Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.
Verse 1. - Better is the poor that walkth in his integrity. The word for "poor" is, here and in vers. 7, 22, rash, which signifies "poor" in opposition to "rich." In the present reading of the second clause, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool, there seems to be a failure in antithesis, unless we can understand the fool as a rich fool. This, the repetition of the maxim in Proverbs 28:6 ("Than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich"), would lead one to admit. The Vulgate accordingly has, Quam dives torquem labia sua, et insipiens, "Than a rich man who is of perverse lips and a fool." With this the Syriac partly agrees. So that, if we take this reading, the moralist says that the poor man who lives a guileless, innocent life, content with his lot, and using no wrong means to improve his fortunes, is happier and better than the rich man who is hypocritical in his words and deceives others, and has won his wealth by such means, thus proving himself to be a fool, a morally bad man. But if we content ourselves with the Hebrew text, we must find the antithesis in the simple, pious, poor man, contrasted with the arrogant rich man, who sneers at his poor neighbour as an inferior creature. The writer would seem to insinuate that there is a natural connection between poverty and integrity of life on the one hand, and wealth and folly on the other. He would assent to the sweeping assertion, Omnis dives ant iniquus aut iniqui heres, "Every rich man is either a rascal or a rascal's heir."
Also, that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good; and he that hasteth with his feet sinneth.
Verse 2. - Also, that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good. "Also" (gam), Wordsworth would render "even," "even the soul, i.e. life itself, without knowledge is not a blessing;" it is βίπς οὐ βιωτός. At first sight it looks as if some verse, to which this one was appended, had fallen out; but there is no trace in the versions of any such loss. We have had a verse beginning in the same manner (Proverbs 17:26), and here it seems to emphasize what follows - folly is bad, so is ignorance, when the soul lacks knowledge, i.e. when a man does not know what to do, how to act in the circumstances of his life, has in fact no practical wisdom. Other things "not good" are named in Proverbs 18:5; Proverbs 20:23; Proverbs 24:23. And he that hasteth with his feet sinneth; misseth his way. Delitzsch confines the meaning of this hemistich to the undisciplined pursuit of knowledge: "He who hasteneth with the legs after it goeth astray," because he is neither intellectually nor morally clear as to his path or object. But the gnome is better taken in a more general sense. The ignorant man, who acts hastily without due deliberation, is sure to make grave mistakes, and to come to misfortune. Haste is opposed to knowledge, because the latter involves prudence and circumspection, while the former blunders on hurriedly, not seeing whither actions lead. We all have occasion to note the proverbs, Festina lente; "More haste, less speed." The history of Fabius, who, as Ennius said,
"Unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem,"
shows the value of deliberation and caution. The Greeks recognized this -
Προπέτεια πολλοῖς ἐστὶν αἰτία κακῶν.
"Rash haste is cause of evil unto many." Erasmus, in his 'Adagia,' has a long article commenting on Festinatio praepropera. The Arabs say," Patience is the key of joy, but haste is the key of sorrow." God is patient because he is eternal.
The foolishness of man perverteth his way: and his heart fretteth against the LORD.
Verse 3. - The foolishness of man perverteth his way; rather, overturns, turns from the right direction and causes a man to fall (Proverbs 13:6). It is his own folly that leads him to his ruin; but he will not see this, and blames the providence of God. And his heart fretteth against the Lord. Septuagint, "He accuseth God in his heart" (comp. Ezekiel 18:25, 29; Ezekiel 33:17, 20). Ecclus 15:11, etc., "Say not thou, It is through the Lord that I foil away; for thou oughtest not to do the things that he hateth. Say not thou, He has caused me to err; for he hath no need of the sinful man," etc. The latter part of this important passage St. Augustine quotes thus: "Item apud Salomonem: Deus ab initio constituit hominem et reliquit eum in manu consilii sui: adjecit ei mandata et praecepta; si voles praecepta servare, servabunt te, et in posterum fidem placitam facere. Apposuit tibi aquam et ignem, ad quod vis porrige manum tuam. Ante hominem bonum et malum, vita et mors, paupertas et honestas a Domino Deo sunt" ('De Per. Just. Hom.,' cap. 19, § 41). And again, "Manifestum est, quod si ad ignem manum mittit, et malum ac mors ei placet, id votuntas hominis operatur; si autem bonum et vitam diligit, non solum voluntas id agit, sed divinitus adjuvatur" ('De Gest. Pelag.,' cap. 3, § 7). Homer, 'Od.,' 1:32, etc. -
"Perverse mankind! whose wills, created free,
Charge all their woes on absolute decree;
All to the dooming gods their guilt translate,
And follies are miscalled the crimes of fate."
Wealth maketh many friends; but the poor is separated from his neighbour.
Verse 4. - Wealth maketh many friends (vers. 6, 7; Proverbs 14:20). A Greek gnome expresses the same truth -
Ἐὰν δ ἔχωμεν χρήμαθ ἕξομεν φίλους. The poor is separated from his neighbour. But it is better to make the act of separation emanate from the friend (as the Hebrew allows), and to render, with the Revised Version, The friend of the poor separateth himself from him. The word for "poor" is here dal, which means "feeble," "languid;" so ver. 17; and the came word (rea), "friend" or "neighbor," is used in both clauses. The idea of man's selfishness is carried on in vers. 6 and 7. The Law of Moses had tried to counteract it (Deuteronomy 15:7, etc.), but it was Christianity that introduced the practical realization of the law of love, and the honouring of the poor as members of Christ. Septuagint, "But the poor is deserted even by his whilom friend."
A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape.
Verse 5. - This verse is repeated below (ver. 9). It comes in awkwardly here, interrupting the connection which subsists between vers. 4 and 6. Its right place is doubtless where it occurs below. The Law not only strictly forbade false witness (Exodus 20:16; Exodus 23:1), but it enacted severe penalties against offenders in this particular (Deuteronomy 19:16, etc.); the lex talionis was to be enforced against them, they were to receive no pity: "Life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." He that speaketh lies shall not escape. The Septuagint confines the notion of this clause to false accusers, Ὁ δὲ ἐγκαλῶν ἀδίκως, "He who maketh an unjust charge shall not escape," which renders the two clauses almost synonymous. We make a distinction between the members by seeing in the former a denunciation against a false witness in a suit, and in the second a more sweeping menace against any one, whether accuser, slanderer, sycophant, who by lying injures a neighbour. The History of Susanna is brought forward in confirmation of the well deserved fate of false accusers.
Ψευδὴς διαβολὴ τὸν βίον λυμαίνεται.
"A slander is an outrage on man's life."
Many will intreat the favour of the prince: and every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts.
Verse 6. - Many will intreat the favour of the prince; Literally, will stroke the face of the prince, of the liberal and powerful man, in expectation of receiving some benefit from him (Proverbs 29:26; Job 11:19). Every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts (see on Proverbs 17:8). The LXX., reading כָל־הְרֵעַ for בָל־הָּרֵעַ, renders, "Every bad man is a reproach to a man," which may mean that a sordid, evil man brings only disgrace on himself; or that, while many truckle to and try to win the interest of a prince, bad courtiers bring on him not glory, but infamy and shame.
All the brethren of the poor do hate him: how much more do his friends go far from him? he pursueth them with words, yet they are wanting to him.
Verse 7. - This is one of the few tristichs in the book, and probably contains the mutilated remains of two distichs. The third line, corrected by the Septuagint, which has an addition here, runs into two clauses (Cheyne). All the brethren of the poor do hate him. Even his own brothers, children of the same parents, hate and shun a poor man (Proverbs 14:20). Much more do his friends go far from him. There should be no interrogation. We have the expression (aph-ki) in Proverbs 11:31; Proverbs 15:11, etc. Euripides, 'Medea,' 561 -
Πένητα φεύγει πᾶς τις ἐκποδὼν φίλος
"Each single friend far from the poor man flies." Septuagint. "Every one who hateth a poor brother will be also far from friendship." Then follows an addition not found m the Hebrew, "Good thought draweth nigh to those who know it, and a prudent man will find it. He who doeth much evil brings malice to perfection (τελεσιουργεῖ κακίαν); and he who rouses words to anger shall not be safe." He pursueth them with words, yet they are wanting to him; or, they are gone. He makes a pathetic appeal to his quondam friends, but they hearken not to him. But the sense is rather, "He pursueth after, craves for, words of kindness or promises of help, and there is naught, or he gets words only and no material aid." Wordsworth quotes Catullus, 'Carm.,' 38:5 -
"Quem tu, quod minimum facillimumque est,
Qua solatus es adlocutione?
Irascor tibi. Sic meos amores?" Vulgate, Qui tantum verba sectatur, nihil habebit, "He who pursues words only shall have naught." The Hebrew is literally, "Seeking words, they are not" This is according to the Khetib; the Keri, instead of the negation לא, reads לו, which makes the clause signify, "He who pursues words, they are to him;" i.e. he gets words and nothing else. Delitzsch and others, supplying the lost member from the Septuagint, read the third line thus: "He that hath many friends, or the friend of every one, is requited with evil; and he that seeketh (fair) speeches shall not be delivered." Cheyne also makes a distich of this line, taking the Septuagint as representing the original reading, "He that does much evil perfects mischief: He that provokes with words shall not escape." That something has fallen out of the Hebrew text is evident; it seems that there are no examples of tristichs in this part of our book, though they are not unknown in the first and third divisions. The Vulgate surmounts the difficulty by connecting this third line with the following verse, which thus is made to form the antithesis, Qui tantum verba sectatur, nihil habebit; Qui autem possessor est mentis, diligit animam suam, et custos prudentiae inveniet bona."
He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul: he that keepeth understanding shall find good.
Verse 8. - He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul. "Wisdom" is, in the Hebrew, leb. "heart;" it is a matter, not of intellect only. but of will and affections (see on Proverbs 15:32). Septuagint, ἀγαπᾷ ἑαυτόν, "loveth himself." The contrary, "hateth his own soul," occurs in Proverbs 29:24. By striving to obtain wisdom a man shows that he has regard for the welfare of his soul and body. Hence St. Thomas Aquinas ('Sum. Theol.,' 1:2, qu. 25, art. 7, quoted by Corn. a Lapide) takes occasion to demonstrate that only good men are really lovers of themselves, while evil men are practically self-haters, proving his position by a reference to Arislotle's numeration of the characteristics of friendship, which the former exhibit, and none of which the latter can possess ('Eth. Nic.,' 9:4). He that keepeth understanding shall find good (Proverbs 16:20). A man must not only strive hard and use all available means to get wisdom and prudence, he must guard them like a precious treasure, not lose them for want of care or let them lie useless; and then he will find that they bring with themselves innumerable benefits.
A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall perish.
Verse 9. - A repetition of ver. 5, except that shall perish is substituted for "shall not escape." Septuagint, "And whosoever shall kindle mischief shall perish by it." The Greek translators have rendered the special reference in the original to slanderers and liars by a general term, and introduced the notion of Divine retribution, which is not definitely expressed in the Hebrew.
Delight is not seemly for a fool; much less for a servant to have rule over princes.
Verse 10. - Delight is not seemly for a fool (comp. Proverbs 17:7; Proverbs 26:1). Taanug, rendered "delight," implies other delicate living, luxury; τρυφή, Septuagint. Such a life is ruin to a fool. who knows not how to use it properly; it confirms him in his foolish, sinful ways. A man needs religion and reason to enable him to bear prosperity advantageously, and these the fool lacks. "Secundae res," remarks Sallust ('Catil.,' 11), "sapientium animos fatigant," "Even wise men are wearied and harassed by prosperity," much more must such good fortune try those who have no practical wisdom to guide and control their enjoyment. Vatablus explains the clause to mean that it is impossible for a fool, a sinner, to enjoy peace of conscience, which alone is true delight. But looking to the next clause, we see that the moralist is thinking primarily of the elevation of a slave to a high position, and his arrogance in consequence thereof. Much less for a servant to have rule over princes. By the unwise favouritism of a potentate, a slave of lowly birth might be raised to eminence and set above the nobles and princes of the land. The writer of Ecclesiastes gives his experience in this matter: "I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth" (Ecclesiastes 10:7). The same anomaly is mentioned with censure (Proverbs 30:22 and Ecclus. 11:5). What is the behaviour of unworthy persons thus suddenly raised to high position has formed the subject of many a satire. It is the old story of the "beggar on horseback." A German proverb declares, "Kein Scheermesser scharfer schiest, als wenn der Bauer zu Herrn wird." Claud., 'In Eutrop.,' 181, etc.
"Asperius nihil est humili, quum surgit in altum;
Cuncta ferit, dum cuncta timet; desaevit in omnes,
Ut se posse putent; nec bellua tetrior ulla
Quam servi rabies in libera colla furentis." As an example of a different disposition, Cornelius a Lapide refers to the history of Agathocles. Tyrant of Syracuse, who rose from the humble occupation of a potter to a position of vast power, and, to remind himself of his lowly origin, used to dine off mean earthenware. Ausonius thus alludes to this humility ('Epigr.,' 8.) -
"Fama est fictilibus coenasse Agathoclea regem,
Atque abacum Samio saepe onerasse luto;
Fercula gemmatis cum poneret horrida vasis,
Et misceret opes pauperiemque simul.
Quaerenti causam, respondit: Rex ego qui sum
Sicaniae, figulo sum genitore satus
Fortunam reverenter habe, quicunque repente
Dives ab exili progrediere loco."
The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.
Verse 11. - The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; maketh him slow to anger. "A merciful man is long suffering," Septuagint; "The teaching of a man is known by patience," Vulgate. (See Proverbs 14:17, 29.) The Greek moralist gives the advice -
Νίκησον ὀργὴν τῷ λογίζεσθαι καλῶς
"Thine anger quell by reason's timely aid." The contrary disposition betokens folly (Proverbs 14:17). It is his glory to pus over a transgression. It is a real triumph and glory for man to forgive and to take no notice of injuries offered him. Thus in his poor way he imitates Almighty God (Micah 7:18, "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his auger forever, because he delighteth in mercy"). Here it is discretion or prudence that makes a man patient and forgiving; elsewhere the same effect is attributed to love (Proverbs 10:12; Proverbs 17:9). The Septuagint Version is hard to understand: Τὸ δὲ καύχημα αὐτοῦ ἐπέρχεται παρανόμοις, "And his glorying cometh on the transgressors;" but, taken in connection with the former hemistich, it seems to mean that the patient man's endurance of the contradictions of sinners is no reproach or disgrace to him, but redounds to his credit and virtue. "Vincit qui patitur," "He conquers who endures."
The king's wrath is as the roaring of a lion; but his favour is as dew upon the grass.
Verse 12. - The king's wrath is as the roaring of a lion, which inspires terror, as preluding danger and death. The same idea occurs in Proverbs 20:2 (comp. Amos 3:4, 8). The Assyrian monuments have made us familiar with the lion as a type of royalty; and the famous throne of Solomon was ornamented with figures of lions on each of its six steps (1 Kings 10:19, etc.). Thus St. Paul. alluding to the Roman emperor, says (2 Timothy 4:17), "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion." "The lion is dead," announced Marsyas to Agrippa, on the decease of Tiberius (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 18:06, 10). The mondist here gives a monition to kings to repress their wrath and not to let it rage uncontrolled, and a warning to subjects not to offend their ruler, lest he tear them to pieces like a savage beast, which an Eastern despot had full power to do. But his favour is as dew upon the grass. In Proverbs 16:15 the king's favour was compared to a cloud of the latter rain; here it is likened to the dew (comp. Psalm 72:6). We hardly understand in England the real bearing of this comparison. "The secret of the luxuriant fertility of many parts of Palestine," says Dr. Geikie ('Holy Land and Bible,' 1:72, etc.), "lies in the rich supply of moisture afforded by the seawinds which blow inland each night, and water the face of the whole land. There is no dew, properly so called in Palestine, for there is no moisture in the hot summer air to be chilled into dewdrops by the coolness of the night, as in a climate like ours. From May till October rain is unknown, the sun shining with unclouded brightness day after day. The heat becomes intense, the ground hard; and vegetation would perish but for the moist west winds that come each night from the sea. The bright skies cause the heat of the day to radiate very quickly into space, so that the nights are as cold as the day is the reverse.... To this coldness of the night air the indispensable watering of all plant life is due. The winds, loaded with moisture, are robbed of it as they pass over the land, the cold air condensing it into drops of water, which fall in a gracious rain of mist on every thirsty blade. In the morning the fog thus created rests like a sea over the plains, and far up the sides of the hills, which raise their heads above it like so many islands The amount of moisture thus poured on the thirsty vegetation during the night is very great. Dew seemed to the Israelites a mysterious gift of Heaven, as indeed it is. That the skies should be stayed from yielding it was a special sign of Divine wrath, and there could be no more gracious conception of a loving farewell address to his people than where Moses tells them that his speech should distil as the dew. The favour of an Oriental monarch could not be more boneficially conceived than by saying that, while his wrath is like the roaring of a lion, his favour is as the dew upon the grass." רצון (ration), "favour," is translated by the Septuagint, τὸ ἱλαρόν, and by the Vulgate, hilaritas, "cheerfulness" (as in Proverbs 18:22), which gives the notion of a smiling, serene, benevolent countenance as contrasted with the angry, lowering look of displeased monarch.
A foolish son is the calamity of his father: and the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping.
Verse 13. - With the first clause we may compare Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 15:20; Proverbs 17:21, 25. Calamity in the Hebrew is in the plural number (contritiones, Pagn.), as if to mark the many and continued sorrows which a bad son brings upon his father, how he causes evil after evil to harass and distress him. The contentions of a wife are a continual dropping (comp. Proverbs 27:15). The flat roofs of Eastern houses, formed of planks loosely joined and covered with a coating of clay or plaster, were always subject to leakage in heavy rains. The irritating altercations and bickering of a cross-grained wife are compared to the continuous drip of water through an imperfectly constructed roof. Tecta jugiter perstillantia, as the Vulgate has it. The Scotch say, "A leaky house and a scolding wife are two bad companions." The two clauses of the verse are coordinate, expressing two facts that render home life miserable and unendurable, viz. the misbehaviour of a son and the ill temper of a wife. The Septuagint, following a different reading, has, "Nor are offerings from a harlot's hire pure," which is an allusion to Deuteronomy 23:18.
House and riches are the inheritance of fathers: and a prudent wife is from the LORD.
Verse 14. - House and riches are an inheritance of (from) fathers. Any man, worthy or not, may inherit property from progenitors; any man may bargain for a wife, or give a dowry to his son to further his matrimonial prospects. But a prudent wife is from the Lord. She is a special gift of God, a proof of his gracious care for his servants (see on Proverbs 18:22). Septuagint, Παρὰ δὲ Κυρίου ἀρμόζεται γυνὴ ἀνδρί, "It is by the Lord that a man is matched with a woman." There is a special providence that watches over wedlock; as we say, "Marriages are made in heaven." But marriages of convenience, marriages made in consideration of worldly means, are a mere earthly arrangement, and claim no particular grace.
Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.
Verse 15. - Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; "causes deep sleep to fall upon a man" (comp. Proverbs 6:9; Proverbs 13:4). The word for "sleep" (תַרדֵמָה, tardemah) is that used for the supernatural sleep of Adam when Eve was formed (Genesis 2:21), and implies pro. found insensibility. Aquila and Symmachus render it, ἔκστασιν, "trance." Slothfulness enervates a man, renders him as useless for labour as if he were actually asleep in his bed; it also enfeebles the mind, corrupts the higher faculties, converts a rational being into a witless animal. Otium est vivi hominis sepultura, "Idleness is a living man's tomb." An idle soul shall suffer hunger. We have many gnomes to this effect (see Proverbs 10:4; Proverbs 12:24; Proverbs 20:13; Proverbs 23:21). The LXX. has introduced something of this verse at Proverbs 18:8, and here render, Δειλία κατέχει ἀνδρόγυνον, "Cowardice holdeth fast the effeminate, and the soul of the idle shall hunger." "Sloth," as the proverb says, "is the mother of poverty."
He that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul; but he that despiseth his ways shall die.
Verse 16. - Keepeth his own soul. Obedience to God's commandments preserves a man's natural and spiritual life (comp. Proverbs 13:13; Proverbs 16:17). So we read in Ecclesiastes 8:5, "Whoso keepeth the commandment (mitsvah, as here) shall feel no evil thing." He that despiseth his ways shall die. He that cares nothing what he does, whether his life pleases God or not, shall perish. Ἀπολεῖται, Septuagint; mortificabitur, Vulgate. The result is understood differently. The Khetib reads, יוּמַת (iumath), "shall be punished with death" according to the penalties enacted in the Mosaic Law. The Keri reads, יָמוּת (iamuth), "shall die," as in Proverbs 15:10; and this seems more in agreement with what we find elsewhere in the book, as in Proverbs 10:21; Proverbs 23:13. This insensate carelessness leads to ruin, whether its punishment be undertaken by outraged law. or whether it be left to the Divine retribution.
He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.
Verse 17. - He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord. English Church people are familiar with this distich, as being one of the sentences of Scripture read at the Offertory. The word for "poor" is here dal, "feeble" (see on vers. 1 and 4). It is a beautiful thought that by showing mercy and pity we are, as it were, making God our debtor; and the truth is wonderfully advanced by Christ, who pronounces (Matthew 25:40), "Inasmuch as ye have done it mite one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (see on Proverbs 11:24; 28:27). St. Chrysostom ('Hom.,' 15, on 1 Corinthians 5), "To the more imperfect this is what we may say, Give of what you have unto the needy. Increase your substance. For, saith he, 'He that giveth unto the poor lendeth unto God.' But if you are in a hurry, and wait not for the time of retribution, think of those who lend money to men; for not even these desire to get their interest immediately; but they are anxious that the principal should remain a good long while in the hands of the borrower, provided only the repayment be secure, and they have no mistrust of the borrower. Let this be done, then, in the present case also. Leave them with God, that he may pay thee thy wages manifold. Seek not to have the whole here; for if you recover it all here, how will you receive it back there? And it is on this account that God stores them up there, inasmuch as this present life is full of decay. But he gives even here also; for, 'Seek ye,' saith he, 'the kingdom of heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you.' Well, then, let us look towards that kingdom, and not be in a hurry for the repayment of the whole, lest we diminish our recompense. But let us wait for the fit season. For the interest in these cases is not of that kind, but is such as is meet to be given by God. This, then, having collected together in great abundance, so let us depart hence, that we may obtain beth the present and the future blessings" (Oxford transl.). That which he hath given will he pay him again; Vicissitudinem suam reddet ei, Vulgate, "According to his gift will he recompense him." גִּמוּל (gemul), "good deed" (Proverbs 12:14, where it is rendered "recompense"). Ecclus. 32(35):10, etc., "Give unto the Most High according as he hath enriched thee; and as thou hast gotten give with a cheerful eye. For the Lord recompenseth, and will give thee seven times as much." There are proverbs rife in other lands to the same effect. The Turk says, "What you give in charity in this world you take with you after death. Do good, and throw it into the sea if the fish does not know it, God does." And the Russian, "Throw bread and salt behind you, you get them before you" (Lane).
Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.
Verse 18. - Chasten thy son while there is hope; or. seeing that there is hope. Being still young and impressionable, and not confirmed in bad habits, he may be reformed by judicious chastisement. The same expression occurs in Job 11:18; Jeremiah 31:16. "For so he shall be well hoped of" (εὔελπις), Septuagint (comp. Proverbs 23:13). And let not thy soul spare for his crying. "It is better," says a German apothegm, "that the child weep than the father." But the rendering of the Authorized Version is not well established, and this second clause is intended to inculcate moderation in punishment. Vulgate, Ad interfectionem autem ejus ne ponas animam tuam; Revised Version. Set not thine heart on his destruction. Chastise him duty and sufficiently, but not so heavily as to occasion his death, which a father had no right to do. The Law enjoined the parents who had an incorrigibly bad son to bring him before the judge or the eiders, who alone had the power of life and death, and might in certain cases order the offender to be stoned (Deuteronomy 21:18, etc.). Christianity recommended moderation in punishment (see Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). Septuagint, "Be not excited in the mind to despiteful treatment (εἰς ὕβριν);" i.e. be not led away by passion to unseemly acts or words, but reprove with gentleness, while you are firm and uncompromising in denouncing evil. This is much the same advice as that given by the apostle in the passages just cited.
A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again.
Verse 19. - Some connect this verse with the preceding, as though it signified, "If you are too severe in chastising your son, you will suffer for it." But there is no connecting particle in the Hebrew, and the statement seems to be of a general nature. A man of great wrath; literally, rough in anger; Vulgate, impatiens; Septuagint, κακόφρων ἀνήρ. Such a one shall suffer punishment; shall bear the penalty which his want of self-control brings upon him. For if thou deliver him, yet must thou do it again. You cannot save him from the consequences of his intemperance; you may do so once and again, but while his disposition is unchanged, all your efforts will be useless, and the help which you have given him will only make him think that he may continue to indulge his anger with impunity, or, it may be, he will vent his impatience on his deliverer.
Βλάπτει τὸν ἄνδρα θυμὸς εἰς ὀργὴν πεσών Anger, says an adage, "is like a ruin, which breaks itself upon what it falls." Septuagint, "If he destroy (ἐὰν δὲ λοιμεύηται), he shall add even his life;" if by his anger he inflict loss or damage on his neighbour, he shall pay for it in his own person; Vulgate, Et cum rapuerit, aliud apponet. Another interpretation of the passage, but not so suitable, is this: "If thou seek to save the sufferer (e.g. by soothing the angry man), thou wilt only the more excite him (the wrathful): therefore do not intermeddle in quarrels of other persons."
Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.
Verse 20. - (Comp. Proverbs 8:10; Proverbs 12:15.) The Septuagint directs the maxim to children, "Hear, O son, the instruction of thy father." That thou mayest be wise in thy latter end. Wisdom gathered and digested in youth is seen in the prudence and intelligence of manhood and old age. Job 8:7, "Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase." Ecclesiastes 25:6, "O how comely is the wisdom of old men, and understanding and counsel to men of honour! Much experience is the crown of old men, and the fear of God is their glory." "Wer nicht horen will," say the Germans, "muss fuhlen," "He that will not hear must feel." Among Pythagoras's golden words we read -
Βουλεύου δὲ πρὸ ἔργου ὅπως μὴ μῶρα τέληται.
"Before thou doest aught, deliberate,
Lest folly thee befall."
There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.
Verse 21. - The immutability of the counsel of God is contrasted with the shifting, fluctuating purposes of man (comp. Proverbs 16:1, 9; Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6). Aben Ezra connects this verse with the preceding, as though it gave the reason for the advice contained therein. But it is most natural to take the maxim in a general sense, as above Wisd. 9:14, "The thoughts of mortal men are miserable, and our devices are but uncertain." The counsel of the Lord, that shall stand; permanebit, Vulgate; εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα μενε1FC0;ι, "shall abide forever," Septuagint (Psalm 33:11).
The desire of a man is his kindness: and a poor man is better than a liar.
Verse 22. - The desire of a man is his kind. nose. The Revised Version rather paraphrases the clause, The desire of a man is the measure of his kindness; i.e. the wish and intention to do good is that which gives its real value to an act. The word for "kindness" is chesed, "mercy;" and, looking to the context, we see the meaning of the maxim to be that a poor man's desire of aiding a distressed neighbour, even if he is unable to carry out his intention, is taken for the act of mercy. "The desire of a man" may signify a man's desirableness, that which makes him to be desired or loved; this is found in his liberality. But the former explanation is most suitable. Septuagint, "Mercifulness is a gain unto a man," which is like ver. 17; Vulgate, Homo indigens misericors est, taking a man's desire as evidenceing his need and poverty, and introducing the idea that the experience of misery conduces to pity, as says Dido (Virgil, 'AEn.,' 1:630) -
"Non ignara mali miseris succurrere disco." A poor man is better than a liar. A poor man who gives to one in distress his sympathy and good wishes, even if he can afford no substantial aid, is better than a rich man who promises much and does nothing, or who falsely professes that he is unable to help (comp. Proverbs 3:27, 28). Septuagint, "A poor righteous man is better than a rich liar." A Buddhist maxim says, "Like a beautiful flower, full of colours, but without scent, are the fine but fruitless words of him who does not act accordingly" (Max Muller).
The fear of the LORD tendeth to life: and he that hath it shall abide satisfied; he shall not be visited with evil.
Verse 23. - The fear of the Lord tendeth to life (Proverbs 14:27). True religion, obedience to God's commandments, was, under a temporal dispensation, rewarded by a long and happy life in this world, an adumbration of the blessedness that awaits the righteous in the world to come. And he that hath it shall abide satisfied. The subject passes from "the fear" to its possessor. Perhaps better, and satisfied he shall pass the night, which is the usual sense of לוּן (lun), the verb here translated "abide" (so Proverbs 15:31). God will satisfy the good man's hunger, so that he lays him down in peace and takes his rest (comp. Proverbs 10:3). Vulgate, In plenitudine commorabitur, "He shall dwell in abundance." He shall not be visited with evil, according to the, promises (Leviticus 26:6: Deuteronomy 11:15, etc.). Under our present dispensation Christians expect not immunity from care and trouble, but have hope of protection and grace sufficient for the occasion, and conducive to edification and advance in holiness. The LXX. translates thus: "The fear of the Lord is unto life for a man; but he that is without fear (ὁ δὲ ἄφοβος) shall sojourn in places where knowledge is not seen;" i.e. shall go from bad to worse, till he ends in society where Divine knowledge is wholly absent, and lives without God in the world. The Greek interpreters read דּע (dea), "knowledge," instead of רע (ra), "evil."
A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again.
Verse 24. - A slothful man hideth him hand in his bosom; Revised Version, the sluggard burieth his hand in the disk. The word tsallachath, translated "bosom" here and in the parallel passage, Proverbs 26:15 (where see note), is rightly rendered "dish" (2 Kings 21:13). At an Oriental meal the guests sit round a table, on which is placed a dish containing the food, from which every one helps himself with his fingers, knives, spoons, and forks being never used (comp. Ruth 2:14; Matthew 26:23). Sometimes the holt himself helps a guest whom ha wishes to honour (comp. John 13:26). And will not so much as bring it to him mouth again He finds it too great an exertion to feed himself, an hyperbolical way of denoting the gross laziness which recoils from the slightest labour, and will not take the least trouble to win its livelihood. An Arabic proverb says, "He dies of hunger under the date tree." Septuagint, "He who unjustly hideth his hands in his bosom will not even apply them to his mouth;" i.e. he who will not work will never feed himself.
Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge.
Verse 25. - Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware; will learn prudence, Revised Verson (comp. Proverbs 21:11; and see note on Proverbs 1:22). The scorner is hardened to all reproof, and is beyond all hope of being reformed by punishment; in his case it is retribution for outraged virtue that is sought in the penalty which he is made to pay. Τιμωρία, not κόλασις - retributive, not corrective punishment. Seeing this, the simple, who is not yet confirmed in evil, and is still open to better influences, may be led to take warning and amend his life. So St. Paul enjoins Timothy, "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear" (1 Timothy 5:20). There is the trite adage -
"Felix quem faciunt aliena pericula cautum."
Who from their neighbours' perils caution learn." Septuagint, "When a pestilent fellow is chastised, a fool will be cleverer (πανουργότερος) So Vulgate, Pestilente flagellato stultus sapientior erit. Reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand, knowledge. The scorner does not profit by severe punishment, but the intelligent man is improved by censure, and admonition (comp. Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 15:12). Says the adage, "Sapientem nutu, stultum fuste (corripe)," "A nod for the wise, a stick for the fool."
He that wasteth his father, and chaseth away his mother, is a son that causeth shame, and bringeth reproach.
Verse 26-ch. 22:16. - Fourth section of this collection. Verse 26. - He that wasteth his father. The verb shadad, used here and in Proverbs 24:15, may be taken in the sense of "to spoil," "to deprive of property;" but it is better to adopt a more general application, and to assign to it the meaning of "to maltreat," whether in person or property. Chaseth away his mother; by his shameless and evil life makes it impossible for her to continue under the same roof with him; or, it may be, so dissipates his parents' means that they are driven from their home. A son that causeth shame, and bringeth reproach (comp. Proverbs 10:5; Proverbs 13:5; Proverbs 17:2).
Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.
Verse 27. - Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge. This version fairly represents the terse original, if musar, "instruction," be taken in a bad sense, like the "profane and vain babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called," censured by St. Paul (1 Timothy 6:20). But as musar is used in a good sense throughout this book, it is better to regard the injunction as warning against listening to wise teaching with no intention of profiting by it: "Cease to hear instruction in order to err," etc.; i.e. if you are only going to continue your evil doings. You will only increase your guilt by knowing the way of righteousness perfectly, while you refuse to walk therein. The Vulgate inserts a negation, "Cease not to hear doctrine, and be not ignorant of the war, is of knowledge;" Septuagint, "A son who fails to keep the instruction of his father will meditate evil sayings." Solomon's son Rehoboam greatly needed the admonition contained in this verse.
An ungodly witness scorneth judgment: and the mouth of the wicked devoureth iniquity.
Verse 28. - An ungodly (worthless) witness scorneth judgment; derides the Law which denounces perjury and compels a witness to speak truth (Exodus 20:16; Leviticus 5:1), and, as is implied he bears false testimony, thus proving himself "a witness of Belial," according to the Hebrew term. Septuagint, "He who becometh security for a foolish child outrages judgment." The mouth of the wicked devoureth iniquity; swallows it eagerly as a toothsome morsel (Proverbs 18:8). So we have in Job 15:16,"A man that drinketh iniquity like water" (see on Proverbs 26:6). Such a man will lie and slander with the utmost pleasure, living and battening on wickedness. Septuagint, "The mouth of the impious drinketh judgments (κρίσεις)," i.e. boldly transgresses the Law.
Judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the back of fools.
Verse 29. - Judgments are prepared for scorners (see on ver. 25). The judgments here are those inflicted by the providence of God, as in Proverbs 3:34. Scorners may deride and affect to scorn the judgments of God and man, but they are warned that retribution awaits them. And stripes for the back of fools; Vulgate, Et mallei percutientes stultorum corporibus (comp. Proverbs 10:13: 26:3). We had the word here rendered "stripes" (מַהַלוּמות mahalumoth) in Proverbs 18:6. The certainty of punishment in the case of transgressors is a truth often insisted on even by heathens. Examples will occur to all readers, from the old Greek oracle, Οὐδεὶς ἀνθρώπων ἀδικῶν τίσιν οὐκ ἀποτίσει, to Horace's "Raro antecedentem scelestum," etc. (See on Proverbs 20:30, where, however, the punishment is of human infliction.)