Proverbs 4:16
For they cannot sleep unless they do evil, they are deprived of slumber until they make someone fall,
The Proselytism of ErrorH. Melvill, B.D.Proverbs 4:16
The Prudence of PietyW. Clarkson Proverbs 4:14-17, 19
The Two PathsE. Johnson Proverbs 4:14-19

I. LIFE UNDER THE IMAGE OF A PATH. It is a leading biblical image. There is much suggestion in it.

1. Life, like a path, has a starting point, a direction, and an end.

2. We have a choice of paths before us. The high road may image holy tradition and custom, the bypaths the choice of caprice or personal aberration.

3. It is only safe to follow beaten tracks. What we call "striking out an original course" may be conceited folly. "Gangin' our ain gait" is a dubious expression.

4. The selection of the path must be determined by whither we desire to arrive.

5. We are ever drawing near to some end. It alone can disclose the prudence or the folly of our choice.

II. THE PATH OF THE WICKED. (Vers. 14-17, 19.)

1. Religion passionately warns against it. The language of iteration is the very language of urgency and passion. What a force there is in the mere repetition of the cry, "Fire! fire! fire!" or in the warning of the mother to the little one against some dangerous object, "Don't go near it; keep away; go further off!" Just so does Divine Wisdom deal with us children of a larger growth. Again and again she clamours, "Enter not; go not; shun it; pass not over; turn away; pass by!" (vers. 14, 15). This throbbing earnestness, this emotion of the Bible, gives it its hold on man; and should be shared by every teacher.

2. Religion describes it in powerful invective (vers. 16, 17).

(1) The sleepless malice of the wicked. A common figure for the intense activity of the mind. As David had a sleepless ambition to build a temple for Jehovah; as the trophies of Marathon suffered not the glory-loving Themistocles to sleep; as care, or glowing study, or eager planning, breaks our nightly rest; - so the evil have no repose from their dark cupidities and pernicious schemes.

(2) They are nourished by evil (ver. 17). To "eat bread and drink wine" is a Hebrew metaphor for living (Amos 2:8; Amos 7:12). In a similar way, the "bread of misery" and the "wine of punishment" are spoken of (Deuteronomy 16:3; Psalm 127:2; Amos 2:8). They live upon villainy, as we might say. It is the root of their being. It is horrible, but true, that a man may, as it were, draw life and energy out of a perverted consciousness, as the drunkard cannot live without the alcohol which is killing him.

III. THE PATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS. (Ver. 18.) There is a change of figure; for the image of the path, the image of the advancing light of morning is substituted.

1. Light as an image of moral goodness. It is universal, Suggests itself to and strikes the fancy of all It associates with it the images of beauty, of joy, of expansion, of futurity, of infinity.

2. The growth of light from dawn to noon as an image of moral progress. This is true of knowledge and of practice. The good man travels out of dimmer perceptions and out of doubts, into clear convictions of reason. At first he realizes little; his will is weak and untrained. But keeping his eyes upon the ideal of the good, true, and beautiful, he embodies more and more of it in conduct. As the sun rests not (to speak and think in the dialect of poetry) till it "stands" (see the Hebrew) in high noon, so the righteous is ever advancing towards the goal of a life in perfect unity with God.

3. The safety of the light is an image of the course of the righteous. Translated into distinctively Christian thought, this is following Christ (John 11:9, 10).

4. The image serves to throw into contrast the course of the wicked. "Thick darkness" represents their mind and way. It is ignorant, full of peril, yet they are unconscious of it. Instead of growth and progress, their doom is sudden extinction (comp. Proverbs 1:27, sqq.; Proverbs 2:18, 22; 3:35). - J.

Their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall.
It is of the wicked that Solomon here speaks. What a restlessness does this indicate! What a zeal in a bad cause! The subject suggested by the text is the restless activity of evil men in the propagation of evil. A man is accountable for his creed as well as for his practice — accountable inasmuch as it must be through his own fault that he believes what is false just as much as it is through his own fault that he does what is wrong. This takes all force from the objection that they who sleep not except they bring over others to what themselves hold to be true are performing a duty rather than committing a sin. It would seem as though error were far more energetic than truth. Why should falsehood be thus zealous in diffusing itself? Allowing that it sets an example, allowing that it addresses a rebuke to truth, how are we to account for its being so surprisingly energetic and devoted? The holder of falsehood may make religion a matter of party. Error is that which the warmest adherent may support from pride, or jealousy, or ambition, but truth is that which can enlist these passions in none but the hypocrite. Error can work on all the corruptions of our nature, whereas truth has to hold these corruptions in check. That falsehood should have a missionary spirit follows on the fact of its being falsehood, and therefore forced to lean upon others for support.

(H. Melvill, B.D.)

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