Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them.
Verse 1. - We return here to the more usual form, the tetrastich. Be not thou envious against evil men (see on Proverbs 23:17, where a similar warning is given, and comp. Ver. 19 below). "Men of wickedness," wholly given over to evil. Neither desire to be with them. Their company is pollution, and association with them makes you a partner in their sinful doings. The Septuagint prefaces the paragraph with the personal address, υἱέ "son."
For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.
Verse 2. - For their heart studieth destruction. The grounds of the warning arc here given, as in Proverbs 1:15. "Destruction" (shod); Vulgate, rapinas, "violence" of all kinds, e.g., robbery, murder. Their lips talk of mischief; utter lies and slanders which may injure other people or bring themselves profit. Admiration of such men and intercourse with them must be repugnant to every religious soul. The LXX. refers the verse to evil imaginations issuing in evil talk; "For their heart meditates falsehoods, and their lips speak mischiefs (πόνους)."
Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established:
Verses 3, 4. - In contrast with the conversation of the evil, wisdom is commended. Verse 3. - Through wisdom is an house builded (see on Proverbs 14:1). By prudence, probity, and the fear of God a family is supported and blessed, maintained and prospered. Established (see on Proverbs 3:19); Septuagint, ἀνορθοῦται
And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
Verse 4. - (Comp. Proverbs 1:13 and note Proverbs 3:10.) With all precious and pleasant (Proverbs 22:18) riches. Material prosperity, copious store of necessaries, and wealth, follow on wisdom; how much more do spiritual blessings attend the fear of God!
A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.
Verses 5, 6. - Wisdom is beneficial in peace and war. Verse 5. - A wise man is strong. בעוז, "in strength," full of strength, because, however feeble in body, he is wise in counsel, firm in purpose, brave in conduct, thoroughly to be depended upon, and supported by his perfect trust in God (comp. Proverbs 21:22). The Septuagint, with which agree the Syriac and Chaldee, reading differently, renders, "A wise man is better than a strong man" - a sentiment which Lesetre compares to Cicoro's "cedant arma togae." A man of knowledge increaseth strength; literally, strengtheneth power; shows greater, superior power, as Amos 2:14. The Septuagint, from some corruption of the text, renders, "And a man having prudence (is better) than a large estate (γεωργίου μεγάλου);" i.e. wisdom will bring a man more worldly advantages than the possession of extensive farms. The gnome is proved by what follows.
For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellers there is safety.
Verse 6. - Thy war; war for thyself, for thy profit, equivalent to "successful war" (comp. Exodus 14:14). The clause is an echo of Proverbs 20:18 (where see note). The last line is a repetition of Proverbs 11:14 (comp. also Proverbs 15:22). Septuagint, "War is made with generalship (κυβερνήσεως), and help with a heart that counsels."
Wisdom is too high for a fool: he openeth not his mouth in the gate.
Verses 7-10. - Some distichs now follow, concerned with wisdom and its opposite. Verse 7. - Wisdom is too high for a fool. It is beyond his reach, he cannot follow its lead, and has nothing to say when his counsel is asked, and no ability to judge of any question presented to him. "Wisdom" (chochmoth) is in the plural number, intimating the various attributes connoted by it, or the different aspects in which it may be regarded (see note on Proverbs 1:20). "Too high" (ראמות, ramoth) is also plural; and Delitzsch and Nowack take it to mean, not so much "high things" as "precious things," such as pearls or precious stones, in accordance with Job 28:18, "No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; yea,. the price of wisdom is above rubies." In this sense Delitzsch translates, "Wisdom seems to the fool to be an ornamental commodity," a costly and unnecessary appendage, which is not worth the sacrifices entailed by its pursuit. Whichever way we take it, the point is the rarity and inaccessibility of wisdom, and the repugnance of fools to make any exertion in order to obtain it. St. Augustine thus sums up the steps by which wisdom is reached: fear of God, piety, knowledge, fortitude, mercifulness, sincerity ('De Doctr. Christ.,' 2:7). He openeth not him month in the gate. When men gather in the usual place of assembly (Proverbs 8:3; Proverbs 22:2), to take counsel on public matters, he has nothing to say; he listens fatuously, and is silent. Septuagint, "Wisdom and good thought are in the gates of the wise; the wise turn not aside from the mouth of the Lord, but reason in assemblies."
He that deviseth to do evil shall be called a mischievous person.
Verse 8. - He that deviseth to do evil. He who shows a certain kind of misapplied cleverness (in contrast to the true wisdom) in planning and pursuing evil schemes. Shall be called. Defined and explained, as Proverbs 16:21 (comp. Proverbs 21:24). A mischievous person; literally, lord of mischief; i.e. owner, possessor of mischief. One must not be led by such a man's apparent astuteness to attribute; to him wisdom; he is an impostor, a mere intriguer, who is sure to be exposed ere long. Septuagint, "Death befalls the undisciplined."
The thought of foolishness is sin: and the scorner is an abomination to men.
Verse 9. - The thought of foolishness is sin. "Sin" is the subject in this clause as "the scorner" is in the next; and what it says is that sin is the exeogitation, the contriving of folly. The stoner is the real fool, m that he does not pursue his proper end, prepares misery for himself, is blind to his best interests. The connection between sin and folly, as between wisdom and righteousness, is continually enforced throughout the book. The scorner is an abomination to men. The man who scoffs at religion and every high aim is an object of abomination to the pious, and is also a cause of evil to others, leading them to thoughts and acts which are hateful in the eyes of God. Septuagint, "The fool dieth in sins (John 8:24), and uncleanness belongeth to a pestilent man." The text here followed, as in other passages of this chapter, is quite different from the received one.
If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.
Verse 10. - If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small. The gnome seems to be unconnected with the preceding. There is a paronomasia between צָרָה (tsarah), "adversity," and צַר (tsar), "small," narrow, which is retained by Fleischer: "Si segnis fueris die angustiae, angustae sunt vires tuae." So we may say in English, "If thou faint in time of straitness, straitened is thy strength." If you fail, and succumb to anxiety or danger, instead of rising to meet the emergency, then you are but a weakling or a coward, and the strength which you seemed to possess and of which you boasted, perhaps, is nothing worth. Such a man hearkens not to the Sibyl's counsel (Virgil, 'AEneid,' 6:95) ?
"Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito,
Quam tua te fortuna sinet." The LXX. again varies from the received text, "He shall be polluted in an evil day, and in a day of affliction, until he fail," or "die" (ἐκλίπῃ).
If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain;
Verses 11, 12. - A hexastich, inculcating humanity on the ground of God's omniscience. Verse 11. - If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death. The sentence is not conditional, אם in the second line being equivalent to לוּ, utinam, "oh that!" "would that!" So the first hemistich should be rendered, "Deliver them that are haled to death," and the second, "And those that are tottering to slaughter, oh, hold them back!" The sentence is somewhat obscure, but Cheyne well explains it thus: "Some victims of a miscarriage of justice are about to be dragged away to execution, and the disciple of wisdom is exhorted to use his endeavours to deliver them" ('Job and Solomon'). In the case supposed a moral obligation lies on the pious and well-informed to save a human life unjustly imperilled. At the same time, there is nothing in the passage which absolutely, shows that the punishment of the guiltless is here deprecated; it looks rather as if Wisdom had no pleasure in the death of men, innocent or not, and that the victims of an extreme sentence claimed pity at her hands, whatever might be the circumstances of the verdict. Septuagint, "Deliver those that are being led away to death, and redeem (ἐκπρίου) those that are appointed to be slain; spare not (to help them)" (comp. Psalm 82:3, 4).
If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?
Verse 12. - If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not. The disciple of Wisdom may excuse himself from making any effort for the prisoners' release, by saying he had not heard of the case. St. Jerome makes the excuse to be inability, vires non suppetunt. The LXX. makes it a personal matter, ignoring the plural form of the previous paragraph. "I know him not, he is no friend of mine; why should I trouble myself about him?" Such a selfish person, like the priest and Levite in the parable, would "pass by on the other side." Doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? God knows the truth - knows that the excuse is vain; for he is the Weigher and Searcher of hearts (Proverbs 16:2; Proverbs 21:2). Cain's plea, "Am I my brother's keeper?" is unavailable; the law of love is limited by no circumstances. He that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? The expression, "keeping the soul," may be equivalent to "preserving the life;" but it more probably means watching, observing, the inmost secrets of the nature (Job 7:20). The verb used is נָצַר (natsar), which has both significations. The sense of "forming." which some give it, seems not allowable. (For "heart" (leb) and "soul" (nephesh), see note on Proverbs 2:10.) Shall not he render to every man according to his works? Knowing the heart and the motive, God deals out retributive justice (Proverbs 12:14; Psalm 62:12; Romans 2:6). Septuagint, "But if thou say, I know not this man, know that the Lord knoweth the hearts of air; and he who formed (πλάσας) breath for all, himself knoweth all things, who rendereth to every man according to his works."
My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste:
Verses 13, 14. - An exhortation to the study of wisdom, with an analogy. Verse 13. - Eat thou honey, because it is good. Honey entered largely into the diet of the Oriental, and was regarded not only as pleasant to the taste and nutritious, but also as possessed of healing powers. It was especially used for children's food (Isaiah 7:15), and thus becomes an emblem of the purest wisdom. "I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey," says the lover in Song of Solomon 5:1; and the psalmist says that the ordinances of the Lord are "sweeter than honey and the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10; see on Proverbs 25:16). Palestine was a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8); hence is derived the continual reference to this article of diet in the Bible.
So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off.
Verse 14. - So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul; better, know, apprehend wisdom to be such for thy soul - to be as pleasant and nourishing and profitable to thy soul, as honey is to thy taste and thy body. The moralist would have his disciple feel the same relish for wisdom that he has for sweet food, recognize it not simply as useful, but as delightful and enjoyable. When thou hast found it. To find wisdom is to get possession of it and use it (comp. Proverbs 3:13, and note there). Then there shall be a reward. The apodosis begins here. We have had the same assurance in Proverbs 23:18 (where see note). The word is literally future. One who has obtained wisdom has a glorious hope before him; habebis in novissimis spem, Vulgate; but his hope is better than that - it goes with him, not in his last hour only, but all his life long. Septuagint, "Then shalt thou perceive wisdom in thy soul; for if thou find it, fair shall be thine end, and hope shall not fail thee."
Lay not wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous; spoil not his resting place:
Verses 15, 16. - A warning against plotting for the ruin of a good man's house, with a view doubtless of profiting by the disaster. Verse 15. - Lay not wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous. רָשָׁע (rasha) is vocative (comp. Ezekiel 33:8); taken appositionally, as in Revised Version margin, "as a wicked man," it is senseless; for how could he lay wait in any other character? Spoil not his resting-place. "Spoil," as Proverbs 19:26 (where see note). Drive him not from his house by violence and chicanery. Vulgate, "Seek not impiety in the house of the righteous;" do not attempt to cloak your insidious designs by detecting some evil in the good man, and making yourself the instrument of retribution, as if you were doing God service in afflicting him (John 16:2). Septuagint, "Bring not an ungodly man into the pasture (νομῇ) of the righteous, neither be thou deceived by the feasting of the belly."
For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.
Verse 16. - A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again. The fall may be taken of sin or of calamity. Preachers, ancient and modern, have made much use of this text in the first sense, expatiating how a good man may fall into venial or more serious sins, but he never loses his love of God, and rises from his fall by repentance on every occasion. We also often find the words in die, "a day," added, which indeed occur in some manuscripts, but are not in the original. But the verb naphal seems not to be used in the sense of "falling" morally; and the meaning here is that the just man frequently falls into trouble, - he is not secure against worldly cares and losses, or the insidious attacks of the man mentioned in Ver. 15; but he never loses his trust in God or offends by fretfulness and impatience, and always God's providence watches over him and delivers him out of all his afflictions. "Seven times" means merely often, that number being used to express plurality or completeness (see on Proverbs 6:31; 26:16; and comp. Genesis 4:24; Job 5:19 (which is like our passage); and Matthew 18:22). The expectation which the sinner conceived when he saw the good man distressed, that he might seize the opportunity and use it to his own benefit, is woefully disappointed. In contrast with the recovery and reestablishment of the righteous, when the wicked suffer calamity there is no recuperation for them. The wicked shall fall into mischief; Revised Version better, are overthrown by calamity (comp. Proverbs 14:32, and note there). Septuagint," But the ungodly shall be weak in evils."
Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth:
Verses 17, 18. - A warning against vindictiveness, nearly approaching the great Christian maxim, "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44). Verse 17. - Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour" was a Mosaic precept (Leviticus 19:18); the addition, "and hate thine enemy," was a Pharisaic gloss, arising from a misconception concerning the extermination of the Canaanites, which, indeed, had a special cause and purpose, and was not a precedent for the treatment of all aliens (see Proverbs 25:21, 22). When he stumbleth; rather, when he is overthrown. The maxim refers to private enemies. The overthrow of public enemies was often celebrated with festal rejoicing. Thus we have the triumph of Moses at the defeat of the Amalekites, and over Pharaoh's host at the Red Sea; of Deborah and Barak over Sisera (Exodus 15; Exodus 17:15; Judges 5); and the psalmist, exulting over the destruction of his country's foes, could say, "The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked" (Psalm 58:10). But private revenge and vindictiveness are warmly censured and repudiated. So Cato, 'Distich.' 4:46 -
"Morte repentina noli gaudere malorum;
Felicesobeunt quorum sine crimine vita est." Of very different tone is the Italian proverb, "Revenge is a morsel for God;" and "Wait time and place to act thy revenge, for it is never well done in a hurry" (Trench).
Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.
Verse 18. - Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him. This malignant pleasure at others' misfortunes (which Aristotle, 'Eth. Nic.,' 2:7. 15, calls ἐπιχαιρεκακία) is a sin in the eyes of God, and calls for punishment. And he turn away his wrath from him; and, as is implied, direct it upon thee. But it seems a mean motive to adduce, if the maxim is taken baldly to mean, "Do not rejoice at your enemy's calamity, lest God relieve him from the evil:" for true charity would wish for such a result. Bode considers "his wrath" to be the enemy's ill will against thee, which God by his grace changes to love, and thou art thus covered with confusion and shame for thy former vindictiveness. But the point is not so much the removal of God's displeasure from the enemy as the punishment of the malignant man, either mentally or materially. To a malignant mind no severer blow could be given than to see a foe recover God's favor and rise from his fall. The moralist then warns the disciple against giving way to this ἐπιχαιρεκακία lest he prepare for himself bitter mortification by having to witness the restoration of the hated one, or by being himself made to suffer that evil which he had rejoiced to see his neighbour experience (comp. Proverbs 17:5, and note there).
Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the wicked;
Verses 19, 20. - A warning against envying the prosperity of the wicked. Verse 19. - Fret not thyself because of evil men (comp. Ver. 1 and Psalm 37:1). The verb (charah) means "to burn," "to be angry;" so here we may render, "Be not enraged on account of evil doers." The anger would arise on account of the apparent inequitable distribution of blessings. St. Jerome has, Ne contendas cum pessimis; Septuagint, "Rejoice not over (ἐπὶ) evildoers." Neither be thou envious at the wicked; i.e. do not fancy that their prosperity is to be desired, nor be led to imitate their doings in order to secure like success. The new verse shows the solemn reason for this warning.
For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.
Verse 20. - For there shall be no reward to the evil man. He has no happy "future" to expect, as Ver. 14; Proverbs 22:18 (where see note). The candle, etc. (see Proverbs 13:9, where the clause appears). Septuagint, "For the evil man shall have no posterity, and the torch of the wicked shall be quenched."
My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change:
Verses 21, 22. - An injunction urging loyalty to God and the king. Verse 21. - Fear thou the Lord and the king. The king is God's vicegerent and representative, and therefore to be honoured and obeyed (see Ecclesiastes 8:2; Ecclesiastes 10:20; 1 Peter 2:17). Meddle not with them that are given to change. There is some doubt about the intepretation of the last word שׁונִים (shonim), which may mean those who change, innovators (in which transitive sense the verb does not elsewhere occur), or those who think differently, dissidents, who respect neither God nor the king. The verb שָׁנָה signifies transitively "to repeat," and intransitively "to be changed;" so it may be most accurately translated here, with Delitzsch, "those who are otherwise disposed," who have not the proper sentiments of fear and honour for God and the king. St. Jerome has, Et cum detractoribus non commiscearis, by which word he probably means what we call revolutionists, persons who disparage and despise all authority. Septuagint, "Fear God and the king, and disobey neither of them." The verse has been largely used as a text by preachers who desired to recommend loyalty and to censure disaffection and rebellion. It has been a favourite motto for discourses on the Gunpowder Treason and the execution of Charles I.
For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?
Verse 22. - For their calamity shall rise suddenly. Though these dissidents seem to succeed for a time, yet retribution shall fall suddenly upon them. And who knoweth the ruin of them both? This seems to mean the two classes, those who dishonour God and those who dishonour the king; but no such distinction is made in the previous verse; the rebels are classed under one category. Wordsworth renders, "the stroke of vengeance from them both," i.e. from God and the king. Otherwise, we must give another signification to שׁניהם, and, with the Syriac and many modern commentators, take it in the sense of "years," which שְׁנֵיהֶם will bear, as Job 36:11, and translate, "The destruction [equivalent to 'end'] of their years, who knoweth?" No one can tell when the crisis of their fate shall come; but it will arrive some day, and then the time of their prosperity will be at an end. Septuagint, "For they (God and the king) will suddenly punish the ungodly; and who shall know the vengeance of both (τὰς τιμωρίας ἀμφοτέρων)?" After this the LXX. inserts three proverbs not found now in the Hebrew, which, however, Ewald ('Jahrb. der Bibl. Wissensch.,' 11:17, etc.) considers to have been translated from a Hebrew original: "A son that keepeth the commandment shall be safe from destruction (Proverbs 29:27, Vulgate), and he hath fully received it (the word). Let no lie be spoken by the tongue of the king; and no he shall proceed from his tongue. The king's tongue is a sword, and not of flesh; and whosoever shall be delivered unto it shall be destroyed; for if his anger be inflamed, he consumes men with their nerves, and devours men's bones, and burns them up as a flame, so that they are not food for the young eagles." The allusion at the end is to animals killed by lightning. Here follows the series of proverbs (Proverbs 30:1-14) called in the Hebrew, "The words of Agur." The second part of "the words of Agur," and "the words of Lemuel" (Proverbs 30:15-31:9) follow in the Greek after Proverbs 24:34 of the Hebrew. Delitzsch explains the matter thus: In the copy from which the Alexandrines translated, the appendix (Proverbs 30-31:9) was divided into two parts, half of it standing after "the words of the wise" (Proverbs 22:17-24:22), and half after the supplement containing further sayings of wise men (Proverbs 24:23-34).
These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment.
Verses 23-34. - Part V. A SECOND COLLECTION, forming a second supplement to the first Solomonic book, and containing further "words of the wise." Verses 23-25. - Partiality and impartiality a hexastich. Verse 23. - These things also belong to the wise; are the sayings of wise men. The following proverbs, as well as the preceding, are derived from wise men. Mistaking this superscription, the LXX. makes it a personal address: "This I say to you who are wise, so that ye may learn." The first line is not a proverb, but the introduction to the ensuing collection. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment (see Proverbs 18:5, and note there; and Proverbs 28:21, where the expression is the same as here). To regard one person before another is to be partial and unjust. To say this error is "not good" is a meiosis, the meaning being that it is very evil and sinful (comp. Proverbs 20:23). The statement is developed and confirmed in the next two verses, which show the results of partiality and its opposite.
He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him:
Verse 24. - He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous. The judge is supposed to be acquitting a guilty person. Him shall the people curse. The Hebrew is "peoples," as Septuagint and Vulgate, maledicient eis populi. Nations shall abhor him. Not individuals, nor families only, but the whole community, wherever such an iniquitous ruler is found, shall execrate and hate him. The voice of the people is universally against him; no one is so blind and degraded as openly to applaud his nets. The verb nakab, "to curse," means primarily "to bore or pierce;" hence some have translated it here, "him shall the peoples stab." But the word is used in the sense of distinguishing by a mark or brand, and thence passes into the sense of cursing, as at Proverbs 11:26; Leviticus 24:11; Job 3:8. In Proverbs 17:15 the unjust judge is called an abomination to the Lord. In this case the vox populi is vox Dei.
But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.
Verse 25. - But to them that rebuke him shall be delight (see on Proverbs 2:10). They who punish the wicked, with them it is well; they are approved by God and applauded by the people. Vulgate, Qui aruunt cum laudabuntur, "They who convict him shall be praised." And a good blessing shall come upon them; literally, a blessing of good - one that has in it all good things, the happy contrast to the curses which meet the unjust judge. Septuagint, "But they that convict them (the guilty) shall appear more excellent, and upon them shall come blessing."
Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer.
Verse 26. - A distich connected with the subject of the preceding paragraph. Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer; or better, he kisseth the lips who giveth a right answer. An answer that is fair and suitable to the circumstances is as pleasant and assuring to the bearers as a kiss on the lips. Such a salutation would be a natural sign of sympathy and affection. Thus Absalom won the hearts of the people by kissing those who came to court with their suits (2 Samuel 15:5). In Genesis 41:40, where the Authorized Version has, "According to thy word shall all my people be ruled," the Hebrew runs, "Thy mouth shall all my people kiss," i.e. they shall do homage to thee, which is another signification of this action. This, however, would not be suitable here, as the kiss is supposed to be given by the speaker, though the LXX. mistakenly translates, "But men will kiss lips that answer good words."
Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.
Verse 27. - Prepare thy work without. The proverb enjoins a man to look well to his resources before he undertakes to build a house or to establish a family. "Without" (chuts) (Proverbs 7:12; Proverbs 8:26); in the fields. Put in due order all immediate work in thy farm. And make it fit for thyself in the field; and get ready for what has to come next. That is, in short, steadily and with due foresight cultivate your land; provide abundant means of subsistence before you attempt to build up your house. A suitor had, as it were, to purchase his bride from her relations by making considerable presents; it was therefore necessary to provide a certain amount of wealth before contemplating matrimony. And afterwards build thy house. This is, indeed, the meaning of the passage; but the Hebrew makes a difficulty, as it is literally, "afterwards and thou shalt build." Some have supposed that some words have dropped out of the text (Cheyne, 'Job and Solomon'). But vav in וּבָנִיתָ, coming after a date or notification of time, as here after אַהַר (comp. Genesis 3:5), "has the future signification of a perfect consecutive" (Delitzsch), equivalent to "after that, then, thou mayest build." Septuagint, "Prepare thy works for thy going forth (εἰς τη,ν ἔξοδον), and get ready for the field, and come after me, and thou shalt build up thine house." In a spiritual sense, the heart must be first cleared of thorns, and opened to genial influences, before the man can build up the fabric of virtuous habits, and thus arrive at the virtuous character.
Be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause; and deceive not with thy lips.
Verse 28. - Be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause (chinnam); gratuitously (Proverbs 3:30; Proverbs 23:29; Proverbs 26:2), when you are not obliged in the performance of a plain duty. Persons are not to put themselves forward to give testimony to a neighbour's discredit, either officiously as busybodies, or maliciously as slanderers. The maxim is expressed in general terms and is not to be confined to one category, as the Syriac and Septuagint render, "Be not a false witness against thy fellow citizen." And deceive not with thy lips. The Hebrew is really interrogative, "And wouldest thou deceive with thy lips?" (Psalm 78:36). The deceit is not so much intentional falsehood as misrepresentation arising from haste and inconsiderateness consequent on this unnecessary eagerness to push forward testimony unsought. Septuagint, "Neither exaggerate (πλατύνου) with thy lips."
Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.
Verse 29. - The subject is still continued, as if the moralist would say, "Though a man has done you an injury by gratuitously testifying against you, do not you retaliate in the same way." Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me (see Proverbs 20:22, and note there). The lex talionis should not be applied to private wrongs. The high morality of the Christian code is here anticipated, the Holy Spirit guiding both.
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding;
Verses 30-34. - A mashal ode concerning the sluggard (for similar odes, comp. Proverbs 7:41-23; Job 5:3-5; Psalm 37:35, etc.; Isaiah 5:1-6). Verse 30. - The field...the vineyard; the two chief objects of the farmer's care, which need constant labour if they are to prove productive. Moralizing on this passage, St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 20:54) says, "To pass by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding, is to look into the life of any careless liver, and to take a view of his deeds."
And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.
Verse 31. - Thorns. Kimmashon is the word here used, but the plant has not been certainly identified (comp. Isaiah 34:13). Nettles (charul). The stinging nettle is quite common in Palestine, but the plant here meant is probably the prickly acanthus, which quickly covers any spot left uncultivated (Job 30:7). Revised Version margin suggests wild vetches. Ovid, 'Trist.,' 5:12. 21 -
"Adde, quod ingenium louga rubigine laesum
Torpet, et est multo, quam fuitante, minus.
Fertilis, assiduo si non renovetur aratro,
Nil, nisicum spinis gramen, habebit ager." So spiritual writers have used this apologue as teaching a lesson concerning the soul and the life of man, how that spiritual sloth allows the growth of evil habits, and the carelessness which maintains not the defence of law and prayer, but admits the enemy, and the result is the loss of the true riches and the perishing of the heavenly life. The two verses are thus rendered, or morally applied, in the Septuagint: "A foolish man is as a farm. and a man wanting in sense is as a vineyard; if you leave him, he will be barren, and will be altogether covered with weeds, and he will become deserted, and his fences of stone are broken down."
Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction.
Verse 32. - Then I saw, and considered it well (Proverbs 22:17). I looked in this sight, and let it sink into my mind. I looked upon it, and received instruction (Proverbs 8:10). I learned a lesson from what I saw.
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
Verses 33, 34. - These verses are a repetition, with very slight variations, of Proverbs 6:10, 11 (where see notes), and possibly have been introduced here by a later editor. Ver. 33 seems to be the sluggard's own words; Ver. 34 shows the result of his sloth. There are numberless proverbs dedicated to this subject in all languages; e.g., "No sweat, no sweet;" "No pains, no gains; .... He that wad eat the kernel maun crack the nut;" "A punadas entran las buenas hadas," "Good luck enters by dint of cuffs" (Spanish); "Nihil agendo male agere discimus; .... The dog in the kennel," say the Chinese. "barks at his fleas; the dog that hunts does not feel them" (Kelly). "Sloth and much sleep," say the Arabs, "remove from God and bring on poverty." The LXX. is somewhat dramatic in its rendering: "Afterwards I repented (μετενόησα), I looked that I might receive instruction. 'I slumber a little, I sleep a little, for a little I clasp (ἐναγκαλίζομαι) my hands across my breast.' But if thou do this, thy poverty will come advancing, and thy want like a good runner (ἀγαθὸς δρομεύς)" The word ἐναγκαλίζομαι occurs in Proverbs 6:10, but nowhere else in the Septuagint. It is used by St. Mark (Mark 9:36; Mark 10:16). It has been thought that the original mashal ended with Ver. 32, the following passage being added by a scribe as illustrative in a marginal note, which afterwards crept into the text.
So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.