Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Proverbs 24:17-18. Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth — Namely, into mischief or trouble, as in the former verse; please not thyself in his destruction. This plainly shows that the love of our enemies is a precept of the Old Testament, as well as of the New: see Exodus 23:4-5. Lest the Lord see it, &c. — “For though nobody sees it, God does; and such affections are so displeasing to him, that they may provoke him to translate the calamity from thy enemy unto thee, and thereby damp thy sinful joy with a double sorrow.”Job 5:19). In contrast with this is the fate of the evildoers, who fall utterly even in a single distress. Falleth, to wit, into mischief, as in the former verse. Please not thyself in his destruction; which plainly shows that the love of our enemies is a precept of the old law as well as of the gospel. See Exodus 23:4,5. Proverbs 24:15; but to the just man, or Solomon's son, or the children of Wisdom; for by the "enemy" is meant such who are at enmity with the people of God, as the seed of the serpent, and those after the flesh, are: and when these "fall", saints should not "rejoice"; as when they fall into sin; for so to do would be to act as wicked "charity which rejoiceth not in iniquity", 1 Corinthians 13:6, or rather when they fill into calamity and distress; for this is also the part which wicked men act towards the people of God, and should not be imitated in; see Obadiah 1:12. Joy may be expressed at the fall of the public enemies of God and his people, as was by the Israelites at the destruction of Pharaoh and his host, Exodus 15:1; and as will be by the church at the destruction of antichrist, and which they are called upon to do, Revelation 18:20; partly on account of their own deliverance and safety, and chiefly because of the glory of God, and of his justice displayed therein; see Psalm 58:10; but as private revenge is not to be sought, nor acted, so joy at the calamity and ruin of a private enemy, or a man's own enemy, should not be expressed; but rather he is to be pitied and helped; see Proverbs 25:21; for to love an enemy, and show regard to him, is the doctrine both of the Old and of the New Testament;
and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth; even secret joy should not be indulged, gladness in the heart, though it does not appear in the countenance, and is not expressed in words; no, not at the least appearance of mischief, when he only stumbles and is ready to fall; and much less should there be exultation and rejoicings made in an open manner at the utter ruin of him.Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth:
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Verses 17, 18. - A warning against vindictiveness, nearly approaching the great Christian maxim, "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44). Verse 17. - Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour" was a Mosaic precept (Leviticus 19:18); the addition, "and hate thine enemy," was a Pharisaic gloss, arising from a misconception concerning the extermination of the Canaanites, which, indeed, had a special cause and purpose, and was not a precedent for the treatment of all aliens (see Proverbs 25:21, 22). When he stumbleth; rather, when he is overthrown. The maxim refers to private enemies. The overthrow of public enemies was often celebrated with festal rejoicing. Thus we have the triumph of Moses at the defeat of the Amalekites, and over Pharaoh's host at the Red Sea; of Deborah and Barak over Sisera (Exodus 15; Exodus 17:15; Judges 5); and the psalmist, exulting over the destruction of his country's foes, could say, "The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked" (Psalm 58:10). But private revenge and vindictiveness are warmly censured and repudiated. So Cato, 'Distich.' 4:46 -
"Morte repentina noli gaudere malorum;
Felicesobeunt quorum sine crimine vita est." Of very different tone is the Italian proverb, "Revenge is a morsel for God;" and "Wait time and place to act thy revenge, for it is never well done in a hurry" (Trench).
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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