These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out.
Verse 1-ch. 29. - Part VI. SECOND GREAT COLLECTION OF SOLOMONIC PROVERBS, gathered by "the men of Hezekiah," in which wisdom is set forth as the greatest blessing to the king and his subjects. Verse 1. - The superscription: These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah King of Judah copied out. The word "also" implies that a previous collection was known to the compiler of the present book - probably the one which we have in Proverbs 10-22:16, of which nine proverbs are inserted here. But there was still a large number of proverbial sayings attributed to Solomon, and preserved partly by oral tradition and partly in writing, which it was advisable to collect and secure before they were lost. The zeal of Hezekiah took this in hand. He was not, as far as we know, an author himself, but he evidently felt a warm interest in literature, and "the men of Hezekiah," not mentioned elsewhere, must have been his counsellors and scholars, to whom was entrusted the duty of gathering together into a volume the scattered sayings of the wise king. Among those contemporaries, doubtless, Isaiah was eminent, and it is not improbable that Shebna the scribe and Josh the chronicler were members of the learned fraternity (2 Kings 18:18). The verb rightly translated "copied out" (athak) means, properly, "to remove," "to transfer" from one place to another (transtulerunt, Vulgate); hence it signifies here to copy into a book words taken from other writings or people's mouths. The sayings thus collected, whether truly Solomon's or not, were extant under his name, and were regarded as worthy of his reputation for wisdom. The title is given in the Septuagint, thus: Αῦται αἱ παιδεῖαι Σαλωμῶντος αἱ ἀδιάκριτοι α}ς ἐξεγραψαντο οἱ φίλοι Ἐζεκίου τοῦ βασιλέως τῆς Ἰουδαίας. What is meant by ἀδιάκριτοι is uncertain. It has been translated "impossible to distinguish," equivalent to "miscellaneous;" "beyond doubt," equivalent to "genuine," "hard to interpret," as in Polyb., 15:12, 9. St. James (James 3:17) applies the term to wisdom, but the interpreters there are not agreed as to the meaning, it being rendered "without partiality," "without variance," "without doubtfulness," etc. It seems best to take the word as used by the LXX. to signify "mixed," or "miscellaneous."
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.
Verses 2-7. - Proverbs concerning kings. Verse 2. - It is the glory of God to conceal a thing. That which is the chief glory of God is his mysteriousness, the unfathomable character of his nature and attributes and doings. The more we search into these matters, the more complete we find our ignorance to be; finite faculties are utterly unable to comprehend the infinite; they can embrace merely what God chooses to reveal. "Secret things belong unto the Lord our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29), and the great prophet, favoured with Divine revelations, can only confess, "Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself" Isaiah 45:15; comp Ecclesiastes 8:17; Romans 11:33, etc.). But the honour of kings is to search out a matter. The same word is used for "glory" and "honour" in both clauses, and ought to have been rendered similarly. It is the king's glory to execute justice and to defend the rights and safety of his people. To do this effectually he must investigate matters brought before him, look keenly into political difficulties, get to the bottom of all complications, and watch against possible dangers. The contrast between the glory of God and that of the king lies in this - that whereas both God and the king desire man's welfare, the former promotes this by making him feel his ignorance and littleness and entire dependence upon this mysterious Being whose nature and designs mortals cannot understand; the latter advances the good of his subjects by giving them confidence in his zeal and power to discover truth, and using his knowledge for their benefit. Septuagint, "The glory of God concealeth a word (λόγον): but the glory of a king honoureth matters (πράγματα)."
The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable.
Verse 3. - This proverb is connected with the preceding by the idea of "searching" (chakar) common to both. Such emblematic proverbs are common in this second collection (see Ver. 11). Three subjects are stated, of which is predicated the term unsearchable, viz. The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings. As you can never rise to the illimitable height of the heavens, as you can never penetrate to the immeasurable depth of the earth, so you can never fathom the heart of a king, can never find out what he really thinks and intends (comp. Job 11:8). It may be that tacitly a warning is intended against flattering one's sell that one knows and can reckon on the favour of a king; his good disposition towards you may be only seeming, or may any moment become changed. The Septuagint has for "unsearchable" (חֵקֶר אֵין) ἀνεξέλεγκτος, "unquestionable." The commentators refer to a passage in Tacitus ('Ann.' 6:8), where M. Terentius defends himself for being a friend of Sejanus by the fact of the impossibility of investigating a great man's real sentiments. "To us," he says to Tiberius, "it appertains not to judge whom you exalt above all others and for what reason you do so. Facts which are obvious we all notice. We see who is the man upon whom you heap wealth and honours, who it is that has the chief power of dispensing rewards and punishments; that these were possessed by Sejanus no one can deny. But to pry into the hidden thoughts of a prince, and the designs which he meditates in secret, is unlawful and hazardous; nor would the attempt succeed."
Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer.
Verses 4, 5. - A tetrastich in an emblematical form. Verse 4. - Take away the dross from the silver. Silver was most extensively used by the Hebrews (see 'Dictionary of the Bible,' sub voc.), whether obtained from native mines or imported from foreign countries, and the process of separating the ore from the extraneous matters mixed with it was well known (Psalm 12:6; Ezekiel 22:20, etc.; see on Proverbs 17:3). And there shall come forth a vessel for the finer (tsaraph); the goldsmith. The pure silver is ready for the artist s work, who from this material can make a beautiful vessel. Septuagint, "Beat untested silver, and all shall be made entirely pure," where the allusion is to the process of reducing minerals by lamination.
Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness.
Verse 5. - Take away the wicked from before the king. Let the wicked be removed from the presence of the king, as dross is separated from the pure silver (see the same metaphor, Isaiah 1:25; Jeremiah 6:29, etc.). And his throne shall be established in righteousness (Proverbs 16:12: 29:14). The king detects the evil and punishes them; and this confirms his rule and secures the continuance of his dynasty. Thus righteousness triumphs, and wickedness is properly dealt with. Septuagint, "Slay the ungodly from the face of the king, and his throne shall prosper in righteousness."
Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men:
Verses 6, 7. - Another proverb (a pentastich) connected with kings and great men. Verse 6. - Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king. Do not make display of yourself as though vying with the king in outward circumstances. Septuagint, "Boast not thyself (μὴ ἀλαζονεύον) in the presence of a king." Stand not in the place of great men. Do not pretend to be the equal of those who occupy high places in the kingdom (Proverbs 18:16). Septuagint, "And take not your stand (ὑφίστασο) in the places of chieftains." Says a Latin gnome, "Qui cum fortuna convenit, dives est;" and Ovid wrote well ('Trist.,' 3:4. 25, etc.) -
"Crede mihi; bene qui latuit, bene vixit; et intra
Fortunam debet quisque manere suam...
Tu quoque formida nimium sublimia semper;
Propositique memor contrahe vela tui."
For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.
Verse 7. - For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither. It is better for the prince to select you for elevation to a high post; to call you up near his throne. The reference is not necessarily to position at a royal banquet, though the maxim lends itself readily to such application. This warbling against arrogance and presumption was used by our blessed Lord in enforcing a lesson of humility and self-discipline (Luke 14:7, etc ). Septuagint, "For it is better for thee that it should be said, Come up unto me (ἀνάβαινε πρὸς μέ)" (προσανάβηθι ἀνώτερον, Luke 14:7). Than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen. The last words have been variously interpreted: "to whom thou hast come with a request for preferment;" "into whose august presence thou hast been admitted, so as to see his face" (2 Samuel 14:24); "who knows all about thee, and will thus make thee feel thy humiliation all the more." But nadib, rendered "prince," is not the king, but any noble or great man; and what the maxim means is this - that it is wise to save yourself from the mortification of being turned out of a place which you have knowingly usurped. Your own eyes see that he is in the company; you are aware of what is his proper position; you have occupied a post which belongs to another; justly you are removed, and all present witness your humiliation. The moralist knew that the bad spirit of pride was fostered and encouraged by every act of self-assertion; hence the importance of his warning. The Septuagint makes a separate sentence of these last words, "Speak thou of what thine eyes saw," or, perhaps, like St. Jerome, the Syriac, and Symmachus, attach them to the next verse.
Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.
Verse 8. - A tristich with no parallelism. Go not forth hastily to strive. The idea is either of one entering into litigation with undue haste, or of one hurrying to meet an adversary. St. Jerome, taking in the final words of the previous verse, renders, Quae viderunt oculi tui, ne proferas in jurgio cito, "What thine eyes have seen reveal not hastily in a quarrel." This is like Ver. 9 below, and Christ's injunction, "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone" (Matthew 18:15). Lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof. The Hebrew is elliptical, "Lest by chance (פֶן) thou do something (bad, humiliating) in the end thereof." But Delitzsch, Nowack, and others consider the sentence as interrogative (as 1 Samuel 20:19), and translate, "That it may not be said in the end thereof, What wilt thou do?" Either way, the warning comes to this - Do not enter hastily upon strife of any kind, lest thou be utterly at a loss what to do. When thy neighbour hath put thee to shame, by putting thee in the wrong, gaining his cause, or getting the victory over thee in some way. Septuagint, "Fall not quickly into a contest, lest thou repent at the last." There is an English proverb, "Anger begins with folly and ends with repentance;" and "Haste is the beginning of wrath, its end is repentance."
Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another:
Verses 9, 10. - A tetrastich without parallelism, connected with the preceding maxim. Verse 9. - Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself (Matthew 18:15; see on ver. 8). If you have any quarrel with a neighbour, or are drawn into a controversy with him, deal with him privately in a friendly manner. And discover not a secret to another; rather, the secret of another. Do not bring in a third party, or make use of anything entrusted to you by another person, or of which you have become privately informed, in order to support your cause.
Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away.
Verse 10. - Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame; i.e. lest any one, not the offended neighbour only, who hears how treacherous you have been, makes your proceeding known and cries shame upon you. And thine infamy turn not away. The stigma attached to you be never obliterated. Thus Siracides: "Whoso discovereth secrets loseth his credit; and shall never find friend to his mind. Love thy friend, and be faithful unto him: but if thou bewrayest his secrets, follow no more after him. For as a man hath destroyed his enemy; so hast thou lost the love of thy neighbour" (Ecclus. 27:16, etc.; comp. also 22:22). The motive presented in our text is not the highest, being grounded on the fear of shame and disgrace in men's eyes; but it is a very potent incentive to right action, and the moralist has good reason for employing it. That it does not reach to the height of Christian morality is obvious. The gnome is thus given in the Greek: "When thy friend shall reproach thee, retreat backward, despise him not, lest thy friend reproach thee still; and so thy quarrel and enmity shall not pass away, but shall be to thee like death." Then the LXX. adds a paragraph, reproduced partly by St. Jerome, "Kindness and friendship set a man free (ἐλευθεροῖ); preserve thou these, that thou become not liable to reproach (ἐπονείδισοτς, exprobabilis); but guard thy ways in a conciliating spirit (εὐσυναλλάκτως)."
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
Verse 11. - One of the emblematical distiches in which this collection is rich. A word fitly spoken. עַל־אָפְנָיו may be translated "in due season," or "upon its wheels" (Venetian, ἐπὶ τῶν τροχῶν αὐτῆς). In the latter case the phrase may mean a word quickly formed, or moving easily, spoken ore rotundo, or a speedy answer. But the metaphor is unusual and inappropriate; and it is best to understand a word spoken under due consideration of time and place. Vulgate, Qui loquitur verbum in tempore suo; Aquila and Theodotion, ἐπὶ ἁρμόζουσιν αὐτῷ, "in circumstances that suit it;" the Septuagint has simply οὕτως. Is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. In these emblematical distichs the words, "is like," in the Authorized Version, are an insertion. The Hebrew places the two ideas merely in sequence; the object with which some, thing is compared usually coming before, that which is compared with it, as here, "Apples of gold - a word fitly spoken" (so in vers. 14, 18, 19, 26, 28). There is a doubt about the meaning of the word rendered "pictures," maskith (see on Proverbs 18:11). It seems to be used generally in the sense of "image," "sculpture," being derived from the verb שָׁכָה, "to see;" from this it comes to signify "ornament," and here most appropriately is "basket," and, as some understand, of filagree work. St. Jerome mistakes the word, rendering, in lectis argenteis. The Septuagint has, ἐν ὁρμίσκῳ σαρδίου, "on a necklace of sardius." "Apples of gold" are apples or other fruits of a golden colour, not made of gold, which would be very costly and heavy; nor would the comparison with artificial fruits be as suitable as that with natural. The "word" is the fruit set off by its circumstances, as the latter's beauty is enhanced by the grace of the vessel which contains it. The "apple" has been supposed to be the orange (called in late Latin pomum aurantium) or the citron. We may cite here the opinion of a competent traveller: "For my own part," says Canon Tristram ('Land of Israel,' p. 605), "I have no hesitation in expressing my conviction that the apricot alone is the 'apple' of Scripture Everywhere the apricot is common; perhaps it is, with the single exception of the fig, the most abundant fruit of the country. In highlands and lowlands alike, by the shores of the Mediterranean and on the banks of the Jordan, in the nooks of Judea, under the heights of Lebanon, in the recesses of Galilee, and in the glades of Gilead, the apricot flourishes, and yields a crop of prodiscus abundance. Its characteristics meet every condition of the 'tappuach' of Scripture. 'I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste' (Song of Solomon 2:3). Near Damascus, and on the banks of the Barada, we have pitched our tents under its shade, and spread our carpets secure from the rays of the sun. 'The smell of thy nose (shall be) like tappuach' (Song of Solomon 7:8). There can scarcely be a more deliciously perfumed fruit than the apricot; and what fruit can better fit the epithet of Solomon, 'apples of gold in pictures of silver,' than this golden fruit, as its branches bend under the weight in their setting of bright yet pale foliage?" Imagery similar to that found in this verse occurs in Proverbs 10:31; Proverbs 12:14; Proverbs 13:2; Proverbs 18:20. There is a famous article on the analogies between flowers and men's characters in the Spectator, No. 455.
As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.
Verse 12. - Another distich concerning the seasonable word, of the same character as the last. As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold. In this, as in many of the proverbs, the comparison is not expressed, but is merely implied by juxtaposition. Nezem, in Proverbs 11:22, was a nose ring, here probably an earring is meant; chali, "ornament," is a trinket or jewel worn suspended on neck or breast. The two, whether worn by one person or more, form a lovely combination, and set off the wearer's grace and beauty. Vulgate, Inauris aurea et margaritum fulgens, "A golden earring and a brilliant pearl." Septuagint, "A golden earring a precious sardius also is set." So is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear. The obedient ear receives the precepts of the wise reprover, and wears them as a valued ornament. In Proverbs 1:9 the instruction of parents is compared to a chaplet on the head and a fair chain on the neck. Septuagint, "A wise word on an obedient ear."
As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters.
Verse 13. - A comparative tristich concerning words. As the cold of snow in the time of harvest. This, of course, does not mean a snowstorm or hailstorm in the time of harvest, which would be anything but a blessing (Proverbs 26:1; 1 Samuel 12:17, 18), but either the distant view of the snow on Hermon or Lebanon, which gave an idea of refreshment in the heat of autumn, or more probably snow used to cool drink in warm weather. This luxury was not unknown in the time of Solomon, who had a summer palace on Lebanon (1 Kings 9:19), though it could have been enjoyed by very few, and would not speak to the personal experience of the burgher class, to whom the proverbs seem to have been addressed. Xenophon writes of the use of snow to cool wine ('Memorab.,' 2:1. 30). Hitzig quotes a passage from the old history of the Crusades, called 'Gesta Dei per Francos,' which runs thus: "Nix frigidissima a monte Libano defertur, ut vino commixta, tanquam glaciem ipsum frigidum reddat." So in the present day snow is sold in Damascus bazaars. The LXX., not realizing what harm such an untimely storm might effect, translates, "As a fall (ἔξοδος) of snow in harvest is of use against heat, so a faithful messenger benefits those who sent him." So is a faithful messenger to them that send him. (For "faithful messenger," see on Proverbs 13:17; and for "them that send," see on Proverbs 22:21.) The comparison is explained. For he refresheth the soul of his masters. He brings as great refreshment to his masters' mind as would a drink of snow-cooled water in the burning harvest field.
Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain.
Verse 14. - The Hebrew is, Clouds and wind without rain - he that boasteth himself in a gift of falsehood (see on Ver. 11). The proverb is concerned with promises disappointed. Clouds and wind are generally in the East the precursors of heavy rain, as we read in 1 Kings 18:45, "In a little while the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain." After such phenomena, which, according to current meteorological observation, gave every hope of a refreshing shower in the time of summer drought, to see the clouds pass away without affording a single drop of rain is a grievous disappointment. The metaphor is found in the New Testament. St. Jude (Ver. 12) calls false teachers "clouds without water, carried along by winds." "A gift of falsehood," equivalent to "a false gift," one that deceives, because it is only promised and never given. A man makes a great parade of going to bestow a handsome present, and then sneaks out of it, and gives nothing. Such a one is, as St. Jerome renders, Vir gloriosus, et promissa non complens. The old commentators quote Ovid, 'Heroid.,' 6:509 -
"Mobilis AEsonide, vernaque incertior aura,
Cur tua pollicito pondere verba carent?" Deeds are fruits, says the proverb, "words are but leaves;" and "Vainglory blossoms, but never bears fruit." Concerning the folly of making stupid boasts, the Bengalee proverb speaks of a pedlar in ginger getting tidings of his ship. The Septuagint is incorrect, "As winds, and clouds, and rains are most evident (ἐπιφανέστατα), so is he who boasts of a false gift."
By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.
Verse 15. - By long forbearing; i.e. by patience, calmness that does not break out into passion whatever be the provocation, even, it is implied, in the face of a false and malicious accusation (comp. Proverbs 14:29). Is a prince persuaded. Katson is rather "an arbiter," or judge, than "a prince," and the proverb says that such an officer is led to take a favourable view of an accused person's case when he sees him calm and composed, ready to explain the matter without any undue heat or irritation, keeping steadily to the point, and not seduced by calumny or misrepresentation to forget himself and lose his temper. Such a bearing presupposes innocence and weighs favourably with the judge. The LXX. makes the gnome apply to monarchs alone, "In long suffering is prosperity unto kings." A soft tongue breaketh the bone. A soft answer (Proverbs 15:1), gentle, conciliating words, overcome opposition, and disarm the most determined enemy, and make tender in him that which was hardest and most uncompromising. "Gutta cavat lapidem, non vi, sed saepe cadendo." Similar proverbs are found elsewhere, though probably in a different sense. Thus in modern Greek, "The tongue has no bones, yet it breaks bones;" in Turkish, "The tongue has no bone, yet it crushes;" again, "One drop of honey," says the Turk, "catches more bees than a ton of vinegar."
Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.
Verse 16. - Hast thou found honey? Honey would be found in crevices of rocks, in hollow trees (1 Samuel 14:27), or in more unlikely situations (Judges 14:8), and was extensively used as an article of food. All travellers in Palestine note the great abundance of bees therein, and how well it answers to its description as "a land flowing with milk and honey." Eat so much as is sufficient for thee. The agreeable sweetness of honey might lead the finder to eat too much of it. Against such excess the moralist warns: Lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it. Thus wrote Pindar, 'Nem.,' 7:51 -
Ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἀνάπαυσις ἐν παντὶ γλυκεῖα ἔργῳκόρον δ ἔχει
Καὶ μέλι καὶ τὰ τέρπν ἄνθε Ἀφροδισια. Μηδὲν ἄγαν, Ne quid nimis, is a maxim continually urged by those who wished to teach moderation. Says Homer, 'Iliad,' 13:636 -
"Men are with all things sated - sleep, and love,
Sweet sounds of music, and the joyous dance."
(Lord Derby.) Says Horace, 'Sat.,' 1:1, 106 -
"Est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines,
Quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum?" The honey is a figure of all that pleases the senses; but the maxim is to be extended beyond physical matters, though referring primarily to such pleasures. The mind may be overloaded as well as the body: only such instruction as can be digested and assimilated is serviceable to the spiritual nature; injudicious cramming produces satiety and disgust. Again, "To 'find honey,'" says St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 16:8), "is to taste the sweetness of holy intelligence, which is eaten enough of then when our perception, according to the measure of our faculty, is held tight under control. For he is 'filled with honey, and vomits it' who, in seeking to dive deeper than he has capacity for, loses that too from whence he might have derived nourishment." And in another place (ibid., 20:18), "The sweetness of spiritual meaning he who seeks to eat beyond what he contains, even what he had eaten he 'vomiteth;' because, whilst he seeks to make out things above, beyond his powers, even the things that he had made out aright, he forfeits" (Oxford transl.).
Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee.
Verse 17. - Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house; literally, make thy foot precious, rare; Septuagint, "Bring thy foot sparingly (σπάνιον) into thy friend's house," The proverb seems to be loosely connected with the preceding, as urging moderation. Do not pay too frequent visits to your neighbors' house, or make yourself too much at home there. The Son of Sirach has an utterance on a somewhat similar subject, "Give place, thou stranger, to an honourable man; my brother cometh to be lodged, and I have need of mine house. Those things are grievous to a man of understanding; the upbraiding of house room, and reproaching of the lender" (Ecclus. 29:27, etc.). Lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee. Such a result might easily arise from too constant intercourse. Cornelius a Lapide quotes from Seneca ('De Benefic,' 1:15), "Rarum esse oportet quod diu carum velis," "That should be rare which you would enduringly bear." And Martial's cynical advice -
"Nulli te facias nimis sodalem;
Gaudebis minus, et minus dolebis." The same poet ('Epigr.,' 4:29, 3) writes -
"Rara juvant; primis sic major gratia pomis,
Hibernae pretium sic meruere rosae."
A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.
Verse 18. - Hebrew, A maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow - a man that beareth false witness against his neighbour (see on Ver. 11). One who bears false witness against his neighbour prepares for him the instruments of death, such as those mentioned here. "A maul" (mephits), usually a heavy wooden hammer (compare malleus and "mallet"); here a club, or mace, used in battle, ῤόπαλον (Septuagint; comp. Jeremiah 51:20). There is a kind of climax in the three offensive weapons named - the club bruises, the sword inflicts wounds, the arrow pierces to the heart; and the three may represent the various baneful effects of false testimony, how it bruises reputation, spoils possessions, deprives of life. The second clause is from the Decalogue (Exodus 20:16).
Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.
Verse 19. - Hebrew (see on Ver. 11), A broken tooth, and a foot out of joint - confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble. A faithless man is as little to be relied on in a time of need as a loose or broken tooth, and a foot unsteady or actually dislocated. You cannot bite on the one, you cannot walk on the other; so the perfidious man fails you when most wanted. Septuagint, "The way [ὁδὸς, Vatican, is probably a clerical error for ὀδοὺς, al.] of the wicked, and the foot of the transgressor, shall perish in an evil day." A Bengal maxim runs, "A loose tooth and a feeble friend are equally bad" (Lane).
As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.
Verse 20. - As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather. The proverb gives three instances of what is wrong, incongruous, or unwise, the first two leading up to the third, which is the pith of the maxim. But them is some doubt about the rendering of the first clause. The Authorized Version has the authority of the Syriac, Aquila, and others, and gives an appropriate sense, the unreasonable proceeding being the laying aside of some of one's own clothes in cold weather. But the verb here used, עָדָח (adah), may also mean "to adorn," e.g., with fine garments; hence some expositors understand the incongruity to be the dressing one's self in gay apparel in winter. But, as Delitzsch remarks, there is no reason why fine clothes should not be warm; and if they are so, there is nothing unreasonable in wearing them. The rendering of our version is probably correct. St. Jerome annexes this line to the preceding verse, as if it confirmed the previous instances of misplaced confidence, Et amittit pallium in die frigoris. "Such a one loses his cloak in a day of frost." Vinegar upon nitre. Our nitre, or saltpetre, is nitrate of potash, which is not the substance intended by נֶתֶר (nether). The substance signified by this term is a natural alkali, known to the ancients as natron, and composed of carbonate of soda with some other admixture. It was used extensively for washing purposes, and in cookery and bread making. It effervesces with an acid, such as vinegar, and changes its character, becoming a salt, and being rendered useless for all the purposes to which it was applied in its alkaline condition. So he who pours vinegar on natron does a foolish thing, for he spoils a highly useful article, and produces one which is of no service to him. Septuagint, "As vinegar is inexpedient for a wound (ἕλκει), so suffering falling on the body pains the heart." Schulteus, Ewald, and others, by referring nether to an Arabic source, obtain the meaning "wound," or "sore," titus: "As vinegar on a sore." This gives a most appropriate sense, and might well be adopted if it had sufficient authority. But this is doubtful. Cornelius a Lapide translates the Septuagint rendering, Ὥσπερ ὅξος ἑλκει ἀούμφορον, "Sicut acetum trahit inutile;" and explains that vinegar draws from the soil the nitre which is prejudicial to vegetation, and thus renders ground fertile - a fact in agricultural chemistry not generally known, though Columella vouches for it. A somewhat similar fact, however, is of common experience. Land occasionally becomes what farmers term "sour," and is thus sterile; if it is then dressed with salt. its fertillity is restored. So is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart. The inconsistency lies in thinking to cheer a sorrowful heart by singing merry songs. "A tale out of season," says Siracides, "is as music in mourning" (Ecclus. 22:6). The Greeks denoted cruel incongruity by the proverb, Ἐν, πενθοῦσι παίζειν; "Ludere inter maerentes." As the old hymn says -
"Strains of gladness
Suit not souls with anguish torn." The true Christian sympathy teaches to "rejoice with them that rejoice, to weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15). Plumptre, in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' suggests that the effervescence caused by the mixture of acid and alkali is taken as a type of the irritation produced by the inopportune songs. But this is importing a modern view into a paragraph, such as would never have occurred to the writer. The Septuagint, followed partially by Jerome, the Syriac, and the Targum, introduces another proverb not found in the Hebrew, "As a moth in a garment, and a worm in wood, so the sorrow of a man hurts his heart."
If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
Verses 21, 22. - This famous tetrastrich is reproduced (with the exception of the fourth line) from the Septuagint by St. Paul (Romans 12:20). Verse 21. - The traditional hatred of enemies is here strongly repudiated (see Proverbs 24:17, 18, and notes there). Thus Elisha treated the Syrians, introduced blindly into the midst of Samaria, ordering the King of Israel to set bread and water before them, and to send them away unharmed (2 Kings 6:22). "Punish your enemy by benefiting him," say the Arabs, though they are far from practising the injunction; "Sweet words break the bones;" "Bread and salt humble even a robber," say the Russians.
For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.
Verse 22. - For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. This expression has been taken in various senses. It has been thought to mean that the forgiveness of the injured person brings to the cheek of the offender the burning blush of shame. But heaping coals on the head cannot naturally be taken to express such an idea. St. Chrysostom and other Fathers consider that Divine vengeance is implied, as in Psalm 11:6, "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares; fire and brimstone and burning wind shall be their portion;" and Psalm 140:10, "Let burning coals fall upon them." Of course, in one view, kindness to an evil man only gives him occasion for fresh ingratitude and hatred, and therefore increases God's wrath against him. But it would be a wicked motive to act this beneficent part only to have the satisfaction of seeing your injurer humbled or punished. And the gnome implies that the sinner is benefited by the clemency shown to him, that the requital of evil by good brings the offender to a better mind, and aids his spiritual life. "Coals of fire" are a metaphor for the penetrating pain of remorse and repentance. The unmerited kindness which he receives forces upon him the consciousness of his ill doing, which is accompanied by the sharp rain of regret. St. Augustine, "Ne dubitaveris figurate dictum...ut intelligas carbones ignis esse urentes poenitentiae gemitus, quibus superbia sanatur ejus, qui dolit se inimicum fuisse hominis, a quo ejus miseriae subvenitur" ('De Doctr. Christ.,' 3:16). Lesetre quotes St. Francis de Sales, who gives again a different view, "You are not obliged to seek reconciliation with one who has offended you; it may be rather his part to seek you; yet nevertheless go and follow the Saviour's counsel, prevent him with good, render him good for evil: heap coals of fire on his head and on his heart, which may burn up all ill will and constrain him to love you" ('De l'Am. de Dieu,' 8:9). And the Lord shall reward thee. This consideration can scarcely be regarded as the chief motive for the liberality enjoined, though it would be present to the kind person's mind, and be a support and comfort to him in a course of conduct repugnant to the natural man. He would remember the glorious reward promised to godliness by the prophet (Isaiah 58:8, etc.), and how Saul had expressed his consciousness of David's magnanimity in sparing his life. "Thou art more righteous than I; for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil... wherefore the Lord reward thee good for that thou hast done unto me this day" (1 Samuel 24:17, 19 and 1 Sam 26:21).
The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.
Verse 23. - The north wind driveth away rain. So St. Jerome (Ventus Aquilo dissipat pluvias), Symmachus, Aben Ezra, and others. The north wind is called by the natives of Palestine "the heavenly," from the bright effect which it produces in the sky. "By means of the north wind cometh he (the sun) forth as gold" (Job 37:22). But the verb here used (חול) means "to bring forth, produce" (Psalm 90:2); hence the Revised Version rightly renders, "The north wind bringeth forth rain." This is quite true if "north wind" be taken as equivalent to "wind from the dark quarter" (Umbreit), like ζόφος in Greek; and, in fact, the northwest wind in Palestine does bring rain. Septuagint, "The north wind arouseth (ἐξεγείρει) clouds." So doth an angry countenance a backbiting, tongue. Carrying on the interpretation intended by the Authorized Version, this clause means that an angry leer will check a slanderer and incline him to hold his peace from prudential motives. But with the rendering given above, "bringeth forth," another explanation is involved, viz. "So does a secret, slandering tongue cause a troubled countenance." When a man discovers that a secret slanderer is working against him, he shows it by his gloomy and angry look, as the sky is dark with clouds when a storm is threatened. "Countenance" is plural in the Hebrew, denoting, as Hitzig points out, that the calumniator does not affect one person only, but occasions trouble far and wide, destroys friendly relations between many, excites suspicion and enmity in various quarters Septuagint, "An impudent countenance provokes the tongue."
It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house.
Verse 24. - A repetition of Proverbs 21:9, taken therefore from the Solomonic collection.
As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.
Verse 25. - As cold waters to a thirsty soul. The particle of comparison is not in this first clause in the Hebrew. (For "cold waters," comp. Jeremiah 18:14.) So is good news from a far country. The nostalgia of an exile, and the craving for tidings of him felt by his friends at home, are like a parching thirst. The relief to the latter, when they receive good news of the wanderer, is as refreshing as a draught of cool water to a fainting, weary man. We do not know that the Hebrews were great travellers in those days; but any communication from a distant country would be very uncertain in arriving at its destination, and would at any rate take a long time in transmission, in most cases there would be nothing to rest upon but vague report, or a message carried by some travelling merchant. There is a somewhat similar proverb found at Ver. 13 and Proverbs 15:30. The ancient commentators have seen in this news from a distant country the announcement of Christ's birth by the angels at Bethlehem, or the preaching of the gospel that tells of the joys of heaven, the land that is very far off (Isaiah 33:17).
A righteous man falling down before the wicked is as a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring.
Verse 26. - Hebrew (see on Ver. 11), A troubled fountain, and a corrupted spring - a righteous man giving way to the wicked. A good man neglecting to assert himself and to hold his own m the face of sinners, is as useless to society and as harmful to the good cause as a spring that has been defiled by mud stirred up or extraneous matter introduced is unserviceable for drinking and prejudicial to those who use it. The mouth of the righteous should be "a well of life" (Proverbs 10:11), wholesome, refreshing, helpful; his conduct should be consistent and straightforward, fearless in upholding the right (Isaiah 51:12, etc.), uncompromising in opposing sin. When such a man, for fear, or favour, or weakness, or weariness, yields to the wicked, compromises principle, no longer makes a stand for truth and purity and virtue, he loses his high character, brings a scandal on religion, and lowers his own spiritual nature. It is this moral cowardice which Christ so sternly rebukes (Matthew 10:33), "Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." Some have assumed that the gnome is concerned with a good man's fall into misfortune owing to the machinations of sinners; but in this case the comparison loses its force; such persecution would not disturb the purity or lower the character of the righteous man; it would rather enhance his good qualities, give occasion for their exercise and development, and therefore could not be described as fouling a pure spring.
It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory.
Verse 27. - It is not good to eat much honey. The ill effects of a surfeit of honey have been already mentioned (Ver. 16); but here the application is different, and occasions some difficulty. The Authorized Version, in order to clear up the obscurity of the text, inserts a negative, So for men to search their own glory is not glory, which seems to be a warning against conceit and self-adulation. This is hardly warranted by the present Hebrew text, which is literally, as Venetian renders, Ἔρευνά τε δόξας αὐτῶν δόξα, "The search of their glory [is] glory." But who are meant by "their"? No persons are mentioned in the verse to whom the suffix in כְּבורָם can be referred, and it is not improbable that some words have dropped out of the text. At the same time, we might naturally in thought supply "for men" after "it is not good," such omissions being not uncommon in proverbial sayings; the suffix then would refer to them. Commentators have endeavoured to amend the text by alterations which do not commend themselves. Schultens supposes that the suffix had reference to the Divine law and revelations, and, as כבד may mean both "glory" and "weight," translates, "Vestigatio gravitatis eorum, gravitas." Bertheau takes kabod in two different senses, "The searching out of their glory is a burden." So Delitzsch, by little manipulation of the pointing (כְּבֵרִם) obtains the rendering, "But to search out hard things is an honour." Taken thus, the maxim says that bodily pleasures sicken and cloy, but diligent study brings honour. This, however, is not satisfactory; it gives a word two different senses in the same clause, and it affords a very feeble contrast. One would naturally expect the proverb to say that the excess, which was deprecated in the first hemistich as regards one department, must be equally rejected in another sphere. This is somewhat the idea given by Jerome, Sic qui scrutator est majestatis opprimetur a gloria. The truth here stated will be explained by translating our text, "The investigation of weighty matters is a weight." Thus the clauses are shown to be well poised. Honey is good, study is good; but both may be used so as to be prejudicial. Eating may be carried to excess; study may attempt to investigate things too hard or too high. That this is a real danger we know well from the controversies about predestination and elation in time past, and those concerning spiritualism and theurgy in our own day (see Jeremy Taylor, 'Certainty of Salvation,' 3:176, edit. Hebrews; and 'Holy Living,' ch. 3, § 5). This is the view taken of the passage by St. Gregory ('Moral,' 14:32), 'If the sweetness of honey be taken in greater measure than there is occasion for, from the same source whence the palate is gratified, the life of the eater is destroyed.' The "searching into majesty" is also sweet; but he that seeks to dive into it deeper than the cognizance of human nature admits, finds the mere gloriousness thereof by itself oppresses him, in that, like honey taken in excess, it bursts the sense of the searcher which is not capable of holding it." And again (ibid., 20:18), "For the glory of the invisible Creator, which when searched into with moderation lifts us up, being dived into beyond our powers bears us down" (Oxford transl.). (Comp. Deuteronomy 29:29; Ecclus. 3:21, etc.) Septuagint, "To eat much honey is not good, but it behoves us to honor glorious sayings."
He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.
Verse 28 - A proverb like the last, concerned with self-control. In the Hebrew it runs thus (see on Ver. 11): A city that is broken down without wall - a man on whose spirit is no restraint. "A city broken down" is explained by the next words. "without wall," and therefore undefended and open to' the first invader (comp. 2 Chronicles 32:5; Nehemiah 2:13). To such a city is compared the man who puts no restraint on his passions, desires, and affections; he is always in danger of being carried away by them and involved in sin and destruction; he has no defence when temptation assaults him, having lost self-control (comp. Proverbs 16:32). The old gnomes hold always true -
Θυμοῦ κρατῆσαι κἀπιθυμίας καλόν.
Desire and passion it is good to rule."
Ταμιεῖον ἀρετῆς ἐστι σωφροσύνη μόνη
"Virtue's true storehouse is wise self-control." A Chinese maxim says. "Who can govern himself is fit to govern the world." Septuagint, "As a city whose wails are broken down and which is unwalled, so is a man who does aught without counsel." St. Jerome, by the addition of the words, in loquendo, applies the proverb to intemperance in language, "So is he who is not able to restrain his spirit in speaking." Commenting on this, St. Gregory ('Moral,' 7:59) says, "Because it is without the wall of silence, the city of the mind lies open to the darts of the enemy, and when it casts itself forth in words, it exhibits itself exposed to the adversary, and he gets the mastery of it without trouble, in proportion as the soul that he has to overcome combats against its own self by much talking" (Oxford transl.).
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