Matthew Poole's Commentary
The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.The character of the righteous and of the wicked, with the blessed fruits of integrity, and evil effects of sin, Proverbs 28:11-12. The evil of concealing and blessedness of confessing sin, Proverbs 28:13. The evil of oppression and violence, the benefit of industry and faithfulness, with sundry other observations, Proverbs 28:15-28.
The wicked flee when no man pursueth, because the conscience of their own guilt puts them into a continual expectation and dread of God’s judgments.
The righteous are bold; are courageous and resolute, having the witness of a good conscience, and the assurance of Divine favour and protection, and the supports and consolations of the Holy Ghost.
For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.Many are the princes thereof; either,
1. Together, contending for supremacy. Or rather,
2. Successively, as appears from the following clause. Their princes are soon cut off, and other persons, and ofttimes persons of other families, come in their stead, which is justly threatened as a curse, because such frequent changes are seldom for the better, and commonly for the worse, and are frequently attended with blood and slaughter, with the change and subversion of laws, with heavy taxes and charges, with the ruin of many families, and with many other mischiefs.
By a man of understanding and knowledge; by a wise and good man; which may be understood either,
1. Collectively, for
men of understanding, & c., as it is rendered in the margin. i.e. when the men or people of a land are wise and good. Or rather,
2. Singularly; and that either,
1. Of a wise and righteous prince, who by the good government of himself, and his family, and kingdom, by punishing and preventing the transgressions of the people, turns away God’s wrath, and saves himself and people. Or,
2. Of any other man of eminent wisdom or piety, who prevents this judgment, either by his good counsels given to the prince and people, and entertained by them, or by his intercession to God; for God hath sometimes spared a people for the sake of one man, as he did Zoar for Lot, Genesis 19:20,21. and the Israelites for Moses, Psalm 106:23.
The state thereof shall be prolonged; the land shall enjoy its former state and tranquillity, and the life of their good prince shall be prolonged.
A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food.When a poor man being advanced into a place of authority, abuseth it to oppress those that are poor and unable to resist him, he is like a violent rain or flood, which washeth away the very seeds which are in the earth, and spoileth the corn and fruits which are upon it. He is the worst of all oppressors, because as he is of a base mind, which also is made much worse by a sudden change and elevation into a high condition; so his own necessities inflame his desires, and make him greedy to take all, yea, even the small, advantages of enriching himself; which the ancients expressed by the similitude of an empty horseleech, which sucketh much more strongly than that which is already filled; and of a dry sponge, which licks up far more water than that which was wet before.
They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them.They that forsake the law, that live in the contempt of and disobedience to God’s law,
praise the wicked; honour their persons, contrary to Psalm 15:4; freely and familiarly associate themselves with them, and approve of their sinful courses; all which proceeds from their great likeness to them.
Contend with them; are so far from praising or applauding them, that they severely rebuke them, and to the utmost of their power oppose them in their wicked enterprises.
Evil men understand not judgment: but they that seek the LORD understand all things.Understand not, because their minds are naturally blind, and are further blinded by their own prejudices and passions, and by the god of this world, who rules in and over them.
Judgment, i.e. what is just and right; what is their duty in all cases and conditions, as judgment is frequently understood.
That seek the Lord, by diligent study of his word, and by fervent prayers to him for advice. All things which are necessary to be known by them, either for the discharge of all their present duties to God and men, or for their everlasting happiness.
Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.Better; in a much safer and happier condition.
In his ways, Heb. in two ways; halting between two ways, pretending to virtue, but practising vice; or covering his wicked designs with good pretences; or sometimes erring on one hand, and sometimes on the other, as wicked men commonly do.
Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father.Is a wise son; and consequently a credit and comfort to his father, as hath been oft noted before.
Is a companion of riotous men; which is both a manifest violation of God’s law, which forbids this society, and is the ready way to a total and final apostacy from God, and from his law.
Shameth his father, because he is a foolish son.
He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.By usury and unjust gain, Heb. by usury and (or, or) increase, i.e. by any kind of usury, whereby the poor are oppressed, as is implied from the opposite clause; or by any unrighteous practices. See more of these words and of this thing on Exodus 22:25 Leviticus 25:35,36 Psa 15:5 Ezekiel 18:8.
Shall gather it for him that will pity the poor; it shall not long continue with him or his, but shall by God’s righteous and powerful providence be disposed into more just and merciful hands.
He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, that obstinately refuseth to yield audience or obedience to God’s commands, even his prayer shall be abomination to God, whose law he despised. God will abhor and reject his person, and all his services.
Whoso causeth the righteous to go astray in an evil way, he shall fall himself into his own pit: but the upright shall have good things in possession.Whoso causeth the righteous to go astray in an evil way; that by evil counsel, or example, or artifice draws them into such practices as expose them to great danger and mischief.
The upright shall have good things in possession; shall by God’s good providence towards him, both keep the good of which the wicked seeks to deprive him, and escape that mischief which he plotteth against him.
The rich man is wise in his own conceit; but the poor that hath understanding searcheth him out.Is wise in his own conceit; thinks himself to be wise when he is not, being puffed up with the opinion of his riches, which also he imputes to his own wisdom, and with the admirations and applauses of flatterers, which commonly attend upon them.
Searcheth him out; knoweth him better than he knoweth himself; and, looking through all his pomp and vain show, he sees him to be what indeed he is, a foolish and miserable man, notwithstanding all his riches, and discovers the folly of his words and actions.
When righteous men do rejoice, there is great glory: but when the wicked rise, a man is hidden.When righteous men do rejoice, are encouraged and promoted to places of trust and power, there is great glory in that commonwealth. The state of that kingdom is honourable, and comfortable, and safe, so as good men can show their faces with courage and confidence.
When the wicked rise, are advanced to honour and authority,
a man is hidden; the state of that nation is so shameful and dangerous, that wise and good men, who only are worthy of the name of men, withdraw themselves, or run into corners and obscure places; partly out of grief and shame to behold the wickedness which is publicly and impudently committed; and partly to avoid the rage and injuries of wicked oppressors, and the judgments of God, which commonly follow such persons and their confederates in sin. Or, as others, both ancient and later interpreters, render it, a man is sought out. Sober and good men, who had retired themselves, are searched for, and brought forth like sheep to the slaughter, as being most suspected, and hated, and feared by bloody tyrants.
He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.That covereth his sins; that doth not confess them (as appears by the opposite clause) to God, and to men too, when occasion requires it; that being convinced or admonished of his sins, either justifieth, or denieth, or excuseth them.
Shall not prosper; shall not succeed in his design of avoiding punishment by the concealment of his sins; shall not find mercy, as is implied from the next clause. Whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, by hearty dislike and hatred of all his sins, and by a resolved cessation from a sinful course of life. This is added, to show, that although the dissembling or hiding one’s sins is sufficient for his damnation, yet mere confession without forsaking of sin is not sufficient for salvation.
Shall have mercy, both from God, who hath promised, and from men, who are ready to grant pardon and favour to such persons.
Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.Happy is the man, because he shall thereby avoid that mischief which befalls fearless sinners, which is expressed in the next clause, and procure that eternal salvation which they lose.
That feareth, to wit, the offence and judgments of God; who having confessed and forsaken his sins, as was now said, is afraid to return to them again, and careful to avoid them, and all occasions of them.
Alway; in all times, companies, and conditions; not only in the time of great trouble, when even hypocrites will in some sort be afraid of sinning, but in times of outward peace and prosperity.
That hardeneth his heart; that goeth on obstinately and securely in sinful courses, casting off due reverence to God, and just fear of his threatenings and judgments.
As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people.The lion and
bear are always cruel and greedy in their natures, and especially when they are hungry and want prey, in which case the lions roar, Psalm 104:21 Isaiah 31:4, and bears range about for it.
So is a wicked ruler; instead of being a nursing father, and a faithful and tender shepherd, as he ought to be, he is a cruel and insatiable oppressor and devourer of them:
Over the poor people; whom he particularly mentions, either to note his policy in oppressing them only who were unable to withstand him, or to revenge themselves of him; or to aggravate his sin in devouring them, whom the laws of God and common humanity bound him to relieve and protect; or to express the effect of his ill government, in making his people poor by his frauds and rapines.
The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.The tyranny or oppression of a prince, though by some accounted wisdom, is in truth a manifest act and sign of great folly, because it alienateth from him the hearts of his people, in which his honour, and safety, and riches consist, and ofttimes causeth the shortening of his days, either from God, who cuts him off by some sudden judgment, or from men, who are injured by him, and exasperated against him.
Covetousness is the chief cause of all oppressions and unjust practices.
Shall prolong his days, by God’s favour, the peace and satisfaction of his own mind, and the hearty love of his people, which makes them careful to preserve his life by their fervent prayers to God for him, by willingly hazarding their own estates and lives for him, when occasion requires it, and by all other possible means.
A man that doeth violence to the blood of any person shall flee to the pit; let no man stay him.A man that doeth violence to the blood of any person, that sheddeth any man’s blood, or taketh away his life unjustly,
shall flee to the pit; shall speedily be destroyed, being pursued by Divine vengeance, and the horrors of a guilty conscience, and the avengers of blood.
Let no man stay him: so it is a prohibition that no man should endeavour to save the life of a wilful murderer, either by intercession, or by offering satisfaction, or any other way; of which see Genesis 9:6 Exodus 21:14 Numbers 35:31. Or, as the ancient and many other interpreters render it, no man shall stay him; none shall desire or endeavour to save him from his deserved punishment; he shall die without pity, being an object of public hatred.
Whoso walketh uprightly shall be saved: but he that is perverse in his ways shall fall at once.Shall be saved, to wit, from destruction, because God hath undertaken and promised to protect him.
In his ways, Heb. in two ways, of which phrase see above on Proverbs 28:6.
Shall fall at once; once for all, so as he shall not need a second thrust, 1 Samuel 26:8, and so as he shall never rise more. Or, in one, to wit, of his ways. Though he hath various ways and arts to secure himself, yet none of them shall save him, but he shall perish in one or other of them, and shall be given up by God to the mistake of his way, that he shall choose that course which will be most pernicious to him.
He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough.That followeth after vain persons; choosing their company, and imitating their example; who gives up himself to vanity and idleness, and so is fitly opposed to the diligent man in the former clause.
A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.A faithful man, Heb. a man of truth, or truths, who deals truly and justly in all his bargains and transactions with men.
That maketh haste; more than God alloweth him; that taketh the nearest and readiest way to riches, whether it be right or wrong; that is unfaithful and unjust in his dealings.
Shall not be innocent; shall not obtain the blessings which he seeks, but shall bring curses and miseries upon him instead of them.
To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress.When a man hath once vitiated his conscience, and accustomed himself to take bribes, a very small advantage will make him sell justice, and his own soul into the bargain. The design of the proverb is to warn men to take heed of the beginnings of that sin, and consequently of other sins.
He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him.Hath an evil eye; is uncharitable to persons in want, envious towards those who get any thing besides him, and covetous or greedy of getting riches by all ways possible, whether just or unjust. Thus an evil eye is taken, Proverbs 23:6 Matthew 20:15, as a good eye notes the contrary disposition, Proverbs 22:9.
That poverty shall come upon him; and consequently that he shall need the pity and help of others, which he cannot expect either from God or men, who hath so hardened himself against others in misery.
He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue.Afterwards; when he comes calmly to consider the fidelity of the reprover, and the benefit coming to himself by the reproof, and withal the baseness and mischief of flattery.
Whoso robbeth his father or his mother, and saith, It is no transgression; the same is the companion of a destroyer.Saith in his heart, supposing that he hath a right to his father’s goods.
Is the companion of a destroyer; either,
1. He hereby showeth that he is fallen into such wicked society, from whom he hath such counsel or example. Or,
2. He is no less guilty than a thief who robs and destroys men upon the highway; he is a thief and robber, because he hath no right to the actual possession of his father’s goods before his death, or without his consent.
He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: but he that putteth his trust in the LORD shall be made fat.He that is of a proud heart, whose property it is to overvalue himself, and to trust to himself and his own wit, or wealth, or strength, stirreth up strife, because he makes it his great business to advance and please himself, and hateth and opposeth all that stand in his way, and despiseth other men, and is very jealous of his honour, and impatient of the least slighting, or affront, or injury, and indulgeth his own passions; and therefore shall not be fat, but lean and miserable, as is implied from the opposite clause.
That putteth his trust in the Lord; which is mentioned as a plain and certain evidence of a humble man, who is mean and vile in his own eyes, and therefore trusts not to himself, but to God only, making God’s will, and not his own will, and passion, and interest, the rule of all his actions, and can easily deny himself, and yield to others, all which are excellent preventives of strife.
Shall be made fat; shall live happily and comfortably, because he avoids that strife which make men’s lives miserable.
He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.He that trusteth in his own heart; who trusts to his own wit, neglecting or slighting the advice of others, and the counsel of God himself.
Is a fool; and shall receive the fruit of his folly, to wit, destruction.
Whoso walketh wisely, distrusting his own judgment, and seeking the advice of others, and especially of God, as all truly wise men do, he shall be delivered from those dangers and mischiefs which fools bring upon themselves; whereby he showeth himself to be a wise man.
He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.Shall not lack; shall not impoverish himself by it, as covetous men imagine or pretend; but shall be enriched, which is implied.
That hideth his eyes, lest he should see poor and miserable men, and thereby be moved to pity or obliged to relieve them. So he cunningly avoids the beginnings, and occasions, and provocations to charity; teaching us to use the same caution against sin.
Shall have many a curse; partly from the poor, whose curses, being not causeless, shall come upon him, and partly from God, who will curse his very blessings, and bring him to extreme want and misery.
When the wicked rise, men hide themselves: but when they perish, the righteous increase.Men hide themselves; men, i.e. righteous men, as appears from the following clause, are ashamed and afraid to appear publicly; of which See Poole "Proverbs 28:12".
The righteous increase; they who were righteous do now again appear in public, and being advanced to that power which the wicked rulers have lost, they use their authority to encourage and promote righteousness, and to punish unrighteousness, whereby the number of wicked men is diminished, and the righteous are multiplied.