Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.
Verse 1. - (Comp, Proverbs 15:16, 17; Proverbs 16:8.) Better (sweeter) is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith. Dry bread was soaked in wine or water before it was eaten. Thus Boaz bid Ruth "dip her morsel in the vinegar" (Ruth 2:14); thus Jesus gave the sop to Judas when he had dipped it (John 13:26). The Septuagint is pleonastic, "Better is a morsel with joy in peace." Aben Ezra connects this verse with the last two of ch. 16, confining the application to the patient man; but the sentence seems rather to be independent and general. Than an house full of sacrifices with strife. Of the thank or peace offerings part only was burnt upon the altar, the rest was eaten by the offerer and his family; and as the victims were always the choicest animals, "a house full of sacrifices" would contain the materials for sumptuous feasting (see on Proverbs 7:4). The joyous family festival often degenerated into excess, which naturally led to quarrels and strife (see 1 Samuel 1:5, 6, 13; 1 Samuel 2:13, etc.). So the agapae of the early Church were desecrated by licence and selfishness (1 Corinthians 11:20, etc.). Septuagint, "than a house full of many good things and unrighteous victims with contention." With this verse compare the Spanish proverb, "Mas vale un pedazo de pan con amor, que gallinas con dolor."
A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren.
Verse 2. - A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame. Here is intimated the supremacy of wisdom over folly and vice. The contrast is better emphasized by translating, A servant that dealeth wisely shall have rule over a son that doeth shamefully; i.e. a son of his master. (For similar contrast between "wise" and "shameful," comp. Proverbs 10:5; Proverbs 14:35.) Slaves were often raised to high honour, and might inherit their master's possessions. Thus Abraham's servant, Eliezer of Damascus, was at one time considered the patriarch's heir (Genesis 15:2, 3); Ziba, Saul's servant, obtained the inheritance of his lord Mephibosheth ("the Shameful," 2 Samuel 16:4); Joseph was advanced to the highest post in Egypt. Ecclus. 10:25, "Unto the servant that is wise shall they that are free do service; and he that is wise will not grudge when he is reformed." Septuagint, "A wise household servant shall rule over foolish masters." "I have seen," says Ecelesiastes (Ecclesiastes 10:7), "servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth." Shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren; shall share on equal terms with the sons of the house. This innovation on the usual disposition of property could happen only in the case of an abnormally intelligent and trusted slave. In 1 Chronicles 2:34, etc., mention is made of a case where a master, having no son, gave his daughter in marriage to a slave, and adopted him into the family. Delitzsch understands the clause to mean that the slave shall have the office of dividing his master's inheritance among the heirs, shall be the executor of his deceased master's will; but this explanation hardly seems to do justice to the merits of the "wise servant," and takes no account of the idea involved in "shameful son." But the Septuagint appears to countenance this view, rendering, "and among the brethren he shall divide the portions."
The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts.
Verse 3. - The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold. The word matsreph, "fining pot," occurs also in Proverbs 27:21. It is not certain what is meant by it. There is no evidence that the Israelites were acquainted with the use of acids in the manipulation of impure or mixed metals; otherwise the "pot" and the "furnace" would represent the two usual modes of reduction; but it is most probable that both allude to the same method of smelting the ore in crucibles, for the purpose of separating the pure metal from the dross. That silver and gold were plentiful in Solomon's time is abundantly evident; indeed, the amount of the precious metals collected by David and his son is almost incredible (see 1 Chronicles 22:14; 1 Chronicles 29:2, etc., from which and similar passages it is inferred that the sums enumerated equalled more than nine hundred millions of pounds sterling). But the Lord trieth the hearts (Proverbs 15:11; Proverbs 24:12). That which fire does for the metals, the Lord does for men's hearts; he purifies them from dross, brings forth the good that is in them, purged from earthly infirmities. God's process is the application of sorrow, sickness, temptation, that, duly meeting these, the soul may emerge from the trial as pure gold, fit for the Master's use (comp. Jeremiah 12:3; Malachi 3:2; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18).
A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue.
Verse 4. - A wicked doer giveth heed to false (evil) lips. A bad man delights in and hearkens to evil words; he takes pleasure in those who counsel wickedness, because they are after his own heart. Like mates with like. And a liar giveth ear to a naughty (mischievous) tongue. One who is himself mendacious listens with avidity to any tale that may injure a neighbour. however monstrous and improbable it may be. Septuagint, "A wicked man listens to the tongue of transgressors; but a just man heedeth not false lips." The Greek adds here, or in some manuscripts, after ver. 6, a paragraph which is not found in the Hebrew, Syriac, or Latin: "To him who is faithful the whole world wealth belongs; but the unfaithful is not worth an obole." On this the Fathers have frequently commented (see Corn. a Lapide, in loc.).
Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.
Verse 5. - Whoso mocketh the poor (see Proverbs 14:31, which is nearly identical). He that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished (Proverbs 11:21; Proverbs 24:17, 18). The particular calamity primarily intended seems to be that which reduces a person to poverty. Delight in others' misfortunes, even those of enemies, is a most detestable form of selfishness and malice. Job, testifying to his own integrity, was thankful to think that he was free from this vice (Job 31:29). The Greeks had a name for it, and called it ἐπιχαιρεκακία, which is used by Aristotle ('Eth. Nic.,' 2:6. 18). The pious author looks for retributive punishment on such spitefulness. The LXX. tries to improve the contrast by resorting a gloss, "He who rejoices at one who perishes shall not go unpunished; but he who hath compassion shall obtain mercy," which is remarkably like Christ's sentence, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."
Children's children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers.
Verse 6. - Children's children are the crown of old men (comp. Psalm 127; Psalm 128). (For the term "crown," comp. Proverbs 16:18.) Thus St. Paul calls his converts his "joy and crown" (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19) In the East a large number of children is considered a great blessing, being a guarantee of the stability of the family. Thus writes Euripides ('Iph. Taur.,' 57) -
Στύλοι γὰρ οἴκων παῖδες εἰσιν ἄρσενες
"Male children are the pillars of the house." The glory of children are their fathers. A long line of good or celebrated ancestors is the glory of their descendants, and brings a blessing on them (see 1 Kings 11:13; 1 Kings 15:4). Hereditary nobility, based on descent from some eminent progenitor, may be a source of not unseemly pride, and a spur to a life worthy of such excellent ancestry.
Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince.
Verse 7. - Excellent speech becometh not a fool. שְׂפַת יָתֶר; verba composita, Vulgate, i.e. studied, complicated, expressions; χείλη πιστά, "faithful lips," Septuagint. Others translate, "arrogant," "pretentious." It is literally, a lip of excess or superabundance, and is best taken in the above sense, as arrogant or assuming. A nabal, a "vicious fool," ought not to flaunt his unwisdom and his iniquities before the eyes of men, but to keep them hidden as much as possible. As such presumptuous behaviour is incongruous in the case of a fool, much less do lying lips [become] a prince; a noble person, such a one as is called in Isaiah (Isaiah 32:8) "liberal," where the same word, nadib, is used. This is an illustration of the saying, "Noblesse oblige." Thus the Greek gnome -
Ἐλευθέρου γὰρ ἀνδρὸς ἀλήθειαν λέγειν
"A free man's part it is the truth to speak." To John the Good, King of France, is attributed the noble maxim which well became his chivalrous character, "Si la bonne foi etait bannie du reste du monde, il faudrait qu'on la retrouvat dans le coeur des rois" (Bonnechose, 'Hist. de France,' 1:310). "My son," says the rabbi in the Talmud, "avoid lying first of all; for a lie will tarnish the brightness of thy honour." For "prince," the Septuagint has, "a just man," which makes the maxim a mere truism.
A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.
Verse 8. - There is a breath of satire in this verse. A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it. "A precious stone" is literally "a stone of grace" (Proverbs 1:9). The gnome expresses the idea that a bribe is like a bright jewel that dazzles the sight and affects the mind of him who receives it (see on Proverbs 15:27; comp. Deuteronomy 16:19; 1 Samuel 12:3). Ovid, 'Art. Amat.,' 3:653 -
"Munera, crede mihi, capiunt hominesque deosque;
Placatur donis Jupiter ipse datis." It is possible that the gnome may have a more general application, and apply to gifts given to appease anger or to prove friendship (Proverbs 19:6; Proverbs 21:14). Septuagint, "A reward of graces is discipline to those who use it;" i.e. moral discipline brings an ample reward of graces to those who practise it. Whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth. The Authorized Version refers these words to the gift. Delitzsch points out that the words are more properly taken of the person who receives the gift, so that they should be rendered, "Wheresoever he turneth himself he dealeth wisely." Inflamed by sordid hopes and the love of gain, he acts with all possible skill and prudence in order to work out his wages and show that he was rightly selected to receive the present. The verse merely states a common trait among unscrupulous men, and pronounces no judgment upon it.
He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.
Verse 9. - He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; i.e. strives to exercise, put in practice, love (comp. Zephaniah 2:8; 1 Corinthians 14:4). Thus Nowack. One who bears patiently and silently, extenuates and conceals, something done or said against him, that man follows after charity, obeys the great law of love (comp. Proverbs 10:12). Some explain the clause to mean, "procures love for himself;" but the second member certainly is not personal, therefore it is more natural to take the first in a general sense. He that repeateth (harpeth on) a matter separateth very friends (Proverbs 16:28). He who is always dwelling on a grievance, returning to it and bringing it forward on every occasion, alienates the greatest friends, only embitters the injury and makes it chronic. Ecclus. 19:7, etc., "Rehearse not unto another that which is told unto thee, and thou shalt fare never the worse. Whether it be to friend or foe, talk not of other men's lives; and if thou canst without offence, reveal them not. For he heard and observed thee, and when time cometh he will hate thee. If thou hast heard a word, let it die with thee; and be bold, it will not burst thee." So the rabbis said: "Abstain from quarrels with thy neighbour; and if thou hast seen something bad of thy friend, let it not pass thy tongue as a slander" (Dukes, § 61). The Mosaic Law had led the way to this duty of forbearance: "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18). Septuagint, "He who concealeth injuries seeketh friendship; but he who hateth to conceal them separateth friends and households."
A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.
Verse 10. - A reproof entereth more (deeper) into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool. A deserved rebuke makes a deeper impression upon a man of understanding than the severest chastisement upon a fool. Hitzig quotes Sallust, 'Jug.,' 11, "Verbum in pectus Jugurthae altius, quam quisquam ratus est, descendit." Quint. Curt., 54:7, "Nobilis equus umbra quoque virgae regitur, ignavus ne calcari quidem concitari potest." The antithesis is put more forcibly in the Septuagint, "A threat breaks the heart of a prudent man; a fool even scourged feels it not."
An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.
Verse 11. - An evil man seeketh only rebellion. So the Greek and Latin Versions; but, as Nowack intimates, a bad man seeks many other things which do not come directly in the category of rebellion; and it is better to take meri, "rebellion," as the subject, regarding it as put for the concrete, thus: "A rebellious man striveth only for what is evil." From the point of view of an Eastern potentate, this is true enough. Absolute government looks upon any rising against constituted authority, any movement in the masses, as necessarily evil, and to be repressed with a high hand. Hence the succeeding clause. Therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him. The "cruel messenger" (Proverbs 16:14) is the executioner of the king's wrath (comp. 1 Kings 2:29, etc.). He is called "cruel" because his errand is deadly, and he is pitiless in its performance. This seems to be the sense intended. The LXX. gives a different notion, derived from the ambiguous term malak, like the Greek ἄγγελος: "The Lord will send forth a pitiless angel against him." The verse then becomes a statement concerning the retribution inflicted by God on obstinate sinners, such as Pharaoh and the Egyptians. These are delivered over to "the tormentors" (Matthew 18:34), the angels that execute the wrath of God, as in Psalm 78:49 and Revelation 8:6, etc. As all sin is rebellion against God, it is natural to read into the passage a religious meaning, and for homiletical purposes it is legitimate to do so. But the writer's intention is doubtless as explained above, though his language may be divinely directed to afford a further application.
Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly.
Verse 12. - Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man. The Syrian bear was once common throughout Palestine; it is now found in but few localities, such as the hills of Hermon and Lebanon, and in the hills east of the Jordan, the destruction of wood and forest having deprived these animals of the shelter necessary to their existence. The ferocity of the bear when deprived of its young had become proverbial (see 2 Samuel 17:8; Hosea 13:8; Hart, 'Animals of the Bible,' 28, etc.). Rather than a fool in his folly; i.e. in the paroxysm of his passion. Compare Saul's ungoverned language to Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:30), and Herod's murder of the children (Matthew 2:16). So we read of the people being filled with ἄνοια against Jesus (Luke 6:11). Oort supposes that this proverb arose from the riddle, "What is worse to meet than a bear?" Septuagint, "Care will fall upon a man of understanding; but fools imagine evils." The Greek translators take "bear" as us d metaphorically for terror and anxiety, but go far astray from the Hebrew text.
Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house.
Verse 13. - Whoso rewardeth evil for good. This was David's complaint of the churlish Nabal (1 Samuel 25:21). Ingratitude shall surely he punished. Evil shall not depart from his house. Terribly has the ingratitude of the Jews been visited. They cried in their madness, "His blood be on us and on our children!" and their punishment is still going on. Injunctions on this subject are frequent in the New Testament (see Matthew 5:39; Romans 12:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9). The Talmud says, "Do not throw a stone into the well whose waters you have drunk." The Greeks felt the sting of ingratitude. Thus Leiodes complains to Ulysses ('Od.,' 22:319) -
Ὡς οὐκ ἔστι χάρις μετόπισθ εὐεργέων Two sayings of Publius Syrus are quoted ('Sent.,' vv. 219, 274): "Ingratus unus omnibus miseris nocet;" "Malignos fieri maxime ingrati docent."
The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.
Verse 14. - The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water. The small rift in the bank of a reservoir of water, if not immediately secured, is soon enlarged and gets beyond control, occasioning widespread ruin and destruction; so from small and insignificant causes, which might at first have been easily checked, arise feuds and quarrels which extend in a wide circle, and cannot be appeased. Palestine was largely dependent upon its reservoirs for the storage of water, perennial springs being of rare occurrence. The three pools of Solomon in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem, which were connected by channels with Jerusalem, are still to be seen in all their massive grandeur; and, indeed, every town had its reservoir, or tank, as we find in India at the present time. These receptacles had to be kept in good repair, or disastrous consequences might ensue. On the tendency of a quarrel to grow to a dangerous extent, a Bengal proverb speaks of "going in a needle and coming out a ploughshare." Vulgate, Qui dimittit aquam, caput est jurgiorum, which seems to mean that the man who needlessly lets the water of a cistern run to waste gives occasion to quarrels. But St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 5:13), commenting on the passage, interprets differently: "It is well said by Solomon, 'He that letteth out water is a head of strife.' For the water is let out when the flowing of the tongue is let loose. And he that letteth out water is made the beginning of strife, in that, by the incontinency of the lips, the commencement of discord is afforded" (Oxford transl.). Probably, however, in the Latin, as in the Hebrew, the particle of comparison is suppressed, so that the clause means, "As he who lets out water, so is he who gives occasion to strife." Therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with. The last word חַתְלַֺגּלַּע is of doubtful interpretation. It occurs in Proverbs 18:1 and Proverbs 20:3, and is variously translated, "before it rushes forward," "before it grows warm," "before a man becomes wrathful." But Hitzig, Nowaek, and others take it to signify, "before men show their teeth," like angry dogs snarling at one another. The moralist advises men to subdue angry passions at once before they become exacerbated. The Vulgate seems to have quite mistaken the clause, translating, Antequam patiatur contumeliam, judicium deserit, which seems to mean that a patient, peace-loving man (in contrast with the irascible) avoids lawsuits before he is involved in a lasting quarrel. Septuagint, "The beginning (ἀρχὴ) of justice gives power to words; but discord and contention lead the way to want." The Greek commentators see here an allusion to the clepsydra, the water clock which regulated the length of the speeches in a court of law; but the reference is by no means clear.
He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.
Verse 15. - He that justifieth - in a forensic sense, declares righteous, acquits - the wicked, etc. Two forms of the perversion of justice are censured, viz. the acquittal of a guilty person and the condemnation of an innocent one (comp. Proverbs 24:24; Isaiah 5:23).
Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?
Verse 16. - Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom? A fool thinks that there is a royal road to wisdom, and that it, like other things, is to be purchased with reentry. Vulgate, Quid prodest stulto habere divitias, cum sapientiam emere non possit? The rabbis in later time were not allowed to take fees for teaching; but it was customary to make offerings to seers and wise men, when their services were engaged or their advice was asked (see the case of Saul and Samuel, 1 Samuel 9:7, 8). The last clause gives the reason why it is useless for a fool to try to learn wisdom even at a large expenditure on teachers. Seeing he hath no heart to it; i.e. no capability for receiving it; his mental digestion cannot assimilate it. The heart, as we have already noticed, is regarded as the seat of the understanding. Thus the LXX., "Why doth a fool have wealth? for a man without heart cannot acquire wisdom." In the Gospel Christ calls his disciples "fools and slow of heart to believe what the prophets had written, and himself opened their mind (τὸν νοῦν), that they might understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:25, 45). The Septuagint and Vulgate here introduce a distich derived from portions of vers. 19, 20, "He who raises his house high seeketh destruction; and he who perversely declineth from learning (ὁ δὲ σκολιάζων τοῦ μαθεῖν) shall fall into evils."
A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Verse 17. - A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Some find a climax in the two clauses, and translate the last as Revised Version margin, "And is born as a brother for adversity," the same person being meant in both members of the sentence. A real friend loves his friend in prosperity and adversity; yea, he is more than a friend in time of need - he is a brother, as affectionate and as trusty as one connected by the closest ties of relationship (comp. Proverbs 18:24). Siracides gives a very cruel version of this proverb, "A friend cannot be known in prosperity; and an enemy cannot be hidden in adversity. In the prosperity of a man enemies will be grieved; but in his adversity even a friend will depart" (Ecclus. 12:8, etc.). Cicero had a truer notion of the stability of friendship when he quoted Ennius's dictum, "Amicus certus in re incerta cernitur" ('De Amicit.,' 17.). Misfortune, says our maxim, is the touchstone of friendship; and one Greek gnome enjoins -
Ἰδίας νόμιζε τῶν φίλων τὰς συμφοράς
"Thy friend's misfortunes deem to be thine own;"
while another runs -
Κρίνει φίλους ὁ καιρὸς ὥς χρυσὸν τὸ πῦρ.
"The crisis tests a friend, as fire the gold." Septuagint, "Have thou a friend forevery crisis, and let brethren be useful in adversities; for for this they are made." Commenting on the expression, "is born," Wordsworth fancifully remarks, "Adversity brings him forth. He comes, as it were, out of the womb of calamity, and seems to be born for it."
A man void of understanding striketh hands, and becometh surety in the presence of his friend.
Verse 18. - A man void of understanding (Hebrew, heart) striketh hands; clinches the bargain which makes him responsible (see on suretyship, Proverbs 6:1, etc.; and note, Proverbs 20:16). Becometh surety in the presence of his friend; to his friend for some third party. What is here censured is the weakness which, for the sake of perhaps worthless companions, lets itself be hampered and endangered by others' obligations. For, as our adage runs, he that is surety for another is never sure himself. The Septuagint takes the "striking of hands" to be a sign of joy (Vulgate, plaudet manibus), "The foolish man claps (ἐπικροτεῖ) and rejoices in himself, so also he who pledges himself for his friend."
He loveth transgression that loveth strife: and he that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction.
Verse 19. - He loveth transgression that loveth strife, because strife leads to many breaches of the commandments (comp. Proverbs 29:22; James 1:20). Septuagint, "He who loveth sin rejoices in battles." And he that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction. He who builds a sumptuous house and lives in the way that his magnificent surroundings demand draws ruin on himself, either because he affects a state which he is unable to support, or acts so as to provoke reprisals and injurious consequences. The entrance to a Palestinian house would usually be of humble dimensions and sparse ornamentation; any doorway of great architectural pretensions would be uncommon, and would be regarded as a token of extraordinary wealth or reprehensible pride. Aben Ezra, taking "gate" as a metaphor for "mouth," explains the hemistich of the danger of random or excessive speech. This makes a good parallel with the first clause; but it is doubtful whether the words will bear this interpretation (see Hitzig); and the two clauses may present two forms of selfishness, captiousness and ostentation, both of which lead to quarrels and ruin (comp. Proverbs 16:18).
He that hath a froward heart findeth no good: and he that hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief.
Verse 20. - He that hath a froward heart findeth no good. (For "froward," see on Proverbs 11:20; for "find good," on Proverbs 16:20.) The perverse, wilful man shall not prosper, shall win no blessing in his worldly matters, much less in spiritual things. Septuagint, "He who is hard of heart meeteth not with good things." He that hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief; literally, he who turns himself about with his tongue, saying one thing at one time and something quite contrary at another. Vulgate, qui vertit linguam; Septuagint, ἀνὴρ εὐμετάβολος γλώσσῃ, "easily changed in tongue" (comp. Proverbs 8:13; Proverbs 10:31, where the word is different). "Mischief" (ra) "is trouble," "calamity," as in Proverbs 13:17. Speaking of the various aspects which words may assume, Cato ('Dist.,' 4:20) says -
"Sermo hominum mores et celat et indicat idem."
"Man's words his character reveal,
But often they his mind conceal?
He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow: and the father of a fool hath no joy.
Verse 21. - He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow (comp. ver. 25). The words for "fool" in the two clauses are different. Here it is kesil, which implies bold, self-confident folly, the worst form of the vies; in the second hemistich it is nabal, which rather denotes dulness and stupidity, a want of mental power. A conceited, offensive fool causes infinite trouble to his father, both from his need of constant correction, and the watchfulness required to repair the consequences of his foolish actions. There is also the grief at seeing instruction and warning thrown away on a worthless object. Septuagint, "The heart of a fool is a pain to him who possesseth it." The father of a fool hath no joy. The contrast in the case of a good son is seen in Proverbs 15:20 and Proverbs 23:24. The LXX. adds a clause from Proverbs 10:1, with the view of improving the parallelism, "But a prudent son rejoiceth his mother."
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
Verse 22. - A merry heart doeth good like a medicine. So Aben Ezra, understanding the particle of comparison, which is not in the Hebrew. The ward translated "medicine" (gehah) occurs nowhere else, and probably means "healing" "relief." The clause is better rendered, a cheerful heart maketh a good healing (comp. Proverbs 15:13; Proverbs 16:25). Vulgate, aetatem floridam facit; Septuagint, εὐεκτεῖν ποιεῖ, "makes one to be in good case." A cheerful, contented disposition enables a men to resist the attacks of disease, the mind, ms every one knows, having most powerful influence over the body. Ecclus. 30:22, "The gladness of the heart is the life of man, and the joyfulness of a man prolongeth his days." A broken spirit drieth the bones; destroys all life and vigour (comp. Proverbs 3:8; Psalm 22:15; Psalm 32:4). We all remember the distich -
"A merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad tires in a mile-a." So the rabbis enjoin, "Give ears no room in thine heart, for care hath killed many" (Dukes, p. 68). Religious gladness is a positive duty, and "low spirits," as Isaac Williams says, "are a sin." Asks the Greek moralist -
Ἄρ ἐστὶ συγγενές τι λύπη καὶ βίος And Lucretius (3:473) affirms -
"Nam dolor ac morbus leti fabricator uterque est."
"Workers of death are sorrow and disease."
A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.
Verse 23. - A gift out of the bosom; i.e. secretly from the fold of the garment, and not from the purse or bag wherein money was ostensibly carried. A corrupt judge "taketh," i.e. receives a bribe conveyed to him secretly (Proverbs 21:14). To pervert the ways of judgment. The judges had no appointed salaries; hence the unprincipled among them were open to bribery. The strict injunctions of the Law, and the stern denunciations of the prophets, were alike ineffectual in checking corruption (see Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; Isaiah 1:23; Jeremiah 22:17; Ezekiel 13:19; Hosea 4:18, etc.). Septuagint, "The man that receiveth gifts in his bosom unjustly, his ways shall not prosper." For, as Job avows (Job 15:34), "Fire shall consume the tabernacles of bribery." The LXX. adds, "The impious turns aside from the ways of righteousness."
Wisdom is before him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.
Verse 24. - Wisdom is before [the face of] him that hath understanding. The idea is that the intelligent man directs his look towards Wisdom, and therefore she beams upon him with all her light; as the Vulgate puts it, "In the face of the prudent wisdom shines." He has one object to which he directs all his attention (Proverbs 15:14). The Septuagint rendering is not so satisfactory: "The countenance of a prudent man is wise;" he shows in his look and bearing the wisdom that guides him. Thus Ecclesiastes 8:1, "A man's wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the hardness of his face is changed." The eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth. A fool has no one definite object in view; he pursues a hundred different things, as they happen to come in his way, but misses the most important quest of all and fritters away the powers which might have aided him to obtain wisdom.
A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him.
Verse 25. - This verse is more or less a repetition of ver. 21; Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 15:20; and comp. Proverbs 19:13. A grief (kaas). The Vulgate and Septuagint translate, "anger." A foolish son provokes the wrath of his father, and is bitterness to her that bare him, "Bitterness" (memer) oesurs nowhere else; mar and marar are common enough.
Also to punish the just is not good, nor to strike princes for equity.
Verse 26. - Also (gam). This may be intended to connect this verso with what was said above (ver. 23) about the perversion of justice; or, as is more probable, it is used to emphasize what is coming, To punish the just is not good. Damnum inferre justo, Vulgate; ζημιοῦν, Septuagint; and the word has a special reference to punishment by fire. Nor to strike princes for equity; the expression, "is not good," being understood from the former clause. "Princes" are the noble in character rather than in position only. Two forms of evil are named, viz. to punish the innocent, and to visit with contumely and injury the man of high character who cannot be induced to pervert justice. Revised Version, nor to smite the noble for their uprightness. So virtually the Vulgate, Septuagint, and Syriac. Another rendering is, "to strike the noble is against right," which seems feeble and less suitable to the parallelism.
He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
Verse 27. - He that hath knowledge spareth his words; Revised Version, he that spareth his words hath knowledge; he shows his common sense, not by rash talk or saying all he knows, but by restraining his tongue (comp. Proverbs 10:19; James 1:19). 'Pirke Aboth' (1:18), "All my days I have grown up amongst the wise, and have not found aught good for a man but silence; not learning but doing is the groundwork, and whoso multiplies words occasions sin" Say the Greek gnomes -
Ἐνίοις τὸ σιγᾷν ἐστὶ κρεῖττον τοῦ λέγειν
Κρεῖττον σιωπᾷν η} λαλεῖν α} μὴ πρέπει And Theognis (5:815) writes -
Βοῦς μοι ἐπὶ γλώσσης κρατερῷ ποδὶ λὰξ ἐπιβαίνων
Ἴσχει κωτίλλειν καίπερ ἐπιστάμενον Speech for a shekel, silence for two; it is like a precious stone ('Qoheleth Rabbah,' 5:5). Septuagint, "He who spareth to utter a harsh speech is prudent" (ἐπιγνώμων). A man of understanding is of an excellent spirit; Revised Version, he that is of a coot spirit is a man of understanding; i.e. he who considers before he speaks, and never answers in hot haste, proves that he is wise and intelligent. Septuagint, "The long suffering man is prudent." The above is the reading of the Khetib, followed by most interpreters. The Keri gives, "of a precious spirit" (pretiosi spiritus, Vulgate), that is, one whose words are weighty and valuable, not lavishly thrown about, but reserved as costly jewels.
Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.
Verse 28. - Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise. Not betraying his ignorance and incapacity by words, a foolish man is credited with possessing sense (comp. Job 13:5). Proverbs to this effect are found in all languages. Thus the Greek -
Πᾶς τις ἀπαίδευτος φρονιμώτατος ἐστὶ σιωπῶν. Cato, 'Dist.,' 1:3 -
"Virtutem primam esse puta compescere linguam;
Proximus ille Deo qui scit ratione tacere." Talmud, "Silence becomes the wise, much more feels." The Dutch have appropriated this maxim, "Zweigen de dwazen zij waren wijs, .... Were fools silent, they would pass for wise." "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses." "Silence," says the Sanskrit gnome, "is the ornament of the ignorant." "Talking comes by nature," say the Germans, "silence of understanding." The LXX. gives a different turn to the first clause: "A foolish man inquiring of wisdom will have wisdom imputed to him;" the expressed desire of knowledge will be taken as a proof of intelligence. The second clause is coordinate with the former. He that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding; Revised Version, when he shutteth his lips, he is esteemed as prudent; Septuagint, "A man making himself dumb will seem to be prudent." Theophrastus is said to have thus addressed a guest who was very silent at table: "If you are a fool, you act wisely; if you are wise, you act foolishly." "Let every man," says St. James (James 1:19), "be swift to hear, slow to speak."