Proverbs 24:12
If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?
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(12) If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not.—Man being too much inclined to answer after the manner of Cain (Genesis 4:9), “Am I my brother’s keeper?” when he might give aid to those who need it.

24:1,2 Envy not sinners. And let not a desire ever come into thy mind, Oh that I could shake off restraints! 3-6. Piety and prudence in outward affairs, both go together to complete a wise man. By knowledge the soul is filled with the graces and comforts of the spirit, those precious and pleasant riches. The spirit is strengthened for the spiritual work and the spiritual warfare, by true wisdom. 7-9. A weak man thinks wisdom is too high for him, therefore he will take no pains for it. It is bad to do evil, but worse to devise it. Even the first risings of sin in the heart are sin, and must be repented of. Those that strive to make others hateful, make themselves so. 10. Under troubles we are apt to despair of relief. But be of good courage, and God shall strengthen thy heart. 11,12. If a man know that his neighbour is in danger by any unjust proceeding, he is bound to do all in his power to deliver him. And what is it to suffer immortal souls to perish, when our persuasions and example may be the means of preventing it? 13,14. We are quickened to the study of wisdom by considering both the pleasure and the profit of it. All men relish things that are sweet to the palate; but many have no relish for the things that are sweet to the purified soul, and that make us wise unto salvation. 15,16. The sincere soul falls as a traveller may do, by stumbling at some stone in his path; but gets up, and goes on his way with more care and speed. This is rather to be understood of falls into affliction, than falls into actual sin.As Proverbs 24:11 warned men against acquiescing in an unrighteous tyranny, so this denounces the tendency to hush up a wrong with the false plea of ignorance. Compare Ecclesiastes 5:8. Proverbs 24:10-12 thus forms a complete and connected whole. 11, 12. Neglect of known duty is sin (Jas 4:17).

ready—literally, "bowing down"

to be slain—that is, unjustly. God's retributive justice cannot be avoided by professed ignorance.

We knew it not; I was ignorant either of his innocency, or of his extreme danger, or of my power to relieve him.

Consider it; that this is only a frivolous excuse, and that the true reason of thy neglect was thy want of true love to thy brother, whose life thou wast by the law of God and of nature obliged to preserve, and thy sinful self-love, and a carnal fear of some mischief or trouble which might befall thee in the discharge of thy duty.

He that keepeth thy soul; God, who is the preserver of men, Job 7:20, who daily doth, and who only can, keep thee both in and from the greatest dangers. And this favour of God may be here mentioned, partly, as a strong obligation upon him to preserve him who is made after God’s image, and whom God hath commanded him to love and preserve; partly, as an encouragement to the performance of his duty herein from the consideration of God’s special care and watchfulness over those that do their duty; and partly, to intimate to them the danger of the neglect of this duty, whereby they will forfeit God’s protection over themselves, and expose themselves to manifold dangers and calamities. Or, as others render it, and as the Hebrew verb is frequently used, he that observeth thy soul, that seeth all the secret thoughts and inward motions of the heart; which exposition is favoured both by the following words, doth not he know it? which agrees better to God’s observing than to his preserving a man’s soul; and by the former clause, to which this translation doth more exactly answer, the same thing being here repeated in other words, after the manner of these sacred writers.

Shall not he render to every man according to his works? God will certainly deal with thee as thou hast dealt with him, either rewarding thy performance of this duty, or punishing thy neglect of it.

If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not,.... The danger the person was in; or the innocency of his cause; or what method to take to deliver him; or that it was in our power to do anything for him; so the Vulgate Latin version, "if thou sayest, strength is not sufficient": or "we knew him not" (k), who he was or what he was; had no knowledge of him, or acquaintance with him, and so did not think ourselves under any obligation to regard his case; such excuses will not do;

doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? he that searches the heart and tries it, and weighs every thought of it, and excuse it makes, considers and understands whether it is a mere excuse or not; though such excuses may appear plausible to men, yet to God that knows the heart they are of no avail; for he knows it to be a mere shift, and that it was unwillingness to help the distressed, and a neglect of their case; and that all that is said on their own behalf is a vain pretence;

and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? he that upholds it in life, and whose visitation preserves it, and therefore should be careful of the life of another; and if not, may justly fear the Lord will withdraw his care and preservation of them; he knows perfectly well what regard a man has to the welfare of another, or to the preservation of another man's life when in danger; and whether what he says on his own behalf is well founded: or "he that observeth thy soul" (l); all the inward motions of it, the thoughts, affections, purposes, and inclinations; he knows whether what is said is true or not;

and shall not he render to every man according to his works? and behave towards him according to the law of retaliation; the same measure he measures to others, he will measure to him again; and who having shown no mercy in saving the lives of others, when he could have done it, shall have judgment executed on him without mercy, when he is in distress.

(k) , , Sept. "non noverimus istum", Gejerus; "non novimus hunc", Pagninus, Montanus, Michaelis. (l) "et qui observat animam tuam", Michaelis, Schultens; "observator animae tuae", Tigurine version, Gejerus.

If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?
12. knew it not] Lit. knew not this (thing, or man).

Verse 12. - If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not. The disciple of Wisdom may excuse himself from making any effort for the prisoners' release, by saying he had not heard of the case. St. Jerome makes the excuse to be inability, vires non suppetunt. The LXX. makes it a personal matter, ignoring the plural form of the previous paragraph. "I know him not, he is no friend of mine; why should I trouble myself about him?" Such a selfish person, like the priest and Levite in the parable, would "pass by on the other side." Doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? God knows the truth - knows that the excuse is vain; for he is the Weigher and Searcher of hearts (Proverbs 16:2; Proverbs 21:2). Cain's plea, "Am I my brother's keeper?" is unavailable; the law of love is limited by no circumstances. He that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? The expression, "keeping the soul," may be equivalent to "preserving the life;" but it more probably means watching, observing, the inmost secrets of the nature (Job 7:20). The verb used is נָצַר (natsar), which has both significations. The sense of "forming." which some give it, seems not allowable. (For "heart" (leb) and "soul" (nephesh), see note on Proverbs 2:10.) Shall not he render to every man according to his works? Knowing the heart and the motive, God deals out retributive justice (Proverbs 12:14; Psalm 62:12; Romans 2:6). Septuagint, "But if thou say, I know not this man, know that the Lord knoweth the hearts of air; and he who formed (πλάσας) breath for all, himself knoweth all things, who rendereth to every man according to his works." Proverbs 24:12Now, again, we meet with proverbs of several lines. The first here is a hexastich:

11 Deliver them that are taken to death,

     And them that are tottering to destruction, oh stop them!

12 If thou sayest, "We knew not of it indeed," -

     It is not so: The Weigher of hearts, who sees through it,

     And He that observeth thy soul, He knoweth it,

     And requiteth man according to his work.

If אם is interpreted as a particle of adjuration, then אם־תּחשׂוך is equivalent to: I adjure thee, forbear not (cf. Nehemiah 13:25 with Isaiah 58:1), viz., that which thou hast to do, venture all on it (lxx, Syr., Jerome). But the parallelism requires us to take together מטים להרג (such as with tottering steps are led forth to destruction) as object along with אם־תחשׂוך, as well as לקחים למּות (such as from their condition are carried away to death, cf. Exodus 14:11) as object to הצּל, in which all the old interpreters have recognised the imper., but none the infin. (eripere ... ne cesses, which is contrary to Heb. idiom, both in the position of the words and in the construction). אם also is not to be interpreted as an interrogative; for, thus expressed, an retinetis ought rather to have for the converse the meaning: thou shalt indeed not do it! (cf. e.g., Isaiah 29:16). And אם cannot be conditional: si prohibere poteris (Michaelis and others), for the fut. after אם has never the sense of a potential. Thus אם is, like לוּ, understood in the sense of utinam, as it is used not merely according to later custom (Hitzig), but from ancient times (cf. e.g., Exodus 32:32 with Genesis 23:13). כּי־תאמר (reminding

(Note: Vid., my hebrischen Rmerbrief, p. 14f.)

us of the same formula of the Rabbinical writings) introduces an objection, excuse, evasion, which is met by הלא; introducing "so say I on the contrary," it is of itself a reply, vid., Deuteronomy 7:17. זה we will not have to interpret personally (lxx τοῦτον); for, since Proverbs 24:11 speaks of several of them, the neut. rendering (Syr., Targ., Venet., Luther) in itself lies nearer, and זה, hoc, after ידע, is also in conformity with the usus loq.; vid., at Psalm 56:10. But the neut. זה does not refer to the moral obligation expressed in Proverbs 24:11; to save human life when it is possible to do so, can be unknown to no one, wherefore Jerome (as if the words of the text were אין לאל ידנוּ זה): vires non suppetunt. זה refers to the fact that men are led to the tribunal; only thus is explained the change of ידעתי, which was to be expected, into ידענוּ: the objection is, that one certainly did not know, viz., that matters had come to an extremity with them, and that a short process will be made with them. To this excuse, with pretended ignorance, the reply of the omniscient God stands opposed, and suggests to him who makes the excuse to consider: It is not so: the Searcher of hearts (vid., at Proverbs 16:2), He sees through it, viz., what goes on in thy heart, and He has thy soul under His inspection (נצר, as Job 7:20 : lxx καὶ ὁ πλάσας; יצרו, which Hitzig prefers, for he thinks that נצר must be interpreted in the sense of to guard, preserve; Luther rightly); He knows, viz., how it is with thy mind, He looks through it, He knows (cf. for both, Psalm 139:1-4), and renders to man according to his conduct, which, without being deceived, He judges according to the state of the heart, out of which the conduct springs. It is to be observed that Proverbs 24:11 speaks of one condemned to death generally, and not expressly of one innocently condemned, and makes no distinction between one condemned in war and in peace. One sees from this that the Chokma generally has no pleasure in this, that men are put to death by men, not even when it is done legally as punishment for a crime. For, on the one side, it is true that the punishment of the murderer by death is a law proceeding from the nature of the divine holiness and the inviolability of the divine ordinance, and the worth of man as formed in the image of God, and that the magistrate who disowns this law as a law, disowns the divine foundation of his office; but, on the other side, it is just as true that thousands and thousands of innocent persons, or at least persons not worthy of death, have fallen a sacrifice to the abuse or the false application of this law; and that along with the principle of recompensative righteousness, there is a principle of grace which rules in the kingdom of God, and is represented in the O.T. by prophecy and the Chokma. It is, moreover, a noticeable fact, that God did not visit with the punishment of death the first murderer, the murderer of the innocent Abel, his brother, but let the principle of grace so far prevail instead of that of law, that He even protected his life against any avenger of blood. But after that the moral ruin of the human race had reached that height which brought the Deluge over the earth, there was promulgated to the post-diluvians the word of the law, Genesis 9:6, sanctioning this inviolable right of putting to death by the hand of justice. The conduct of God regulates itself thus according to the aspect of the times. In the Mosaic law the greatness of guilt was estimated not externally (cf. Numbers 35:31), but internally, a very flexible limitation in its practical bearings. And that under certain circumstances grace might have the precedence of justice, the parable having in view the pardon of Absalom (2 Samuel 14) shows. But a word from God, like Ezekiel 18:23, raises grace to a principle, and the word with which Jesus (John 8:11) dismisses the adulteress is altogether an expression of this purpose of grace passing beyond the purpose of justice. In the later Jewish commonwealth, criminal justice was subordinated to the principle of predominating compassion; practical effect was given to the consideration of the value of human life during the trial, and even after the sentence was pronounced, and during a long time no sentence of death was passed by the Sanhedrim. But Jesus, who was Himself the innocent victim of a fanatical legal murder, adjudged, it is true, the supremacy to the sword; but He preached and practised love, which publishes grace for justice. He was Himself incarnate Love, offering Himself for sinners, the Mercy which Jahve proclaims by Ezekiel 18:23. The so-called Christian state ["Citivas Dei"] is indeed in manifest opposition to this. But Augustine declares himself, on the supposition that the principle of grace must penetrate the new ear, in all its conditions, that began with Christianity, for the suspension of punishment by death, especially because the heathen magistrates had abused the instrument of death, which, according to divine right, they had control over, to the destruction of Christians; and Ambrosius went so far as to impress it as a duty on a Christian judge who had pronounced the sentence of death, to exclude himself from the Holy Supper. The magisterial control over life and death had at that time gone to the extreme height of bloody violence, and thus in a certain degree it destroyed itself. Therefore Jansen changes the proverb (Proverbs 24:11) with the words of Ambrosius into the admonition: Quando indulgentia non nocet publico, eripe intercessione, eripe gratia tu sacerdos, aut tu imperator eripe subscriptionie indulgentiae. When Samuel Romilly's Bill to abolish the punishment of death for a theft amounting to the sum of five shillings passed the English House of Commons, it was thrown out by a majority in the House of Lords. Among those who voted against the Bill were one archbishop and five bishops. Our poet here in the Proverbs is of a different mind. Even the law of Sinai appoints the punishment of death only for man-stealing. The Mosaic code is incomparably milder than even yet the Carolina. In expressions, however, like the above, a true Christian spirit rules the spirit which condemns all blood-thirstiness of justice, and calls forth to a crusade not only against the inquisition, but also against such unmerciful, cruel executions even as they prevailed in Prussia in the name of law in the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm I, the Inexorable.

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