Proverbs 1
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
We may regard the opening words as a general index of the contents, as a designation of the object, and a statement of the value and profit of the teaching, of the book.


1. And first, this in general includes the information of the understanding and of the memory by wisdom. This Hebrew word (chokmah) denotes, strictly, all that is fixed for human knowledge. We may render it "insight." In other places in the Bible, the judge (1 Kings 3:28), the artist (Exodus 28:3), or the man of skill and renown in general, are thus said to be men of insight, craft, or cunning, in the original and good sense of those words. Applied to religion and conduct, it means insight into the principles of right conduct, the knowledge of how to walk before God, choosier the right and avoiding the wrong path - the knowledge of the way to peace and blessedness.

2. The training of the will. The word rendered "instruction" denotes moral education or training. Here, then, is the practical side of the matter. Not only sound intelligence is aimed at, but pure feeling, right affections, the will guided by the polar star of duty. All this is general.

3. But next, particulars, falling within this great scope, are pointed out, viz. "the attainment of justice and right and fair dealing." The first is all that pertains to God, the supreme Judge - his eternal order and will. The second refers to established custom and usage among men - to law, in the human sense. The third, an expressive word, signifying literally what is straight, points to straightforward, honourable, and noble conduct.

4. But the book has a special object in view, and a special class: "To hold out prudence to simple ones, and knowledge and reflectiveness to boys. Each of these words has its peculiar force. The Hebrew expression for the first class is literally the open ones," i.e. those who in ignorance and inexperience are open to every impression, good or bad; simple-minded ones (not fools, which is another idea), who are readily governed by the opinions and examples of stronger minds. They need that prudence, or caution, which the hints of proverbial sense may supply, to enable them to glide out of danger and avoid snares (for the word rendered "subtilty" denotes smoothness, like that of the slippery snake). Boys, or youths also, stand in peculiar need of "thoughtfulness" - a habit of reflecting with attention and forethought upon life and different modes of conduct. The Book of Proverbs, all must see, is specially adapted for these classes. But not for them alone.

5. The book is a book for all. The wise man may listen and gain instruction; for men "grow old, learning something fresh each day." And the intelligent man may obtain guidance. For although by middle life the general principles and maxims of wisdom may have been stored up, still the applications of them, the exceptions to them, form a vast field forever growing acquisition. Knowledge is practically infinite; we can think of no bounds to it. New perplexities continually arise, new cases of conscience present themselves, old temptations revive in fresh combinations; and the records of others' experience continually flash new light from angles of observation distinct from our own.


1. It is a collection of proverbs. Condensed wisdom. Landmarks in the field of experience. Beacons of warning from dangerous shores. Objects of interest in life's travel. Finger posts The "wit of many, the wisdom of one." A portable property of the intellect. A currency honoured in every land. "Jewels five words long, that on the outstretch'd forefinger of all time sparkle forever." They may be compared to darts, to stings, to goads. They arouse the memory, awake the conscience; they fix the floating impressions of truth in forms not easily forgotten. These Bible proverbs are in poetical form; and of them it may well be said, with George Herbert, "A verse finds him who a sermon flies."

2. The mode of speech is often figurative. The word rendered "dark saying" means a profound saying, enigma, "thing hidden" (Matthew 13:35; Psalm 78:2), "obscure allegory" (Augustine). An example of this parabolic way of speaking is found in Agur's discourse (ch. 30.). The power of it, like the power of pictures and of all sensuous symbols and poetical images, lies in the fact that the form "half reveals and half conceals the soul within," and thus excites the curiosity, fixes the attention, stimulates exertion of thought in the listener. The best preachers leave much for the hearers to fill up for themselves. Suggestive teaching is the richest; it makes the pupil teach himself, Such is the method of our Lord in his parables; but not the only method; to be combined, as with him and here, with the direct mode of statement. The application is: "Take heed how ye hear." "To him that hath it shall be given." All wisdom is of God; the teacher and the disciple are both listeners at the living oracle of eternal truth. Knowledge is essential to religion, and growth belongs to both (Luke 17:5; Ephesians 4:15, 16; Colossians 1:11; Colossians 2:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Peter 3:18). - J.

Solomon had all possible advantages to qualify him for the work of a teacher of men. He had

(1) special endowments from the hand of his Creator (1 Kings 3.);

(2) a heritage of rich experience from the life of his father, beside parental counsels from his lips;

(3) the best instruction which the kingdom could afford, and surely there must have been much wisdom to learn from so wise and faithful a teacher as the Prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12.). Who, then, should be so well able as he was to give us the ideal of a true teacher? We are reminded by these verses that he is the man who -

I. IS AFFECTED BY THE PRESENCE OF IGNORANCE AND ERROR. He notices the "simple" man and the "young man" (ver. 4); he has regard to the fact that there are those about him who need to be led into the paths of "justice and judgment and equity"(ver. 3). His eye rests on these; his mind perceives how urgently they need the "instruction" and "understanding" which will save them from the perils to which they are exposed; his heart goes out to them; his sympathies embrace them; he desires "to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion." He is, therefore, the man who -


1. He seeks to impart a knowledge of facts; to give "instruction" (ver. 2); to make known to the simple-minded and inexperienced the truth that "all is not gold that glitters," that men are often very different from that which they seem to be, that under a fair exterior there may lurk uttermost corruption, that the sweetest morsels may be the introduction to bitterest consequences, etc.

2. He seeks also to convey a knowledge of principles; to give "understanding;" to make plain to the mind distinctions between that which is true and that which is false, that which is honourable and that which is shameful, that which elevates and that which lowers, that which is permissible and that which is desirable. He is, further, the man who -

III. IMPARTS WISDOM. He will not be content until he has instilled into the mind and introduced to the heart discretion (ver. 4) and wisdom itself (ver. 2). Wisdom is the pursuit of the highest end by the surest means. No teacher of men who recognizes his true position will ever be contented until he has led his disciples to walk in the path of wisdom - to be seeking after the noblest ends for which God gave us our being, and to be seeking them by those ways which are sure to lead thereto.

1. Our highest wisdom is to seek "the kingdom of God, and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33).

2. Our one "Way" is the Son of God himself (John 14:6). The true teacher thus becomes the man who -

IV. CONDUCTS TO MORAL EXCELLENCE. For he who is the child of wisdom will also receive the instruction of "justice and judgment and equity." He will be a man who will have continual regard to the claims of his fellow men; who will shrink from encroaching on their rights; who will endeavour to give to them the consideration, the care, the kindness, which they may rightly look for as children of the same Father, as disciples of the same Saviour, as citizens of the same kingdom, as travellers to the same home. The ideal teacher will also be a man who -

V. FOSTERS INTELLECTUAL GROWTH. (Vers. 5, 6.) We ourselves are not truly and satisfactorily progressing except our mental capacities are being developed, and thus truth and wisdom are being seen with clearer eye and held with tighter grasp. The wise man is therefore bent on training, exercising, bracing the intellectual faculties of his disciple, so that he "will increase learning," will "attain to wise counsels," will think out and see through the proverbs and problems, the puzzles and perplexities, which come up for investigation. We know something in order that we may know much. We are wise that we may become wiser. We climb the first slope of the hill of heavenly truth that we may ascend the one which is beyond; we master the "deep things of God" that we may look into those which are deeper and darker still. Ours is ever to be the spirit of holy inquiry; not of querulous impatience, but of patient, untiring effort to understand all those truths which are within our reach, waiting for the fuller revelation of the days which are to come. - C.

This is the motto of the book. It is often found (Proverbs 9:10; Sirach 1:16, 25, 26; Psalm 111:10). The Arabs have adopted it at the head of their proverbial collections.

I. THE OLD TESTAMENT DESIGNATION OF RELIGION. It is the fear of Jehovah. That is reverence for him who is One, who is eternal, incomparable with any of the gods of the heathen, the Deliverer of Israel in the past and ever, the All-holy, just and merciful One. Such reverence includes practical obedience, trust, gratitude, and love. With this expression we may compare walking before Jehovah and the service of Jehovah, as designations of the practical aspect of religion, as the former indicates the emotional and intellectual.

II. SUCH RELIGION IS THE TRUE GERM OF SOUND KNOWLEDGE. Men have divorced by a logical abstraction science, and often sense, from religion. But ideally, psychologically, historically, they are in perfect unity. Religion is "the oldest and holiest tradition of our race" (Herder). From it as the beginning the arts and sciences sprang. It is ever so. True science has a religious basis.

1. In both the Infinite is implied and is sought through the finite.

2. Both run up into mystery - science into the unknowable ground or substance behind all phenomena, religion before the inscrutable and unutterable God.

3. The true mood is alike in both, that of profound humility, sincerity, self-abnegation, impassioned love of the truth, the mood of Bacon, of Newton, etc.

III. THE REJECTION OF RELIGION FOLLY. The Hebrew word for "fool" is strong; it is crass, stupid, insensible. "A stock, a stone, a worse than senseless thing." Folly is always the reversal of some true attitude of the mind and temper. It is the taking a false measure of self in some relation. It is the conceit of a position purely imaginary - amusing in a child, pathetic in a lunatic, pitiful in a rational man. True wisdom lies in the sense that we have little, in the feeling of constant need of light and direction; extreme folly, in the notion that the man "knows all about it." Most pitiable are learned fools. Without religion, i.e. the constant habit of reference to the universal, all knowledge remains partial and shrunk, is tainted with egotism, would reverse the laws of intelligence, and make the universal give way to the particular, instead of lifting the particular to the life of the universal. Beware of the contemptuous tone in books, newspapers, and speakers. Reserve scorn for manifest evil. The way to be looked down upon is to form the habit of looking down on others. To despise any humblest commonplace of sense and wisdom is to brand one's self in the sight of Heaven, and of the wise, a fool. - J.

These words invite our attention to -

I. THAT WHICH CONSTITUTES THE FEAR OF GOD. "The fear of the Lord" was the chief note of Hebrew piety. It expressed itself in that form (see Genesis 42:18; Exodus 18:21; Leviticus 19:14; Nehemiah 5:15; Psalm 66:16; Ecclesiastes 12:13, etc.). What did it signify? Evidently something more and other than mere dread. The piety of the Jews was an immeasurably higher thing than the abject terror with which the heathen shrank from the capricious and malignant power of the deities they worshipped. It included:

1. Reverence for his Divine nature.

2. Sense of the Divine presence: "The Lord before whom I stand."

3. Regard for the Divine will, shown in the two ways of

(1) obedience to his commands, and

(2) submission to his appointments.

II. THE FACT THAT THE FEAR OF GOD CONSTITUTES THE FOUNDATION ON WHICH WE BUILD. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." The sense of God, the belief that he is, that he reigns, that he is the Source and Fountain of all life and blessing - this is the foundation on which all wisdom, all success, all excellency, rests. How truly fundamental is this fear of God is seen when we consider:

1. That it is implanted, as one of the earliest thoughts, in the human mind. The very little child can entertain it; it enters his opening mind with the first conceptions which are cherished there. As soon as we begin to think we begin to fear God. That sentiment, which never once affected the life of the most intelligent of the brute creation in any land or age, strikes deep root and bears fairest fruit in the spiritual nature of the "little child." "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge," even in time.

2. That the acceptance of God is the basis on which all truth must rest. There are mysteries in theism which may baffle and sometimes perplex us. But in atheism we are utterly at sea. Not to start from the acceptance of an originating, designing, fashioning, con., trolling, out-working Intelligence is to be "all abroad" in the region of human investigation and inquiry. Accepting that, the universe is indeed mysterious, but it is not an all-shrouding mist in which we ourselves and everything around us are hopelessly lost. The fear of the Lord, the reverent acceptance of the truth that God is, and that he reigns, lies at the foundation, is the beginning, of knowledge - of the truth which makes the world comprehensible to the understanding, and life valuable to the soul.

3. That the fear of God is the ground of all heavenly wisdom. We cannot know our own Divine Father, our own spiritual nature with all its high and ennobling capacities, the excellency of moral and spiritual worth, the supreme blessedness of self-surrender, if we do not know God, if we have not the mind of Christ revealed to us and accepted by us. The fear of the Lord is the beginning, and is the very substance of that knowledge which constitutes the "life eternal" (John 17:3).

III. THE FOLLY OF SPIRITUAL INDIFFERENCE. "Fools despise wisdom and instruction." The foolish man does not care even to begin to know; he despises the very elements of instruction; he will not take the first step in the path of wisdom. He wanders off at his own will, and he goes in the direction of the thick darkness. He is turning from him who is the Light of life, and is travelling to that dreary region where it is always night, away from God, from wisdom, from holiness, from love. - C.

The teacher speaks under the assumed form of a father, like St. Paul (1 Corinthians 4:15; Philemon 1:10), to give the more affectionate zest to his appeal. And the word "mother" is brought in by poetical parallelism, enhancing the parental image, We may include the parent and the teacher in one conception. The duty owed to both is analogous. And the teacher may be at the same time the parent.

I. DUTY TO PARENTS AND EARLY TEACHERS COMES NEXT TO DUTY TO GOD. It occupies that place in the Decalogue. Pythagoras and Plato, and the wise of antiquity, generally taught that parents came next to the gods, and were to be honoured even as the gods. The family is the keystone of society. Parents are the earliest representatives to children of the principle of authority, of "other will," and, in this sense, of God.


1. He has the fresh mind to deal with, the opportunity of the first word, the early and deepest impression.

2. He is the most sincere of teachers, or has the least temptation to be insincere. His one object is the child's good.

3. He is the most loving.

4. The father and the mother should combine in this work - the father to train the young mind to principle, the mother to inspire pure sentiment. The masculine influence deals with the general, with law and relation in life, with the logic or mathematics of conduct; the feminine, with the particular, with the details of behaviour, with the concrete expression of right thought and feeling. Neither can be dispensed with.

III. REVERENCE FOR PARENTS AND TEACHERS IMPARTS GRACE AND BEAUTY TO THE BEARING. The adoption of their example and instruction is compared, in Oriental illustration, to the wearing of a "pleasant chaplet" on the head (and the necklace of pearls), as at feasts and entertainments - a wreath of roses or other flowers. The former was a general custom of antiquity, both for men and women. We have no exact parallel to it, and must recur to the thought of good or graceful dress in general. What significance, as we all know, is there in dress to make or mar the personal appearance! But the spiritual, not the material "habit" is the best dress, and will set off the most ungainly form. It is natural to wish to appear graceful, and one of the first manifestations of the artistic instinct in humanity is in this attention to dress. Let the instinct, then, have a moral or religious turn, and true beauty be found above all in the moral idea, in the attire of the soul, "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price." The complimentary deferences to one another in polite society, the slight submissions in word and deed, the trifling self-abnegations which give a transient perfume and refinement to social hours, - all these do but mimic or represent something of more permanent value, the principle of obedience, the will governed by law, the character formed by the true, which is also the good and the beautiful. - J.

The wise teacher here commends to us the excellency of the filial spirit. And it is worthy of notice that he exhorts the young to be obedient to their mother as well as mindful of the counsels of their father. We think of -

I. THE DUTY OF FILIAL PIETY, based upon and arising from:

1. The relation itself. It is enough that our parents are our parents, and that we are their offspring. On that simple ground it behoves us to listen and to obey.

2. The fact that they have expended on us far more than any other beings. Who shall measure the thought, the anxiety, the solicitude, the prayers, the labours, the sacrifices, which they have cheerfully devoted to us?

3. The fact that it is the will of God that we should render such filial honour (Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3; Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:2).

II. THE BEAUTY OF FILIAL PIETY. "They shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck" (ver. 9). Youth, especially young manhood, is apt to think that there is something unbecoming, ungraceful if not disgraceful, in rendering filial obedience; it is apt to imagine that there is something admirable in breaking away, in even early years, from parental guidance, and establishing an independence of judgment and action. In truth, there is nothing more offensive, nothing morally uglier, than such premature assertiveness. On the other hand, nothing is more comely, nothing more attractive, nothing more intrinsically beautiful, than filial devotedness. It has all the best elements of spiritual excellency:

(1) humility, a lowly view of ourselves;

(2) responsiveness to strong and tender love;

(3) the recognition of real worth, of the claims of age and wisdom;

(4) cheerful acceptance of the ordination of nature, and acquiescence in the will of God.

Those who illustrate the duty of filial piety live in the admiration of the wise, and walk in the sunshine of the smile of the Supreme. - C.

An unsettled time, one of violence and insecurity of life, appears to be indicated, such as has only its occasional parallel in our society. Yet the perverted impulses which lead to open crime are those which induce every species of dishonesty and more subtle attacks upon the life or property of others. We may thus draw from a particular description some general lessons. But it seems to give more point and force to the passage if we view it as attaching to notorious and frequent forms of crime.

I. THE TEMPTER. He is always existing in every state of society, and not hard to find. There are human beings who have come to adopt evil as a trade, and, not content with practising it themselves, must have help and sympathy in their work, and turn recruiting sergeants for the devil. The beautiful laws of our being assert themselves amidst all the perversion of depraved choice. Crime, like sorrow, is lonely, and craves partnership. Remorse would soothe itself by fixing the like sting in the bosoms of others. And the criminal, constantly on his defence against society, learns to acquire an allurement of manner which is not the least of his dangerous qualities. The warning to youth against "enticing sinners" of both sexes can never be obsolete. Beware of persons of "peculiarly fascinating manners." What is it that fascinates? Generally it will be found to be some species of flattery, overt or concealed, attacking the weak point of the tempted ones. The warning may be so far generalized into "Beware of the flatterer." Flattery is at the bottom of most temptation.


1. Its aspect of horror. They are to be understood as drawn by the teacher's hand. He is putting the real meaning of the tempter's suggestions into vivid descriptions. The tempter himself will take care not to expose the bloody and hideous aspect of his trade.

"Vice is a monster of so hideous mien,
That to be hated needs but to be seen." On such a principle the teacher acts. The veil is torn aside from the life of crime, and its repulsive inhumanity disclosed. It is a "lurking for blood," after the image of the hunter with nets and nooses, watching for his prey. And this too for "the vainly innocent," i.e. whose innocence will avail him nothing with us (comp. Psalm 35:19; Psalm 69:5; Lamentations 3:52), or, in the other interpretation, for the innocent who has given us no cause for hatred or revenge. "Will swallow them up living like the pit [or, 'abyss']." An expression for sudden death as opposed to that by lingering sickness - the earth as it were yawning from its abysses to devour the fated lives (comp. Psalm 124:3; Proverbs 30:16). The expression whole, whether it denotes sound in body or in character (honest men), adds to the force of the description.

2. But there is an attractive aspect in crime. "Thou shall cast thy lot into our midst," i.e. shall share and share alike with us, as we say, or take an equal chance for the best of the booty, the lot in such cases being the custom of robbers and of soldiers (Psalm 22:19; Nehemiah 10:35). There is freedom, communism, good fellowship, in the life of the banditti; no distinction of rank or class, poor or rich. In certain times the picture of such a life has proved of overwhelming fascination for young adventurous spirits. In solemn reiterated warning the teacher raises his voice against the treading of their path and way. This simple biblical figure may remind us that every mode of active life, every profession or occupation, is like a path; it leads somewhither. Unless we could cease from activity, we must all be advancing to some moral issue. What will it be?

3. A summary description of the criminal. He runs toward wickedness, hastes to shed blood. The eagerness, the swiftness, and perseverance of the criminal often arouse intellectual admiration, and shame the slothfulness of those who follow noble callings. But the devotion of ability and energy of a high order to such ends is, indeed, one of the most striking proofs we can have of the corruption of man's nature. This is crime revealed in its hatefulness, on the one hand, by its cruel and inhuman conduct and effects; on the other, in its dark source, the utter perversion of the criminal's mind itself.

III. THE RECOIL OF EVIL ON THE DOERS. Here again are powerful pictures. Like thoughtless birds, which rush with open eyes into the net, so do these miscreants, in preparing destruction for others, themselves run headlong upon their fate (comp. Job 18:8). While they are lurking for others' blood and laying snares for others' lives, their own are forfeited. This self-defeat of wickedness is a central thought in biblical wisdom (comp. Proverbs 15:32; Proverbs 16:27; Ecclesiastes 10:8; Psalm 7:16; Romans 2:5; Galatians 6:8; 1 Timothy 6:9, 10; James 5:8-5). Thus wisdom and folly form an antithesis in their nature, their powers, and their result.

1. Wisdom is at one with religion and morality; folly casts off God and right.

2. Wisdom pursues good ends by good means; folly pursues evil by evil means.

3. The result of wisdom is life and blessedness, health and peace; that of folly is self-undermining, self-overthrow, or "slow suicide."

III. THE ROOT OF CRIME. It is like that of all sin, in desire, in misdirected desire, the greed of "unlawful gain," to give the fuller force of the expression. Note:

1. The prevalence of this passion. By far the largest proportion of men's worst actions are probably to be traced to it. Read the reports of the courts of law, listen to the gossip of the hour for illustrations.

2. Its intoxicating, illusory power. The victim of it deceives himself, as in other passions: it is thrift, it is due regard to what is of substantial value to one's interests, etc. And how difficult to distinguish that desire for more, which is the spring of action in commerce as in honourable ambition, the pursuit of knowledge, etc.! The question must be carried to the conscience and to God.

3. Its unsocial character. More than any passion, it separates man from his kind, and assimilates him to the beast of prey.

4. Its suicidal effect. If it does not destroy the man's body, it certainly corrodes and eats away his soul. It dehumanizes him. There is no object more shadowy in one aspect, more unreal, in another more monstrous, than the miser, as depicted by Balzac and other great writers. Covetousness is self-slaughter. - J.

Hew many human lives are nothing better than failures! How many souls are there that "make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience"! Over how many of the children of men do the wise and the holy mourn, as those who might have done well and wrought good, but who have turned aside to folly, guilt, and ruin! As a rule, these have gone astray in their younger days. Temptation assailed them when they were comparatively unarmed, attacked them when least prepared to resist, and they were overcome. Our text suggests -

I. THE PECULIAR PERIL OF YOUTH. Youth is endangered by three things.

1. The invitations of the unholy. "Sinners entice it." Companionship is dear to the young. and is very powerful over it. Its heart is open, trustful, responsive. It rejoices with a keen delight in the confidences of friendship. And when one whose advances have been received, and who has been welcomed as a congenial companion, says, "Come," it is hard for friendship to refuse; this more especially when the solicitation comes from him who has a strong will or an amiable and fascinating disposition. The heart of youth is very powerfully drawn, sometimes to good, but too often to evil, by the charm of early friendship.

2. The subtlety of sin (ver. 17). Sin makes a very fair promise, but its word is false, its coin is counterfeit.

(1) It professes disinterestedness (ver. 14), but it is utterly selfish at heart.

(2) It affects to be able to hide all traces and elude all evil consequences of its acts (ver. 12), but it cannot: the blood which it sheds will cry to Heaven for retribution.

(3) It offers gain and satisfaction (vers. 13, 19), but it constantly fails to secure its immediate object, and it never brings real and lasting joy to the soul. The fowler does not spread the net in sight of the bird, or he would fail. Sin keeps its snares well out of view; it proceeds with cruel cunning; it shows the present pleasure, and hides the coming shame, and so it secures its victims.

3. The appeal to powerful instincts. The love of daring exploits has led many a young man to consent when sinners have said, "Come, let us attack the victim, that we may seize the prey" (vers. 11, 12). Guilty violence shapes itself as manly daring. And the instinct of acquisition, the desire to obtain and to possess (vers. 13, 19), often leads astray. Greediness of gain begins in a desire to be rich, an ambition to have abundance.

II. THE EARNEST SOLICITUDE OF THE WISE. There is an air of earnestness, a tone of deep solemnity, about these words of the wise man. "My son, if sinners entice thee," etc. (ver. 10); "My son, walk not thou in the way," etc. (ver. 15). Here is the urgency of a tender solicitude; here are the pleadings of profound affection. And why? Because the wise man (the father, minister, teacher) knows;

1. That sin means ruin to others (ver. 16). The path of evil is marked with blood: it is the track which is trodden by death itself; it is red with the blood of souls.

2. That sin is the supreme mistake. It is really laying wait for itself, to compass its own miserable end (ver. 18); it is robbing itself of all the excellency of life in order to secure its gains (ver. 19). Men too often "lose their life for the sake of the means of living." They expend on the means all those resources of their manhood which should be devoted to life itself. Sin is suicidal; the young who are yielding themselves to a life of ungodliness and guilt may well be the object of the most fervent anxiety, of the most tender, tearful pity of the wise.

III. THE WAY OF VICTORY. And there is no other way than that of decisive refusal at once. As soon as the alluring voice says, "Come," let the resolute reply be heard, "I will not." Let the lips of holy resentment open at once to say, "Depart from me, ye evil doers; I will keep the commandments of my God" (Psalm 119:115). To hesitate is to risk everything. Speak a strong, unwavering refusal on the spot. - C.

In dramatic style, Wisdom is presentiated, personified, endued with visible and audible attributes. As contempt for religion has been animadverted upon, so now contempt for Wisdom calls for rebuke. The motto (ver. 7) is still in the preacher's mind.

I. THE CRY OF WISDOM IS PUBLIC AND CLEAR. In the street, "where merchants most do congregate," and in all places of general resort, the cry is heard. Hers is no esoteric doctrine; it is popularly exoteric, it is for all. She has no concealments. She is not ashamed of her message. She seeks the weal of each and of all. Like her Divine embodiment, she is the Friend of the simple and the meek, yea, of the fools and the sinners (Matthew 10:27; Luke 14:21). It is a voice to be heard above the mingled sounds of these thronged centres. The state of the markets and of the weather, passing events, the gossip of the hour, news of success and of failure, all have a moral meaning, run up into moral calculations, may be reduced to expressions of moral law.


1. It is commanding and superior. She appeals to different classes of the frivolous, the free-thinking, the scoffers of the time. The times of Solomon, as pointed out by Delitzsch, were times of widespread worldliness and religious indifference. The lezim, or "scorners," must have been a numerous class. They scoffed at sacred things, laid claim to superior sense (Proverbs 14:6), were contentious and full of debate (Proverbs 22:10). They avoided the chakanim, or "wise men," and hence received the name of scoffers or mockers. They were like our modern free-thinkers, and have left their clear traces on the biblical page. The "wise men" were a kind of practical philosophers, not a professional class, but belonging to different callings. Religion and worship have never been exempt from criticism, have in every age been exposed to that "ridicule which is the test of truth." In these conflicts the tone of truth is ever commanding, conscious of authority, calm; that of the scoffer irritable and wanting in weight. Wisdom is commanding, because she holds the conscience. She bandies no arguments with the scoffer, who will only find in them fuel for his contentious spirit; she aims directly at the conscience, accuses and judges the perverted heart. "Turn at my denunciation" from your evil ways] "I will cause my Spirit to stream forth upon you."

2. Her tone is hortatory and promising. The Spirit of wisdom is compared to a mighty, forth-bubbling, never-exhausted fountain. So Christ cried in the last great day of the feast in Jerusalem, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink."

(1) There is a rich fulness in having wisdom, in contrast to which are the dry negations which are all the scoffer has to offer.

(2) It is a refreshing and a strengthening supply. It is not pedantry, the wisdom of words, nor abstract science of logic and metaphysics, but vital truth, the knowledge of facts and laws of the inner and outer world, which we need foreveryday consumption, for the life of the mind.

(3) Its impartation is conditioned by the will of the recipient. There must be the turning and the seeking, that there may be the finding and the enjoying of it; the opening of the mouth before it can be filled.

3. Her tone is threatening and prophetic of retribution. The day of grace is now conceived as past, the hour gone that will not return. She has called, has stretched out the hand, in token of pleading for attention, has lavished both counsel and rebuke; but has been responded to by sullen refusal, averted looks, scornful depreciation, obstinate resistance. This relation of forbearance and good will has been strained to the last degree; in the law of things it must be succeeded by a reaction. The places will be reversed. The scoffer will be the scoffed; the mocker will afford material for mirth. And here the pictures accumulate their dread impression on the imagination; the tempest and the tempest whirlwind answer in nature to the calamity and the horror, the anguish and constraint, of the faithless soul. All moral teaching carries in it a twofold prophetic element; a prophecy of penal retribution and a prophecy of blessed recompense. Retribution is the logical consequence of certain acts; and it involves a correspondence. The relation which has been wrongly denied comes in the end to be affirmed; and that which was affirmed, to be in the end denied. The manner of the sin foretells the manner of the penalty. Those who turned from pleading Wisdom, plead in the end with her in vain; seeking her now with zeal ("early"), their search is vain, The attitude which the soul refused to assume in its pride, it is forced into by its distress. The wheel comes full circle; the sinner is smitten in the very place of his sin; and outraged conscience is avenged.

4. Above all, the tone of Wisdom is reasonable. These are no arbitrary, cruel, capricious dealings with the sinner. They rest upon the law of things (vers. 29-31). "Because they hated reasonable doctrine, and coveted not the fear of Jehovah, fared not on the way of my counsel, and despised all my rebuke; therefore they shall eat of the fruit of their way, and be satiated with their counsels!" It is the law of causality applied to moral things. "The curse causeless shall not come!" The most obvious example of the law of cause and effect in nature - the connection of seed and crop, sowing and reaping - best illustrates the process in the human spirit. We cannot deceive God, cannot evade law; whatsoever we sow, we must reap, and that according to quantity, to kind or quality. Again, the figure of a surfeit is forcible as applied to this experience of the consequences of guilt. We find it also in Isaiah 3:10; Psalm 88:4; Psalm 123:4. It brings out the principle that all spurious pleasures, i.e. those which are rooted only in egotism, cloy, and so turn the man against himself. Self-loathling, self-contempt, is the deep revelation of an inner judgment. If any one asks with the anger of the atheistic poet, "Who made self-contempt?" let him turn to this passage for an answer.

5. Wisdom is declarative of moral laws. The turning away, the resistance and recalcitrancy of the simple, murders them (Jeremiah 8:5; Hosea 11:5), and the security (idle, easy, fleshly carelessness, Jeremiah 22:21) destroys them.

"More the treacherous calm I dread
Than tempests sailing overhead." (See South's powerful sermon, with his usual splendid illustrations, on "Prosperity ever dangerous to Virtue," vol. 2, ser. 6.)

6. She is prophetic of good to the obedient. In bright contrast to the spurious peace of the dulled conscience is the true peace of the wise and God-fearing, "He who listens to me shall dwell securely, and have rest. without terror of calamity." It is like that of ordered nature - "central peace abiding at the heart of endless agitation." In this profound union with God, the parables of life are but superficial and transient as the waves of ocean, while the depths are calm as eternity. The method of personified Wisdom is that of Christ, with which it may be compared at every point.

(1) Sin is clearly exposed, in its effects and its cause.

(2) Judgment is clearly announced.

(3) Promises of eternal good are no less emphatically given.

(4) Refuge from evil, and the way of salvation both temporal and eternal, are pointed out. - J.

Wisdom is here personified; it is the language of poetic inspiration. Later on, "in the dispensation of the fulness of times," Wisdom was manifested in human form, and spake in the hearing of men. But its voice has never been silent altogether, from the beginning until now. We are reminded of it -

I. THAT THERE ARE MANY CHANNELS THROUGH WHICH WISDOM UTTERS ITS VOICE. The plural form of the word ("wisdoms") suggests the manifoldness of the utterance. God teaches us his truth, makes known his mind to us, through

(1) the objects and laws of the physical world around us;

(2) the constitution of our own frame;

(3) the teachings of our own spiritual nature, the judgments of our conscience and the conclusions of our reason;

(4) his providential orderings;

(5) the admonitions of his Spirit;

(6) the words of Jesus Christ: he is the "Wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24).

II. THAT THE VOICE OF WISDOM IS AUDIBLE TO ALL WHO WILL LISTEN. "Wisdom crieth without; she utters her voice in the streets: she crieth in the chief place of concourse," etc. (vers. 20, 21). Wisdom, Divine truth, does not merely whisper its doctrine in secret places where there are few to hear; she does not reserve her teaching to the closed classroom to which only some favoured ones find admittance; she speaks "in the open," where the "ways meet," in "the chief places of concourse." "Upon whom doth not God's light arise?" (Job 25:3). The friendly voices speak in the ear of childhood; they address the mind of youth; they have a message for manhood; they find their way to the sanctuary of age. Wisdom waits upon the pure and holy, walks by the side of spiritual indifference to win its ear, and confronts sin in its most secret haunts, Nothing - or nothing but the most hardened iniquity which calls evil good and good evil - shut its doors so fast that the monitory voice cannot enter the chambers of the soul.

III. THAT WISDOM SPEAKS WITH A HOLY AND LOVING ENERGY. Wisdom "crieth," "utters her voice in the streets." There is an energy and an urgency in her tones and in her language (vers. 29, 23). The utterance of Wisdom is none other than the voice of God. It is our Father who pleads with us; it is our Saviour who calls to us; it is our Divine Friend who implores us. It is no hard voice as of a court doomster that assaults us; it is the pleading, plaintive, pathetic voice of One who loves us with fatherly affection, and yearns over us with more than motherly solicitude, that arrests us in our course and touches the tender and sacred feelings of our heart.

IV. THAT WISDOM SPARES NOT TO TELL US EXACTLY WHAT WE ARE. She does not mince her words; she does not cut away the knots of the cord with which we are to be stirred to newness of life. She calls men simpletons, scorners, fools, and upbraids them for their stupidity and their folly (ver. 22). When we listen to the voices which are from above we must expect plain speaking. We must not start back with offence if we find ourselves condemned in strong terms. "Thou art the man!" follows the narrative which transfixes the cruel and heartless robber of his neighbour's all "Ye fools and blind!" said the Wisdom of God, as he rebuked the hypocrisy of his day, We are not to be repelled from, but attracted to, the man who, speaking for the only wise God, puts sacred truth into the strongest and even the sternest language.

V. THAT WISDOM SEEKS TO IMPART ITS OWN SPIRIT TO ITS DISCIPLES. "Behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you" (ver. 23). Its aim is spiritual and beneficent. God wounds only that he may heal. He sends "poverty of spirit" that he may thereby make rich forevermore. He humbles that he may exalt. His one desire is to make us like himself; to put his own Spirit within us, that we may be "the children of our Father who is in heaven." - C.

There is something which is fearful and appalling in these verses. We are ready to tremble as we read them. We are ready to exclaim, "How far may human perversity, and Divine retribution gel" With hushed voice, with subdued spirit, as those before whose eyes the lightnings of heaven are flashing, we consider the significance of the words. But first we see -

I. THAT GOD MAKES MANY APPEALS TO THE HUMAN SOUL. He calls, and we refuse; he stretches out his hands, and no man regards (ver. 24). He multiplies his counsel and his reproof (vers. 25 and 30). Thus his statement is sustained by his dealings with us; he gives us the repeated and manifold admonitions of our own conscience, of the house, of the sanctuary, of friendship, of his Word, of his Spirit, etc.

II. THAT HUMAN PERVERSITY GOES AS FAR AS THE DIVINE PATIENCE. Man "refuses," "regards not" (turns away his eyes, closes his ears), "sets at nought," "will not have," "hates," does not choose (deliberately rejects), all the counsel of God. Perhaps the course of human perversity may be thus traced: first temporizing, with the idea of submitting; then postponing, without any such intention; then disregarding, hearing without heeding; then positively disliking and getting away from; then actually hating, cherishing a feeling of rebellious aversion, ending in mockery and scorn. So far may human perversity go. God's wonderful patience in seeking to win is extended far, but not further than human opposition and resistance. To every "Come" from Heaven there is an answer, "I will not," in the human spirit.

III. THAT GOD FINALLY ABANDONS SIN TO ITS DOOM. We must, of course, understand the language of vers. 26, 27 as highly figurative. No proverb is to be pressed to its fullest possible meaning. The author always assumes that it will be applied with intelligence and discrimination. This is the language of hyperbole. No one could for a moment believe that the eternal Father of our spirits would, literally and actually, laugh and mock at our calamity and alarm. The significance of the passage is that, after a certain point of perverse refusal has been past, God no longer pleads and strives with his wayward children. He interposes no further between a man and the consequences of his folly. He "leaves him alone" (Hosea 4:17). He "gives him up" (Acts 7:42; Romans 1:26). He permits sin to do its own sad work in the soul, and to produce its own natural results in the life; he removes his restraining hand, and suffers them "to eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices" (ver. 31). This is the end of impenitence. We see it only too often illustrated before our eyes. Men act as if they might defy their Maker, as if they might draw indefinitely on the patience of their Divine Saviour, as if they might reckon on the unlimited striving of the Holy Spirit. They are wrong; they make a fatal mistake; they commit the one unpardonable sin! They try to go beyond the Divine ultimatum. God's marvellous patience reaches far, but it has its bounds. When these are passed his voice is still, his hand is taken down, his interposing influence is withdrawn. Sin must bear its penalty. But this awful passage closes with a word of hope. Let us turn to a brighter aspect, and see -

IV. THAT SO LONG AS MAN HONESTLY DESIRES GOD'S SERVICE, HE MAY FIND PEACE AND REST. (Ver. 33.) If at any time it is in our heart to obey the voice of the All-wise, to lend an attentive ear to the Divine counsel, we may reckon on his grace and favour. Happy the heart that heeds the voice of Wisdom! Others may be rocked and tossed on the heaving billows of care and anxiety, of alarm and dread; but he, "dwelling in the secret place of the Most High," hiding in the Rock of his salvation, shall "dwell safely, and be quiet from fear of evil." God will hide him in his pavilion; he will "rest in the Lord." - C.

The prosperity of fools shall destroy them. Few men fear prosperity; but if they had enough wisdom to know their own weakness, they would see that there was nothing which they had so much reason to dread. We approach the truth of the text by seeing -

I. THAT IT IS IN OUR HUMAN NATURE TO ASPIRE TO PROSPERITY AND TO STRIVE AFTER IT. The Author of our nature has made us hunger fur success as the food of the soul.


(1) will do them no harm, and

(2) will multiply their influence for good.


1. It results in ruin to other people - often their temporal, still more often their spiritual, ruin.

2. It ends in their own destruction. It leads down to death; for:

(1) It fosters pride, and "pride comes before a fall."

(2) It ministers to passion, and passion conducts to the grave in every sense.

(3) It induces worldliness, and the man who loses himself in the cares, engagements, and excitements of the world is "dead while he lives." The conclusion of the matter is this:

1. Let those to whom God has denied prosperity cheerfully accept their lowliness. In their humble position they are comparatively safe. They live where many arrows of destruction do not fly.

2. Let those who have attained prosperity ever recognize that the post of honour and of power is the place of danger, and that they need peculiar grace from God that they may not fall,

3. Let those who are being injured by their prosperity beware lest they go down fast to utter and irretrievable ruin. - C.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bible Hub
Psalm 150
Top of Page
Top of Page