Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.1. Through desire] According to the rendering of A.V. this would mean: A man who is possessed by an intense desire of wisdom separates himself from all other avocations and pursuits and from the society of his fellow men, isolates himself, as we say, that he may “intermeddle with” it, give himself wholly to (but see Proverbs 17:14 note) the pursuit of it. We must, however, render with R.V.:
He that separateth himself seeketh his own desire:
He rageth against (or, quarrelleth with, marg.) all sound wisdom.
The proverb then is a condemnation of the selfish isolation of the self-seeker or the misanthrope. Mr Horton, who has an interesting chapter on this verse, writes:
“Shakespeare might have had this proverb before him in that grim delineation of Richard the Third, who boasts that he has neither pity, love, nor fear. He was, he had been told, born with teeth in his mouth,
‘And so I was,’ he exclaims, ‘which plainly signified
That I should snarl, and bite, and play the dog.’
And then he explains this terrible character in these significant lines:—
‘I have no brother, I am like no brother:
And this word Love, which greybeards call divine,
Be resident in men like one another,
And not in me; I am myself alone.’
III. K. Henry VI. Act v. Sc. 6.”
wisdom] Or, sound wisdom, R.V., as the same Heb. word is rendered in A.V. in Proverbs 2:7.
A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.2. but that] The added word in R.V., but only that, brings out the force of the Heb.; q.d. so far from having any delight in understanding, his only delight is in blurting out his own ideas and opinions. There is perhaps, as Speaker’s Comm. suggests, an implied contrast with the “other form of egotism,” condemned in the preceding verse.
When the wicked cometh, then cometh also contempt, and with ignominy reproach.3. with ignominy reproach] Or, with ignominy cometh reproach. As shame is inseparable from wickedness, so is reproach from ignominy, i.e. ignominious character and conduct (“a shameful deed,” Gesen.; “turpi mores, turpiter facta,” Maur.).
The rendering, however, of A.V. gives a good sense: when the wicked cometh, all these evil things, contempt, ignominy and reproach, come with him.
The words of a man's mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.4. a man’s mouth] The second clause of the verse limits and interprets the first. It is of a wise man’s mouth that the proverb speaks. His words are “as deep waters,” because they are no mere shallow talk, but are full of depth and meaning, “The well-spring of wisdom,” which is their source, does not soon run dry, but is “as a flowing brook,” in its full, clear, steady course. Such were Solomon’s own words to the queen of Sheba, 1 Kings 10:1; 1 Kings 10:3.
Somewhat similarly the LXX. make the first clause refer to the still unuttered word in the heart, and the second to its leaping forth thence like the stream from the spring:
“Deep water is a word in the heart of a man,
But it leaps forth as a river and a fountain of life.”
It is not good to accept the person of the wicked, to overthrow the righteous in judgment.5. to overthrow] i.e. so as to, or with a view to, overthrow. See R.V. marg. Better perhaps with R.V. text, nor to turn aside.
A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes.6. enter into] The Heb. may mean either “come into,” or “come with,” “bring” (R.V. marg.).
strokes] Or, stripes, R.V., as the same Heb. word is rendered in Proverbs 19:29, the only other place in which it occurs. Some, however, take “calleth for” to mean “provokes,” “causes.” “Os ejus jurgia provocat,” Vulg.; “In causa est ut a verbis ad verbera veniatur,” Maur., which accords with “bring” contention, if that be adopted in the first clause.
A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.
The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.8. talebearer] Rather, whisperer, R.V., secret calumniator, as in Proverbs 16:28; bilinguis, Vulg.
wounds] Rather, dainty morsels, R.V.; so greedily do men swallow down and retain them. This proverb occurs again, Proverbs 26:22.
He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.9. a great waster] Lit. a master of laying waste, or destroying; a destroyer, R.V. Comp. for a similar sentiment, “He that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad,” Matthew 12:30.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.10. is safe] “Heb. is set on high,” R.V. marg.; ὑψοῦνται, LXX.; exaltabitur, Vulg.
The rich man's wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit.11. his strong city] There is a sense in which it is really so (Proverbs 10:15); but a sense also in which, in designed contrast to the “strong tower” of the preceding verse, it is only so in his own opinion.
conceit] i.e., imagination, as R.V.
Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility.12. Comp. Proverbs 16:18; Proverbs 15:33.
He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.13. answereth a matter] Rather, giveth answer, R.V. “Heb. returneth a word,” A.V. marg. Compare:
“Answer not before thou hast heard;
And interrupt not in the midst of speech.”—Sir 11:8.
The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?14. a wounded spirit] If the sustaining spirit be itself wounded or broken, the burden becomes intolerable. It is the pathetic thought of “the spirit which so long bore a man’s infirmity, and then at last broke because it could bear no more, and became itself intolerable,” Horton.
The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.15. the heart … the ear] While “the heart” within, like some busy workman in his chamber is acquiring knowledge, “the ear” without is no less on the alert in accumulating fresh materials to increase the store.
A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.16. Comp. Proverbs 17:8; Proverbs 19:6.
He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.17. in his own cause] i.e. in pleading, or stating it. You must wait to hear the other side, the “neighbour’s searching out,” if you would come at the truth. Audi alteram partem is the gist of the proverb.
The lot causeth contentions to cease, and parteth between the mighty.
A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.19. offended] or injured, R.V. marg.
like the bars of a castle] forming an impassable barrier to reconciliation.
A man's belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.21. love it] i.e. delight in using it, as an instrument either of “death” or of “life.”
Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.22. Compare:
“Happy is the husband of a good wife;
And the number of his days shall be twofold.
A brave woman rejoiceth her husband;
And he shall fulfil his years in peace.
A good wife is a good portion:
She shall be given in the portion of such as fear the Lord.”
The poor useth intreaties; but the rich answereth roughly.
A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.24. A man that hath friends] Lit. a man of friends, i.e. one who makes many friends, R.V.; makes them too easily and indiscriminately.
must shew himself friendly] Rather, doeth it to his own destruction, R.V. He will be ruined by extravagance and “evil communications.”
and] Rather, but, in contrast to the many lightly-made friends.
a friend] Heb. a lover. It is a stronger word than that translated “friends” in the first clause of the verse; and is used of Abraham when he is called, “the friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; comp. 1 Samuel 18:1; 2 Samuel 1:26). See Proverbs 17:17.
Here again is a proverb which only reaches its goal in Him, who says to His disciples, “I have called you friends.” John 15:15.