal our spirits. The wise man will see to it that he is
(1) rooted in those principles which never change but always sustain;
(2) has his strength in the One "with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning."—C.
The true triumph
(See homily on Proverbs 24:17, Proverbs 24:18, Proverbs 24:29.) To the truth on this subject there affirmed, may be added the consideration that to return good for evil is the true triumph; for—
I. TO BE AVENGED IS REALLY UNSATISFACTORY. It is, indeed, to have a momentary gratification. But of what character is this satisfaction? Is it not one that we share with the wild beast, with the savage, nay, even with the fiend? Is it one that we can approve in our calmer hour, that we can look back upon with any thankfulness or pure delight? In fact, it is to be really and inwardly defeated; for we then give way to a malevolent passion—we are "overcome of evil" instead of overcoming it. We allow thoughts to enter our mind and feelings to harbour in our heart of which, in worthier moments, we are utterly ashamed.
II. TO ACT MAGNANIMOUSLY IS THE VICTORIOUS THING.
1. It is to gain a very real victory over our self, over our lower passions.
2. It is to win our enemy. To make him suffer, to wound him, to damage his reputation, to cause him serious loss and injury,—that is a very poor thing indeed to do. Anyone is, in a moral sense, equal to that; mere malevolence can do that and can be at home in the act of doing it. But to win an enemy, to turn his hatred into love, his contempt into esteem, his cruelty into kindness, his hostility into friendship,—that is to triumph over him indeed, it is to "heap coals of fire upon his head."
III. TO ACT MAGNANIMOUSLY IS TO ACT DIVINELY. For it is:
1. To carry out Divine commandment (text; Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 12:14, Romans 12:19, Romans 12:21).
2. To act as the Divine Father does, and as Jesus Christ did when he was with us (Matthew 5:45; Luke 23:24).
3. To receive a Divine reward (text). God will bestow a bountiful, spiritual blessing on those who thus resolutely keep his word, gain dominion over themselves, bless their neighbour, and follow in the footsteps of their Lord.—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 26:1.)—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 16:32.)—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 25". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19