I. THE PICTURE OF INSECT INDUSTRY. The ant was viewed as the very picture of laboriousness in ancient as in modern times. It is interesting that the German word for "industrious" (emsig) seems derivable from amessi, "emmet, ant." The like may probably be traceable in some English dialects,
1. The industry of the ant has all the appearance of a virtue. For it seems unforced; there is no judge, superintendent, or onlooker, or taskmaster, to superintend its work. Contrast with the representations on various monuments of the taskmasters with whips superintending gangs of labourers.
2. It is provident industry. It lays up against the rainy day. The closer study of ant life by modern observers opens a world of marvel, and suggests other lines of thought. It is sufficient for didactic purposes to note the general principle; the external appearances of nature reveal moral analogies.
II. THE CONTRAST OF HUMAN SLOTH. (Vers. 9-11.)
1. The lazy man seems as if he would sleep forever (ver. 9).
2. He knows not when he has reposed enough (ver. 10). An ironical imitation of his langour, his lazy attitude. The arms ever crossed, instead of being opened and ready for toil. "When I begin to turn about," said the Duke of Wellington, "I turn out."
3. The result of sloth (ver. 11). Poverty surprises him like a robber, and want like an armed man. A striking picture of the seeming suddenness with which men may sink into destitution. But it is only seeming; it has been long really preparing.
III. MORAL ANALOGY AND APPLICATION. Sloth in all its forms is ruinous to body and soul. Mental inertness and vacuity is a common form, The mind must be aroused, interested, filled. Here is one of the great sources of drunkenness, because of depression. If you have no occupation, invent one. Goad your temper by hopes and fears, if it will not wake up without them. In religion "be not slothful." Work at the practical or theoretical side of it, whichever suits your capacity best. Work out your own salvation. Take it all for granted, and you will presently find that all has slipped away, and naught remains but an impoverished intellect, a stagnant will. - J.
If thou be surety for thy friend.
I. SURETYSHIP AS AN EVIL TO BE DEPLORED. "If thou be surety"; as if he had said, "It is a sad thing if thou hast." It is not, however, always an evil. There are two things necessary to render it justifiable.
1. The case should be deserving.
2. You should be fully competent to discharge the obligation. But the most deserving men will seldom ask for suretyships, and the most competent men will seldom undertake the responsibility.
II. SURETYSHIP AS AN EVIL VERY EASILY CONTRACTED. Merely "striking the hand," and uttering the "words." One word, the word "Yes," will do it, written or uttered in the presence of a witness. Plausibility will soon extract it from a pliant and generous nature.
III. SURETYSHIP AS AN EVIL TO BE STRENUOUSLY REMOVED. "Deliver thyself."
1. Do it promptly. Try by every honest means to get the bond back again.
2. Do it beseechingly. "Humble thyself." It is no use to carry a high hand; thou art in his power.
3. Do it effectively. Thou art encaged in iron law; break loose honourably somehow, and be free.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
If thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger
I. IT IS WRONG FOR A MAN TO COME UNDER ENGAGEMENTS THAT ARE BEYOND HIS ACTUALLY EXISTING MEANS. Such a course is not merely imprudent; there is in it a threefold injustice.
1. To the creditor for whom he becomes surety, inasmuch as the security is fallacious, not covering the extent of the risk.
2. To his family, to whom the payment may bring distress and ruin.
3. To those who give him credit in his own transactions; for, in undertaking suretyships, he involves himself in the risks of other trades besides his own.
II. IT IS WRONG TO MAKE ENGAGEMENTS WITH INCONSIDERATION AND RASHNESS. The case here treated is that of suretyship for a friend to a stranger; and the rashness and haste may be viewed in relation either to the person or to the ease. Men, when they feel the generous impulse of friendly emotion, are apt to think at the moment only of themselves, as if the risk were all their own, and to forget that they are making creditors and family securities, without asking their consent, or making them aware of their risks. Suretyships for strangers are specially condemned.
I. THE SCRIPTURE AFFORDS DIRECTION FOR TRADING AND CIVIL CONVERSE.
1. For wariness in suretyship here.
2. For faithfulness in dealing elsewhere. But why does the wise man concern himself with such matters.Because —
1. Religion guides best in civil matters.
2. The eighth commandment requires care of our estates.
3. The Church consists of families and traders which cannot be upheld without care.
4. Religion is ill spoken of for the careless ruin of professors' estates. Then follow Scripture precedents in trading rather than corrupt men's examples.
II. YOUNG MEN SHOULD BE ADVISED BY THEIR ELDERS IN WORLDLY AFFAIRS. They have more knowledge and more experience than younger men.
III. RASH SURETYSHIP IS TO BE AVOIDED. "Go to the pleading-place (forum), and among frequent contenders nothing is more frequently heard, than the dangers of suretyship, and the sighings of the surety."
1. Be not bound for more than thou canst spare from thy trade and charge.
2. Be not bound for idle persons, that are likely to leave thee in the lurch, and can show no likelihood of ever paying. There be honest poor men enough that will need thy help in this kind. Thou needest not to bestow thy means on prodigals.
(Francis Taylor, B.D.)
Ellicott's Commentary.When the Mosaic law was instituted, commerce had not been taken up by the Israelites, and the lending of money on interest for its employment in trade was a thing unknown. The only occasion for loans would be to supply the immediate necessities of the borrower, and the exaction of interest under such circumstances would be productive of great hardship, involving the loss of land, and even of personal freedom, as the insolvent debtor and his family became the slaves of the creditor (Nehemiah 5:1-5). To prevent these evils, the lending of money on interest to any poor Israelite was strictly forbidden (Leviticus 25.); the people were enjoined to be liberal, and to lend for nothing in such cases. But at the time of Solomon, when the commerce of the Israelites was enormously developed, and communications were opened with Spain and Egypt, and possibly with India and Ceylon, while caravans penetrated beyond the Euphrates, then the lending of money on interest for employment in trade most probably became frequent, and suretyship also — the pledging of a man's own credit to enable his friend to procure a loan.
I. THE SURETY. The young man, finding his neighbour in monetary difficulties, consents in an easy-going way to become his surety; enters into a solemn pledge with the creditor, probably a Phoenician money-lender. He now stands committed. His peace of mind and his welfare depend no longer upon himself, but upon the character, the weakness, the caprice, of another. A young man who has so entangled himself is advised to spare no pains, and to let no false pride prevent his securing release from his obligation. There may, however, be cases in which a true brotherliness will require us to be surety for our friend. Ecclesiasticus says: "An honest man is surety for his neighbour, but he that is impudent will forsake him." If we can afford to be a surety for our neighbour, we can clearly afford to lend him the money ourselves. A miserable chain thoughtlessness in the matter of suretyship may forge for the thoughtless.
II. THE SLUGGARD. Poverty and ruin must eventually overtake him. In every community there is a certain number of people who are constitutionally incapable. Examples of insect life are brought to teach and stimulate human beings.
III. THE WORTHLESS CHARACTER. His heart is as deceitful as his lips: he cannot be true on any terms. This kind of man is the pest of commerce; the bane of every social circle; the leaven of hypocrisy and malice in the Christian Church.
(R. F. Horton, D.D.)
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