The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.
Verses 1-7. - These are specially religions maxims, and they all contain the name Jehovah. Verse 1. - The Authorized Version makes one sentence of this verse without any contrast or antithesis. This is plainly wrong, there being intended a contrast between the thought of the heart and the well ordered speech. It is better translated, The plans of the heart are man's: but the answer of the tongue is from Jehovah. Men make plans, arrange speeches, muster arguments, in the mind; but to put these into proper, persuasive words is a gift of God. "Our sufficiency is of God" (2 Corinthians 3:5). In the case of Balaam, God overruled the wishes and intentions of the prophet, and constrained him to give utterance to something very different from his original mental conceptions. But the present sentence attributes the outward expression of what the mind has conceived in every case unto the help of God (comp. vers. 9, 33; Proverbs 15:23). Christ enjoined his disciples to trust to momentary inspiration in their apologies or defences before unbelievers (Matthew 10:19). This verse is omitted in the Septuagint.
All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.
Verse 2. - All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes (Proverbs 21:2). He may deceive himself, and be blind to his own faults, or be following an ill-informed and ill-regulated conscience (Proverbs 12:15; Proverbs 14:12), yet this is no excuse in God's eyes. The Lord weigheth the spirits. Not the "ways," the outward life and actions only, but motives, intentions, dispositions (Hebrews 4:12). He too knows our secret faults, unsuspected by others, and perhaps by ourselves (Psalm 19:12). The Septuagint has here, "All the works of the humble are manifest before God, but the impious shall perish in an evil day." The next verse is omitted in the Greek; and the other clauses up to ver. 8 are dislocated.
Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.
Verse 3. - Commit thy works unto the Lord. "Commit" (gol) is literally "roll" (κύλισον, Theodotion), as in Psalm 22:8 and Psalm 37:5; and the injunction means, "Transfer thy burden to the Lord, cast upon him all that thou hast to do; do all as in his sight, and as an act of duty to him." Thus Tobit says to his son, "Bless the Lord thy God alway, and desire of him that thy ways may be directed, and that all thy paths and counsels may prosper" (Tobit 4:19). The Vulgate, using a different punctuation (gal), renders, "Reveal to the Lord thy works?' As a child opens its heart to a tender parent, so do thou show to God thy desires and intentions, trusting to his care and providence. And thy thoughts shall be established. The plans and deliberations out of which the "works" sprang shall meet with a happy fulfilment, because they are undertaken according to the will of God, and directed to the end by his guidance (comp. Proverbs 19:21; Psalm 90:17; 1 Corinthians 3:9). This verse is not in the Septuagint.
The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.
Verse 4. - The Lord hath made all things for himself. So the Vulgate, propter semetipsum; and Origen ('Praef. in Job'), δἰ ἑαυτόν. That is, God hath made everything for his own purpose, to answer the design which he hath intended from all eternity (Revelation 4:11). But this translation is not in accordance with the present reading, לַמַּעַנֵהוּ, which means rather "for its own end," for its own proper use. Everything in God's design has its own end and object and reason for being where it is and such as it is; everything exhibits his goodness and wisdom, and tends to his glory. Septuagint, "All the works of the Lord are with righteousness." Yea, even the wicked for the day of evil. This clause has been perverted to support the terrible doctrine of reprobation - that God, whose will must be always efficacious, has willed the damnation of some; whereas we are taught that God's will is that "all men should be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth," and that "God sent his Son not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4; John 3:17; comp. Ezekiel 33:11). Man, having freewill, can reject this gracious purpose of God, and render the means of salvation nugatory; but this does not make God the cause of man's destruction, but man himself. In saying that God "made the wicked," the writer does not mean that God made him as such, but made him as he made all other things, giving him powers and capacities which he might have used to good, but which, as a fact, he uses to evil. It will be useful here to quote the wise words of St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 6:33), "The Just and Merciful One, as he disposes the deeds of mortals, vouchsafes some things in mercy, and permits other things in anger; and the things which he permits he so bears with that he turns them to the account of his purpose. And hence it is brought to pass in a marvellous way that even that which is done without t,e will of God is not contrary to the will of God. For while evil deeds are converted to a good use, the very things that oppose his design render service to his design." The day of evil is the hour of punishment (Isaiah 10:3; Job 21:30), which by a moral law will inevitably fall upon the sinner. God makes man's wickedness subserve his purposes and manifest his glory, as we see in the case of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:16), and the crucifixion of our blessed Lord (Acts 2:23; comp. Romans 9:22). It is a phase of God's moral government that an evil day should be appointed for transgressors, and it is from foreknowledge of their deserts that their punishment is prepared. The perplexing question, why God allows men to come into the world whom he knows will meet with perdition, is not handled here. Septuagint, "But the impious is kept for an evil day." Cato, 'Dist.,' 2:8 -
"Nolo putes pravos homines peccata lucrari:
Temporibus peccata latent, sed tempore patent."
Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.
Verse 5. - (For the first member, see Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 8:13.) Says the maxim -
Ἀλαζονείας οὔ τις ἐκφεύγει δίκην
"Pride hath its certain punishment." We read in the Talmud, "Of every proud man God says, He and I cannot live in the world together." A mediaeval jingle runs -
"Hoc retine verbum, frangit Deus omne superbum." Septuagint, "Impure in the sight of God is every high-hearted man (ὑψηλοκάρδιος)." The second member is found in Proverbs 11:21, and must be taken as a form of adjuration. Septuagint, "Putting hands on hand unjustly, he shall not be innocent;" i.e. one who acts violently and unjustly shall be held guilty - which seems a trite truism. Many commentators interpret the clause as if it meant that the cooperation and combination of sinners in evil practices will not save them from retribution. But hand clasping hand in token of completing a bargain or alliance is scarcely an early Oriental custom. There is an analogous saying in Greek which implies mutual assistance -
Ξεὶρ χεῖρα νίπτει δακτυλός τε δάκτυλον
"Hand washes hand, and finger finger." The LXX. has here two distiches, the first of which occurs in the Vulgate, but the second is not found there. Neither appears in our present Hebrew text. "The beginning of the good way is to do what is just; this is more acceptable to God than to sacrifice sacrifices. He who seeketh the Lord shall find knowledge with righteousness; and they who seek him rightly alkali find peace."
By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.
Verse 6. - By mercy and truth iniquity is purged; atoned for. The combination "mercy and truth" occurs in Proverbs 3:3 (where see note), and intimates love to God and man, and faithfulness in keeping promises and truth and justice in all dealings. It is by the exercise of those graces, not by mere external rites, that God is propitiated (see on Proverbs 10:2). A kind of expiatory value is assigned to these virtues, which, indeed, must not be pressed too closely, but should be examined by the light of such passages in the New Testament as Luke 11:41; Acts 10:4. Of course, such graces show themselves only in one who is really devout and God fearing; they are the fruits of a heart at peace with God and man, and react on the character and conduct. The LXX., which places this distich after ver. 27 of ch. 15, translates, "By alms and faithfulness (πίστεσιν) sins are cleansed," confining the term "mercy" to one special form, as in one reading of Matthew 6. l, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness [al. alms] before men." By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil. The practice of true religion, of course, involves abstinence from sin; and this seems so unnecessary a truth to be formally stated that some take the "evil" named to be physical, not moral evil; calamity, not transgression. But the two clauses are coordinate, and present two aspects of the same truth. The first intimates how sin is to be expiated, the second how it is to be avoided. The morally good man meets with pardon and acceptance, and he who fears God is delivered from evil. So we pray, in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses, and deliver us from evil." Septuagint, "By the fear of the Lord every one declineth from evil" (comp. Proverbs 14:27).
When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
Verse 7. - When a man's ways please the Lord, which they can do only when they are religious, just, and charitable. He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him; to submit themselves. Experience proves that nothing succeeds like success. Where a man is prosperous and things go well with him, even ill-wishers are content to east away or to dissemble their dislike, and to live at peace with him. Thus Abimelech King of Gerar fawned upon Isaac because he saw that the Lord was with him (Genesis 26:27, etc.). This is the worldly side of the maxim. It has a higher aspect, and intimates the far reaching influence of goodness - how it disarms opposition, arouses reverence and love, gives no occasion for disputes, and spreads around an atmosphere of peace. To the Jews the maxim was taught by external circumstances. While they were doing the will of the Lord, their land was to be preserved from hostile attack (Exodus 34:24; 2 Chronicles 17:10). And Christians learn that it is only when they obey and fear God that they can overcome the assaults of the enemies of their soul - the devil, the world, and the flesh Talmud, "He who is agreeable to God is equally agreeable to men."
Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right.
Verse 8. - Better is a little with righteousness (Proverbs 15:16; Psalm 37:16). "Righteousness" may mean here a holy life or just dealing; as without right, or, with injustice, in the second clause, may refer either generally wickedness, or specially to fraud and oppression (Jeremiah 22:13). Says Theognis -
Βούλεο δ εὐσεβέων ὀλίγοις σὺν χρήμασιν οἰκεῖν
Η πλουτεῖν ἀδίκως χρήματα πασάμενος.
"Wish thou with scanty means pious to live,
Rather than rich with large, ill-gotten wealth." Another maxim says to the same effect -
Λεπτῶς καλῶς ζῇν κρεῖσσον η} λαμπρῶς κακῶς. Septuagint, "Better is small getting (λῆψις) with righteousness, than great revenues with iniquity" (see on Proverbs 15:29).
A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.
Verse 9. - A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps (ver. 1). "Man proposes, God disposes" or, as the Germans say, "Der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt" (comp. Proverbs 20:24). The word rendered "deviseth" implies, by its spectra, intensity of thought and care. Man meditates and prepares his plans with the utmost solicitude, but it rests with God whether he shall carry them to completion or not, and whether, if they are to be accomplished, it be done with ease or with painful labour (comp. Genesis 24:12, etc.). We all remember Shakespeare's words in 'Hamlet' -
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will." Septuagint, "Let the heart of man consider what is just, that his steps may be by God directed might" (comp. Jeremiah 10:23).
A divine sentence is in the lips of the king: his mouth transgresseth not in judgment.
Verse 10. - A Divine sentence is in the lips of the king. קֶסֶם (quesem) is "divination," "soothsaying," oracular utterance. Septuagint, μαντεῖον. The king's words have, in people's minds, the certainty and importance of a Divine oracle, putting an end to all controversy or division of opinion. It seems to be a general maxim, not especially referring to Solomon or the theocratic kingdom, but rather indicating the traditional view of the absolute monarchy. The custom of deifying kings and invoking them as gods was usual in Egypt and Eastern countries, and made its way to the West. "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man," cried the people, when Herod addressed them in the amphitheatre at Caesarea (Acts 12:22). The Greeks could say -
Αἰκὼν δὲ βασιλεύς ἐστιν ἔμψυχος Θεοῦ.
"God's very living image is the king." And thus his utterances were regarded as irrefragably true and decisive. His month transgresseth not in judgment. The decisions which he gives are infallible, and, at any rate, irresistible. We may refer to Solomon's famous verdict concerning the two mothers (1 Kings 3:16, etc.), and such sentences as Proverbs 8:15, "By me (wisdom) kings reign, and princes decree justice" (see below on ver. 12; Proverbs 21:1); and David's words (2 Samuel 23:4), "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God" (Wisd. 9:4, 10, 12). Delitzsch regards the second hemistich as giving a warning (consequent on the former clause), and not stating a fact, "In the judgment his mouth should not err." The present chapter contains many admonitions to kings which a wise father like Solomon may have uttered and recorded for the benefit of his son. If this is the case, it is as strange as it is true that Rehoboam made little use of the counsels, and that Solomon's latter days gave the lie to many of them.
A just weight and balance are the LORD'S: all the weights of the bag are his work.
Verse 11. - A just weight and balance are the Lord's (Proverbs 11:1); literally, the balance and scales of justice (are) the Lord's. They come under his law, are subject to the Divine ordinances which regulate all man's dealings. The great principles of truth end justice govern all the transactions of buying and selling; religion enters into the business of trading, and weights and measures are sacred things. Vulgate, "The weights and the balance are judgments of the Lord;" being true and fair, they are regarded as God's judgment. Septuagint, "The turn of the balance is justice before God." All the weights of the bag are his work. Some have round a difficulty here, because the bag may contain false as well as true weights (Deuteronomy 25:13), and it could not be said that the light weights were the Lord's work. This surely is captious criticism. The maxim merely states that the trader's weights take their origin and authority from God's enactment, from certain eternal principles which he has established. What man's chicanery and fraud make of them does not come into view. (For the law that regulates such matters, see Leviticus 19:35, etc.) That cheating in this respect was not uncommon we learn from the complaints of the prophets, as Micah 6:11. The religious character of the standard weights and measures is shown by the term "shekel of the sanctuary" (Exodus 38:24, and elsewhere continually).
It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness.
Verse 12. - It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness. This and the following verse give the ideal view of the monarch - that which he ought to be rather than what be is (comp. Psalm 72.). Certainly neither Solomon nor many of his successors exhibited this high character. The Septuagint, followed by some modern commentators, translates, "He who doeth wickedness is an abomination to kings;" but as the "righteousness" in the second clause (the throne is established by righteousness) undoubtedly refers to the king, so it is more natural to take the "wickedness" in the first member as being his own, not his subjects'. When a ruler acts justly and wisely, punishes the unruly, rewards the virtuous, acts as God's vicegerent, and himself sets the example of the character which becomes so high a position, he wins the affection of his people, they willingly obey him. and are ready to die for him and his family (comp. Proverbs 25:5; Isaiah 16:5). Lawmakers should not be law breakers. Seneca, 'Thyest.,' 215 -
"Ubi non est pudor,
Nec cura juris, sanctitas, pietas, fides,
Instabile regnum est."
Righteous lips are the delight of kings; and they love him that speaketh right.
Verse 13. - Righteous lips are the delight of kings. The ideal king takes pleasure in the truth and justice which his subjects display in their conversation. Such a one hates flattery and dissimulation, and encourages honest speaking. They (kings) love him that speaketh right; that which is just (Proverbs 8:6). The two clauses are coordinate. Septuagint, "He loveth upright words" (comp. Proverbs 22:11).
The wrath of a king is as messengers of death: but a wise man will pacify it.
Verse 14. - The wrath of a king is as messengers of death. In a despotic monarchy the death of an offender follows quickly on the offence. Anger the king, and punishment is at hand; instruments are always ready who will carry out the sentence, and that before time is given for reconsideration. The murder of Thomas a Becket will occur as an illustration (comp. Esther 7:8, etc). The LXX. translates, "The king's wrath is a messenger of death," taking the plural as put by enallage for the singular; but possibly the plural may intimate the many agents who are prepared to perform the ruler's behests, and the various means which he possesses for punishing offenders. This first clause implies, without expressly saying, that, such being the case, none but a fool will excite the monarch's resentment (comp. Ecclesiastes 8:4); then the second clause comes in naturally. But a wise man will pacify it. He will take care not to provoke that anger which gluts its resentment so quickly and so fatally (Proverbs 19:12; Proverbs 20:2). Septuagint, "A wise man will appease him," the king; as Jacob propitiated Esau by the present which he sent forward (Genesis 32:20, 21).
In the light of the king's countenance is life; and his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain.
Verse 15. - In the light of the king's countenance is life (Proverbs 15:30; Psalm 4:6). As the king's anger and the darkening of his countenance are death (ver. 14), so, when his look is cheerful and bright, it sheds joy and life around, as the rain refreshes the parched ground. A cloud of the latter rain. The former rain in Palestine falls about the end of October or the beginning of November, when the seed is sown; the latter rain comes in March or April, and is absolutely necessary for the due swelling and ripening of the grain. It is accompanied, of course) with cloud, which tempers the heat, while it brings fertility and vigour. To this the king's favour is well compared. "He shall come down," says the psalmist, "like the rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth" (Psalm 72:6). The LXX., reading בני (beni) for פני (peni), translates, "In the light of life is the son of the king; and they who are acceptable to him are as a cloud of the latter rain."
How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!
Verse 16. - To get wisdom than gold (comp, Proverbs 3:14; Proverbs 8:10, 11, 19); and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver; Revised Version better, yea, to get understanding is rather to be chosen than [to get] silver. If the clauses are not simply parallel, and the comparative value of silver and gold is So be considered, we may, with Wordsworth, see here an intimation of the superiority of wisdom (chochmah) over intelligence (binah), the former being the guide of life and including the practice of religion, the latter denoting discernment, the faculty of distinguishing between one thing and another (see note on Proverbs 28:4, and the quotation from 'Pirke Aboth' on Proverbs 15:33). The LXX., for kenoh reading kinnot, have given a version of which the Fathers have largely availed themselves: "The nests of wisdom are preferable to gold, and the nests of knowledge are preferable above silver." Some of the old commentators take these "nests" to be the problems and apothegms which enshrine wisdom; others consider them to mean the children or scholars who are taught by the wise man.
The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: he that keepeth his way preserveth his soul.
Verse 17. - The highway of the upright is to depart from evil. To avoid the dangerous byways to which evil leads, one must walk straight in the path of duty (comp. Proverbs 15:19). Septuagint, "The paths of life decline from evil;" and this version adds some paragraphs in illustration, which are not in the Hebrew: "And the ways of righteousness are length of life. He who receiveth instruction will be among the good [or, 'in prosperity,' ἐν ἀγαθοῖς], and he who observeth reproof shall become wise." He that keepeth his way preserveth his soul. He who continues in the right way, and looks carefully to his goings, will save himself from ruin and death (Proverbs 13:3). Septuagint, "He who watcheth his own ways keepeth his life." And then is added another maxim, "He that loveth his life will spare his mouth."
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
Verse 18. - Pride goeth before destruction. A maxim continually enforced (see Proverbs 11:2; Proverbs 17:19; Proverbs 18:12). Here is the contrast to the blessing on humility promised (Proverbs 15:33). A haughty spirit - a lifting up of spirit - goeth before a fall (comp. Daniel 4:29, etc). Thus, according to Herodotus (7:10), Artabanus warned the arrogant Xerxes, "Seest thou how God strikes with the thunder animals which overtop others, and suffers them not to vaunt themselves, but the small irritate him not? And seest thou how he hurls his bolts always against the mightiest buildings and the loftiest trees? For God is wont to cut short whatever is too highly exalted" (comp. Horace, 'Carm.,' 2:10.9, etc.). Says the Latin adage, "Qui petit alta nimis, retro lapsus ponitur imis." Caesar, 'Bell. Gall.,' 1:14, "Consuesse Deos immortales, quo gravius homines ex commutatione rerum doleant, quos pro sceiere eorum ulcisci velint, his secundiores interdum re, et diuturuiorem impunitatem concedere." The Chinese say, "Who flies not high falls not low;" and, "A great tree attracts the wind." The Basque proverb remarks, "Pride sought flight in heaven, fell to hell." And an Eastern one, "What is extended will tear; what is long will break" (Lane).
Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Verse 19. - This verse is connected in thought, as well as verbally, with the preceding. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly. The Revised Version has, with the poor; but "meek" or "lowly" better contrasts with "proud" of the second clause. Psalm 84:10, "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." Than to divide the spoil with the proud. To share in the fruits of the operations and pursuits of the proud, and to enjoy their pleasures, a man must cast in his lot with them, uudergo their risks and anxieties, and participate in the crimes by which they gain their wealth. The result of such association was told in ver. 18. The Germans express the connection between abundance and folly by the terse apothegm, "Voll, toll;" "Full, fool." Septuagint, "Better is the man of gentle mind with humility, than he who divideth spoil with the violent."
He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he.
Verse 20. - He that handleth a matter wisely. Dabar, translated "matter," is better rendered "word," as in Proverbs 13:13, with which passage the present is in contrast. Thus Revised Version, he that giveth heed unto the word. Shall find good; Vulgate, eruditus in verbo reperiet bona. The "Word" is the Law of God; he who attends to this shall prosper. The rendering of the Authorized Version is supported by the Septuagint, "The man prudent in affairs is a finder of good things;" he attends to his business, and thinks out the best mode of accomplishing his plans, and therefore succeeds in a worldly sense (comp. Proverbs 17:20). Whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he; or, hail to him, as in Proverbs 14:21. To heed the Word and to trust in the Lord are correlative things; handling a matter wisely can hardly belong to the same category. The Septuagint contrasts the worldly success of one who manages business wisely and discreetly with the blessedness of him who, when he has done all, commits his cause to God and trusts wholly to him: "He who hath trusted in the Lord is blessed (μακαριστός)."
The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.
Verse 21. - The wise in heart shall be called prudent. True wisdom is recognized and acknowledged as such, especially when it has the gift of expressing itself appropriately (see on Proverbs 24:8). The sweetness (Proverbs 27:9) of the lips increaseth learning. People listen to instruction at the mouth of one who speaks well and winningly. Such a one augments knowledge in others, and in himself too, for he learns by teaching. Knowledge ought not to be buried in one's own mind, but produced on fit occasions and in suitable words for the edification of others. Ecclus. 20:30, "Wisdom that is hid, and treasure that is hoarded up, what profit is in them both?" (see Matthew 5:15). Septuagint, "The wise and prudent they call worthless (φαύλους); but they who are sweet in word shall hear more." Wise men are called bad and worthless by the vulgar herd, either because they do not impart all they know, or because they are envied fear their learning; but those who are eloquent and gracious in speech shall receive much instruction from what they bear, every one being ready to converse with them anal impart any knowledge which they possess.
Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly.
Verse 22. - Understanding is a well spring of life unto him that hath it (Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 13:14). The possessor of understanding has in himself a source of comfort and a vivifying power, which is as refreshing as a cool spring to a thirsty traveller. In all troubles and difficulties he can fall back upon his own good sense and prudence, and satisfy himself therewith. This is not conceit, but the result of a well grounded experience. But the instruction of fools is folly; i.e. the instruction which fools give is folly and sin; such is the only teaching which they can offer. So the Vulgate, doctrina stultorum fatuitas; and many modern commentators. But musar is better taken in the sense of "discipline" or "chastisement" (as in Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 7:22; Proverbs 15:5), which the bad man suffers. His own folly is the scourge which punishes him; refusing the teaching of wisdom, he makes misery for himself, deprives himself of the happiness which virtue gives, and pierces himself through with many sorrows. Septuagint, "The instruction of tools is evil."
The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.
Verse 23. - The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth. Out of the abundance of his heart the wise man speaks; the spirit within him finds fit utterance. Pectus est quod disertos facit. The thought and mind control the outward expression and make it eloquent and persuasive (comp. Proverbs 15:2). And addeth learning to his lips; Vulgate, "addeth grace." But lekach, which means properly "reception," "taking in," is best rendered "learning," as in ver. 21; Proverbs 1:5, etc. The intellect and knowledge of the wise display themselves in their discourse. Delitzsch, "Learning mounteth up to his lips." Ecclus. 21:26, "The heart of fools is in their mouth; but the mouth of the wise is in their heart." Septuagint, "The heart of the wise will consider what proceedeth from his mouth; and on his lips he will carry prudence (ἐπιγνωμοσύνην)."
Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.
Verse 24. - Pleasant words are as an honeycomb. "Pleasant words" are words of comforting, soothing tendency, as in ch. 15:26; Psalm 19:10. The writer continues his praise of apt speech. The comparison with honey is common in all languages and at all times. Thus Homer sings of Nestor ('Iliad,' 1:248, etc.) -
"The smooth-tongued chief, from whose persuasive lips
Sweeter than honey flowed the stream of speech."
(Derby.) So the story goes that on the lips of St. Ambrose, while still a boy, a swarm of bees settled, portending his future persuasive eloquence. Sweet to the soul, and health to the bones (Proverbs 15:30). The verse forms one sentence. The happy results of pleasant words are felt in body and soul. Honey in Palestine is a staple article of food, and is also used as a medicinal remedy. Of its reviving effects we read in the case of Jonathan, who from a little portion hurriedly taken as he marched on had "his eyes enlightened" (1 Samuel 14:27). Septuagint, "Their sweetness is the healing of the soul."
Ἰατρὸς ὁ λόγος τοῦ κατά ψυχὴν πάθους.
"Speech the physician of the soul's annoy."
There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
Verse 25. - A repetition of Proverbs 14:12.
He that laboureth laboureth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him.
Verse 26. - He that laboureth laboureth for himself; literally, the soul of him that laboureth laboureth for him. "Soul" here is equivalent to "desire," "appetite" (comp. Proverbs 6:30), and the maxim signifies that hunger is a strong incentive to work - the needs of the body spur the labourer to diligence and assiduity; he eats bread in the sweat of his brow (Genesis 3:19). Says the Latin gnome -
"Largitor artium, ingeniique magister Venter."
"The belly is the teacher of all arts,
The parent of invention." De tout s'avise a qui pain faut, "He who wants bread thinks of everything." There is our own homely saw, "Need makes the old wife trot;" as the Italians say, "Hunger sets the dog a-hunting" (Kelly). For his mouth craveth it of him; his mouth must have food to put in it. The verb אָכַפ (akaph) does not occur elsewhere; it means properly "to bend," and then to put a load on, to constrain to press. So here, "His mouth bends over him, i.e. urgeth him thereto" (Revised Version). Ecclesiastes 6:7, "All labour of man is for his mouth;" we should say stomach. Hunger in some sense is the great stimulus of all work. "We commanded you," says St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 3:10), "that if any would not work, neither should he eat." There is a spiritual hunger without which grace cannot be sought or obtained - that hungering and thirsting after righteousness of which Christ speaks, and which he who is the Bread of life is ready to satisfy (Matthew 5:6; John 6:58). The Septuagint expands the maxim: "A man in labours labours for himself, and drives away (ἐκβιάζεται) his own destruction; but the perverse man upon his own mouth carrieth destruction."
An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire.
Verse 27. - This and the three following verses are concerned with the case of the evil man. An ungodly man - a man of Belial - diggeth up evil. A man of Belial (Proverbs 6:12) is a worthless, wicked person, what the French call a vaurien. Such a one digs a pit for others (Proverbs 26:27; Psalm 7:15), devises mischief against his neighbour, plots against him by lying and slandering and overreaching. Wordsworth confines the evil to the man himself; he digs it as treasure in a mine, loves wickedness for its own sake. But analogy is against this interpretation. Septuagint, "A foolish man diggeth evils for himself." So Ecclus. 27:26, "Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein; and he that setteth a trap shall be taken therein." As the gnome says -
Ἡ δὲ κακὴ βουλὴ τῷ βουλεύσαντι κακίστη. And in his lips there is as a burning fire (Proverbs 26:23) His words scorch and injure like a devouring flame. James 3:6, "The tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of nature, and is set on fire by hell." Septuagint, "And upon his lips he treasureth up fire."
A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.
Verse 28. - A froward man soweth strife (Proverbs 6:14, 19). The verb means, literally, "sends forth," which may signify "scatters as seed" or "hurls as a missile weapon." The character intended is the perverse man, who distorts the truth, gives a wrong impression, attributes evil motives; such a one occasions quarrels and heartburnings. And a whisperer separateth chief friends (Proverbs 17:9). Nirgan is either "a chatterer," or "a whisperer," "calumniator." In Proverbs 18:8 and Proverbs 26:20, 22 it is translated "tale bearer." "Be not called a whisperer (ψίθυρος)," says the Son of Sirach (Ecclus. 5:14), speaking of secret slander. "Slanderers," says an old apothegm, "are Satan's bellows to blow up contension." Septuagint, "A perverse man sendeth abroad evils, and kindleth a torch of deceit for the wicked, and separateth friends." The alternative rendering of the second clause, "estrangeth a leader," i.e. alienates one leader from another, or from his army, is not confirmed by the authority of the versions or the best commentators.
A violent man enticeth his neighbour, and leadeth him into the way that is not good.
Verse 29. - A violent man enticeth his neighbour. The man of violence (Proverbs 3:31) is one who wrongs others by injurious conduct, by fraud or oppression. How such a one "enticeth," talks a man over, we see in Proverbs 1:10, etc. Septuagint, "The lawless man tempts (ἀποπειρᾶται) friends." And leadeth him into the way that is not good (Psalm 36:4; Isaiah 65:2); a position where he will suffer some calamity, or be induced to commit some wickedness.
He shutteth his eyes to devise froward things: moving his lips he bringeth evil to pass.
Verse 30. - This verse is better taken as one sentence (so the Septuagint), and translated, as Nowack, "He that shutteth his eyes in order to contrive froward things, he that compresseth his lips, hath already brought evil to pass;" he has virtually effected it. From such a crafty, malignant man you need not expect any more open tokens of his intentions. He shutteth his eyes (comp. Isaiah 33:15); either that he may better think out his evil plans, or else he cannot look his neighbour in the face while he is plotting against him. The Vulgate has, attonitis oculis; Septuagint, "fixing (στηρίζων) his eyes." Moving his lips; rather, he who compresseth his lips, to hide the malignant smile with which he might greet his neighbour's calamity (comp. Proverbs 6:13, etc.; Proverbs 10:10), or that neither by word nor expression he may betray his thoughts. Others take the two outward expressions mentioned as signals to confederates; but this is not so suitable, as they are the man's own feelings and sentiments that are meant. One who gives these tokens bringeth evil to pass; he has perfected his designs, and deems them as good as accomplished, and you will do well to note what his bearing signifies. Some take the meaning to be, brings punishment on himself; but the warning is not given for the sinner's sake. Septuagint, "He defines (ὀρίζει) all evils with his lips; he is a furnace of evil."
The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.
Verse 31. - The hoary head is a crown of glory (Proverbs 20:29). (For "crown," see on Proverbs 17:6.) Old age is the reward of a good life, and therefore is an honour to a man (comp. Proverbs 3:2, 16; Proverbs 4:10; Proverbs 9:11; Proverbs 10:27). If it be found - rather, it shall be found - in the way of righteousness; the guerdon of obedience and holiness; whereas "bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days" (Psalm 55:23). It is well said in the Book of Wisdom (4, 5, etc.), "Honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the grey hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age."
He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.
Verse 32. - He that is slow to anger (Proverbs 14:29) is better than the mighty. The long suffering, non-irascible man is more of a hero than the valiant commander of a great army. One overcomes external foes or obstacles; the other conquers himself; as it is said, And he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city (Proverbs 25:28). 'Pirke Aboth,' 4:1, "Who is the hero? The man that restrains his thoughts." Maxims about self-mastery are common enough. Says an unknown poet, "Fortior est qui se quam qui fortissima vincit Moenia, nec virtus altius ire potest." So Publ. Syr., 'Sent.,' 795, "Fortior est qui cupiditates suas, quam qui hostes subjicit." And the mediaeval jingle -
Plus est quam castra domare." At the end of this verse the Alexandrian Manuscript of the Septuagint, followed by later hands in some other uncials, adds, "and a man having prudence [is better] than a great farm."
The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.
Verse 33. - The lot is cast into the lap. The bosom or fold of the garment (Proverbs 6:27; Proverbs 17:23; Proverbs 21:14). It is not quite clear what articles the Jews used in their divinations by lot. Probably they employed stones, differing in shape or colour, or having some distinguishing mark. These were placed in a vessel or in the fold of a garment, and drawn or shaken thence. Such a practice has been common in all ages and countries; and though only cursorily mentioned in the Mosaic legislation (Numbers 26:55), it was used by the Jews from the time of Joshua, and in the earliest days of the Christian Church (see Joshua 18:10; Judges 20:9; 1 Samuel 10:20, 21; Acts 1:28, etc.). As by this means man's agency was minimized, and all partiality and chicanery were excluded, the decision was regarded as directed by Providence. There is one case only of ordeal in the Law, and that under suspicion of adultery (Numbers 5:12, etc.). In the Epistle to the Hebrews, in place of the lot we read (Hebrews 6:16), "An oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife." The whole disposing thereof is of the Lord. In these cases the Jew learned to see, in what we call chance, the overruling of Divine power. But this was not blind superstition. He did not feel justified in resorting to this practice on every trivial occasion, as persons used the Sortes Virgilianae or even the verses of the Bible for the same purpose. The lot was employed religiously in cases where other means of decision were not suitable or available; it was not to supersede common prudence or careful investigation; but, for example, in trials where the evidence was conflicting and the judges could not determine the case, the merits were ascer-rained by lot (comp. ch. 18:18). After the effusion of the Holy Spirit, the apostles never resorted to divination, and the Christian Church has wisely repudiated the practice of all such modes of discovering the Divine will. Septuagint, "For the unrighteous all things fall into their bosom, but from the Lord are all just things," which may mean either that, though the wicked seem to prosper, God still works out his righteous ends; or the evil suffer retribution, and thus God's justice is displayed.