Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
BREAD AND GRAVEL
‘Bread of deceit’ is a somewhat ambiguous phrase, which may mean either of two things, and perhaps means both. It may either mean any good obtained by deceit, or good which deceives in its possession. In the former signification it would appear to have reference primarily to unjustly gotten gain, while in the latter it has a wider meaning and applies to all the worthless treasures and lying delights of life. The metaphor is full of homely vigour, and the contrast between the sweet bread and the gravel that fills the mouth and breaks the teeth, carries a solemn lesson which is perpetually insisted upon in this book of Proverbs, and confirmed in every man’s experience.
I. The first lesson here taught is the perpetuity of the most transient actions.
We are tempted to think that a deed done is done with, and to grasp at momentary pleasure, and ignore its abiding consequences. But of all the delusions by which men are blinded to the true solemnity of life none is more fatal than that which ignores the solemn ‘afterward’s that has to be taken into account. For, whatever issues in outward life our actions may have, they have all a very real influence on their doers; each of them tends to modify character, to form habits, to drag after itself a whole trail of consequences. Each strikes inwards and works outwards. The whole of a life may be set forth in the pregnant figure, ‘A sower went forth to sow,’ and ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’ The seed may lie long dormant, but the green shoots will appear in due time, and pass through all the stages of ‘first the blade, and then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear.’ The sower has to become the reaper, and the reaper has to eat of the bread made from the product of the long past sowing. Shall we have to reap a harvest of poisonous tares, or of wholesome wheat? ‘If ‘twere done when ‘tis done, ‘twere well it were done quickly’; but since it begins to do when ‘tis done, it were often better that it were not done at all. A momentary pause to ask ourselves when tempted to evil, ‘And what then?’ would burst not a few of the painted bubbles after which we often chase.
Is there any reason to suppose that these permanent consequences of our transient actions are confined in their operation to this life? Does not such a present, which is mainly the continuous result of the whole past, seem at least to prophesy and guarantee a similar future? Most of us, I suppose, believe in the life continuous through and after death retributive in a greater degree than life here. Whatever changes may be involved in the laying aside of the ‘earthly house of this tabernacle,’ it seems folly to suppose that in it we lay aside the consequences of our past inwrought into our very selves. Surely wisdom suggests that we try to take into view the whole scope of our actions, and to carry our vision as far as the consequences reach. We should all be wiser and better if we thought more of the ‘afterwards,’ whether in its partial form in the present, or in its solemn completion in the future beyond.
II. The bitterness of what is sweet and wrong.
There is no need to deny that ‘bread of deceit is sweet to a man.’ There is a certain pleasure in a lie, and the taste of the bread purchased by it is not embittered because it has been bought by deceit. If we succeed in getting the good which any strong desire hungers after, the gratification of the desire ministers pleasure. If a man is hungry, it matters not to his hunger how he has procured the bread which he devours. And so with all forms of good which appeal to sense. The sweetness of the thing desired and obtained is more subtle, but not less real, if it nourishes some inclination or taste of a higher nature. But such sweetness in its very essence is momentary, and even, whilst being masticated, ‘bread of deceit’ turns into gravel; and a mouthful of it breaks the teeth, excoriates the gums, interferes with breathing, and ministers no nourishment. The metaphor has but too familiar illustrations in the experience of us all. How often have we flattered ourselves with the thought, ‘If I could but get this or that, how happy I should be’? How often when we got it have we been as happy as we expected? We had forgotten the voice of conscience, which may be overborne for a moment, but begins to speak more threateningly when its prohibitions have been neglected; we had forgotten that there is no satisfying our hungry desires with ‘bread of deceit,’ but that they grow much faster than it can be presented to them; we had forgotten the evil that was strengthened in us when it has been fed; we had forgotten that the remembrance of past delights often becomes a present sorrow and shame; we had forgotten avenging consequences of many sorts which follow surely in the train of sweet satisfactions which are wrong.
So, even in this life nothing keeps its sweetness which is wrong, and nothing which is sweet and wrong avoids a tang of intensest bitterness ‘afterwards.’ And all that bitterness will be increased in another world, if there is another, when God gives us to read the book of our lives which we ourselves have written. Many a page that records past sweetness will then be felt to be written, ‘within and without,’ with lamentation and woe.
All bitterness of what is sweet and wrong makes it certain that sin is the stupidest, as well as the wickedest, thing that a man can do.
III. The abiding sweetness of true bread.
In a subordinate sense, the true bread may be taken as meaning our own deeds inspired by love of God and approved by conscience. They may often be painful to do, but the pain merges into calm pleasure, and conscience whispers a foretaste of heaven’s ‘Well done! good and faithful servant.’ The roll may be bitter to the lips, but, eaten, becomes sweet as honey; whereas the world’s bread is sweet at first but bitter at last. The highest wisdom and the most exacting conscience absolutely coincide in that which they prescribe, and Scripture has the warrant of universal experience in proclaiming that sin in its subtler and more refined forms, as well as in its grosser, is a gigantic mistake, and the true wisdom and reasonable regard for one’s own interest alike point in the same direction,-to a life based on the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, as being the life which yields the happiest results today and perpetual bliss hereafter. But let us not forget that in the highest sense Christ Himself is the ‘true bread that cometh down from heaven.’ He may be bitter at first, being eaten with tears of penitence and painful efforts at conquering sin, but even in the first bitterness there is sweetness beyond all the earth can give. He ‘spreads a table before us in the presence of our enemies,’ and the bread which He gives tastes as the manna of old did, like wafers made of honey. Only perverted appetites loathe this light bread and prefer the strong-favoured leeks and garlics of Egypt. They who sit at the table in the wilderness will finally sit at the table prepared in the kingdom of the heavens.Proverbs 20:17. Bread of deceit — Gain or pleasure procured by unrighteous courses; is sweet to a man — And the more sweet, because it is unlawfully obtained; such pleasure doth the carnal mind take in the success of its wicked projects! Observe, reader, all the pleasures and profits of sin are bread of deceit; they are stolen; they are forbidden fruit; and they deceive men; for they do not perform what they promise. For a time, indeed, they are, perhaps, rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, and the sinner blesses himself in them, but afterward his mouth shall be filled with gravel — His bread of deceit will be bitter and pernicious, and produce pain and sickness in his stomach; when his conscience is awakened, when he sees himself cheated, and becomes apprehensive of the wrath of God against him for his sin, how painful and distressing then is the thought of it!
mouth … gravel—well expresses the pain and grief given at last.Bread of deceit; gain or pleasure procured by unrighteous courses.
His mouth shall be filled with gravel; it shall be bitter and pernicious at last, like gritty bread, which offends the teeth and stomach. It will certainly bring upon him the horrors of a guilty conscience, and the wrath and judgments of the Almighty God. Proverbs 4:17; but it is but poor bread, no other than ashes Isaiah 44:20; it is "bread of deceit"; there is a deceitfulness in all sin; it is in appearance fair and pleasant to the eye, like the fruit our first parents ate of; or like the apples of Sodom, of which it is reported that they are very beautiful to look at, but when touched drop into ashes; sin promises pleasure, profit, honour, liberty, peace, and impunity, yet gives neither; but the reverse, pain, loss, shame, servitude distress, and destruction; and yet it is sweet to an unregenerate man, one of a vicious taste, or whose taste remains unchanged; it is natural to him and he takes as much delight in it as in eating and drinking; and especially such sins as are called constitution ones, which he is not easily prevailed upon to part with; wickedness is sweet in his mouth, he rolls it and keeps it as a sweet morsel under his tongue, and forsakes it not, Job 20:12. It may be applied to particular sins, as to adultery, as it is by Jarchi, and with which may be compared Proverbs 9:17; and to riches unlawfully gotten; see Job 20:15; and to the cruel usage and persecution of the people of God, called the bread of wickedness and wine of violence, which wicked men take as much delight in as in eating and drinking, Proverbs 4:17; particularly the cruelty of the church of Rome, who has made herself drunk with the blood of the saints, in which she delights, and will be bitter to her in the end, Revelation 17:6. It may be interpreted of false doctrine; so the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees is signified by leavened bread, Matthew 16:6; this is not true bread, does not strengthen, nourish, and refresh, as the Gospel does, but eats as a canker; it is not solid and substantial, but mere chaff, it is bread of falsehood and lying; false teachers lie in wait to deceive, their doctrines are lies in hypocrisy, and, yet these are sweet unto, and taken down greedily by carnal persons; particularly the doctrine of justification by works: this is the bread some men live on, but it is only husks which swine eat; it is feeding on wind, and filling the belly with east wind, which swells and vainly puffs up the fleshly mind; it is contrary to the, Gospel, and is not of the truth, and will deceive persons that trust to it; and yet it is sweet to a natural man; his own righteousness, and to trust to it, is natural to him; it is his own, and what he has laboured for, and is fond of; it affords room for boasting, and he does not care to part with it;
but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel; with that which will be ungrateful, uncomfortable, and distressing to him; the conscience of a sinner, who has been taking his fill of sin and pleasure in it shall be filled with remorse and distress; and with bitter reflections upon himself; with a dreadful sense of divine wrath, and fearful apprehensions of it now; and destruction and damnation will be his portion hereafter; and this will be the consequence of all false doctrine, and of a man's trusting to his own righteousness and despising Christ's; see 2 Peter 2:1.Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)17. Bread of deceit] or of falsehood, R.V., i.e. bread (or whatever else that word represents) gotten by dishonest and deceitful methods.
with gravel] Comp. Lamentations 3:16.Verse 17. - Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; Revised Version, bread of falsehood; i.e. bread gained without labour, or by unrighteous means (comp. Proverbs 10:2). This is agreeable because it is easily won, and has the relish of forbidden fruit. "Wickedness is sweet in his mouth" (Job 20:12). But afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel. He will find in his "bread" no nourishment, but rather discomfort and positive injury (comp. Job 20:14). The expression, "to eat gravel," is intimated in Lamentations 3:16, "He hath broken my teeth with gravel stones;" it implies grievous disappointment and unprofitableness. See here a warning against evil plesaures -
Φεῦγ ἡδονὴν φέρουσαν ὕστερον βλάβην
"Sperne voluptates: nocet empta dolore voluptas." Oort supposes that the gnome in the text is derived from a riddle, which asked, "What is sweet at first, but afterwards like sand in the mouth?"
Whether his dispostion be pure and whether it be right.
If מעלל may be here understood after the use of עולל, to play, to pass the time with anything, then גּם neht refers thereto: even by his play (Ewald). But granting that מעולל [children], synon. with נער, had occasioned the choice of the word מעלל (vid., Fleischer on Isaiah 3:4), yet this word never means anything else than work, an undertaking of something, and accomplishing it; wherefore Bttcher proposes מעוּליו, for מעלוּל may have meant play, in contradistinction to מעלל ot noitcni. This is possible, but conjectural. Thus gam is not taken along with b'amalalav. That the child also makes himself known by his actions, is an awkward thought; for if in anything else, in these he must show what one has to expect from him. Thus gam is after the syntactical method spoken of at Proverbs 17:26; Proverbs 19:2, to be referred to נער (also the child, even the child), although in this order it is referred to the whole clause. The verb נכר is, from its fundamental thought, to perceive, observe from an ἐναντιόσημον: to know, and to know as strange, to disown (vid., under Isaiah 3:9); the Hithpa. elsewhere signifies, like (Arab.) tankkar, to make oneself unknowable, but here to make oneself knowable; Symmachus, ἐπιγνωρισθήσεται, Venet. γνωσθήσεται. Or does the proverb mean: even the child dissembles in his actions (Oetinger)? Certainly not, for that would be a statement which, thus generally made, is not justified by experience. We must then interpret 11b as a direct question, though it has the form of an indirect one: he gives himself to be known, viz., whether his disposition be pure and right. That one may recognise his actions in the conduct of any one, is a platitude; also that one may recognise his conduct in these, is not much better. פּעל is therefore referred by Hitzig to God as the Creator, and he interprets it in the sense of the Arab. khulk, being created equals natura. We also in this way explain יצרנוּ, Psalm 103:14, as referable to God the יצר; and that poal occurs, e.g., Isaiah 1:31, not merely in the sense of action, but also in that of performance or structure, is favourable to this interpretation. But one would think that poal, if thus used in the sense of the nature of man, would have more frequently occurred. It everywhere else means action or work. And thus it is perhaps also here used to denote action, but regarded as habitual conduct, and according to the root-meaning, moral disposition. The N.T. word ἕργον approaches this idea in such passages as Galatians 6:4. It is less probable that 11b is understood with reference to the future (Luther and others); for in that case one does not see why the poet did not make use of the more intelligible phrase אם זך וישׁר יהיה פעלו. It is like our (Germ.) proverb: Was ein Haken werden will krmmt sick bald what means to become a hook bends itself early; or: Was ein Drnchen werden will spitzt sich bei Zeiten
(Note: A similar comparison from Bereschith Rabba, vid., Duke's Rabbin. Blumenlese, p. 126.)
[what means to become a thorn sharpens itself early], and to the Aram. בוצין בוצין מקטפיה ידיע equals that which will become a gourd shows itself in the bud, Berachoth 48a.
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