The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.
Verse 1. - The wicked flee when no man pursueth. The unreasoning terror of the sinner arises partly from his uneasy conscience, which will not permit him to transgress without warning of consequences, and partly from the judgment of God, according to the threats denounced in Leviticus 26:36, 37. A terrible picture of this instinctive fear is drawn in Job 15:20, etc., Cand Wisd. 17:9, etc. There are numerous proverbs about unreasonable timidity, such as being afraid of one's own shadow (see Erasmus, 'Adag.,' s.v. "Timiditas"). As the Eastern puts it, "The leaf cracked, and your servant fled;" and "Among ten men nine are women" (Lane). On the cowardice of sinners St. Chrysostom says well, "Such is the nature of sin, that it betrays while no one finds fault; it condemns whilst no one accuses; it makes the sinner a timid being, one that trembles at a sound; even as righteousness has the contrary effect How doth the wicked flee when no man pursueth? He hath that within which drives him on, an accuser in his own conscience, and this he carries about everywhere; and just as it would be impossible to flee from himself, so neither can he escape the persecutor within, but wherever he goeth he is scourged, and hath an incurable wound" ('Hom. in Stat.,' 8:3, Oxford transl.). But the righteous are hold as a lion. They are undismayed in the presence of danger, because their conscience is at rest, they know that God is on their side, and, whatever happens, they are safe in the everlasting arms (see Psalm 91.). Thus David the shepherd boy quailed not before the giant (1 Samuel 17:32, etc.), remembering the promise in Leviticus 26:7, 8. The heathen poet Horace could say of the upright man ('Carm.,' 3:3, 7) -
"Si fractus illabatur orbis,
Impavidum ferient ruinae." Whoso feareth the Lord shall not fear nor be afraid; for he is his Hope (Ecclus. 31 (34):14, etc.). St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 31:55, "The lion is not afraid in the onset of beasts, because he knows well that he is stronger than them all. Whence the fearlessness of a righteous man is rightly compared to a lion, because, when he beholds any rising against him, he returns to the confidence of his mind, and knows that he overcomes all his adversaries because he loves him alone whom he cannot in any way lose against his will. For whoever seeks after outward things, which are taken from him even against his will, subjects himself of his own accord to outward fear. But unbroken virtue is the contempt of earthly desire, because the mind is both placed on high when it is raised above the meanest objects by the judgment of its hopes, and is the less affected by all adversities, the more safely it is fortified by being placed on things above" (Oxford transl.).
For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.
Verse 2. - For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof. This implies that the wickedness of a nation is punished by frequent changes of rulers, who impose new laws, taxes, and other burdens, which greatly oppress the people; but regarding the antithesis in the second hemistich, we take the meaning to be that when iniquity, injustice, apostasy, and other evils abound, a country becomes the prey of pretenders and partisans striving for the supremacy. The history of the northern kingdom of Israel, especially in the disastrous period succeeding the death of Jeroboam II, affords proof of the truth of the statement (comp. Hosea 8:4). Septuagint, "Owing to the sins of ungodly men, quarrels (κρίσεις, lawsuits) arise." But by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged. "The state" is the stability, the settled condition of the country. The word is כֵן (ken), here a substantive, equivalent to "station," "base." Umbreit, Nowack, and others translate it, "justice," "authority," "order." When a wise and religious man is at the helm of state, justice continues, lives, and works; such a man introduces an clement of enduring good into a land (comp. Proverbs 21:22; Ecclesiastes 9:15). The good kings Ass, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, and Hezekiah had long and prosperous reigns. Septuagint, "But a clever man (πανοῦργος) will quench them (quarrels)."
A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food.
Verse 3. - A poor man that oppresseth the poor. The words rendered "poor" are different. The former is rash, "needy," the latter dal, "feeble" (see on Proverbs 10:15). Delitzsch notes that, in accordance with the accents in the Masoretic text, we should translate, "A poor man and an oppressor of the lowly - a sweeping rain without bringing bread," which would mean that a tyrant who oppresses the lowly bears the same relation to the poor that a devastating rain does to those whom it deprives of their food. But it is pretty certain that "the poor" and "the oppressor" designate the same person (though the vocalization is against it); hence the gnome refers to a usurper who, rising to power from poor estate, makes the very worst and most tyrannical ruler. Such a one has learned nothing from his former condition but callous indifference, and now seeks to exercise on others that power which once galled him. Thus among schoolboys it is found that the greatest bully is one who has himself been bullied; and needy revolutionists make the most rapacious and iniquitous demagogues. Of such tyrants the prophets complain (see Isaiah 5:8, etc.; Micah 2:2). Wordsworth refers, as an illustration, to Catiline and his fellow conspirators, who were moved by selfish interests to overthrow the commonwealth. Many modern commentators (e.g., Hitzig, Delitzsch, Nowack), in view of the present text, regarding the combination נבר רשׁ, and noting that elsewhere the oppressor and the poor are always introduced in opposition (comp. Proverbs 29:13), read רלֺאשׁ, or consider רשׁ as equivalent to it - rosh, "the head," in the signification of "master," "ruler." The gnome thus becomes concinnous, the ruler who ought to benefit his dependents, but injures them, corresponding to the rain which, instead of fertilizing, devastates the crops. The LXX. had a different reading, as it readers, "A bold man in his impieties (ἀνδρεῖος ἐν ἀσεβείαις) calumniates the poor." Is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food; literally, and not bread. A violent storm coming at seed time and washing away soil and seed, or happening at harvest time and destroying the ripe corn. Vulgate, Similis est imbri vehementi, in quo paratur fames. Ewald supposes that such proverbs as these and the following belong to the time of Jeroboam II, when the prosperity of the people induced luxury and arrogance, and was accompanied with much moral evil, oppression, and perversion of justice ('Hist. of Israel,' 3:126, Eng. transl.). The Bengalee compares the relation of the rich oppressor to the poor, not with the rainstorm, but with that of the carving knife to the pumpkin.
They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them.
Verse 4. - They that forsake the Law praise the wicked. This they do because they love iniquity, and like to see it extend its influence, and arm itself against the good, who are a standing reproach to them. St. Paul notes it as a mark of extreme wickedness that gross sinners "not only do the same iniquities, but have pleasure in them that do them" (Romans 1:32). Such as keep the Law contend with them; are angry with them. They are filled with righteous indignation; they cannot hold their peace when they see God's Law outraged, and must have the offenders punished (comp. 1 Kings 19:14; Psalm 74:11. etc.; Psalms 119:136, 139; 139:21). The LXX. connects this verse with the latter part of the preceding, thus: "As an impetuous and profitless rain, thus those who forsake the Law praise ungodliness; but they who love the Law raise a wall around themselves."
Evil men understand not judgment: but they that seek the LORD understand all things.
Verse 5. - Evil men understand not judgment; or, what is right. An evil man's moral conception is perverted, he cannot distinguish between right and wrong; the light that was in him has become darkness (comp. Proverbs 29:7). Many men, by giving themselves over to wickedness, awe judicially blinded, according to John 12:89, 40. They who seek the Lord understand all things. These who do God's will, seeking him in prayer, know what is morally right is every circumstance, have a right judgment in all things (comp. Ecclesiastes 8:5; 1 Corinthians 2:15). So 1 John 2:20, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things;" and our Lord has (declared, "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine" (John 7:17).
Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.
Verse 6. - This is almost the same as Proverbs 19:1, but varies a little in the second hemistich: than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich. The Hebrew literally is, perverse of two ways; i.e. who, going one way, pretends to go another; the "two ways" being the evil which he really pursues, and the good which he feigns to follow. Delitzsch calls him "a double-going deceiver." So Siracides imprecates, "Woe to the sinner that goeth two ways" (Ecclus. 2:12). "A double-minded man," says St James (James 1:8), "is unstable in all his ways." It is not the endeavouring to serve God and mammon at the same time that is meant, but putting on the appearance of religion to mask wicked designs - in the present case in order to gain wealth. Septuagint, "A poor man walking in truth is better than a rich liar."
Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father.
Verse 7. - Whoso keepeth the Law is a wise son. "Law" is torah, as ver. 4; but it seems here to include not only the Decalogue, but also the father's instruction and commands. Such an obedient and prudent son brings honour and joy to a parent's heart (see Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 29:3). He that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father; literally, he that feedeth, hath fellowship with, gluttons (Proverbs 23:20). The son who herds with debauchers, and wastes his substance in riotous living, brings shame on, wounds, and insults, all connected with him. Such a one transgresses the Law and his father's commands, and brings them into contempt (comp. Proverbs 27:11). Hence the antithesis of the two clauses. Septuagint, "He that cherishes debauchery (ποιμαίνει ἀσωτίαν) dishonours his father." Ἀσωτία occurs only in 2 Macc. 6:4, but is common in the New Testament; e.g., Ephesians 5:18; Titus 1:6.
He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.
Verse 8. - He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance. "Usury" (neshek) is interest on money lent taken in money; "unjust gain" (tarbith) is interest taken in kind, as if a man, having lent a bushel of corn, exacted two bushels in return. All such transactions were forbidden by the Law of Moses, at any rate between Israelites (see Leviticus 25:36, 37, "Thou shalt not give thy brother thy money upon usury (neshek), nor lend him thy victuals for increase [marbith, equivalent to tarbith, which is used in ver. 36] "). Septuagint, Μετὰ τόκων καὶ πλεονασμῶν, "With interest and usury." (For censure of usury, see Psalm 109:11; Ezekiel 18:13; and, contrast Psalm 15:5; Ezekiel 18:8.) He shall gather it for him that will pity the poor. He shall never enjoy it himself, and shall fall into the hands of one who will hake a better use of it (see on Proverbs 22:16; and comp Proverbs 13:22; Job 27:16, etc.). In our Lord's parable the pound is taken from one who made no good use of it and is given to a more profitable servant (Luke 19:24).
He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.
Verse 9. - He that turneth away his ear from hearing the Law. He who refuses to hearken to and to practise the dictates of the Divine law (comp Proverbs 1:20. Even his prayer shall be abomination (comp. Proverbs 15:8, and note there). "God heareth not sinners" (John 9:31). Such a man's prayer, if he does pray, is not hearty and sincere, and therefore, lacks the element which alone can make it acceptable. He will not resolve to forsake his favourite sin, even while paying outward worship to the God whoso Law he breaks: what wonder that the prophet so sternly denounces such offenders (Isaiah 1:11. etc.), and the psalmist cries with terrible rigour, "When he shall be judged, let him be condemned; and let his prayer become sin" (Psalm 109:7)? St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 10:27), "Our heart blames us in offering up our prayers, when it calls to mind that it is set in opposition to the precepts of him whom it implores, and the prayer becomes abomination, when there is a 'turning away' from the control of the Law; in that wrily it is meet that a man should be a stranger to the favours of him to whose bidding he will not be subject." And again (ibid., 18:9, 10), "If that which he bids we do, that which we ask we shall obtain. For with God both these two do of necessity match with one another exactly, that practice should be sustained by prayer, and prayer by practice" (Oxford transl.).
Whoso causeth the righteous to go astray in an evil way, he shall fall himself into his own pit: but the upright shall have good things in possession.
Verse 10. - A tristich. Whoso causeth the righteous to go astray in an evil way. It is doubtful whether physical danger or moral seduction is meant. The gnome is true in either case; he who mishads one who trusted him, and who, being simple and good, ought to have been respected and to have received better treatment, shall fall into the destruction which he prepared for the other (Proverbs 26:27). Taking the proverb in a moral sense, we find this truth: If the good man does ever yield to the temptations of the sinner, the latter does not reap the enjoyment which he expected from the other's lapse, rather he is made twofold more the child of hell, he himself sinks the deeper and more hopelessly for playing the devil's pert, while the just rises from hi. temporary fall morn humble, watchful, and guarded for the future. But the upright shall have good things in possession; or, shall inherit good (Proverbs 3:35). He shall be abundantly rewarded by God's grace and protection, by the comfort of a conscience at rest, and by prosperity in his worldly concerns - an adumbration of the eternal recompense awaiting him in the life to come. St. Jerome has changed the incidence of the gnome by inserting ejus, thus: Et simplices possidebunt bona ejus, which makes the meaning to be that the righteous shall be the instruments of retribution on the deceiver, whose riches shall pass over into their possession. But the Hebrew gives no countenance to this interpretation. Septuagint, "The transgressors shall pass by good things, and shall not enter into them," where the translator has misunderstood the original.
The rich man is wise in his own conceit; but the poor that hath understanding searcheth him out.
Verse 11. - The rich man is wise in his own conceit (comp. Proverbs 18:11). A rich man thinks so highly of his position, is so flattered by parasites, and deems himself placed so immeasurably above social inferiors, that he learns to consider himself possessed of other qualifications, even mental and intellectual gifts, with which wealth has no concern. This purse-proud arrogance which looks upon financial skill and sharpness in bargaining as true wisdom, is confined to no age or country. But the poor man that hath understanding searcheth him out (Proverbs 18:17). Wisdom is not to be bought with money. A poor man may be wise, his poverty probably making him a keener critic; and if he is brought into communication with this self-deluding plutocrat, he soon sees through him and recognizes his real value. Septuagint, "An intelligent poor man will condemn him."
When righteous men do rejoice, there is great glory: but when the wicked rise, a man is hidden.
Verse 12. - When righteous men do rejoice, there is great glory (comp. Proverbs 29:2; Proverbs 11:10). "Rejoice," rather triumph, as conquerors, right prevailing and wickedness being overcome. Then there is great show of joy, and, as the expression implies, men put on their festal garments to do honorer to the occasion: See the description of Solomon's time (1 Kings 4:20, 25). If we take this verse in connection with ver. 2, we may see in it the triumph of order after a period of confusion and anarchy. Septuagint, "Through the help of righteous men great glory arises." But when the wicked rise, a man is hidden (comp. ver. 28, where, however, the verb is different). The Authorized Version m, one that when the wicked rise to power, people have to hide themselves in order to escape danger to life and property. The verb is more literally rendered, "are searched for," i.e. they have betaken themselves to hiding places, and have to be looked for; they fear oppression and injury, and venture no longer into the streets and open places. Vulgate,Regnantibus impiis ruinae hominum, "When evil men are m power, there is general ruin;" Septuagint, "In the places of the ungodly men are caught." Other interpretations of the proverb have been suggested, though none is so satisfactory as that given above. Thus some take the searching out to mean testing, in the sense that evil times try men's characters, and bring out their true nature (1 Corinthians 11:19). Others explain that, under the reign of the impious, men do not come forward to take part in public affairs, but retire sullenly into private life.
He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.
Verse 13. - He that covereth his sins shall not prosper. To cover one's sins is either absolutely to disown them or to make excuses; a man who does this is never free from a burden of guilt, as the psalmist says, "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me" (Psalm 32:3, etc.). Whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. Confession alone without amendment, or what is called theologically satisfaction, does not win pardon and mercy. It is when the sinner acknowledges his transgression, and turns from it to newness of life, that God heals his backsliding, and turns away his auger and renews the tokens of his love (Hosea 14:4). Confession is made to God, against whom all sin is committed (Joshua 7:19; Job 31:33; 1 John 1:8, etc.): and to man, if one has transgressed against him, or if he be in a position to give spiritual counsel. Thus the people confessed their sins before John the Baptist (Matthew 3:6) and the apostles (Acts 19:18; comp. James 5:16). Among the Jews, the high priest, acting as the mouthpiece of the people on the great Day of Atonement, confessed their iniquities, laying them on the scapegoat; and particular confession was also enjoined, and was part of the ritual accompanying a sacrifice for sin, by which legal purification was obtained (Numbers 5:6, 7, "When a man or woman shall commit any sin... then they shall confess their sin which they have done;" so Leviticus 5:5). And the very offering of a trespass offering was a public recognition of guilt, which was exhibited by the offerer laying his hand on the head of the victim (Leviticus 1:4). Such confession is spoken of strongly by Siracides, "Be not ashamed to confess thy sins, and force not the course of the river" (Ecclus. 4:26); i.e. do not attempt the impossible task of trying to hide them. The LXX. has, "He who sets forth accounts ἐξηγούμενος ἐλέγχους i.e. blames himself) shall be loved." Lesetre quotes Sedulius, 'Carm. Pasch.,' 4:76 -
"Magna est medicina fateri
Quod nocet abscondi; quoniam sua vulnera nutrit
Qui tegit, et plagam trepidat nudare medenti."
T' expose what rankles while 'tis hidden still.
He feeds who hides his wounds and shuns to show
His heart's plague to the good physician."
Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.
Verse 14. - Happy is the man that feareth alway. Some have taken the fear mentioned to be the fear with which God is to be regarded. Thus Aben Ezra. But it is rather the fear of sin which is meant - that tender conscience and watchful heart which lead a man robe prepared for temptation and able to resist it when it arises. Such a one distrusts himself, takes heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12), and works out his salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12; comp. Proverbs 14:16). "Grow not thoughtless of retribution" ('Pirke Aboth,' 1:8). A horror of sin cannot be instilled too early into the young. Septuagint, "Happy is the man who piously (δἰ εὐλάβειαν) fears all things." St. Bernard ('In Cant. Serm.,' 54:9)," In veritate didici, nil aeque efficax esse ad gratiam promerendam, retinendam, recuperandam, quam si omni tempore coram Deo inveniaris non altum sapere, sed timere. Time ergo cum arriserit gratia, time cum abierit, time cum denuo revertetur; et hoc est semper pavidum esse." He that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief; or, calamity (Proverbs 17:20). A man hardens his heart who attends not to the voice of conscience, the restraints of religion, the counsel of friends, the warnings of experience (comp. ver. 26; Proverbs 29:1; Exodus 8:15; Psalm 95:8). This man scorns the grace of God, loses his protection, and must come to misery.
As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people.
Verse 15. - A wicked ruler over the poor people; a people weak and resourceless. To such a powerful tyrant is as fatal as a roaring lion or a hungry bear prowling in quest of food. The prophets compare evil rulers to ravenous lions (see Jeremiah 4:7; Ezekiel 19:6). They are like lions in strength and cruelty, like bears in craft and ferocity. Septuagint, "A hungry lion and a thirsty wolf is he, who, being poor, rules over an indigent nation." The poverty of the subjects embitters the conduct of the ruler.
The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.
Verse 16. - The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor; literally, and rich in oppression. Ewald, Delitzsch, Nowack, and others take the verse, not as a statement, but as a warning addressed to the ruler, as we have so many addressed to a son, and as the author of the Book of Wisdom calls upon the judges of the earth to listen to his admonitions. They therefore render thus: "O prince, void of understanding, but rich in oppression!" The wording and accentuation of the passage confirm this view. Caher renders, "A prince that wants understanding increases his exactions." The want of intelligence makes a prince cruel and tyrannical and callous to suffering: not possessing the wisdom and prudence necessary for right government, he defrauds his subjects, treats them unjustly, and causes great misery. See the prophet's denunciation of Shallum and Jehoiakim for these very crimes (Jeremiah 22:13-19). Septuagint, "A king wanting revenues is a great oppresser (συκοφάντης)." He that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days (Proverbs 15:27). The prince addressed is thus warned that his oppressive acts will be visited upon him judicially; that only a ruler who deals with his subjects liberally and equitably can attain to old age, and that his conduct will shorten his life. An early death is reckoned as a token of God's indignation. The second hemistich Caher translates, "But he who hates lucre shall reign long." Septuagint, "He who hateth iniquity shall live a long time." (For "covetousness" (betsa), see on Proverbs 1:19.)
A man that doeth violence to the blood of any person shall flee to the pit; let no man stay him.
Verse 17. - A man that doeth violence to the blood of any person shall flee to the pit. This should be, a man oppressed (Isaiah 38:14), burdened, with the blood of anyone. The wilful murderer, with his guilt upon his soul, flies in vain from remorse; his crime pursues him even to the grave. For inadvertent manslaughter the cities of refuge offered an asylum, but for deliberate murder there was no safe refuge, either from the stings of conscience or from the avenger of blood, but death. The homicide, like Cain (Genesis 4:14), must be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth. "Pit" (bor), some take to mean any hiding place, "a cave, or well;" but it is very commonly found in the sense of sepulchre (Psalm 28:1; Isaiah 14:19, etc.), and is so explained here by most commentators. Let no man stay him. We had in Proverbs 24:11, etc., an injunction to save human life; but the case was quite different from this of wilful murder. Here it is directed that no one attempt to save him from the punishment which he has incurred, or to comfort him under the remorse which he suffers. Let him be left alone to meet the fate which he has merited. The LXX. gives a different idea to the gnome, "He who becomes bail for a man charged with murder shall be banished and shall not be in safety." They add a verse which we shall meet again, almost in the same words (Proverbs 29:17, 18), "Chasten thy son, and he will love thee, and will give honour to thy soul; he shall not obey a sinful nation."
Whoso walketh uprightly shall be saved: but he that is perverse in his ways shall fall at once.
Verse 18. - Whoso walketh uprightly shall be saved. "Uprightly" (tamim); innocently, blamelessly (Psalm 15:2). Vulgate, simpliciter; Septuagint, δικαίως; Aquila, Symmachus, τέλειος. "He is helped (βεβοήθηται)," Septuagint. Things shall prosper with him; God will work with him, and save him in dangers temporal and spiritual. But he that is perverse in his ways shall fall at once. "He that is perverse of two ways," or "in a double way," as ver. 6. The man who is not straightforward, but vacillates between right and wrong, or pretends to be pursuing one path while he is really taking another, shall fall suddenly and without warning. בְּאֶחָת means "all at once," or "once for all," and so that nothing else is possible, equivalent to penitus. Schultens quotes Virgil, 'AEneid,' 11:418 -
"Procubuit moriens et humum semel ore momordit." Septuagint, "He that walketh in crooked ways will be entangled."
He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough.
Verse 19. - A variation of Proverbs 12:11. Shall have poverty enough. The new clause marks the antithesis more clearly than that above.
A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.
Verse 20. - A faithful man shall abound with blessings. "Faithful," as in Proverbs 20:6, one on whom one can depend, honest and upright. Septuagint, ἀξιόπιστος. The blessings signified are such as come from God and man. Men will utter his name with praise and benediction (comp. Job 29:8, etc.), and God will show his approval by sending material prosperity. He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent (comp. ver. 22, and note there; Proverbs 13:11; Proverbs 20:21; Proverbs 21:5). One who is only anxious to become quickly rich, and is unscrupulous as to means, cannot be "a faithful man," and therefore cannot be blessed. Instead of "innocent," many expositors render "unpunished" (as Proverbs 17:5), which better contrasts with the blessings mentioned in the first hemistich, though the two ideas are coordinate. On this haste of covetousness, Juvenal writes ('Sat.,' 14:173) -
"Inde fere scelerum causae; nec plura venena
Miscuit aut ferro grassatur saepius ullum
Humanae mentis vitium, quam saeva cupido
Immodici census; nam dives qui fieri vult,
Et cito vult fieri. Sed quae reverentia legum,
Quis metus aut pudor est unquam properantis avari?" The Septuagint waters down the gnome, "But the wicked shall not be unpunished."
To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress.
Verse 21. - The first hemistich occurs a little fuller in Proverbs 24:23, referring there, as here, to the administration of justice. For for a piece of bread that man will transgress. Thus translated, this clause confirms the former, and says that a judge given to favouritism will swerve from right under the smallest temptation. But to bribe a judge with a morsel of bread seems an unlikely idea; and the gnome is of general application, "And for a morsel of bread a man [not 'that man'] will transgress." As some men in responsible positions are often swayed by low and unworthy considerations, so in social life a very insignificant cause is sufficient to warp the judgment of some persons, or draw them aside from the line of rectitude. (For "a piece of bread," as denoting abject poverty or a thing of no value, see on Proverbs 6:26) The commentators cite Aul. Gell., 'Noct. Att.,' 1:15, "Frusto panis conduci potest vel uti taceat vel uti loquatur." Septuagint, "He that regards not the persons of the just is not good; such a cue will sell a man for a morsel of bread."
He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him.
Verse 22. - He that hasteth to be rich bath an evil eye (see ver. 20); better, the man of evil eye hasteth after riches. The man of evil eye (Proverbs 23:6) is the envious and covetous man; such a one tries to improve his position and raise himself speedily to the height of him whom he envies, and is quite unscrupulous as to the means which he uses to effect his purpose, and keeps all that he gains selfishly to himself. And yet he is really blind to his own best interests (comp Proverbs 20:21). And considereth not that poverty shall come upon him (comp. Proverbs 23:4, 5). His grasping greed brings no blessing with it (Proverbs 11:25), excites others to defraud him, and in the end consigns him to merited poverty. The LXX. here reads somewhat differently, and translates, "An envious man hasteth to be rich, and knows not that the merciful man (chasid instead of cheser) will I,ave the mastery over him," i.e. will take his wealth, as ver. 8. Proverbs concerning hastily gotten wealth have already been given. Here are a few more: Spanish, "Who would be rich in a year gets hanged in half a year;" Italian, "The river does not become swollen with clear water;" says a Scotch proverb, "Better a wee fire to warm as than a meikle fire to burn us."
He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue.
Verse 23. - He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour. The word rendered "afterwards" (postea, Vulgate), אַחֲרַי (acharai), creates a difficulty. The suffix cannot be that of the first person singular, which would give no sense; hence most interpreters see in it a peculiar adverb attached to the following verb, "shall afterwards find." Delitzsch. Lowenstein, end Nowack take it for a noun with the termination -ai, and translate, "a man that goeth backward," "a backslider" (as Jeremiah 7:24). Hence the translation will run, "He who reproveth a backsliding man," i.e. one whom he sees to be turning away from God and duty. He shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue (comp. Proverbs 27:6; Proverbs 29:5). A faithful counsellor, who tells a man his faults, brings them home to his conscience, and checks him in his downward course, will be seen to be a true friend, and will be loved and respected both by the one whom he has warned and advised and by all who are well disposed. James 5:19, "If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him. let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and stroll hide a multitude of sins." "Laudat adulator, sed non est verus amator." The flatterer says only what is agreeable to the man whom he flatters, and thus makes him conceited and selfish and unable to see himself as he really is: the true friend says harsh things, but they are wholesome and tend to spiritual profit, and show more real affection than all the soft words of the fawning parasite. Septuagint, "He that reproveth a man's ways shall have more thanks than he who flattereth with the tongue."
Whoso robbeth his father or his mother, and saith, It is no transgression; the same is the companion of a destroyer.
Verse 24. - Whoso robbeth his father or his mother (comp. Proverbs 19:26); taking from them what belongs to them. Septuagint, "He who casts off (ἀποβάλλεται) father or mother." And saith, It is no transgression. He salves his conscience by thinking all would be his ere long in the course of nature; or he uses the plea of Corban denounced by our Lord (Mark 7:11, etc.). The same is the companion of a destroyer (Proverbs 18:9); is no better than, stands in the position of, one who practises openly against his neighbour's life and property. He is a thief, and fails in the simplest duty. Vulgate, particeps homicidae est. There may be an allusion to the guilt incurred by a witness in concealing his knowledge of a crime, which is denounced in Leviticus 5:1 (comp. Judges 17:2).
He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: but he that putteth his trust in the LORD shall be made fat.
Verse 25. - He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife (Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 29:22); literally, he that is of a wide soul. This may certainly denote pride (qui se jactat et dilatat, Vulgate), in which case the gnome says that one who thinks much of himself and despises others is the cause of quarrels and dissensions, occasioned by his struggles for pre-eminence and the ill feeling arising from his overbearing and supercilious conduct. Others, and rightly, take the wide soul to denote covetousness (comp. Proverbs 23:2; Isaiah 14; Habakkuk 2:5). It is the man of insatiable desire, the grasping avaricious man, who excites quarrels and mars all peace, and in the end destroys himself. "Whence come wars," asks St. James (James 4:1), "and whence come fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your pleasures that war in your members? Ye lust, and have act; ye kill, and covet, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war." Septuagint, "An unbelieving [ἄπιστος, Alexand. ἄπληστος, insatiate] man judgeth rashly." But he that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be made fat (Proverbs 11:25; Proverbs 16:20; Proverbs 29:25). The character here opposed to the covetous is that of the patient. God-fearing man, who is contented to do his duty, and leave the result in the Lord's hands. This man shall be made fat, shall be comforted and largely blessed, while he who puts his hope in material things shall fall into calamity. Septuagint, "He who trusts in the Lord will be in his care (ἐν ἐπιμελείᾳ ἔσται)."
He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.
Verse 26. - He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool (see Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21). What is here censured is that presumptuous confidence in one's own thoughts, plans, and imaginations which leads a man to neglect both God's inspirations and the counsel of others (comp. ver. 14; Proverbs 14:16). "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fail" (1 Corinthians 10:12). Septuagint, "Whoso trusteth to a bold heart, such a one is a fool." Whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered. This man looks outside himself for direction; be trusts in the wisdom which is from above; he walks in the fear of the Lord, and is saved from the dangers to which self-confidence exposes the fool. The best commentary on the gnome is Jeremiah 9:23, 24, "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord,"
He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.
Verse 27. - He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack (see Proverbs 11:24, etc.; Proverbs 19:17). God in some way compensates what is spent in almsdeeds by shedding his blessing on the benevolent. "Der Geiz," runs the German maxim, "sammlet sich arm, die Milde giebt sich reich," "Charity gives itself rich; covetousness hoards itself poor" (Trench). "Alms," said the rabbis, "are the salt of riches." But he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse (Proverbs 11:26). The uncharitable man either turns away his eyes that he may not see the misery around him, or pretends not to notice it, lest his compassion should be claimed. The expression, "hiding the eyes," occurs in Isaiah 1:15, "When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you." The unmerciful man meets with the curses of those whom he has neglected to relieve when he had the power, and such curses are ratified and fulfilled because they are deserved, and Divine retribution attends them (see the opposite view, Ver. 20). "Turn not away thine eye from the needy," says the Son of Sirach, "and give him none occasion to curse thee; for if be curse thee in the bitterness of his soul, his prayer shall be heard of him that made him" (Ecclus 4:4, etc.; comp. Tobit 4:7). So in the 'Didache,' ch. 4, we have, Οὐκ ἀποστραφήσῃ τὸν ἐνδεόμενον, "Thou shalt not turn thyself from one in need." Septuagint, "lie that turneth away his eye shall be in great distress;" Vulgate, Qui despicit deprecantem sustinebit penuriam.
When the wicked rise, men hide themselves: but when they perish, the righteous increase.
Verse 28. - When the wicked rise, men hide themselves (see ver. 12); Septuagint, "In the places of the ungodly the righteous groan." But when they perish, the righteous increase (Proverbs 11:10; Proverbs 29:2, 16). The overthrow of the ungodly adds to the prosperity of the righteous, removes an opposing element, and promotes their advancement in influence and numbers.
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