William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.Proverbs Chapter 18
The first verse seems difficult, and certainly has been rendered differently. The sense in the A.V. does not resemble that given by the revisers any more than the ancients. The Septuagint and the Vulgate construct alike, but Leeser has another view.
"He that separateth himself seeketh pleasure, he rageth against all wisdom.
"A fool hath no delight in understanding, but only that his heart may reveal itself.
"When the wicked cometh, there cometh also contempt, and with ignominy reproach.
"The words of a man's mouth [are] deep waters, the fountain of wisdom [is] a gushing brook.
"To accept the person of the wicked is not good, - to wrong the righteous in judgment.
"A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for blows.
"A fool's mouth [is] his destruction, and his lips [are] a snare to his soul.
"The words of a tale-bearer [are] as dainty morsels, and they go down to the chambers of the belly.
"He also that is slack in his work is brother to him that is a destroyer.
"The name of Jehovah [is] a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is set in a high retreat.
"The rich man's wealth [is] his strong city, and as a high wall in his own imagination.
"Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty, and before honour [is] humility." vv. 1-12.
The separation with which the chapter opens is in no way from evil, but rather from others to indulge his own desire and pleasure. Such selfishness enrages him against all wisdom.
This is confirmed by the verse that follows. For such a one is pronounced to be a fool, and to have no delight in understanding, but only that his heart may reveal itself. How far he is from knowing himself! His heart is the chief seat of his folly.
But there is worse among men than vanity; for it is truly said, "when the wicked cometh, there cometh also contempt, and with ignominy reproach." God despiseth not any; but what care they for God? They have only contempt for their betters, and ensure it for themselves, or, as it is here said, "with ignominy reproach."
The contrast appears next. "The words of a man's mouth are deep waters, the fountain of wisdom a gushing brook." Here it is a man who has looked up and learned wisdom, instead of trusting himself. His words are therefore deep waters; and they are fresh as well as deep, even as a gushing brook. For Jehovah is the living God, and man under the power of death.
But there are dangers too even for the wise. It is not good to favour the person of the wicked, and just as bad to subvert the righteous in judgment. Strict integrity is a jewel. Prejudice must not be allowed, any more than partiality. Our sufficiency is of God.
There is another way in which folly displays itself. "A fool's lips enter into (or, with) contention, and his mouth calleth for blows." The way of pence is unknown. His words are for war, and his mouth therefore calleth for blows, even if he escape sometimes. But it is all the worse for him in the long run; for "a fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips the snare of his soul." Had he profited by rebuke and other humiliations, it might have been otherwise (vv. 6, 7).
Quite as evil as the foolish talker is the tale-bearer, of whom we next hear. "The words of a tale-bearer [are] as wounds, and they go down to the chambers of the belly." Even if they were strictly true, which is rarely the case, they are in every respect injurious, and fall under the censure of evil speaking. They wholly lack a moral object or a loving way. It is at best gossip, and for the most part the mere indulgence of talking of things which right feeling would rather conceal. The issue is to inflict wounds which pierce very deep, and where they are least curable.
Then we have a maxim of great force in verse 9. The slothful also, or slack in his work, is near akin to the destroyer, or great waster. Both arrive at the same end of misery, one by idling, the other by careless prodigality. See the blessed contrast of Christ as Mark traces His service; "and straightway," "and immediately," "and forthwith."
What a resource in such dangers, and in all others, is the name of Jehovah! A strong tower truly, whither the righteous betakes himself and is secure (v. 10). For the enemy is still in power, and those who return to God need protection.
How poor in comparison is the rich man's wealth (v. 11)! He thinks it a strong city, and a high wall in his own conceit. But it will fail him utterly when his need is extreme.
So when the heart of man is haughty, destruction is nigh; whereas humility is the pathway to honour that lasts (v. 12). Here Christ is the blessed Exemplar. For He, as high as the Highest, took the lowly place of bondman to obey, and having gone down so low that none could follow to the utmost, is now indeed exalted. The Christian is called to follow; and on none did the Lord lay it more than on the apostles who by grace were faithful.
The weakness and need, the dangers and difficulties, as well as the helps, of man are here remarkably set out (vv. 13-24).
"He that giveth answer before he heareth, it [is] folly and shame to him.
"The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear (or, raise up)?
"The heart of the intelligent getteth knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.
"A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.
"He that pleadeth first in his own cause [seemeth] just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.
"The lot causeth contentions to cease, and parteth between the mighty.
"A brother offended (or, injured) is [harder to be won] than a strong city; and contentions [are] as the bars of a castle.
"A man's belly is satisfied with the fruit of his mouth with the increase of his lips is he satisfied.
"Death and life [are] in the power of the tongue; and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
"[Whoso] findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour from Jehovah.
"The poor speaketh supplications, but the rich answereth roughly.
"A man of friends cometh to ruin; but there is a lover sticking closer than a brother."
Haste or vanity leads men to confide in themselves and to slight what others have to say. Thus it is that they get the discredit of folly and shame to their surprise and pain.
When one is enabled to bear up courageously in conscious integrity, it is all well; but when the spirit is broken, despair is apt to ensue, and all is over, while that lasts.
Everyone can see that those who lack intelligence ought to get knowledge, and that the unwise should seek it. But in truth the reverse is the fact as here. The intelligent have it at heart to get knowledge, as the wise do seek it. So the Lord assured when here: Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. Who seeks of God in vain for our real good?
But now we hear of the way of a man with men, and without God, as we heard in the chapter before. Gifts go far with most, and make way for the least honourable before great men, who are often, like those who court them, neither good nor wise. There are marked exceptions.
The next apothegm is a sort of converse to verse 13. It is a man first in his own cause; what can be plainer than its justification? But his neighbour comes and searches him; and how does the matter look then?
There are cases however where both sides have so much to plead, that a fair decision is beyond men, who if stiff give themselves over to contention, as there are those outside the dispute whose sad interest it is to keep it up. The Israelite had the resource of the lot, no matter how mighty the contenders might be; for Jehovah did not fail to decide thereby. But the Christian is entitled to look to his Father in Christ's name, and never without an answer of grace if he wait on Him. How great the value of the written Word and of free intercourse with Him who is higher than the highest!
But there is as there ever was a great difficulty here; and it might seem strange, if we were not too familiar with the fact, that it is with a brother offended. How unapproachable and unreasonable! Yes, he is harder to win than a strong city; and such contentions are as the bars of a castle. What strength is needed to break through!
"The belly" has a bad name in both Old Testament and New; but not always, as John 7:38 conclusively proves. And so it may be here, where it seems employed in its twofold application for the innermost affections, good or evil. The mouth indicates the heart, as the Lord tells us both of the good man and of the wicked. Out of its abundance the mouth speaks. Here it is the other side - a man's inwards satisfied with the fruit of his mouth, with the increase of his lips. How weighty then our every word if we bring in God! But if this satisfies man, the child of God can be satisfied with nothing less than God's Word and grace. Hence too are life and death said to be in the power of the tongue, and so the issues in both good and evil. All Scripture declares it; all experience confirms and illustrates it.
Does the finding of good in a wife, in one worthy of that name, join on to this? Certainly no one has such opportunity of intimate knowledge and of giving help. She can avail as none else; and if for God, what a treasure to her husband, who might resent fidelity in another! What a favour from Jehovah!
The poor naturally resort to supplication, the rich as naturally answer roughly. Grace exalts the one, and abases the other, to the happiness of faith, and to the Lord's pleasure who sees and weighs all.
A man who depends on many friends pays for it to his own ruin; but One is become more than a friend, a lover beyond all others, that sticketh closer than a brother. Well we know Him; yet how little, alas!
A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.
When the wicked cometh, then cometh also contempt, and with ignominy reproach.
The words of a man's mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.
It is not good to accept the person of the wicked, to overthrow the righteous in judgment.
A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes.
A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.
The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.
He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.
The rich man's wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit.
Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility.
He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.
The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?
The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.
A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.
He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.
The lot causeth contentions to cease, and parteth between the mighty.
A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.
A man's belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.
The poor useth intreaties; but the rich answereth roughly.
A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.