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These verses are grouped in pairs, each two being connected in subject.
Boast not thyself of tomorrow. He boasts himself (Proverbs 25:14) of tomorrow who counts upon it presumptuously, settles that he will do this or that, as if his life was in his own power, and he could make sure of time. This is blindness and arrogance. For thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Our Lord gave a lesson on this matter in the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:1-59.); and an analogous warning, based on our verse, is given by St. James (James 4:13, etc.). On this topic moralists and poets are always dilating. Very familiar are the words of Horace ('Carm.,' 4.7, 17)—
"Quis scit, an adjiciant hodiernae crastina summae
Tempora di superi?"
Euripides, 'Alc.,' 783—
Οὐκ ἔστι θνητῶν ὅστις ἐξεπίσταται
Τὴν αὔριον μέλλουσαν εἰ βιώσεται
Τὸ τῆστύχης γὰρ ἀφανὲς οἷ προβήσεται
Κἄστ οὐ διδακτόν οὐδ ἁλίσκεται τέχνη
"Every day in thy life," says the Arab, "is a leaf in thy history." Seneca wrote—
"Nemo tam divos habuit faventes
Crastinum ut possit sibi pelliceri,
Res deus nostras celeri citatas
There is the adage, "Nescis quid serus vesper vehat." The LXX. has, as at Jas 3:1-18 :28, "Thou knowest not what the next day (ἡ ἐπιοῦσα) shall bring forth." (For the expression, ἡ ἐπιοῦσα, comp. Acts 7:26; Acts 16:11.)
Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; Septuagint, "Let thy neighbour (ὁ πέλας) laud thee." A stranger; גָכְרִי, properly, "an unknown person from an unknown country;" but, like זר in the former hemistich, used indifferently for "another" (see on Proverbs 2:16). "If I honour myself," said our Lord (John 8:54), "my honour is nothing" And as St. Paul testifies (2 Corinthians 10:18), "Not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth."
Υπὲρ σαευτοῦ μὴ φράσῃς ἐγκώμια
said the Greek gnomist; and
Φίλων ἔπαινον μᾶλλον ἢ σαυτοῦ λέγε.
And a trite maxim runs, "In ore proprio laus sordet;" and an English one decides, "He who praises himself is a debtor to others." Delitzsch quotes a German proverb (which loses the jingle in translation), "Eigen-lob stinkt, Freundes Lob hinkt, fremdes Lob klingt," "Self-praise stinks, friends' praise limps, strangers' praise sounds."
A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; literally, heaviness of a stone, weight of the sand. The substantives are more forcible than the corresponding adjectives would be: the versions rather weaken the form of the expression by rendering, Grave est saxum, etc. The quality in the things mentioned is weight, heaviness, ponderosity; that is what we are bidden regard. A fool's wrath is heavier than them both. The ill temper and anger of a headstrong fool, which he vents on those about him, are harder to endure than any material weight is to carry. Ecclesiasticus 22:15, "Sand and salt and a mass of iron are easier to bear than a man without understanding." The previous verse asks, "What is heavier than lead? and what is the name thereof [i.e. of the heavier thing], but a fool?" Job speaks of his grief being heavier than the sand of the sea (Job 6:3).
Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous. Again substantives are used, as in Proverbs 27:3, "Cruelty of wrath, and overflowing of anger." Figure to yourself the fierceness and cruelty of a sudden excitement of anger, or the bursting forth of passion which, like a flood, carries all before it; these may be violent for a time, yet they will subside when they have spent themselves. But who is able to stand before envy? or rather, jealousy. The reference is not so much to the general feeling of envy as to the outraged love in the relation of husband and wife (see Proverbs 6:34, and note there). So Proverbs 8:6, "Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the flashes thereof are flashes of fire, a very vehement flame." Such jealousy does not blaze forth in some sudden outbreak, and then die away; it lives and broods and feeds itself hourly with fresh aliment, and is ready to act at any moment, hesitating at no means to gratify itself, and sacrificing without mercy its victim. Septuagint, "Pitiless is wrath, and sharp is anger; but jealousy (ζῆλος) submits to nothing."
Open rebuke is better than secret love. Love that is hidden and never discloses itself in acts of self-denial or generosity, especially that which from fear of offending does not rebuke a friend, nor speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), when there is good reason for such openness—such disguised love is worse, more objectionable, less beneficial, than the plain speaking which bravely censures a fault, and dares to correct what is wrong by well-timed blame. To hold back blame, it has been said, is to hold back love. "I love not my friend," wrote Seneca ('Ep.,' 25), "if I do not offend him." Plautus, 'Trinum.,' 1.2, 57—
"Sed tu ex amicis certis mi es certissimus.
Si quid scis me fecisse inscite aut improbe,
Si id non me accusas, tu ipse objurgandus."
Publ. Syr; 'Sent.,' 16, "Amici vitia si feras, facis tua," which Erasmus expounds by adding, "If you take no notice of your friend's faults, they will be imputed to you." Cicero ('De Amicit.,' 24, 25) has some sensible remarks on this subject: "When a man's ears are shut against the truth, so that he cannot hear the truth from a friend, the welfare of such a one is hopeless. Shrewd is the observation of Cato, that some are better served by bitter enemies than by friends who seem to be agreeable; for the former often speak the truth, the latter never … . As therefore both to give and receive advice is the characteristic of true friendship, and that the one should act with freedom, but not harshly, and that the other should accept remonstrance patiently and without resistance, so it should be considered that there is no deadlier bane to friendship than adulation, fawning, and flattery."
Faithful are the wounds of friend. This and the next verse afford examples of the antithetic form of proverb, where the second line gives, as it were, the reverse side of the picture presented by the first. The wounds which a real friend inflicts by his just rebukes are directed by truth and discriminating affection (see Psalms 141:5). But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. So St. Jerome, Fraudulenta oscula odientis. But the verb here used (עתר) has the meaning, among others, "to be abundant or frequent;" hence it is better to take it in this sense here, as "plentiful, profuse." An enemy is lavish with his Judas kisses to hide his perfidy and hatred. Septuagint, "More to be trusted are the wounds of a friend than the spontaneous (ἑκούσια) kisses of an enemy." "Non omnis qui parcia," wrote St. Augustine ('Ep.,' 48, 'ad Vincent.'), "amicus est, neque omnis qui verberat, inimicus."
The full soul loatheth an honeycomb. For "loathes" the Hebrew is literally "treads upon," "tramples underfoot," which is the expression of the greatest disgust and contempt; or it may mean that the well-fed man will not stoop to pick up the comb which may have dropped in his path from some tree or rock. But whichever way we take it, the same truth is told—Self-restraint increases enjoyment; over-iudulgence produces satiety, fatigue, and indolence. Horace, 'Sat.,' 2.2, 38—
"Jejunus raro stomachus vulgaria temnit."
But to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet. So the prodigal in the parable would fain fill himself with the husks which the swine did eat. So we say, "Hunger is the best sauce;" the Germans, "Hunger makes raw beans sweet;" and the Portuguese. "Brackish water is sweet in a dry land."
As a bird that wandereth from her nest. Jerome's avis transmigrans conveys to us a notion of a migratory bird taking its annual journey. But the idea here is of a bird which leaves its own nest either wantonly or from some external reason, and thereby exposes itself to d so comfort and danger (comp. Isaiah 16:2). So is a man that wandereth from his place; i.e. his own home (comp. Ecclesiasticus 29:21, etc; and 36:28 in Vet. Lat; "Quis credit ei qui non habet nidum, et deflectens ubicumque obscuraverit, quasi succinctus latro exsil ins de civitate in civitatem?"). The proverb indirectly inculcates love of one's home and one's native land. To be "a fugitive and a vagabond" (Genesis 4:12) was a terrible punishment, as the Jews have learned by the experience of many centuries. Language and religion placed a barrier against residence in any country but their own (see Psalms 84:1-12.); and though at the time when this book was probably written they knew little of foreign travel, yet they regarded sojourn in a strange land as an evil, and centred all their ideas of happiness and comfort in a home life surrounded by friends and countrymen. The word "wander" may have the notion of going into exile. Septuagint, "As when a bird flies down from its own nest, so is a man brought into bondage when he is banished (ἀποξενωθῇ) from his own place." Some have reasoned from this expression that the idea of exile had become familiar to the writer, and hence that this portion of the Proverbs is of very late origin (Cheyne)—surely a very uncertain foundation for such a conclusion. The love of Orientals for their native soil is a passion which no sordid and miserable surroundings can extinguish, and a man would consider even a change of home an unmixed evil, though such change was not the result of exile. Our view of the fortunes of one who is always shitting his abode is expressed in the adage, "A rolling stone gathers no moss."
Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart. (For the use of unguents in the honourable treatment of guests, see Proverbs 7:16, etc.; Proverbs 21:17.) Similarly, perfumes prepared from spices, roses, and aromatic plants were employed; rooms were fumigated, persons were sprinkled with rose water, and incense was applied to the face and beard, as we read (Daniel 2:46) that Nebuchadnezzar ordered that to Daniel, in recognition of his wisdom, should be offered an oblation and sweet odours (see 'Dick of Bible,' and Kitto, 'Cyclop.,' voc. "Perfumes"). The heat of the climate, the insalubrious character of the houses, the profuse perspiration of the assembled guests, rendered this attention peculiarly acceptable (comp. So Daniel 3:6). The LXX; probably with a tacit reference to Psalms 104:15, renders, "The heart delighteth in ointments, and wines, and perfumes." So doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel. This is rather clumsy; the Revised Version improves it by paraphrasing, that cometh from hearty counsel. The meaning is that as ointment, etc; gladden the heart, so do the sweet and loving words of one who speaks from the depths of his soul. The idea is primarily of a friend who gives wise counsel, speaking the truth in love, or shows his approval by discreet commendation. The LXX. has pointed differently, and translates, "But the soul is broken by calamities (καταῤῥήγνυται ὑπὸ (συμπτωμάτων);" Vulgate, "The soul is sweetened by the good counsels of a friend."
Another proverb, a tristich, in praise of friendship. It seems to be a combination of two maxims. Thine own friend, and thy father's friend, forsake not. A father's friend is one who is connected with a family by hereditary and ancestral bonds; φίλον πατρῷον. Septuagint. Such a one is to be cherished and regarded with the utmost affection. Neither go into thy brother's house in the day of thy calamity. The tried friend is more likely to help and sympathize with you than even your own brother, for a friend is born for adversity, and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother (Proverbs 17:17; Proverbs 18:24, where see notes). The mere blood relationship, which is the result of circumstances over which one has had no control, is inferior to the affectionate connection which arises from moral considerations and is the effect of deliberate choice. We must remember, too, that the practice of polygamy, with the separate establishments of the various wives, greatly weakened the tie of brotherhood. There was little love between David's sons; and Jonathan was far dearer to David himself than any of his numerous brothers were. Better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off. "Near" and "far off" may be taken as referring to feeling or to local position. In the former case the maxim says that a neighbour who is really attached to one by the bonds of affection is better than the closest relation who has no love or sympathy. In the latter view, the proverb enunciates the truth that a friend on the spot in time of calamity is more useful than a brother living at a distance; one is sure of help at once from the former, while application to the latter must occasion delay, and may not be successful. Commentators quote Hesiod, Ἔργ. καὶ Ἡμ; 341—
Τὸν δὲ μάλιστα καλεῖν ὅστις σέθεν ἐγγύθεναίει
Εἰ γάρ τοι καὶ χρῆμ ἐγκώμιον ἄλλο γένηται
Γείτονες ἄζωστοι ἔκιον ζώσαντο δὲ πηοί
My son, be wise, and make my heart glad. The exhortation of a father to his son, or of a teacher to his pupil. Such address is not found elsewhere in this latter portion of the book, though common in previous parts. Delitzsch translates, "become wise." Σοφὸς γίνου, Septuagint. Such development of wisdom delights a father's heart, as Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 23:15, Proverbs 23:24. That I may answer him that reproacheth me (Psalms 119:42; comp. Psalms 127:5; Ecclesiasticus 30:2). If the pupil did not show wisdom and morality in his conduct, the teacher would incur blame for the apparent failure of his education; whereas the high tone of the disciple might be appealed to as a proof of the merit and efficacy of the tutor's discipline. On the other hand, the evil doings of Hebrews often made the Name of God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles; just as nowadays the inconsistent lives of Christians are the greatest impediment to the success of missionary efforts in heathen countries. St. Jerome has, Ut possis exprobanti respondere sermonem. So Septuagint, "And remove from thyself reproachful words." But the first person is in accordance with the Hebrew.
A repetition of Proverbs 22:3. The sentence is asyndeton.
A repetition of Proverbs 20:16. The LXX; which omits this passage in its proper place, here translates, "Take away his garment, for a scorner passed by, whoever lays waste another's goods."
He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning. What is meant is ostentatious salutation, which puts itself forward in order to stand well with a patron, and to be beforehand with other servile competitors for favour. Juvenal satirized such parasitical effusion ('Sat.' 5.19)—
"Habet Trebius, propter quod rumpere somnum
Debeat et ligulas dimittere, sollicitus, ne
Tots salutaris jam turba peregerit orbem,
Sideribus dubiis, aut illo tempore, quo se
Frigida circumagunt pigri surraca Bootae."
The "loud voice" intimates the importunate nature of such public trumpeting of gratitude, as the "rising early" denotes its inopportune and tactless insistency, which cannot wait for a convenient opportunity for its due expression. It shall be counted a curse to him. The receiver of this sordid adulation, and indeed all the bystanders, would just as soon be cursed by the parasite as blessed in this offensive manner, This clamorous outpouring of gratitude is not accepted as a return by the benefactor; he sees the mean motives by which it is dictated self-interest, hope of future benefits—and he holds it as cheap as he would the curses of such a person. The nuisance of such flattery is mentioned by Euripides, 'Orest.,' 1161—
Παύσομαί σ αἰνῶν ἐπει_
Βάρος τι κὰν τῷ δ ἐστὶν αἰνεῖσθαι λίαν.
"Duo sunt genera prosecutorum," says St. Augustine ('In Psalm.,' 69), "sciliet vituperantium et adulantium; sed plus prosequitur lingua adulatoris, quam manus prosecutoris." "Woe unto you," said Christ (Luke 6:26), "when all men shall speak well of you." "Do I seek to please men?" asked St. Paul (Galatians 1:10); "for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."
Proverbs 27:15 and Proverbs 27:16 form a tetrastich on the subject of the termagant wife.
The single line of the second clause of Proverbs 19:13 is here formed into a distich. A continual dropping in a very rainy day. "A day of violent rain," סַגְרִיר (sagrir), which word occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. And a contentious woman are alike. The word rendered "are alike" (נִשְׁתָּוָה) is usually taken to be the third perf. nithp. from שׁיה; but the best established reading, according to Hitzig, Delitzsch, and Nowack, is נִשְׁתָּוָה, which is regarded as a niph. with a transposition of consonants for נְשְׁוָתָה. Septuagint, "Drops of rain drive a man out of his house on a stormy day." The ill-constructed roofs of Eastern houses were very subject to leakage, being flat and formed of porous material.
Whosoever hideth her hideth the wind. Whoever tries to restrain a shrewish woman, or to conceal her faults, might as well attempt to confine the wind or to check its violence. And the ointment of his right hand, which bewrayeth itself. He might as well try to hide the ointment which signifies its presence by its odour. But there is no "which" in the original, which runs literally, "his right hand calls oil," or, "oil meets his right hand." The former is supposed to mean that he is hurt in the struggle to coerce the vixen, and needs ointment to heal his wound; but the latter seems the correct rendering, and the meaning then is that, if he tries to hold or stop his wife, she escapes him like the oil which you try in vain to keep in your hand. An old adage says that there are three things which cannot be hidden, but always betray themselves, viz. a woman, the wind, and ointment. The LXX. has read the Hebrew differently, translating, "The northwind is harsh, but by name it is called lucky (ἐπιδέξιος);" i.e. because it clears the sky and introduces fine weather. The Syriac, Aquila, and Symmachus have adopted the same reading.
Iron sharpeneth iron. The proverb deals with the influence which men have upon one another. So a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. So the Vulgate, Homo exacuit faciem amici sui. The action of the file is probably meant (1 Samuel 13:21); and the writer names iron as the sharpener rather than the whetstone, because he wishes to denote that one man is of the same nature as another, and that this identity is that which makes mutual action possible and advantageous. Some have taken the proverb in a bad sense, as if it meant that one angry word leads to another, one man's passion excites another's rage. Thus Aben Ezra. The Septuagint perhaps supports this notion by rendering, Ἀνὴρ δὲ παροξύνει πρόσωπον ἑταίρου. But the best commentators understand the maxim to say that intercourse with other men influences the manner, appearance, deportment, and character of a man, sharpens his wits, controls his conduct, and brightens his very face. Horace uses the same figure of speech, 'Ars Poet.,' 304—
"Fungar vice cotis, acutum
Reddere quae ferrum valet, exsors ipsa secaudi."
On the subject of mutual intercourse Euripides says, 'Androm.,' 683—
Ἡ δ ὁμυλία
Πάντων βροτοῖσι γίγνεται διδάσκαλος
Is that which teaches mortals everything."
Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof. He who watches, tends, and cultivates the fig tree will in due time have the reward of his labour in eating its fruit. The abundance of the produce of this tree makes it a good figure of the reward of faithful service. Septuagint, "He that planteth a fig tree shall eat the fruits thereof" (2 Timothy 2:6). So he that waiteth on his maser shall be honoured. He who pays attention, has loving regard to his master, shall meet with honour as his reward at his master's hands, and also from all who become acquainted with his merits. The gnome may well be applied to the case of those who do true and laudable service to their heavenly Master, and she shall one day hear from his lips the gracious word, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matthew 25:21).
As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man; Vulgate, Quomodo in aquis resplendent vultus prospicientium, sic corda hominum manifesta sunt prudentibus. As in clear water the face of the gazer is reflected, so man finds in his fellow man the same feelings, sentiments, passions, which he has himself. He sees in others the likeness of himself; whatever he knows himself to be, he will see others presenting the same character. Self-knowledge, too, leads to insight into others' minds; "for what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?" (1 Corinthians 2:11). There is a solidarity in human nature which enables us to judge of others by ourselves. The difficulties in the construction and wording of the sentence do not affect the interpretation. They are, however, best met by rendering, with Delitzsch, "As it is with water, face corresponds to face, so also the heart of man to man." Septuagint, "As faces are not like faces, so neither are the thoughts of men;" which is like the saying of Persius, 'Sat.,' 5.52—
"Mille hominum species, et rerum discolor usus;
Velle suum cuique est, nec voto vivitur uno."
Hell and destruction are never full. "Hell" is sheol, the under-world, Hades, the place of the departed; "destruction" is the great depth, the second death, personified (see on Proverbs 15:11, where the terms also occur). These "are never satisfied," they are insatiable, all-devouring (comp. Proverbs 30:16; Isaiah 5:14; Habakkuk 2:5). So the eyes of man are never satisfied. The verb is the same in both clauses, and ought to have been so translated. The eye is taken as the representative of concupiscence in general. What is true of "the lust of the eyes" (1 John 2:16) is true of all the senses; the craving for their gratification grows as it is fed. Therefore the senses should be carefully guarded, lest they lead to excess and transgression. "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity," said the psalmist, "and quicken me in thy way" (Psalms 119:37). The LXX. here introduces a paragraph not in the Hebrew or the Latin Versions: "He that fixes (στηρίζων) his eye [i.e. staring impudently] is an abomination to the Lord, and the uninstructed restrain not their tongue."
Fining pot, etc. (see on Proverbs 17:3; comp. also Proverbs 25:4). So is a man to his praise. The Hebrew is literally, The crucible for silver, and the furnace for gold, and a man according, to his praise; i.e. as the processes of metallurgy test the precious metals, so a man's public reputation shows what he is really worth, as is stated in Proverbs 12:8. As the crucible brings all impurities to the surface, so public opinion drags forth all that is bad in a man, and he who stands this test is generally esteemed. Certainly praise is a stimulus to exertion, an incentive to try to make one's self worthy of the estimation in which one is held, especially if he purifies it from the dross and earthliness mixed with it, and takes to himself only what is genuine and just. But public opinion is very commonly false end is always a very unsafe criterion of moral excellence. Hence other interpretations have been proposed. Ewald renders, "and a man according to his boasting," that is, according to that which he most praises in himself and others. So virtually Hitzig, Bottcher, Zockler, and others. In this view the gnome denotes that a man's real character is best examined by the light cast upon it by his usual line of thought, what he most prides himself upon, what he admires most in other men. Plumptre, after Gesenius and Fleischer, has, "So let a man be to his praise," i.e. to the mouth which praises him; let him test this commendation, to see what it is worth, before he accepts it as his due. The explanation first given seems on the whole most suitable, when we reflect that the highest morality is not always enunciated, and that secondary motives are widely recognized as factors in action and judgment. There are not wanting men in modern days who uphold the maxim, Vox populi, vox Dei. Septuagint, "The action of fire is a test for silver and gold, so a man is tested by the mouth of them that praise him." No surer test of a man's true character can be found than his behaviour under praise; many men arc spoiled by it. If a man comes forth from it without injury, not rendered vain, or blind to his defects, or disdainful of others, his disposition is good, and the commendation lavished upon him may be morally and spiritually beneficial. Vulgate, Sic probatur homo ore laudantis, "So is a man proved by the mouth of him that praises him." The following passage from St. Gregory, commenting on this, is worth quoting, "Praise of one's self tortures the just, but elates the wicked. But while it tortures, it purifies the just; and while it pleases the wicked, it proves them to be reprobate. For these revel in their own praise, because they seek not the glory of their Maker. But they who seek the glory of their Maker are tortured with their own praise, lest that which is spoken of without should not exist within them; lest, if that which is said really exists, it should be made void in the sight of God by these very honours; lest the praise of men should soften the firmness of their heart, and should lay it low in self-satisfaction; and lest that which ought to aid them to increase their exertions, should be even now the recompense of their labour. But when they see that their own praises tend to the glory of God, they even long for and welcome them. For it is written, "That they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" ('Moral.,' 26.62, Oxford transl.). The LXX. adds a verse which is not found in the Hebrew, but occurs in some manuscripts of the Latin Version, "The heart of the transgressor seeketh out evils, but an upright heart seeketh knowledge."
Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle. "To bray" is to pound or beat small. "Wheat," רִיפוֹת, riphoth (only in 2 Samuel 17:19), "bruised corn." Vulgate, In pila quasi ptisanas (barley groats) feriente; Aquila and Theodotion, Ἐν μέσῳ ἐμπτισσομένων "In the midst of grains of corn being pounded." The LXX; reading, differently, has, "Though thou scourge a fool, disgracing him (ἐν μεσῳ συνεδρίου) in the midst of the congregation." Of course, the process of separating the husks from the corn by the use of pestle and mortar is much more delicate and careful than threshing in the usual clumsy way; hence is expressed the idea that the most elaborate pains are wasted on the incorrigible fool (see on Proverbs 1:20). His foolishness will not depart from him. An obstinate, self-willed, unprincipled man cannot be reformed by any means; his folly has become a second nature, and is not to be eliminated by any teaching, discipline, or severity. There is, too, a judicial blindness, when, after repeated warnings wilfully rejected and scorned, the sinner is left to himself, given over to a reprobate mind "Whoso teacheth a fool," Siracides pronounces, "is as one that glueth a potsherd together, and as he that waketh one from a sound sleep" (Ecclesiasticus 22:7). Again, "The inner parts of a fool are like a broken vessel, and he will hold no knowledge as long as he liveth" (Ecclesiasticus 21:14). In Turkey, we are told, great criminals were beaten to pieces in huge mortars of iron, in which they usually pounded rice. "You cannot straighten a dog's tail, try as you may," says a Telugu maxim (Lane). There is a saying of Schiller's which is quite proverbial, "Heaven and earth fight in vain against a dunce." Horace, 'Epist.,' 1.10, 24—
"Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret."
Juvenal, 'Sat.,' 13.239—
"Tamen ad mores natura recurrit
Damnatos, fixa et mutari nescia."
A mashal ode in praise of a pastoral and agricultural life. The moralist evidently desires to recall his countrymen from the luxury of cities and the temptations of money making to the simple ways of the patriarchs and the pleasures of country pursuits—which are the best foundation of enduring prosperity.
Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks. "State;" פנִים (panim); vultum, Vulgate; the face, look, appearance. The LXX. has ψυχάς, which may perhaps mean "the number"—a necessary precaution when the sheep wandered on the downs and mountains, and had to be collected in the evening and folded. These precepts are naturally applied to all rulers, and especially to Christian pastors who have the oversight of the flock of Christ (1 Peter 5:2-4). Ecclesiastes 7:22, "Hast thou cattle? have an eye to them; and if they he for thy profit, keep them with thee."
For riches are not forever; as Proverbs 23:5. Money and other kinds of wealth may be lost or wasted; it is therefore expedient to have the resources of agriculture, land and herds, to depend upon. Chosen (Proverbs 15:6), translated "riches," is "strength," "abundance," "treasure laid up." Delitzsch renders, "prosperity;" Septuagint, "A man has not strength and power forever;" Vulgate, Non habebis jugiter potestatem, i.e. "you will not always be able to tend your flocks; infirmity and old age will prevent you." And doth the crown endure to every generation? The crown or diadem, נֵזֶר (nezer), is the symbol of royal authority, or of the highest dignity of the priesthood (Exodus 29:6; Exodus 39:30). These positions are not secure from generation to generation; much less stable, in fact, than the possession of farms and cattle. St. Jerome, Sed corona tribuetur in generationem et generationem, where corona is the headship of the family. Septuagint, "Neither doth he transmit it (his strength) from generation to generation."
As Proverbs 27:23 commended the rearing of cattle, and Proverbs 27:24 supported the injunction by showing its comparative permanence, so this and the following verses discuss the material advantages of such occupation. The hay appeareth; rather, the grass passeth away, is cut and carried. This is the first stage in the agricultural operations described. And the tender grass showeth itself; the aftermath appears. And the herbs of the mountain are gathered; the fodder from off the hills is cut and stored. All these verbs are best taken hypothetically, the following verses forming the apodosis. When all these operations are complete, then crone the results in plenty and comfort. Septuagint, "Have a care of the herbage (χλωρῶν) in the plain, and thou shalt cut grass, and gather thou the mountain hay."
The Iambs are for thy clothing. Thy sheep will provide thee with clothing by their skin and wool, and by the money which thou wilt obtain by the sale of them. The goats are the price of the field; the sale of thy goats and their produce will pay for thy field if thou wish to buy it (see on Proverbs 30:31). Septuagint, "That thou mayest have sheep for clothing; honour thy land that thou mayest have lambs."
Goats' milk. Dr. Geikie ('Holy Land and Bible,' 1.311) notes that in most parts of Palestine goats' milk in every form—sour, sweet, thick, thin, warm, or cold—makes, with eggs and bread, the main food of the people. And maintenance for thy maidens; who milk the goats, etc; and tend the cattle, and do the household work. There is no mention of the use of animal flesh as food. It was only on great occasions, as high festivals, or the presence of an honoured guest, that kids, lambs, and calves were killed and eaten. This picture of rural peace and plenty points to a time of security and prosperity, free alike from internal commotion and external danger. The famous passage in Cicero, 'De Senect.,' 15; on the pleasures and advantages of the agricultural life. will occur to all classical readers. So also Horace ('Epod.,' 2), "Beatus ille qui procul negotiis," etc. The LXX. makes short work of this verse, "My son, thou hast from me sayings mighty for thy life and for the life of thy servants."
Boasting of the morrow
I. ITS FOLLY. No man is a prophet. At the best we can but calculate probabilities. The man who has never had a day's illness may be suddenly laid low, struck down with paralysis, arrested by unsuspected heart disease, blood poisoned by a whiff of bad air from a drain, at death's door from pneumonia caught in an unheeded draught. The business which looks fair and prosperous may suddenly collapse. The trusted bank may break. Our life is dependent upon so many unseen sources, and is affected by so many complicated circumstances, that no man can unravel the tendencies or predict the results. Astronomy is a simple science compared with sociology. The movements of the solar system are altogether more intelligible than those of the homeliest soul. We cannot predict our own conduct, Moreover, there are other minds to be considered. Above all, there is the inscrutable providence of God.
II. ITS DANGER. "Boasting of the morrow" leads to carelessness. The man who is confident without warrant is likely to be off his guard. Believing that all is safe, he does not fortify himself against a possible surprise of mischief. He is just in the condition most favourable for attack. The wily tempter is aware of this. Therefore the danger is all the greater because it is ignored. Thus Peter, weakened through over confidence, fell into sin, even though he had been warned against it.
III. ITS SIN. This is not merely a question of prudence and personal welfare. It touches our relations with God. He who boasts himself of the morrow acts either atheistically, denying the Divine control of life, or presumptuously, assuming without reason that God will aid his plans. Such conduct reveals a guilty pride. It is opposed to the humility of one who would bow low before the inscrutable providence of the Almighty.
IV. ITS PUNISHMENT. Such boasting is certain to be punished by failure. It would not be well to let it proceed to success, for such a result would only confirm and aggravate the evil habit. Partial and temporary victory may be attained, but ultimate triumph cannot be won in this way. God casts down and humbles the boaster, and in his shame he has an opportunity of learning wisdom.
V. ITS ANTIDOTE. This is not to be found in a cowardly shrinking from the future, nor is it to be had in a habit of despair, ever painting the days to come in the blackest hues, with the melancholy motto, "Blessed is he that expecteth little; for he shall not be disappointed." The true antidote is to be discovered in a spirit of trust. God has indeed hung an impenetrable curtain between our vision and the land of the future. Even the very morrow dwells as yet in a land of darkness, and we vainly try to discern its features. But it is perfectly familiar to God, before whom all eternity is as a clear picture ever present. And God, who knows the future, controls it. Therefore we are safe when we trust; and, eschewing boastfulness, we can learn not to be anxious about the morrow, because we can trust our Father who holds the secrets of all the morrows in his hand.
I. SELF-PRAISE IS ILL FOUNDED. It may be true to fact, but we cannot be sure that it is.
1. Possibly it is insincere. So many motives of vanity and self-interest urge a person to pretend to be better than he is, that a certificate of merit given by himself on behalf of himself cannot be taken at a high value.
2. Probably it is delusive. Even when it is perfectly sincere it is likely to be perverted by unconscious misconceptions. It is very easy to be honestly mistaken as to one's own worth. We are the worst conceivable judges of our own characters and deserts. Even when we can calmly and fairly estimate our powers we are likely to be very wrong in valuing our use of them.
II. SELF-PRAISE SPRINGS FROM SELFISHNESS.
1. It reveals a self-regarding habit. If a man is given to expatiate on his own merits, he must be accustomed to turn his thoughts inwards; he must be familiar with the contemplation of himself. Now, this is not wholesome. The less a man thinks about himself the better for his own soul's health.
2. It implies a desire of self-aggrandizement. There is usually a motive behind the habit of self-praise, and, though this may be nothing worse than childish vanity, it carries with it a desire for exciting the admiration of others; it aims at reaping a harvest of laudation. But possibly the end sought is more far reaching, and the pretentious person indicts his own testimonials with a deliberate intention of securing some tangible advantage thereby. The self-praise is then just an ugly, glaring blossom of selfishness.
III. SELF-PRAISE PROVOKES JEALOUSY. It rarely secures the admiration that it seeks. On the contrary, it is generally received with suspicion; and even when it is honest and true, a large discount is taken off its claims.
1. Its defective authority is perceived. This is a point to which vanity is singularly blind. Yet all the weakness of the situation is apparent to every beholder; for it is universally recognized that a man is strongly tempted to make out a good case for himself, and that he is likely to be deceived into an inordinate estimate of his own value. Therefore self-praise is usually wasted.
2. It irritates the vanity of others. The tendency is for the hearer to imagine that the vain speaker desires to exalt himself at the expense of others. A comparison of merit seems to be challenged, and this at once rouses the jealousy of the audience. Thus self-praise does not win friends. What it may perhaps succeed in extracting in the form of admiration is paid for dearly by the dislike that it also creates.
IV. SELF-PRAISE IS CONTRARY TO CHRISTIAN HUMILITY. It represent, a wholly alien spirit. Doubtless it is a common weakness of men who are truly Christian and kind hearted, for no man is perfect; but still it is a weakness, and it is foreign to the genius of the religion under which it finds a shelter. The often repeated rule of Christ is that "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased;" "The first shall be last." The Due disciple is not to choose the upper seat in the synagogue. Humility, self-forgetfulness, the preference of others, are the Christian graces. Self-praise is useless before God.
V. SELF-PRAISE ONLY AIMS AT WHAT CAN BE BETTER ATTAINED WITHOUT IT. "Let another man praise thee." Self-praise silences the lips of admration from others. The truly humble man will not crave such admiration. But all men of right feeling must desire to stand well with their fellows. It is happy to feel that we have the respect and confidence of those whose opinion we value. Now, these encouragements are better secured by unpretentious merit, and humility in earnest, simple attempts to do right.
The wounds of a friend.
The principle implied in this verse is apparent at a glance. It is better that one who loves and truly considers the interests of another should wound him for his good than that a superficial flatterer should refrain from doing so for the sake of pleasing and winning continuous favour. The only difficulties lie in the practical application of the principle.
I. TRUE FRIENDSHIP WILL DARE TO WOUND. It is painful and difficult to do that which we know will grieve one who is greatly loved. Therefore if it is ready necessary it will put the love to the test.
1. True friendship considers the welfare of another. The chief thought is not on behalf of agreeable companionship, but as to what will really benefit one's friend.
2. The welfare of another may require a painful treatment. There are so called "candid friends," who secretly delight in saying unpleasant things. With such people there is no merit in giving pain, nor is it likely that much advantage will result from their rough conduct. But it may be possible to point out a friend's mistakes, to warn him against temptation, to gravely deprecate his wrongful conduct, to make him feel his deterioration of character. Then, though the process must be keenly painful on both sides, love will attempt it.
II. THE WOUNDS OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP SHOULD BE PATIENTLY RECEIVED.
1. The cost of thorn should be considered. If they do indeed come from a friend they show his genuine regard, his unselfish devotion. They also indicate how thorough is his confidence; for they show that he expects to be rightly understood, and that his painful action will not be resented. He risks a breach of the friendship for the sake of benefiting his friend. This is a generous action, and it should be generously accepted. But it needs magnanimity both to give and to take the wounds of friendship.
2. The value of them should be appreciated. The first impulse is to feel aggrieved, to resent the intrusion, to treat the well-meant rebuke as an insult, to justify, one's self, perhaps even to overwhelm the friend who wounds with rage and revenge. This is as foolish as it is ungrateful. If we only knew it, we should confess that we have no better friends than those who dare to wound us. It is just from such friends that we can learn wisdom. Flattery kisses and slays; friendship wounds and saves.
III. THE DIVINE FRIENDSHIP WOUNDS TO SAVE. The world flatters and promises only pleasant things to its slaves when it first enthralls them. God treats us in the opposite way, warning us of danger, rebuking our sins, even chastising us with heavy blows. But "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth."
1. God proves himself to be our Friend by wounding us. He might have left us alone to rot in our own wretched ruin. But in his great love he has interfered to save, though his advances are met with insult and anger. God loves enough to give pain.
2. It would be wise to receive God's wounding as that of a Friend. It is for our good; then the best course is to take it accordingly, to endeavour to profit by it. Christ lays a cross on his disciples, and saves them by leading them to follow in his Via Dolorosa, and to be crucified with him (Galatians 2:20).
A bird wandering from her nest
Let us consider first in what respects a man may be said to be wandering from his place, and then how the evil of this condition may be illustrated by the metaphor of a bird wandering from its nest.
I. HOW A MAN MAY WANDER FROM HIS PLACE.
1. He may leave the work he is suited for. There is no reason why a man should not endeavour to rise in the social scale. Christianity does not consecrate any system of caste. But there are works for which certain men have natural aptitude, or for which they have been trained, and other works for which they are not thus suited. Unhappily, our inclination does not always coincide with our capacity. To follow one's likings outside the range of one's powers is to wander from one's place.
2. He may forsake his duty. Every man's rightful place is at the post of duty. No danger, no difficulty, no disagreeableness, can justify any one in forsaking that place.
3. He may depart from God. Then indeed will he have wandered from his true place. For the home of the soul is with God. Absence from God is to be out of one's place,
(1) though in a very paradise of delights,
(2) though among the most congenial companions,
(3) though with an eminently attractive occupation.
4. He may renounce his human status.
(1) In descending to that of an animal. Bestial lust and brutal cruelty are inhuman. He who plunges into such vile things necessarily wanders from himself as a man. He gives up the rank of a human being.
(2) In degrading himself to diabolical living. This happens to one who chooses evil for its own sake, loving wickedness and pursuing it.
II. HOW SUCH A MAN MUST SUFFER AS A BIRD THAT WANDERS FROM HER NEST.
1. He loses peace. The nest is typical of quiet and restfulness. To forsake it is to be at large in the noisy, tumultuous world. So one who is out of his place is cast adrift on a homeless waste. He sacrifices peace in pursuit of novelty.
2. He is removed from congenital companionship. The poor young bird leaves her fellows and flies into unknown regions, where she finds hers. If alone among strange creatures. A man who is out of his element will be equally alone and friendless. The very fact that he is in the wrong place implies that he cannot find true sympathy in his new sphere. Perhaps he has been foolishly aiming at entering some higher circle of life than one that he is fitted for. If so, he will only be supremely uncomfortable, perpetually regarded as an intruder or ridiculed as a blunderer. It is better to cultivate the affections of one's own home circle and true old friends.
3. He is not able to fulfil his mission. It may be that a mother bird is here thought of. In wandering from her nest she forsakes her young. So he who leaves his rightful place neglects his obligations. He fails to do his duty to those naturally dependent on him. Charity begins at home.
4. He is exposed to danger. The poor wandering bird may be lost in the forest; she may starve for want of food; birds of prey may pounce upon her in the darkness. There is no safety off the path of duty. Even unsuitable spheres are dangerous, because a man does not know how to behave himself in them. Away from God there is danger of ruin without hope of escape.
Foresight of evil
I. IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO FORSEE ALL FUTURE EVIL. God, in his great mercy, has drawn a thick veil over the face of futurity. We can reason of probabilities; in some cases we can almost predict certainties; but taking the whole round of life, and the full reach of futurity, we have to recognize the fact that the evil to come as well as the good are largely hidden from our view. It would not be possible for us to bear the sight if all dark experiences were crowded into one horrible picture and presented before our imagination at once. We can take one by one the evils that would crush us if we beheld them all together in a mighty, terrible phalanx. When the trouble comes the strength may be given to bear it, but not before.
II. IT IS FOOLISH TO FRET OURSELVES WITH ANXIETIES ABOUT THE MORROW. This is the distinct teaching of Christ, based on various grounds.
1. We have enough to bear in the present. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
2. We cannot command the future. No man by being anxious can add one cubit to his stature or change the natural colour of his hair.
3. God is our Father. He feeds the wild birds and clothes the fields. Much more will he feed and clothe his own children.
4. We base higher considerations to absorb our allergies. "Seek first the kingdom of God. and his righteousness."
III. WE NEED TO MAKE A REASONABLE PROVISION FOR THE FUTURE. It may appear that the prudence of the Book of Proverbs is rebuked by teachings of Christ. No doubt our Lord does lift us into a higher atmosphere. But there is no contradiction between the two positions. Indeed, we are best able to banish needless care when we have made proper provision for the future. Thrift does not create anxiety. The man who has insured his house against fire does not dread the incendiary more than the man who has not provided himself against the contingency of a conflagration. He who is prepared for death need not fear death.
IV. IT IS A MARK OF TRUE WISDOM TO GUARD AGAINST THE EVIL THAT MAY BE AVOIDED.
1. This obtains in secular pursuits. Ignorance is no excuse for not providing against a disaster when reasonable thoughtfulness would have foreseen it. The reckless general who burns the bridges behind him is guilty of the blood of his soldiers who are slaughtered after a great defeat.
2. This is most true in the spiritual world.
(1) Here we may foresee danger. For God has revealed the fatal consequences of sin. No one who reflects can say that he has no reason to expect that his sin will be punished. The very nature of sin foreshadows its own dreadful doom.
(2) Here we may provide against it. It is not an inevitable destiny. "God has opened up a way of escape." It is wise to consider the danger of sin, in order to flee from it to safety in Christ (1 John 2:1).
The advantages of society
I. OBSERVE IN WHAT THE ADVANTAGES OF SOCIETY CONSIST. We have ancient authority for the idea that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Man is naturally a gregarious being. Though some people are more sociable than others, no one can be healthy in perpetual solitude. The isolation of the hermit engendered the wildest hallucinations of fanaticism together with the narrowest conception of the world. Prisoners of the Bastille, in solitary confinement, were reduced to a condition of semi-idiocy. Robinson Crusoe made the best of his situation, yet he could not live without the companionship of animal pets, and he was glad of the humble friendship of a poor savage.
1. Society quickens a man's intelligence. Even Wordsworth was thought by some to have deteriorated mentally in his comparative seclusion at Rydal Mount, and yet there were other men of high mental power in his neighbourhood. Men's thoughts are stimulated and sharpened by conversation.
2. Society rouses a man's energy. Empty society of mere pleasure seekers only dissipates a man's powers in frivolity. But the society of earnest men stimulates by sympathy, emulation, and encouragement.
3. Society broadens a man's views. He is able to see how other men think and feel. They may not all have greater advantages than he possesses; but at least they are differently constituted and situated from himself. Thus he is lifted out of the narrowness of his own single vision. Such breadth gives strength when it is accompanied by an earnest love of truth and right.
II. CONSIDER HOW THE ADVANTAGES OF SOCIETY MAY BE REALIZED.
1. They are dependent on a man's residence. Horace's old dispute between the town and the country mouse has never been settled. Cowper wrote, "God made the country, man made the town;" and no doubt there is to be seen a certain restfulness, a purity, and a quiet power in nature that those men miss who reside in the heart of a wilderness of houses, Nevertheless, there are compensations for the disagreeable pressure of population in great cities. The mind is quickened. Still, as evils also result from this manner of living, it is certainly important that those who are able to select their own residences should consider wholesome society to be as important as a pure water supply.
2. They can be found in sympathetic friendship. One good, true friend is more helpful than a score of mere acquaintances. It is in the close intercourse of genuine friendship that the best results of the mutual play of thought and feeling can be obtained. Hence the supreme importance of cultivating friendship with the wise and good.
3. They should be obtained in the Christian Church. Christ not only called disciples to himself, one by one; he founded the Church, and his apostles established local Churches wherever they could gather together a few converts. Christian companionship should be a help to Christian life and thought. There was a time when they who feared the Lord spake often one to another (Malachi 3:16). Above this earthly friendship the Christian finds a mental and spiritual quickening in the friendship of Christ (Luke 24:32).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Beastliness, jealousy, and hypocrisy
I. OVER CONFIDENCE REBUKED. (Proverbs 27:1.)
1. On the ground of our limited knowledge. The homely proverb says, "Do not count your chickens before they are hatched." The future exists for us only in imagination. "Who knows," asks Horace, "whether the gods above will add tomorrow's time to the sum of today?" ('Od.,' Proverbs 4:7. Proverbs 4:17); and Seneca, "None hath gods so favourable as that he may promise himself tomorrow's good."
2. On the ground of the Divine reserve of the secrets of destiny. To boast is to lift ourselves in effect out of that finite sphere of thought and feeling in which we have been placed by the Divine ordination. So says Horace again, "Shun to inquire into the future and the morrow; and whatever day fortune shall afford thee, count it as gain" ('Od.,' Proverbs 1:9, Proverbs 1:13). Common sense and religious humility unite to teach us to "live for the day."
II. SELF-PRAISE CENSURED. (Proverbs 27:2.) "Let another praise thee, and not thine own mouth." "Self-praise stinks," and "Not as thy mother says, but as the neighbours say," are Arabic proverbs. Every individual has a certain value; the sense of this is the foundation of all self-respect and virtue. But to show an over-consciousness of this worth by self-praise is a social offence, because it is an exaction of that which ought to be a free tribute, and betrays a desire of self-exaltation above others not easily forgiven.
III. THE PASSION OF THE FOOL INTOLERABLE. (Proverbs 27:3.) Whether it be envy, furious resentment of rebuke, or jealousy, it is a burden intolerable to the person himself and to those with whom he has to do. The pious may readily sin in their anger, how much more the ungodly!
"Ira furor brevis est; animum rege; qui, nisi paret,
Imperat; hunc froenis, hunc tu compesce catena.'
(Horace, 'Ep.,' 1.2, 62).
It is like a weight of stone or sand, being without cause, measure, or end (Poole).
IV. THE TERRIBLE FORCE OF JEALOUSY AND ENVY. (Proverbs 27:4.) It exceeds all ordinary outbursts of wrath in violence and destructiveness. Envy is the daughter of pride, the author of revenge and murder, the beginner of sedition, and the perpetual tormentor of nature (Socrates). It never loves to honour another but when it may be an honour to itself. "From envy … good Lord, deliver us!"
V. FALSE LOVE AND FAITHFUL FRIENDSHIP CONTRASTED. (Proverbs 27:5, Proverbs 27:6.) False love refuses to tell a friend of his faults, from some egotistic and unworthy motive. "If you know that I have done anything foolishly or wickedly, and do not blame me for it, you yourself ought to be reproved" (Plaut.,'Trinum.,' Proverbs 1:2, 57). "It is no good office," says Jeremy Taylor, "to make my friend more vicious or more a fool; I will restrain his folly, but not nurse it." "I think that man is my friend through whose advice I am enabled to wipe off the blemishes of my soul before the appearance of the awful Judge" (Gregory I). Christians should "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). If the erring one does not learn it from the lips of love, he will have to learn it from a harsher source and in ruder tones (comp. Job 5:17, Job 5:18; Psalms 141:5; Revelation 3:19; Proverbs 28:23). There cannot be a more worthy improvement of friendship than in a fervent opposition to the sins of those we love (Bishop Hall).—J.
Proverbs 27:7, Proverbs 27:8
The blessing of contentment
I. THE CONTENTED MIND. (Proverbs 27:7.) "Enough is as good as a feast;" "Hunger is the best sauce." To know when we are well off is the cure for the canker of envy and discontent. Deprivation for a time teaches us the need of common blessings. The good of affliction is that it brings us nearer to God; and of poverty of spirit, that it is never without food.
II. THE EVIL OF RESTLESSNESS. (Proverbs 27:8.) "The rolling stone gathers no moss." Rarely does the wanderer better his condition. Unstable as water, he doth not excel. Those who seek satisfaction for the soul out of God are like those who wander into far country, like the prodigal. "O my wandering ways! Woe to the soul which presumed, if it departed from thee, that it should find anything better! I turned on every side, and all things were hard, and thou alone wast my Rest. Thou hast made us for thyself, O God, and our heart is restless till it finds rest in thee."—J.
Proverbs 27:9, Proverbs 27:10
The praises of friendship
I. ITS SWEETNESS. (Proverbs 27:9.) It is compared to fragrant unguent and incense (Psalms 104:15; Psalms 133:2). It is more delightful to listen to the counsel of a dear friend than sternly to rely on self. It is in human nature to love to see itself reflected in other objects; and the thoughts we approve, the opinions we form, we recognize gladly on another's lips. Talking with a friend is better than thinking aloud.
II. TIME-HONOURED FRIENDSHIP SHOULD ABOVE ALL BE HELD DEAR. (Proverbs 27:10.) The presumption is that your own and your father's friend is one tried and approved, and may be depended upon.
"The friends thou hast and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hooks of steel."
III. FRIENDSHIP IS FOUNDED UPON SPIRITUAL SYMPATHY. And this ranks before the ties of blood. The thought meets us in the proverbs of the ancient world in general. In the touching story of the friendship of Orestes and Pylades, e.g; it has its application. "This is what people say, 'Acquire friends, not relations alone;' since a man, when he is united by disposition, though not of kin, is better than a host of blood relations for another man to possess as his friend". And Hesiod says, "If aid is wanted, neighbours come ungirt, but relations stay to trek up their robes." Divine friendship is the highest illustration of this love.. Christ is above all the "Friend that sticketh closer than a brother."—J.
The need of prudence
I. PRUDENT CONDUCT REFLECTS CREDIT UPON ONE'S PARENTS. (Proverbs 27:11.) The graceless children of gracious parents are a special reproach, bringing dishonour even upon the Name of God (Genesis 34:30; 1 Samuel 2:17). The world will generally lay the blame at the parents' door. The Mosaic Law severely punished the sins of the priest's daughter for the disgrace brought upon the holy office (Le Proverbs 21:9).
II. THE NEED AND ADVANTAGE OF FORETHOUGHT. (Proverbs 27:12.) Prudence has been described as "the virtue of the senses." It is the science of appearances. It is the outward action of the inward life. It is content to seek health of body by complying with physical conditions, and health of mind by complying with the laws of intellect. It is possible to give a base and cowardly interpretation of the duty of prudence; that "which makes the senses final is the divinity of sots and cowards, and is the subject of all comedy. The true prudence admits the knowledge of an outward and real world." Thus true prudence is only that which foresees, detects, and guards against the ills which menace the life of the soul; for there is no profit in the prudence which seeks the world and risks the soul. Those are "simple" who, often with the utmost regard for their material interests, go on heedless of the moral perils which their habits incur.
III. THE FOLLY OF THOUGHTLESS SURETYSHIP. (Proverbs 27:13.) This, as we have seen, is often dwelt on in this book. It refers to a different condition of society from our own. We may generalize the warning. Prudence includes a proper self-regard, a virtuous egotism, so to speak. When good-natured people complain that they have been deceived, taken in, and turn sourly against human nature, do they not reproach themselves for having hacked this primary virtue of prudence? The highest virtues can grow only out of the root of independence (see Proverbs 20:16).—J.
Insincerity in friendship
The picture is that of one who indulges in the noisy ostentation of friendship, without having the reality of it at his heart.
I. EXCESS IN PRAISE OR BLAME IS TO BE GUARDED AGAINST. Luther shrewdly observes, "He who loudly scolds, praises; and he who excessively praises, scolds. They are not believed because they exaggerate." Too great praise is half blame. Language should be used with sobriety and temperance.
II. INSINCERITY IS SUBJECT TO A CURSE. It is odious to God and to man. One of the constant moral trials of life is in the observance of the golden mean of conduct in social relations—to be agreeable without flattery, and sincere without rudeness. Here, as ever, we must walk in the bright light of our Saviour's example, the All-loving, yet the All-faithtul.—J.
Proverbs 27:15, Proverbs 27:16
The quarrelsome wife
She is compared to the continual dropping of a shower; and the attempt to restrain her is like seeking to fetter the wind or to grasp at oil.
I. THE MONOTONY OF ILL TEMPER. It persists in one mood, and dyes all it touches with one colour, and that a dismal one.
II. THE CORRODING EFFECT UPON OTHERS' MINDS. Fine tempers cannot resist this perpetual wear and tear; the most buoyant spirits may be in time depressed by this dead weight.
III. THE INFLEXIBILITY OF ILL TEMPER. Alas! it is one of those things we are tempted to say cannot be mended. Nothing indeed but that Divine grace which can turn the winter of the soul into summer is able to remedy this ill. In reliance upon this, the exhortation may be given, "Purge out the old leaven!"—J.
Wisdom for self and for others
I. THE BENEFIT OF INTELLIGENT SOCIETY. (Proverbs 27:17, Proverbs 27:19.)
1. The collision of mind with mind elicits truth, strikes out flashes of new perception. A man may grow wiser by an hour's discourse than by a day's meditation. "Speech is like embroidered cloth opened and put abroad," said the mistochs to the King of Persia. In the collision of minds the man brings his own thoughts to light, and whets his wits against a stone that cuts not (Bacon).
2. The reflection of mind in mind. (Proverbs 27:19.) For we are all "like in difference," and never see so clearly what is in our own spirit as through the manifestation of another's. As we have not eyes in the back of our head, so is introspection difficult—perhaps, strictly speaking, impossible. Self knowledge is the reflection of the features of oilier minds in our own.
II. SPIRITUAL LAWS.
1. Diligent husbandry is rewarded. (Proverbs 27:18.) Whether we cultivate the tree, the master, the friend, our own soul, this law must ever hold good. Everything in this world of God's goes by law, not by luck; and what we sow we reap. Trust men, and they will be true to you; treat them justly, and they will show themselves just, though they make an exception in your favour to all their rules of conduct.
2. The quenchless thirst of the spirit. (Proverbs 27:20.) Who can set a limit to the human desire to know, to do, to be? The real does not satisfy us; we are ever in quest of the ideal or perfect. Evil excesses and extravagances of vicious passion are the reverse of this undying impulse of an infinite nature. God is our true Good; our insatiable curiosities are only to be satisfied by the knowledge of himself.
3. The criterion of character. (Proverbs 27:21.) According to the scale of that which a man boasts of, is he judged. If he boasts of praise, worthy things, he is recognized as a virtuous and honest man; if he boasts of vain or evil things, he is abhorred. "Show me what a man likes, and I will show you what he is" (this according to what seems the true rendering of this proverb).
4. Folly in grain. (Proverbs 27:22.) In the East the husk is beaten from the corn by braying in a mortar. But from the fool the husk of folly will not depart. It is possible to despise the lessons of affliction, to harden one's back against the rod. Mere punishment cannot of itself correct or convert the soul. The will, the conscious spiritual activity, must cooperate with God. A great man speaks of "that worst of afflictions—an affliction lost"—J.
The man diligent in his business
I. ECONOMY AND FORESIGHT. (Proverbs 27:23-25.) He looks after the outgoings of his farm, well aware that there is in all things constant waste, that even the royal crown is a perishable thing. All knowledge is useful, and prudence applies through the whole scale of our being. Let the man, "if he have hands, handle; if eyes, measure and discriminate; let him accept and hive every fact of chemistry, natural history, and economy; the more he has, the less he is willing to spare any one. Time is always bringing the occasions that disclose their value. Some wisdom comes out of every natural and innocent action." To preserve and hold together are as necessary as to gain in every kind of riches.
II. THE FRUITS OF INDUSTRY. (Proverbs 27:26, Proverbs 27:27.) Joyous is the sight when man's toil united with the forces of nature, has been blessed with the abundant harvests and the rich flocks. Let a man keep the laws of God, and his way will be strewn with satisfactions. To find out the secret of "working together with God" in all the departments of our life is one of the deepest secrets of satisfaction and blessedness.—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Man in presence of the future: our greatness and our littleness
It is well to glance at—
I. OUR GREATNESS IN REGARD TO THE FUTURE.
1. There need be no bound at all to our hope and aspiration in respect of the future. We are warranted in looking forward to an endless life beyond, to an actual and absolute eternity of blessedness and glory. Whosoever believeth in Jesus Christ has everlasting life.
2. We can and we should prepare for a very long time to come. The legislator should devise his measures, the religious leader or organizer should lay his plans, the architect should make his designs, and the builder provide his materials with a view to the next century as well as to the next decade.
3. We should have regard to the coming years as well as to the passing days; teaching our pupils so that they will not only pass the approaching examination, but be ready for the battle of life; offering and enforcing truths and principles which will not only tide men over tomorrow, but carry them victoriously through all the vicissitudes of their course, and solace and strengthen them in their declining days. But the lesson of the text is—
II. OUR LITTLENESS IN REGARD TO THE FUTURE. We do not know what a day may bring forth.
1. How our purposes may be deranged, and all that we are proposing to do may have to be abandoned in favour of some more imperative duty (see James 4:13-15).
2. How our prospects may be affected; we may possibly rise from indigence to affluence, but we are much more likely to be suddenly and seriously reduced. Financial calamities are many, but "windfalls" are few.
3. How our circle of friendship may be narrowed, or how soon we may be called on to leave home and kindred.
4. How our hope of health or life may be extinguished. "Between the morning and the evening" (see Job 4:19-21, Revised Version) we may discover that we are afflicted with a disease which will complete its work in a few months at most, or we may be stricken down with a blow which will bring us face to face with death and eternity. With this uncertainty there are three lessons we should learn.
(1) All unqualified and unreserved declarations are unbecoming. If there be no verbal qualification, there should be a mental reservation, a feeling below the surface that all our plans and movements are subject to the will of God.
(2) We should do today's work before its hours are over. Since we may not be able to do a stroke tomorrow, let us see that every day's work is well and thoroughly done. We are not responsible for the future, but we are for the present. And not only is it of no use for us to be anxious to do much in the coming years, but it is foolish and unfaithful of us to be concerned about it. Our Master sets us our work, and he gives us our time. All that we should be solicitous about is the diligent and devoted discharge of our duty in his appointed time and way. If he takes the weapon out of our hand here, it will be because he has a better one to give us in a brighter and broader sphere.
(3) We ought to be prepared for any and every event. We should have within us principles that will sustain or preserve us in any trouble or in any elevation that may be awaiting us. We should have our house in such order that, if death should come suddenly to our door, those whom we leave behind us will suffer the least possible affliction, and we ourselves shall Bass to the great inheritance beyond.—C.
Proverbs 27:2, Proverbs 27:21
The praise of man
How far we should go in praising others, and in what spirit we should accept their praise, is a matter of no small importance in the conduct of life.
I. THE DUTY OF PRAISING OTHERS. "Let another man praise thee" can hardly be said to be imperative so far as he is concerned. But it suggests the propriety of another man speaking in words of commendation. And the duty of praising those who have done well is a much-forgotten and neglected virtue. I. It is the correlative of blame, and if we blame freely (as we do), why should we not freely praise the scholar, the servant, the son or daughter, the workman, etc.?
2. With many hearts, perhaps with moat, a little praise would prove a far more powerful incentive than a large quantity of blame.
3. To praise for doing well is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and of his apostles; it is to act as the most gracious and the most useful men and women have always acted.
4. It is to do to others as we would they should do to us. We thirst for a measure of approval when we have done our best, and what we crave from others we should give to others.
II. THE WISDOM OF ABSTAINING FROM SELF-PRAISE. The injunction of Solomon appeals to our common sense. Yet is it by no means unrequired. Many men are guilty of the unseemliness and the folly of praising themselves—their ingenuity, their shrewdness, their persuasiveness, their generosity, etc. Probably if they knew how very little they commend themselves by so doing, how very soon they weary their audience, how often their language becomes positively nauseous, they would abstain. Self-vindication under a false charge is a duty and even a virtue; a very minute modicum of self-commendation may be occasionally allowable; anything beyond this is, at least, a mistake.
III. THE NECESSITY OF TESTING PRAISE. "The ordinary interpretation makes the praise try the man, but the words … in the original make the man try the praise" (Wardlaw). What the fining pot is to silver, that a man should be to his praise—he should carefully and thoroughly test it. For praise is often offered some part of which should be rejected as dross. The simple minded and the unscrupulous will praise us beyond the bounds of our desert, and to drink too much of this intoxicating cup is dangerous and demoralizing to us.
IV. THE PRACTICAL PROOF OF PRAISE. The duties and the difficulties that are before us will be the best possible proof of the sincerity and of the truthfulness of the praise we receive. We shall either be approved as the wise men we are said to be, or we shall be convicted of being less worthy than we are represented to be. Therefore let us be
(1) judicious as well as generous in our praise of others, remembering that they will be thus tested; and let us
(2) be contented with a modest measure of honour, realizing that we have to live up to the esteem in which we are held. But we may learn a valuable lesson from the common (if not the correct) interpretation, and consider—
V. THE TEST WHICH PRAISE AFFORDS. We stand blame better than praise; though it is right to recollect that we cannot stand more than a certain measure of blame, and few people are more objectionable or more mischievous than the scold. But much praise is a great peril. It elates and exalts; it "puffs up." It too often undermines that humility of spirit and dependence on God which are the very root of a strong and beautiful Christian character.
1. Discourage all excess in this direction; it is dangerous.
2. Care more for the approval of an instructed and well-trained conscience.
3. Care most for the commendation of Christ.—C.
Proverbs 27:5, Proverbs 27:6, Proverbs 27:9, Proverbs 27:10, Proverbs 27:17, Proverbs 27:19
Four services of friendship
(And see homily on "Friendship," Proverbs 13:20.) We have suggested in the nineteenth verse two conditions of friendship:
(1) likeness of character; and
(2) reciprocity in action.
There can be no true friendship where one heart does not answer to another as the face reflected from a mirror answers to that which is before it. Men must be like minded in their principles and sympathies; and they must be sensitive enough to feel with one another and to give back the thoughts which are expressed by one or the other, if their intimacy is to be worthy of the sacred name of friendship. There are four services which this most precious gift of God secures for us.
I. CORRECTION. (Proverbs 27:5, Proverbs 27:6.) "Open rebuke is better than hidden love"—better than the love which hides from a friend its disappointment or its dissatisfaction with him. The wounds of friendship are faithful. Many are they whose character is seriously defective, and whose usefulness suffers considerable abatement from want of discipline; they are not told of their faults, they are allowed to go on deepening their roots and multiplying their fruits, because no wise and faithful friend is near to say, "Pluck out and prune." What no authority may dare to speak, love can say without fear and with excellent result.
II. REFRESHMENT. (Proverbs 27:9.) We who are weary travellers along the path of life often need that which refreshes our spirit and turns languor into energy, gloom into gladness of heart. For that we look to friendship; it is as "ointment and perfume" to the senses. We may be jaded and worn, but the look, the grasp, the words, of our friend reanimate and renew us.
III. CONSOLATIONS. (Proverbs 27:10.) We may do well to avoid the house of our kindred in the day of our calamity, especially if we have passed it by in the time of our prosperity; if our "brother" has been kept or has kept himself at a distance. But the "neighbour that is near," the friend that has been "sticking closer than a brother" will not shut the door of his heart against us. He is the "brother who is born for adversity;" he will claim the right of friendship to open his heart, to pour forth his sympathy, to offer his succour, to befriend us in every way in which affection can solace and strength can sustain us.
IV. INCITEMENT. (Proverbs 27:17.) It is the opportunity and the high privilege of friendship to urge to honourable achievement, to rekindle the lamp of holy aspiration when the light burns low; to sustain Christian devotedness when it is putting forth its strength, by every possible encouragement; to hold up the hands of that consecrated activity which is fearlessly speaking the truth and diligently building up the kingdom of Jesus Christ.—C.
Superabundance and scarcity
We have here—
I. A FAMILIAR FACT OF OUR PHYSICAL NATURE. Those who are well fed become very choice and dainty, while those who "lack bread" are thankful for the coarsest food. There are thousands of the sons and daughters of luxury whose appetite can hardly be tempted; for them cookery has to be developed into one of the fine arts, and nothing is palatable to their exquisite taste but delicacies. Living within five minutes' walk of their residence, and sometimes smelling the odours that come from their kitchens, are poor, pinched, struggling men and women, who will devour with great delight the first soiled crust that is offered them. There are thousands in our great cities that weigh long and seriously the question what nice beverage they shall drink at their table; and there are to be found those who would gladly quench their thirst in the first foul water they can find. Indulgence makes all things tasteless, while want makes all things sweet to us.
II. A CORRESPONDING TRUTH IN OUR MORAL NATURE.
1. Superabundance tends to selfishness and ingratitude. We are apt to imagine that we have a prescriptive right to that which is continued to us for any time; and as soon as it is withdrawn we murmur and rebel. There are no more thankless, no more querulous hearts to be found anywhere than in the homes of the affluent, than among those who can command all that their hearts desire. They find no pleasure in what they have, and they give God no thanks for it.
2. On the other hand, scarcity is very frequently associated with contentment and piety. When our resources are not so large and full that we do not stop to ask ourselves whence they come, when some solicitude or even anxiety leads us to look prayerfully to the great "Giver of all," then we recognize the truth that everything we are and everything we have, the cup itself and all that it holds, all our powers and all our possessions, are of God, and our hearts fill with gratitude to our heavenly Father. And thus it is not exceptionally but representatively and commonly true that—
"Some murmur when their sky is clear
And wholly bright to view,
If one small speck of dark appear
In their great heaven of blue.
And some with thankful love are filled.
If but one streak of light,
One ray of God's good mercy, gild
The darkness of their night.
"In palaces are hearts that ask,
In discontent and pride,
Why life is such a dreary task,
And all good things denied.
And hearts, in poorest huts, admire
How love has, in their aid—
Love that not ever seems to tire—
Such rich provision made."
III. ITS APPLICATION TO CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGE. Here we have:
1. The peril of abundance. We are tempted to become indifferent to that which we can employ and enjoy at any time, and consequently to neglect it.
2. The compensation of scarcity. That which is often out of reach, of which we can only occasionally avail ourselves, we appreciate at its true worth. Hence, while persecuted Christians have been willing to walk many miles to take part in the worship of God, or to give large sums of money for a few pages if Scripture, those who live in the full light of privilege are negligent of the sanctuary and the Word of God. This will apply to prayer, to praise, to Christian work, to Christian fellowship.—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 27:23-27.)—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 25:20.)—C.
This reward of faithful service
This is a question which very intimately and importantly concerns us; for—
I. SERVICE CONSTITUTES THE GREATER PART OF HUMAN LIFE. We have to consider how large a proportion of our race is formally and regularly engaged in service as the occupation of their life. When we have counted domestic servants, agricultural labourers, and all orders of "workmen;" and when we have included all those who, in the press, or the pulpit, or the legislature, are the avowed and actual servants of the public, we have referred to a very large portion indeed of the whole population. So that "he that waiteth on his master," though he may (in the literal sense of the, phrase) he continued to a small section, yet actually stands for the majority of mankind. Indeed, we must be occupying a very strange position if we are not of those who are engaged in serving in some form or other.
II. MANY THINGS DEMAND THAT SERVICE SHALL BE FAITHFUL.
1. God is requiring it of us. It is required by him that we who are stewards be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2; Colossians 3:22-25).
2. The best and noblest men, whose character and course we admire, were men "faithful in all their house" (see Hebrews 3:5).
3. We can only retain our self-respect by faithfulness. To do our work slowly or slovenly, in such wise that we should be ashamed to have it inspected by "the master", in such a manner that it will not stand the test of time, is to undermine all respect for ourselves, is to sink sadly and pitifully, if nut fatally, in our own esteem.
4. Faithfulness has a large and a sure reward. Careful culture of the fig tree is sure to be rewarded with the eating of its fruit in due time. Faithful service is sure to bring its due recompense.
(1) It brings honour. We respect the true and conscientious labourer in our own hearts, and we do not fail to honour him in the estimation of others. Loyal and valuable service commands no small esteem when it has had time to make an impression on the mind.
(2) It brings personal attachment and even affection. Often between those who serve and those who are served there arises a true and deep affection which is very honourable to both, very beautiful in its character, and lasting as long as life.
(3) Due material recompense. This may be delayed, but it comes in time.
(4) Enlargement of capacity. Perhaps the best reward of faithful service is found here—in the enlargement of the faculty of service. Do, and you will do better; serve today, and you will serve more skilfully and efficiently tomorrow; put out your one talent in the lowly sphere, and you will soon have two talents (of faculty and aptitude) to put out in a higher one.
"I will ask for no reward.
Except to serve thee still"
—and to serve thee better. But if it be said that, after all, human service is sometimes unappreciated and unacknowledged, that the labourer's hire is withheld and not paid, that the "master" does not render the honour that is due to him who has "waited on" him long and served him well—as it may sometimes be truly said—then let us retire to the truth that—
III. THERE IS ONE SERVICE IN WHICH THERE IS NO DISAPPOINTMENT. We are the servants of Christ. We delight to call him Master (John 13:13). We owe him everything, and we offer him the subjection of our will, the trust of our hearts, the service of our lives. He will not disappoint us. He will not forget our work of faith and our labour of love. The slightest service shall "in no wise lose its reward." He will generously regard what we do for his humble disciples as something rendered to himself. Here we shall possess his loving favour, and there his bountiful recompense.—C.
(and Proverbs 27:8)
A commendation of diligence
It is likely enough that Solomon, oppressed with the burdens and vexations, with the difficulties and dangers, of the throne, looked longingly toward those pastoral scenes which he here describes. But, keen and shrewd man that he was, he must have known that contentment does not always find a home in the homestead, and that there may be as much disquietude of heart in the fields of the beautiful country as there is in the streets of the crowded city. We look for something more than an ordinary "pastoral" in these verses. We recognize in them a royal commendation of diligence.
I. THERE IS NEED OF DILIGENCE IN EVERY SPHERE. "Be diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds." Pastoral prosperity demands the care and the labour of the shepherd or the herdsman, as well as do the transactions of princes and the affairs of state. It will be a poor season and a bad harvest if the farmer is dreaming all day long. It is true that kids and calves and lambs grow up "of themselves," and that "the earth bringeth forth fruit of itself" (Mark 4:28); but it is also true that without watchful care on the shepherd's part the flock will be sickly and small, and that without toil and skill on the part of the farmer the hay crop and the wheat crop will be quite disappointing. And so in everything. Whatever the sphere may be, diligence is the invariable condition of success. The man who will not take pains, who does not work and strive, who does not throw his strength and energy into his occupation, will soon find how great is his mistake.
II. DILIGENCE MUST BE CONCENTRATED IF IT IS TO BE REMUNERATIVE. (Proverbs 27:8.) A man that is everywhere but at home, who is interested in everybody's business but his own, who can tell his neighbours how to improve their estate while his own is neglected, who has a hand in a hundred activities, may be exceedingly busy and (in his way) diligent; but he is not a "man of business," and he does not show the diligence which yields a good result. Let a man know "his place" and keep it; and, while selfishness and narrowness of spirit are bad and blameful enough, it is needful for him to give his strength to his own sphere, his forces to his own fields.
III. A WISE DILIGENCE WILL BE WELL REWARDED.
1. It will procure domestic comfort (Proverbs 27:25-27).
2. It will lead to honour and reputation (Proverbs 22:29).
3. It will invest with power (Proverbs 12:24),
4. It will enrich with various kinds of human wealth (Proverbs 10:4; Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 21:5).
Patient industry is the source of all the good which beautifies and brightens, which adorns and enlarges, human life.
IV. THERE IS A SERIOUS UNCERTAINTY AGAINST WHICH TO PROVIDE. (Proverbs 27:24.) You may be the son of a king, but the crown sometimes changes hands; dynasties are not immortal. You may have a large treasure at command, but the thief; who wears many guises and comes to us in many forms, may steal it away. Better depend on self-reliance than on such props as these; have the diligent hand at your side, and you will be able to defy the chances and the losses that come in the hour and in the way when we look not for them.
V. THERE IS ONE SPHERE IN WHICH DILIGENCE IS OF INESTIMABLE VALUE—THE KEEPING OF OUR OWN HEART. With the most devout and the most sedulous care should we "keep" our spiritual nature, for from it flow the streams of life or death (see homily on Proverbs 4:23).—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 27". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26