Proverbs 20
Pulpit Commentary
Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
Verse 1. - Wine is a mocker; or, scorner, the word (luts) being taken up from the last chapter. The liquor is, as it were, personified, as doing what men do under its influence. Thus inebriated persons scoff at what is holy, reject reproof, ridicule all that is serious. Septuagint, Ἀκόλαστον οϊνος, "Wine is an undisciplined thing;" Vulgate, Luxuriosa res, vinum. Strong drink is raging; a brawler, Revised Version. Shekar, σίκερα (Luke 1:15), is most frequently employed of any intoxicating drink not made from grapes, e.g. palm wine, mead, etc. The inordinate use of this renders men noisy and boisterous, no longer masters of themselves or restrained by the laws of morality or decency. Septuagint, Υβιστικὸν μέθη, "Drunkenness is insolent." Theognis has some sensible lines on this matter ('Parch.,' 479) -

Ος δ α}ν ὑπερβάλλῃ πόσιος μὲτρον οὐκέτι
Τῆς αὐτοῦ γλώσσης καρτερὸς οὐδὲ νόου
Μυθεῖται δ ἀπάλαμνα τὰ νήφοσι γίγνεται αἰσχρά
Αἰδεῖται δ ἕρδων οὐδὲν ὅταν μεθύῃ
Τὸ πρὶν ἐὼν σώφρων τότε νήπιος Whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. No one who reels under the influence of, is overpowered by, wine is wise (Isaiah 28:7). Septuagint, "Every fool is involved in such." Says a Latin adage -

"Ense cadunt multi, perimit sed crapula plures." More are drowned in the wine cup than in the ocean, say the Germans (comp. Proverbs 23:29, etc.; Ephesians 5:18).
The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.
Verse 2. - The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion (see Proverbs 19:12). The terror which a king causes when his anger is rising is like the roar of a lion, which betokens danger. Septuagint, "The threat of a king differeth not from the wrath of a lion." Whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul; imperils his life, which he has no right wilfully to jeopard. Septuagint, "He who enrageth him (ὁ παροξύνων αὐτόν)." The Complutensian and some Greek versions introduce the words, καὶ ἐπιμιγνύμενος, "and has intercourse with him;" i.e. he who having aroused a king's resentment does not avoid his presence, exposes himself to certain death.
It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.
Verse 3. - It is an honour to a man to cease from strife; or better, as Delitzsch and others, to remain far from strife. A prudent man will not only abstain from causing quarrel, but will hold himself aloof from all contention, and thus will have due care for his own honour and dignity. How different is this from the modern cede, which makes a man's honour consist in his readiness to avenge fancied injury at the risk of his own or his neighbour's life! Septuagint, "It is a glory to a man to hold himself aloof from revilings." Every fool will be meddling (see on Proverbs 17:14; 18:1). Delitzsch, "Whoever is a fool showeth his teeth," finds pleasure in strife. Septuagint, "Every fool involves himself in such," as in ver. 1.
The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.
Verse 4. - The sluggard will not plough by reason of the cold; propter frigus, Vulgate. But חֹרֶפ (choreph) denotes the time of gathering - the autumn; so we would translate, "At the time of harvest the sluggard ploughs not" - just when the ground is most easily and profitably worked. "The weakness of the coulter and other parts of the plough requires that advantage be taken, in all but the most friable soils, of the softening of the surface by the winter or spring rains; so that the peasant, if industrious, has to plough in the winter, though sluggards still shrink from its cold, and have to beg in the harvest" (Geikie, 'Holy Land and Bible,' 2:491). Therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing. So the Vulgate, Mendicabit ergo aestate, et non dabitur illi. But this does not accurately represent the meaning of the clause. If ever the prosperous are disposed to relieve the needy, it would be at the time when they have safely garnered their produce; an appeal to their charity at such a moment would not be made in vain. Rather the sentence signifies that the lazy man, having neglected to have his land ploughed at the proper time, "when he asks (for his fruits) at harvest time, there is nothing." He puts off tilling his fields day after day, or never looks to see if his labourers do their duty, and so his land is not cultivated, and he has no crop to reap when autumn comes. "By the street of By-and-by one arrives at the house of Never" (Spanish proverb). Taking a different interpretation of the word choreph, the LXX. renders, "Being reproached, the sluggard is not ashamed, no more than he who borrows corn in harvest."
Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.
Verse 5. - Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water. The thoughts and purposes of a man are hidden in his breast like deep water (Proverbs 18:4) in the bosom of the earth, hard to fathom, hard to get. But a man of understanding will draw it out. One who is intelligent and understands human nature penetrates the secret, and, by judicious questions and remarks, draws out (ἐξαντλήσει, Septuagint) the hidden thought.
Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?
Verse 6. - Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness; chesed, "kindness," "mercy," "liberality," as in Proverbs 19:22. So Ewald and others, Hitzig and Kamphausen translate, "Many a man one names his dear friend;" Delitzsch and Nowack prefer, "Most men meet a man who is gracious to them;" i.e. it is common enough to meet a man who seems benevolent and well disposed. Vulgate, "Many men are called merciful;" Septuagint, "Man is a great thing, and a merciful man is a precious thing." The renderings of most modern commentators imply the statement that love and mercy are common enough, at least in outward expression. The Authorized Version pronounces that men are ready enough to parade and boast of their liberality, like the hypocrites who were said proverbially to sound a trumpet when they performed their almsdeeds (Matthew 6:2). Commenting on the Greek rendering of the clause given above, St. Chrysostom observes, "This is the true character of man to be merciful; yea, rather the character of God to show mercy... Those who answer not to this description, though they partake of mind, and are never so capable of knowledge, the Scripture refuses to acknowledge them as men, but calls them dogs, and horses, and serpents, and foxes, and wolves, and if there be any animals more contemptible" ('Hom. 4 in Phil.' and 'Hom. 13 in 1 Tim.,' Oxford transl.). The contrast between show, or promise, and performance is developed in the second clause. But a faithful man who can find? The faithfulness intended is fidelity to promises, the practical execution of the vaunted benevolence; this is rare indeed, so that a psalmist could cry, "I said in my haste, All men are liars" (Psalm 116:11; comp. Romans 3:4). Lesetre refers to Massillon's sermon, 'Sur la Gloire Humaine,' where we read (the preacher, of course, rests on the Latin Version), "Ces hommes vertueux dont le monde se fait tant d'honneur, n'ont au fond souvent pour eux que l'erreur publique. Amis fideles, je le veux; mais c'est le gout, la vanite ou Pin teret, qui les lie; et dans leur amis, ils n'amient qu' eux-memes En un mot, dit l'Ecriture, on les appelle misericordieux, ils ont toutes les vertus pour le public; mais n'etant pas fideles a Dieu, ils n'en ont pas une seule pour eux-memes."
The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.
Verse 7. - The just man walketh in his integrity. It is better to connect the two clauses together, and not to take the first as a separate sentence, thus: "He who as a just man walketh in his integrity" - Blessed are his children after him (comp. Proverbs 14:26). So the Septuagint and Vulgate. The man of pure life, who religiously performs his duty towards God and man, shall bring a blessing on his children who follow his good example, both during his life and after his death. The temporal promise is seen in Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 4:40; Psalm 112:2, etc. Some see here an instance of utilitarianism; but it cannot be supposed that the writer inculcates virtue for the sake of the worldly advantages connected with it; rather he speaks from experience, and from a faithful dependence on Providence, of the happy results of a holy life.
A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes.
Verse 8. - A royal and right noble maxim. A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes. The king, sitting on the tribunal and executing his judiciary office, sees through all devices and pretences which cloak evil, and scatters them to the winds, as the chaff flies before the winnowing fan. Nothing unrighteous can abide in his presence (comp. ver. 26; Proverbs 16:10, etc.). See here an adumbration of the characteristic of the Messiah, the great King whose "eyes behold, whose eyelids try, the children of men" (Psalm 11:4): who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil" (Habakkuk 1:13); who "with righteousness shall judge the poor and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall slay the wicked" (Isaiah 11:4; comp. Matthew 3:12). Septuagint, "When the righteous king shall sit upon his throne, nothing that is evil shall offer itself before his eyes."
Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?
Verse 9. - Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? The question implies the answer, "No one." This is expressed in Job 14:4, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one." At the dedication of the temple, Solomon enunciates this fact of man's corruption, "There is no man that sinneth not" (1 Kings 8:46). The prophet testifies, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is desperately sick: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). And St. John warns, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). The heart is cleansed by self-examination and repentance; but it is so easy to deceive one's self in this matter, sins may lurk undetected, motives may be overlooked, so that no one can rightly be self-righteous, or conceited, or proud of his spiritual state. The "my sin" at the end of the clause is rather possible than actual sin; and the expression means that no one can pride himself on being secure from yielding to temptation, however clean for a time his conscience may be. The verse, therefore, offers a stern corrective of two grievous spiritual errors - presumption and apathy.
Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD.
Verse 10. - Divers weights, and divers measures; literally, stone and stone, ephah and ephah. The stones were used for weighing: dishonest traders kept them of different weights, and also measures of different capacities, substituting one for the other in order to defraud unwary customers. The Septuagint makes this plain by rendering, "A weight great and small, and measures double" (see on Proverbs 11:1 and Proverbs 16:11; and comp. ver. 23). The ephah was a dry measure, being one-tenth of the homer, and occupying the same position in solids as the bath did in liquids. It equalled about three pecks of our measure. Both of them are alike abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 17:15; comp. Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:13, etc.); Septuagint, "Are impure before the Lord, even both of them, and he who doeth them." Pseudo-Bernard ('De Pass. Dom.,' 17.), applying the passage mystically, teaches that a man may be said to keep a double measure, who, being conscious of his own evil character, endeavours to appear righteous to others; who, as he puts it, "Suo judicio terrae proximus est, et aliis cupit elevatus videri." Others, connecting this verse in thought with the preceding, see in it a warning against judging a neighbour by a standard which we do not apply to ourselves. The Septuagint Version arranges the matter from ver. 10 onwards differently from the Hebrew, omitting vers. 14-19, and placing vers. 10-13 after ver. 22.
Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.
Verse 11. - Even a child is known (maketh himself known) by his doings. (For "even" (gam), see on Proverbs 17:26.) A child is open, simple, and straightforward in his actions; he has not the reserves and concealments which men practise, so you see by his conduct what his real character and disposition are. Ewald takes מעלליו in the sense of "play," "games;" but it seems never to have this meaning, and there is no need to change the usual signification. The habits of a life are learned in early age. The boy is father of the man. Delitzsch quotes the German proverbs, "What means to become a hook bends itself early," and "What means to become a thorn sharpens itself early;" and the Aramaean, "That which will become a gourd shows itself in the bud:" Whether his work be pure ("clean," as ver. 9 and Proverbs 16:2), and whether it be right. His conduct will show thus much, end will help one to prognosticate the future. Septuagint (according to the Vatican), "In his pursuits (ἐπιήδευμασιν) a young man will be fettered in company with a holy man, and his way will be straight," which seems to mean that a good man will restrain the reckless doings of a giddy youth, and will lead him into better courses.
The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them.
Verse 12. - The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them. This apothegm, which seems to be nothing but a trite truism, brings to notice many important consequences. First, there is the result noted in Psalm 94:9, "He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see?" Hence we learn the sleepless providence of God. So 'Pirke Aboth,' "Know that which is above thee, an eye that seeth all, an ear that heareth all." We learn also that all things are directed and overruled by God (comp. Proverbs 15:3; Proverbs 16:4). Then there is the thought that these powers of ours, being the gift of God, should be used piously and in God's service. "Mine ears hast thou opened... Lo, I come... I delight to do thy will, O my God" (Psalm 40:6, etc.). The eye should be blind, the ear deaf, to all that might defile or excite to evil (see Isaiah 33:15). But it is the Lord alone that enables the spiritual organs to receive the wondrous things of God's Law; they must be educated by grace to enable them to perform their proper functions. "God hath given us eyes," says St. Chrysostom ('Hom. 22 in 1 Corinthians'), "not that we may look wantonly, but that, admiring his handiwork, we may worship the Creator. And that this is the use of our eyes is evident from the things which are seen. For the lustre of the sun and of the sky we see from an immeasurable distances, but a woman's beauty one cannot discern so far off. Seest thou that for this end our eye was chiefly given? Again, he made the ear, that we should entertain not blasphemous words, but saving doctrines. Wherefore you see, when it receives anything dissonant, both our soul shudders and our very body also. And if we hear anything cruel or merciless, again our flesh creeps; but if anything decorous and kind, we even exult and rejoice." "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Septuagint, "The ear heareth and the eye sooth, and both are the works of the Lord."
Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.
Verse 13. - Love not sleep lest thou come to poverty (see Proverbs 6:9, etc.). The fate of the sluggard is handled again in Proverbs 23:21, as often before; e.g. Proverbs 12:11; Proverbs 19:15. The LXX., taking שֵׁנָה (shenah), "sleep," as perhaps connected with the verb שְׁנָה (shanah), translate, "Love not to rail, that thou be not exalted (ἵνα μὴ ἐξαρωῇς)," i.e. probably, "Do not calumniate others in order to raise yourself;" others translate, "lest thou be cut off." Open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satired with bread. These words seem to connect this clause with ver. 12. God gives the faculty, but man must make due use thereof. The gnomist urges, "Do not slumber at your post, or sit downwardly waiting; but be up and doing, be wakeful and diligent, and then you shall prosper."
It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.
Verse 14. - It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer. The purchaser depreciates the goods which he wants, in order to lower the price demanded - a practice as common now as in old time. "I don't want it, I don't want it," says the Spanish friar; "but drop it into my hood." The Scotch say, "He that lacks (disparages) my mare would buy my mare" (Kelly). But when he is gone his way, then he boasteth. When he has completed his purchase and obtained the goods at his own price, he boasts how he has tricked the seller. The LXX. omits vers. 14-19.
There is gold, and a multitude of rubies: but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
Verse 15. - There is gold, and a multitude of rubies. For peninim, which is rendered "rubies," "pearls," or "coral," see on Proverbs 3:15. There is gold which is precious, and there is abundance of pearls which are still more valuable. But the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel, and worth more than all. We had the expression, "lips of knowledge," in Proverbs 14:7; it means lips that utter wisdom. Keli, often translated "jewel" in the Authorized Version, also boars the meaning of "vessel," "utensil." So here the Vulgate, vas pretiosum; and the wise man's lips are called a vessel because they contain and distribute the wisdom that is within. (On the excellence and value of wisdom, see ch. Proverbs 3:14, etc; Proverbs 8:11, etc.) Connecting this with the preceding verse, we are led to the thought of buying, and the Lord's parable of the merchant seeking goodly pearls, and bartering all his wealth to gain possession of a worthy jewel (Matthew 13:45, etc.).
Take his garment that is surety for a stranger: and take a pledge of him for a strange woman.
Verse 16. - Take his garment that is surety for a stranger. The maxim is repeated in Proverbs 27:13; and warnings against suretyship are found in Proverbs 6:1, etc.; Proverbs 11:15; 17:18; 22:26, etc. The second portion of the clause is translated also, "For he is surety for another." If a man is so weak and foolish as to become security for any one, and is unable to make good his engaged payment, let him lose his garment which the creditor would seize; his imprudence must bring its own punishment. And take a pledge of him for a strange woman. The Authorized Version probably adopts this rendering in conformity with Proverbs 27:13, where it occurs in the text, as here in the margin (the Keri). But the Khetib has, "for strangers," which seems to be the original reading; and the first words ought to be translated, "hold him in pledge;" i.e. seize his person for the sake of the strangers for whom he has stood security, so as not to suffer loss from them. The Law endeavoured to secure lending to needy brethren without interest (see Psalm 15:5; Ezekiel 18:8, 13, etc.; Ezekiel 22:12): but it allowed the creditor to secure himself by taking pledges of his debtor, while it regulated this system so as to obviate most of its severity and oppressiveness (see the restrictions in Exodus 22:26, etc.; Deuteronomy 24:6, 12, etc.). "Where the debtor possessed nothing which he could pledge, he gave the personal security of a friend. This was a very formal proceeding. The surety gave his hand both to the debtor and to the creditor before an assembly legally convened, he deposited a pledge, and, in accordance with this twofold promise, was regarded by the creditor in just the same light as the debtor himself, and treated accordingly. If the debtor, or in his place the surety, was unable to pay the debt when it fell due, he was entirely at the mercy of the creditor. The authorities troubled themselves but little about these relations, and the law, so far as it is preserved to us, gave no directions in the matter. We see, however, from many allusions and narratives, what harsh forms these relations actually took, especially in later times, when the ancient national brotherly love which the Law presupposed was more and more dying out. The creditor could not only forcibly appropriate all the movable, but also the fixed property, including the hereditary estate (this at least till its redemption in the year of jubilee), nay, he could even (if he could find nothing else of value) carry off as a prisoner the body of his debtor, or of his wife and child, to employ them in his service, though this could only he done for a definite period" (Ewald, 'Antiquities,' p. 184, etc., transl.).
Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
Verse 17. - Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; Revised Version, bread of falsehood; i.e. bread gained without labour, or by unrighteous means (comp. Proverbs 10:2). This is agreeable because it is easily won, and has the relish of forbidden fruit. "Wickedness is sweet in his mouth" (Job 20:12). But afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel. He will find in his "bread" no nourishment, but rather discomfort and positive injury (comp. Job 20:14). The expression, "to eat gravel," is intimated in Lamentations 3:16, "He hath broken my teeth with gravel stones;" it implies grievous disappointment and unprofitableness. See here a warning against evil plesaures -

Φεῦγ ἡδονὴν φέρουσαν ὕστερον βλάβην

"Sperne voluptates: nocet empta dolore voluptas." Oort supposes that the gnome in the text is derived from a riddle, which asked, "What is sweet at first, but afterwards like sand in the mouth?"
Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war.
Verse 18. - Every purpose is established by counsel (comp. Proverbs 15:22, where see note). The Talmud says, "Even the most prudent of men needs friends' counsels;" and none but the most conceited would deem himself superior to advice, or would fail to allow that, as the Vulgate puts it, cogitationes consillis roborantur. This is true in all relations of life, in great and small matters alike, in peace, and, as our moralist adds, in war. With good advice make war; Vulgate, Gubernaculis tractanda sunt bella; Revised Version, By wise guidance make thou war. The word here used is takebuloth, for which see note, Proverbs 1:5. It is a maritime metaphor, rightly retained by the Vulgate, and might be rendered "pilotings," "steerings." War is a necessary evil, but it must be undertaken prudently and with a due consideration of circumstances, means, etc. Our Lord illustrates the necessity of due circumspection in following him by the case of a threatened conflict between two contending kings (Luke 14:31, etc.). Grotius quotes the gnome -

Γνῶμαι πλέον κρατοῦσιν η} σθένος χερῶν.

"Titan strength of hands availeth counsel more." To which we may add -

Βουλῆς γὰρ ὀρθῆς οὐδὲν ἀσφαλέστερον.

"Good counsel is the safest thing of all." (Comp. Proverbs 24:6, where the hemistich is re-echoed.)
He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.
Verse 19. - He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets. Almost the same proverb occurs in Proverbs 11:13, The gadding gossiper is sure to let out any secret entrusted to him; therefore, it is implied, be careful in what you say to him. Meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips; rather, that openeth wide his lips - that cannot keep his mouth shut, a babbler, as Proverbs 13:3 (where see note). The Vulgate erroneously makes one sentence of the verse, "With him who reveals secrets, and walketh deceitfully, and openeth wide his lips, have no dealings." Talmud, "When I utter a word, it hath dominion over me; but when I utter it not, I have dominion over it." Says the Persian poet, "The silent man hath his shoulders covered with the garment of security." Xenocrates used to say that he sometimes was "sorry for having spoken, never for having kept silence" (Cahen).
Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.
Verse 20. - This is an enforcement of the fifth commandment, by denouncing the punishment which the moral government of God shall exact from the unnatural child. The legal penalty may be seen (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9); but this was probably seldom or never carried into execution (comp. Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10). His lamp shall be put out in obscure (the blackest) darkness (comp. Proverbs 13:9). The expression is peculiar; it is literally, according to the Khetib, In the apple of the eye of darkness, as in Proverbs 7:9; i.e. in the very centre of darkness; he will find himself surrounded on all sides by midnight darkness, without escape, with no hope of Divine protection. "Lamp" is a metaphor applied to the bodily and the spiritual life, to happiness and prosperity, to a man's fame and reputation, to a man's posterity; and all these senses may be involved in the denunciation of the disobedient and stubborn child. He shall suffer in body and soul, in character, in fortune, in his children. His fate is the exact counterpart of the blessing promised in the Law. Septuagint, "The lamp of him that revileth father and mother shall be extinguished, and the pupils of his eyes shall behold darkness." Talmud, "Whosoever abandons his parents means his body to become the prey of scorpions." Cato, 'Dist.,' 3:23 -

"Dilige non aegra caros pietate parentes;
Nec matrem offendas, dum vis bonus esse parenti."
One of the evil generations denounced by Agur (Proverbs 30:11) is that which curseth parents.
An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.
Verse 21. - An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning - or, which in the beginning, is obtained in haste - but the end thereof shall not be blessed; or, its end shall not be blessed. The Khetib gives מְבֹהֶלֶת, which (comp. Zechariah 11:8) may mean "detested," but this gives no sense; it is better, with the Keri, to replace kheth with he, and read מְבֹהֶלֶת (meboheleth), "hastened," "hastily acquired" (see Proverbs 13:11, Septuagint). The maxim, taken in connection with the preceding verse, may apply to a bad son who thinks his parents live too long, and by violence robs them of their possessions; or to one who, like the prodigal in the parable, demands prematurely his portion of the paternal goods. But it may also be taken generally as denouncing the fate of those who make haste to be rich, being unscrupulous as to the means by which they gain wealth (see on Proverbs 23:11; 28:20, 22). A Greek gnome says roundly -

Οὐδεὶς ἐπλούτησεν ταχέως δίκαιος ὤν.

"No righteous man e'er grew rich suddenly."
Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.
Verse 22. - Say not thou, I will recompense evil (Proverbs 24:29). The jus talonis is the natural feeling of man, to do to others as they have done unto you, to requite evil with evil. But the moralist teaches a better lesson, urging men not to study revenge, and approaching nearer to Christ's injunction, which gives the law of charity, "Whatsoever ye would (οπσα α}ν θέλητε) that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matthew 7:12). The Christian rule is expounded fully by St. Paul (Romans 12:14, 17, etc). It was not unknown to the Jews; for we read in Tobit 4:15, "Do that to no man which thou hatest;" and Hillel enjoins, "Do not thou that to thy neighbour which thou hatest when it is done to thee." Even the heathens had excogitated this great principle. There is a saying of Aristotle, preserved by Diogenes Laertius, "Act towards your friends as you would wish them to act towards you." The Chinese have a proverb, "Water does not remain on the mountain, or vengeance in a great mind." Wait on the Lord, and he shall save thee. The pious writer urges the injured person to commit his cause to the Lord, not in the hope of seeing vengeance taken on his enemy, but in the certainty that God will help him to bear the wrong and deliver him in his own good time and way. The Christian takes St. Peter's view, "Who is he that will harm you if ye be followers of that which is good?" (1 Peter 3:13), knowing that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28; comp. Ecclus. 2:2, 6). Septuagint, "Say not, I will avenge myself on my enemy, but wait on the Lord, that (ἵνα) he may help thee." The last clause may be grammatically rendered thus, but it is more in accordance with the spirit st' the proverb, as Delitzsch observes, to regard it as a promise. Vulgate, et liberabit te.
Divers weights are an abomination unto the LORD; and a false balance is not good.
Verse 23 - This is a repetition, with a slight variation, of ver. 10 and Proverbs 11:1 (where see notes). Is not good. A litotes, equivalent to "is very evil," answering to "abomination" in the first member. Septuagint, "is not good before him" (comp. Proverbs 24:23).
Man's goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?
Verse 24. - Man's goings are of the Lord. In the first clause the word for "man" is geber, which implies "a mighty man;" in the second clause the word is adam, "a human creature." So the Septuagint has ἀνὴρ in one clause and θνητὸς in the other. The proverb says that the steps of a great and powerful man depend, as their final cause, upon the Lord; he conditions and controls results. Man has free will, and is responsible for his actions, but God foreknows them, and holds the thread that connects them together; he gives preventing grace; he gives efficient grace: and man blindly works out the designs of Omnipotence according as he obeys or resists. A similar maxim is found in Psalm 37:23, "A man's goings are established of the Lord," but the meaning there is that it is God's aid which enables a man to do certain actions. Here we have very much the same intimation that is found in Proverbs 2:6 and Proverbs 19:21; and see note on Proverbs 16:9. Hence arises the old prayer used formerly at prime, and inserted now (with some omissions) at the end of the Anglican Communion Service: "O almighty Lord, and everlasting God, vouchsafe, we beseech thee, to direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, our thoughts, words, and actions, in the ways of thy laws, and in the works of thy commandments; that through thy most mighty protection we may be preserved both here and forever." If man cannot see all sides, as God does, cannot comprehend the beginning, middle, and end in one view, how then can a man (a weak mortal) understand his own ways. How can he find out of himself whither he should go, or what will be the issue of his doings (comp. Proverbs 16:25; Jeremiah 10:23)? St. Gregory, "It is well said by Solomon [Ecclesiastes 9:1], 'There are righteous and wise men, and their works are in the hand of God; and yet no man knoweth whether he is deserving of love or of hatred; but all things are kept uncertain for the time to come.' Hence it is said again by the same Solomon, 'What man will be able to understand his own way?' And any one doing good or evil is doubtless known by the testimony of his own conscience. But it is said that their own way is not known to men, for this reason, because, even if a man understands that he is acting rightly, yet he knows not, under the strict inquiry, whither he is going" ('Moral.,' 29:34).
It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry.
Verse 25. - It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy. This verse, which is plainly a warning against rash vows, has received more than one interpretation. The Vulgate has, Ruina est homini devorare sanctos, which is explained to mean that it is destruction for a man to persecute the saints of God. But the word devorare is not certain, as the manuscripts vary between this and four other readings, viz. devotares, denotare, devovere, and devocare. The Authorized Version signifies that it is a sin to take for one's own consumption things dedicated to God, as firstfruits, the priests' portions, etc.: or a man's snare, i.e. his covetousness (1 Timothy 6:9), leads him to commit sacrilege. So Wordsworth. But it is best, with Delitzsch, to take יָלַע (yala) as the abbreviated future of לוּע or לָעַע, "to speak rashly;" and then kodesh, "holiness," will be an exclamation, like korban (Mark 7:11). The clause will then run, "It is a snare to a man rashly to cry, Holiness!" equivalent to "It is holy!" i.e. to use the formula for consecrating something to holy purposes. Septuagint, "It is a snare to a man hastily to consecrate something of his own" (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:2, 4, etc.). And after vows to make inquiry; i.e. after he has made his vow, to begin to consider whether he can fulfil it or not. This is a snare to a man, strangles his conscience, and leads him into the grievous sins of perjury and sacrilege. Septuagint, "For after vowing ensueth repentance."
A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.
Verse 26. - A wise king scattereth the wicked (ver. 8). The verb is zarah, which means "to winnow, or sift." The king separates the wicked and the good, as the winnowing fan or shovel divides the chaff from the wheat. The same metaphor is used of Christ (Matthew 3:12), "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (comp. Jeremiah 15:7). Septuagint, "A winnower (λικμήτωρ) of the ungodly is a wise king." And bringeth the wheel over them. The threshing wheel is meant (see Isaiah 28:27; Amos 1:3). This was a wooden frame with three or four rollers under it armed with iron teeth. It was drawn by two oxen, and, aided by the weight of the driver, who had his seat upon it, it crushed out the grain, and cut up the straw into fodder. Another machine much used in Palestine was made of two thick planks fastened together side by side, and having sharp stones fixed in rows on the lower surface. It is not implied that the king employed the corn drag as an instrument of punishment, which was sometimes so used in war, as possibly may be inferred from 2 Samuel 12:31; 1 Chronicles 20:3; and Amos 1:3. The idea of threshing is carried on, and the notion is rather of separation than of punishment, though the latter is not wholly excluded. The wise ruler will not only distinguish between the godless and the good, but will show his discrimination by visiting the evil with condign puuishment. Septuagint, "He will bring the wheel upon them;" the Vulgate has curiously, Incurvat super eos fornicem, "He bends an arch over them," which Latin commentators explain as a triumphal arch, meaning that the king conquers and subdues the wicked, and celebrates his victory over them. A patent anachronism which needs no comment!
The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly.
Verse 27. - The spirit of men is the candle (lamp) of the Lord. Neshamah, "spirit," or "breath," is the principle of life breathed into man by God himself (Genesis 2:7), distinguishing man from brutes - the conscious human soul. We may consider it as equivalent to what we Christians call conscience, with its twofold character of receiving light and illumination from God, and sitting as judge and arbiter of actions. It is named "the Lord's lamp," because this moral sense is a direct gift of God, and enables a man to see his real condition. Our Lord (Matthew 6:23) speaks of the light that is in man, and gives a solemn warning against the danger of letting it be darkened by neglect and sin; and St. Paul (1 Corinthians 2:11) argues, "Who among men knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of the man, which is in him?" As Elihu says (Job 32:8), "There is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty giveth them understanding." And Aristotle speaks of practical wisdom (φρόνησις) combined with virtue as "the eye of the soul (ὄμμα τῆς ψυχῆς)." Searching all the inward parts of the belly; i.e. the very depths of the soul, probing thoughts, desires, affections, will, and approving or reproving, according as they are in conformity with or opposition to God's Law. We must remember that Eastern houses, before the introduction of glass, had very scanty openings to admit light, and lamps were necessary if for any purpose the interior had to be thoroughly illuminated. Hence the metaphor used above would strike an Oriental more forcibly than it strikes us. Septuagint, "The breath (πνοὴ, as Proverbs 11:13) of man is a light of the Lord, who searches the chambers of the belly." St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 12:64), "We ought to bear in mind that in holy Writ by the title of the 'belly,' or the 'womb,' the mind is used to be understood. For the light of grace, which comes from above, affords a 'breathway' to man unto life, which same light is said to 'search all the inward parts of the belly,' in that it penetrates all the secrets of the heart, that the things which were hidden in the soul touching itself it may bring back before the eyes thereof" (Oxford transl.).
Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.
Verse 28. - Mercy and truth preserve the king. (For "mercy and truth," see note on Proverbs 3:3.) The love and faithfulness which the king displays in dealing with his subjects elicits the like virtues in them, and these are the safeguard of his throne. His throne is upholden by mercy; or, love. So the king is well called the father of his people, and in modern times the epithet "gracious" is applied to the sovereign as being the fountain of mercy and condescension. Sallust, 'Jugurtha,' 10, "Non exercitus neque thesauri praesidia regni sunt, verum amici, quos neque armis cogere neque auro parare queas; officio et fide pariuntur." Septuagint, "Mercy (ἐλεημοσύνη) and truth are a guard to a king, and will surround his throne with righteousness." "The subject's love," says our English maxim, "is the king's lifeguard."
The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head.
Verse 29. - The glory of young men is their strength. That which makes the ornament (tiphereth) of youth is unimpaired strength and vigour, which can only be attained by due exercise combined with self-control. The moralist (Ecclesiastes 11:9) bids the young man rejoice in his youth, and let his heart cheer him in those happy days, but at the same time remember that he is responsible for the use which he makes of his powers and faculties, for for all these things God will bring him to judgment. The Greek gives a needful warning -

Μέμνησο νέος α}ν ὡς γέρων ἔσῃ ποτέ

"In youth remember thou wilt soon be old." Septuagint, "Wisdom is an ornament to young men." But koach is bodily, not mental, power. The beauty of old men is the grey head (Proverbs 16:31). That which gives an honorable look to old age is the hoary head, which suggests wisdom and experience (comp. Ecclus. 25:3-6). On the other hand, the Greek gnomist warns -

Πολιὰ χρόνου μήνυσις οὐ φρονήσεως.

"Grey hairs not wisdom indicate, but age."
The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.
Verse 30. - The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil. So the Vulgate, Livor vulneris absterget mala. Chaburoth means "stripes," and the proverb says that deep-cutting stripes are the only effectual cure of evil; i.e. severe punishment is the best healing process in cases of moral delinquency (Proverbs 19:29). Painful remedies, incisions, cauteries, amputations, are often necessary in the successful treatment of bodily ailments; spiritual sickness needs sterner, more piercing, remedies. So do stripes the inward parts of the belly; or better, and strokes that reach, etc. The stings of conscience, warnings and reproofs which penetrate to the inmost recesses of the heart, chastisement which affects the whole spiritual being. - these are needful to the correction and purification of inveterate evil. Aben Ezra connects this verse with the preceding thus: as strength gives a glory to young men, and hoar hairs adorn an old man, so wounds and bruises, so to speak, ornament the sinner, mark him out, and at the same time heal and amend him. It may also be connected with ver. 27. If a man will not use the lamp which God has given him for illumination and correction, he must expect severe chastisement and sternest discipline. Septuagint, "Bruises (ὑπώπια) and contusions befall bad men, and plagues that reach to the chambers of the belly." St. Gregory, 'Moral.,' 23:40, "By the blueness of a wound he implies the discipline of blows on the body. But blows in the secret parts of the belly are the wounds of the mind within, which are inflicted by compunction. For as the belly is distended when filled with food, so is the mind puffed up when swollen with wicked thoughts. The blueness, then, of a wound, and blows in the secret parts of the belly, cleanse away evil, because both outward discipline does away with faults, and compunction pierces the distended mind with the punishment of penance. But they differ from each other in this respect, that the wounds of blows give us pain, the sorrows of compunction have good savour. The one afflict and torture, the others restore when they afflict us. Through the one there is sorrow in affliction, through the other there is joy in grief" (Oxford transl.).

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