Proverbs 20:12


1. Of all bodily good. The eye, the ear, with all their wondrous mechanism, with all their rich instrumentality of enjoyment, are from him.

2. Of all spiritual faculty and endowment, the analogues of the former, and "every good and perfect gift" (James 1:16). The new heart, the right mind, should, above all, be recognized as his gifts.

3. In domestic and in public life. Good counsels of Divine wisdom, and willing obedience of subjects to them, are the conditions of the weal of the state; and it may be that these are designed by the preacher under the figures of the eye and the ear.


1. Laborlousness. (Ver. 13) This is a command of God: "If any man will not work, neither let him eat;" for which the seeing eye and hearing ear are needed. Viewed in one light, of imagination, labour may appear as a curse; for it thwarts our natural indolence, our love of ease, and our sentimental views in general. But viewed in the light of actual experience, the law of labour is one of the divinest blessings of our life-constitution.

2. Honesty.

(1) Craft and trickiness exposed. (Vers. 14, 17.) Here the cunning tricks of trade are struck; in particular the arts of disparagement, by which the buyer unjustly cheapens the goods he desires to invest in. The peculiar manner in which trade is still conducted in the East, the absence of fixed prices, readily admits of this species of unfairness. But the rebuke is general.

(2) The deceptiveness of sinful pleasures. (Ver. 17.) There is, no doubt, a certain pleasure in dishonesty, otherwise it would not be so commonly practised in the very teeth of self-interest. There is a peculiar delight in the exercise of skill which outwits others. But this is only while the conscience sleeps. When it awakes, unrest and trouble begin. The stolen gold burns in the pocket; the Dead Sea fruits turn to ashes on the lips.

3. Sense and prudence. (Vers. 15, 16, 18.)

(1) Sense is compared to the most precious things. What in the affairs of life is comparable to judgment? Yet compared only to be contrasted. As the common saying runs, "There is nothing so uncommon as common sense." The taste for material objects of price may be termed universal and vulgar; that for spiritual qualities is select and refined

(2) Good sense is shown caution and avoidance of undue responsibility. This has been before emphasized (Proverbs 6:1-5; Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 17:18). We have enough to do to answer for ourselves.

(3) Prudence in war. There are justifiable wars; but even these may be carried on with folly, reckless disregard of human life, etc. "The beginning, middle, and end, O Lord, turn to the best account!" was the prayer of a prudent and pious general.

4. Reserve with the tongue, or caution against flatterers. (Ver. 19.) The verse may be taken in both these senses. In all thoughtless gossip about others there is something of the malicious and slanderous spirit; there is danger in it. As to the listener, rather let him listen to those who point out his faults than to those who flatter. - J.

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them.
1. There are wise men in the world who will not admit that it was God who made the seeing eye, or the hearing ear, or anything else; who will rather assume that the ear and the eye made themselves by a gradual process of development. And you may not be able to withstand their arguments. The text may have an inexpressible value for you. If you can quote against the wise the words of a wiser, you are on firm ground. And the vast majority of the wisest and best men of every age concur with Solomon.

2. There is something in the text suitable for young children. When Solomon spoke of the hearing ear, he meant to remind us that some have ears which do not hear, and eyes that do not see. What we hear in any utterance depends on what we bring the power of hearing, just as what we see in any scene depends on what we bring the power of seeing. We are all apt to overlook that which is unknown to us. What we do not understand, or do not expect, excites no curiosity, touches no interest, rouses no attention; and hence it slips by unseen, unheard — just as the snapping of a slender twig might say nothing to us, and yet might tell a sportsman where the wild creature was which he was trying to shoot down. If God makes the hearing ear and the seeing eye, He expects us to make them too. He expects us to use and train these wonderful faculties. He rewards us in proportion as we meet, or disappoint, His expectation and our duty.

3. When the Bible speaks of deaf men who hear, and blind men who see, it almost always refers to men's moral condition, to their attitude towards truth, righteousness, and God, as well as to the use they make of their mental faculties and capacities. It praises them for seeing and hearing as for an act of virtue and piety; it blames them for not seeing and hearing as for a sin. Knowledge without love is at once a poor and a perilous endowment. To be clever without being good, without even trying to be good, is only to deserve, and to secure, a severer condemnation. You have not even begun to be truly wise until you love and reverence God; until, from reverence and love for Him, you set yourselves to know and do that which is right, however hard it may be, and refuse to do that which is wrong, however easy and pleasant it may look. Men also prize goodness more than knowledge and cleverness, and value a kind heart more than even a full and well-trained mind. Be good, then, if you would be wise, if you would prove that you have an eye that sees and an ear to hear and obey. To be good no doubt is hard work. But that is the very reason why God asks you to trust in Him and to lean on Him. He is good, and He both can and will make you good, if you will let Him.

(S. Cox, D. D.)

Why does Solomon say this?


1. In them Divine wisdom is manifest. Take —(1) The mechanism of these organs. "The eye, by its admirable combination of coats and humours, and lenses, produces on the retina, or expansion of nerve at the back of the socket or bony cavity in which it is so securely lodged, a distinct picture of the minutest or largest object; so that, on a space that is less than an inch in diameter, a landscape of miles in extent, with all its variety of scenery is depicted with perfect exactness of relative proportion in all its parts." Nor is the ear less wonderful. It is a complicated mechanism lying wholly within the body, showing only the wider outer porch through which the sound enters. It conveys the sounds through various chambers to the innermost extremities of those nerves which bear the messages to the brain. So delicate is this organ, that it catches the softest whispers and conveys them to the soul, and so strong that it can bear the roll of the loudest thunders into the chamber of its mistress.(2) The adaptation of these organs. How exquisitely suited they are to the offices they have to fulfil! "Conveying the impressions of the outer universe to the spiritual dweller within, we can," says an eminent author, "by attending to the laws of vision and sound, produce something that, in structure and in mechanism or physical effect, bears some analogy to them. But this is not sight; this is not hearing. These imply perception. Oh, this is the highest and deepest wonder of all! The mechanical structure we can trace out and demonstrate. We can show how by the laws of transmission and refraction, the picture is made on the retina of the eye; and how, by the laws of sound, the yielding, tremulous, undulating air affects the tympanum or drum of the ear. But we can get no farther. How it is that the mind receives its perceptions, how it is that it is affected, what is the nature of nervous influence, or of the process by which, through the medium of the nerves and the brain, thought is produced on the mind — of all this we are profoundly ignorant.

2. In them Divine goodness is manifest.

3. In them Divine intelligence is symbolised.

II. THAT GOD SHOULD BE SERVED BY THESE ORGANS. The service for which God intends us to use them is to convey into our understandings His ideas, into our hearts His Spirit; translate the sensations they convey to us into Divine ideas; apply Divine ideas to the formation of our characters. God's ideas should become at once the spring and rule of all our activities.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

For all the faculties of a man's body, as well as of his soul, he is entirely indebted to his great Creator. The forgetfulness of the Creator of our bodily faculties is always accompanied by a forgetfulness of our responsibility for the use of them. How far have we turned to the best account those organs of the body which are more immediately connected with the mind, with the immortal spirit, with the state and well-being of the soul? The eye and ear are inlets to the soul. Be anxious to use your faculties while they are mercifully continued. As God made and opened the natural ear for the perception of sound, so does He make and open the spiritual ear for the reception of Divine truth into the heart. The mental ear, as well as the bodily, is liable to be disordered. In a state of spiritual deafness every child of Adam was born. None of us, when we came into the world, had an ear for spiritual things. Every prayer we offer up to God for grace to bless and prosper His preached Word to our souls is an acknowledgment that the hearing ear, the willing and longing and profiting ear, is His own gracious gift. Does He open thine ear? Listen faithfully. Does He open thine eye? Drink in fully the stream of light from heaven's eternal fountain.

(J. Slade, M. A.)

Every one hears and sees all day long, so perpetually that we never think about our hearing and our sight, unless we find them fail us. And yet, how wonderful are hearing and sight. How we hear, how we see, no man knows, nor perhaps ever will know. Science can only tell us as yet what happens, what God does; but of how God does it, it can tell us little or nothing; and of why God does it, nothing at all. It is wonderful that our brains should hear through our ears, and see through our eyes; but it is more wonderful still, that they should be able to recollect what they have heard and seen. Most people think much of signs and wonders, but the commonest things are as wonderful, more wonderful, than the uncommon. It is not faith only to see God in what is strange and rare. This is faith, to see God in what is most common and simple; not so much from those strange sights in which God seems to break His laws, as from those common ones in which He fulfils His laws. It is difficult to believe that, because our souls and minds are disorderly; and therefore order does not look to us what it is, the likeness and glory of God. The greatness of God is manifest in that He has ordained laws which must work of themselves, and with which He need never interfere. The universe is continually going right, because God has given it a law which cannot be broken.

(Charles Kingsley, M. A.)

The Lord is willing to be judged by His work. The sculptor can make an ear, the Lord makes the hearing ear. But man has lost his power to listen. The mischief is that he thinks he is listening, and is deceiving himself. Listening is the act of the soul. The Lord maketh the seeing eye. The artist has made a thousand eyes, but no seeing eye. God did not give such faculties without a purpose. The very quality and capacity of the faculty must have some suggestion. These faculties were given us for education, not for prostitution. Take care how you use the ear and the eye. Has anybody been the better for your hearing or your seeing? Where faculties are given in man or beast or bird, there is a corresponding opportunity for their exercise provided. There are internal, spiritual eyes. The non-use of faculties is a religious crime. As certainly as we have bodily faculties that have meanings, missions, and issues, as there is a balance and relationship between the bodily and the external, so we have what is called a "religious nature." We "know the meaning of reason, we know the meaning of faith, we know the meaning of passionate and wordless yearning. What are you going to do with your religious nature? You can starve it.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

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