Proverbs 4
Expositor's Bible Commentary
Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.


"Wisdom doth live with children round her knees." - Wordsworth.

"He taught me, and said unto me," etc. Proverbs 4:4THIS chapter begins with a charming little piece of autobiography. Unhappily the writer is unknown. That it was not Solomon is plain from the fact that an only son is speaking, and we know from 1 Chronicles 3:5 that Solomon was not an only son of his mother. But the naiveté and beauty of the confession are the same, whoever was the speaker. The grateful memories of a father’s teaching and of a mother’s tenderness give point and force to the exhortations. "Do I urge upon you, young people, the claims of Wisdom?" the author seems to say. "Well, I speak from experience. My parents taught me her wholesome and pleasant ways. Though I was an only son, they did not by a selfish indulgence allow me to be spoiled. They made me bear the yoke in my youth, and now I live to thank them for it."

There is a great temptation to spoil art only child, a temptation which few are able to resist. Parents can deny themselves everything for their idol, except the pleasure of making the child a despot; they can endure any pain for their despot, except the pain of resisting him and instructing him. And accordingly they have sometimes to experience the shame and anguish of their children’s curses, like that Carthaginian mother, of whom it is related that her son, a convicted criminal, passing to execution, requested that he might whisper something to her, and, coming near, bit off her ear, saying that it was his revenge because she had brought him up so badly. Very different are the feelings of our author; he owes much to his parents, and is eager to acknowledge what he owes. God has no kinder gift to give us than a hallowed home, the memory of lessons from the lips of father and mother, the early impressions of virtue and wisdom, the sacred streams which rise from that fountainhead, and that alone, and run freshening and singing and broadening all through our lives.

With this happy example of good home influence before our eyes, we will come to consider briefly two points which are suggested by it: first, the importance of these early impressions; second, the main features of the discipline presented in the chapter.

I. Not without reason has a great cardinal of the Roman Church said that if he may have the children up to the age of five, he will not mind in whose hand they may be afterwards; for it is almost impossible to exaggerate the permanent effects of those first tendencies impressed on the soul before the intellect is developed, and while the soft, plastic nature of the child is not yet determined in any particular direction. Things which we learn we can more or less unlearn, but things which are blended with the elements of our composition, made parts of us before we are conscious of our own personality, defy the hand of time and the power of conscious effort to eradicate them.

John Paton, that noble missionary to the New Hebrides, has given us a vivid picture of his early home. It was a plain lowland cottage, with its "hut and hen," and between the two a small chamber with a diminutive window shedding diminutive light on the scene. To this room the children saw the father retire oftentimes a day, and shut to the door; they would occasionally hear the pathetic pleadings of the voice that prayed, and they learnt to slip past the door on tiptoe. They got to understand whence came that happy light upon their father’s face: they recognized it as a reflection from the Divine presence, in the consciousness of which he lived.

Let a child draw his first breath in a house which possesses a sanctuary like that; let him come to know by his quick childish perceptions that there is in his home a ladder set up from earth to heaven, and that the angels of God go up and down on it; let him feel the Divine atmosphere in his face, the air all suffused with heavenly light, the sweetness and the calm which prevail in a place where a constant communion is maintained, -and in after years he will be aware of voices which call and hands which reach out to him from his childhood, connecting him with heaven, and even the most convincing negations of unbelief will be powerless to shake the faith which is deep as the springs of his life.

We learn to love, not because we are taught to love, but by some contagious influence of example or by some indescribable attraction of beauty. Our first love to Wisdom, or, to use our modern phrase, Religion, is won from us by living with those that love her. She stole in upon us and captured us without any overpowering arguments; she was beautiful and we felt that those whom we loved were constantly taken and held by her beauty. Just reflect upon this subtle and wonderful truth. If my infancy is spent among those whose main thought is "to get" riches, I acquire imperceptibly the love of money. I cannot rationally explain my love; but it seems to me in after life a truism, that money is the principal thing; I look with blank incredulity upon one who questions this ingrained truth. But if in infancy I live with those whose love is wholly centered upon Religion, who cherish her with unaffected ardor and respond to her claims with kindling emotion, I may in after life be seduced from her holy ways for awhile, but I am always haunted by the feeling that I have left my first love, I am restless and uneasy until I can win back that "old bride-look of earlier days."

Yes, that old bride-look - for religion may be so presented to the child’s heart as to appear for ever the bride elect of the soul, from whose queenly love promotion may be expected, whose sweet embraces bring a dower of honor, whose beautiful fingers twine a chaplet of grace for the head and set a crown of glory on the brow. {Proverbs 4:8-9}

The affections are elicited, and often permanently fixed, before the understanding has come into play. If the child’s heart is surrendered to God, and molded by heavenly wisdom, the man will walk securely; a certain trend will be given to all his thoughts; a certain instinctive desire for righteousness will be engrafted in his nature; and an instinctive aversion will lead him to decline the way of the wicked. {Proverbs 4:14}

The first thing, then, is to give our children an atmosphere to grow up in; to cultivate their affections, and set their hearts on the things eternal; to make them associate the ideas of wealth and honor, of beauty and glory, not with material possessions, but with the treasures and rewards of Wisdom.

II. But now comes the question: What is to be the definite teaching of the child? For it is an unfailing mark of the parents who themselves are holy that they are impelled to give clear and memorable instruction to their children. And this is where the great and constant difficulty emerges. If the hallowed example would suffice we might count the task comparatively easy. But some day the understanding will begin to assert itself; the desire to question, to criticize, to prove, will awake. And then, unless the truths of the heart have been applied to the conscience in such a way as to satisfy the reason, there may come the desolate time in which, while the habits of practical life remain pure, and the unconscious influence of early training continues to be effective, the mind is shaken by doubt, and the hope of the soul is shrouded in a murky cloud.

Now the answer to this question may, for the Christian, be briefly given, Bring your children to Christ, teach them to recognize in Him their Savior, and to accept Him as their present Lord and gracious Friend. But this all-inclusive answer will not suffer by a little expansion on the lines which are laid down in the chapter before us. When Christ is made unto us Wisdom, the contents of Wisdom are not altered, they are only brought within our reach and made effectual in us. Bringing our children to Christ will not merely consist in teaching them the doctrine of salvation, but it will include showing them in detail what salvation is, and the method of its realization.

The first object in the home life is to enable children to realize what salvation is. It is easy to dilate on an external heaven and hell, but it is not so easy to demonstrate that salvation is an inward state, resulting from a spiritual change.

It is very strange that Judaism should ever have sunk into a formal religion of outward observance, when its own Wisdom was so explicit on this point: "My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." {Proverbs 4:20-23} The Greek version, which was very generally used in our Lord’s time, had a beautiful variation of this last clause: "In order that thy fountains may not fail thee, guard them in the heart." It was after all but a new emphasis on the old teaching of the book of Proverbs when Jesus taught the necessity of heart purity, and when He showed that out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, and all the things which defile a man. {Matthew 15:19} Yet this lesson of inwardness has always been the most difficult of all to learn. Christianity itself has always been declining from it and falling into the easier but futile ways of externalism; and even Christian homes have usually failed in their influence on the young chiefly because their religious observances have fallen into formalism, and while the outward conduct has been regulated, the inner springs of action have not been touched.

All conduct is the outcome of hidden fountains. All words are the expression of thoughts. The first thing and the main thing is that the hidden fountains of thought and feeling be pure. The source of all our trouble is the bitterness of heart, the envious feeling, the sudden outbreak of corrupt desire. A merely outward salvation would be of no avail; a change of place, a magic formula, a conventional pardon, could not touch the root of the mischief. "I wish you would change my heart," said the chief Sekomi to Livingstone. "Give me medicine to change it, for it is proud, proud and angry, angry always." He would not hear of the New Testament way of changing the heart; he wanted an outward, mechanical way-and that way was not to be found. The child at first thinks in the same way. Heaven is a place to go to, not a state to be in. Hell is an outward punishment to fly from, not an inward condition of the soul. The child has to learn that searching truth which Milton tried to teach, when he described Satan in Paradise, -

"… within him hell He brings, and round about him, nor from hell

One step, no more than from himself, can fly

By change of place

Which way I fly is hell, cries the miserable being,"

"myself am hell;

And in the lowest deep, a lower deep,

Still threatening to devour me, opens wide,

To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven."

We are tempted in dealing with children to train them only in outward habits, and to forget the inward sources which are always gathering and forming; hence we often teach them to avoid the lie on the tongue, to put away from them the froward mouth and perverse lips, {Proverbs 4:24} and yet leave them with the lies in the soul, the deep inward unveracities which are their ruin. We often succeed in bringing them up as respectable and decorous members of society, and yet leave them a prey to secret sins; they are tormented by covetousness which is idolatry, by impurity, and by all kinds of envious and malignant passions.

There is something even ghastly in the very virtues which are sometimes displayed in a highly civilized society like ours. We perceive what appear to be virtues, but we are haunted by an uncomfortable misgiving that they are virtues only in appearance; they seem to have no connection with the heart; they never seem to bubble up from irrepressible fountains; they do not overflow. There is charity, but it is the charity only of the subscription list; there is pity, but it is the pity only of conventional humanitarianism; there is the cold correctness of conduct, or the formal accuracy of speech, but the purity seems to be prudery because it is only a concession, to the conventional sentiments of the hour, and the truthfulness seems to be a lie because its very exactness seems to come, not from springs of truth, but only from an artificial habit.

We are frequently bound to notice a religion of a similar kind. It is purely mimetic. It is explained on the same principle as the assimilation of the colors of animals to the colors of their environment. It is the unconscious and hypocritical instinct of self-preservation in a presumably religious society, where not to seem religious would involve a loss of caste. It may be regarded then as the first essential lesson which is to be impressed on the mind of a child, -the lesson coming next after the unconscious influences of example, and before all dogmatic religious teaching, -that righteousness is the condition of salvation, righteousness of the heart; that the outward seeming goes for nothing at all, but that God with a clear and quiet eye gazes down into the hidden depths, and considers whether the fountains there are pure and perennial.

The second thing to be explained and enforced is singleness of heart, directness and consistency of aim; by which alone the inward life can be shaped to virtuous ends: "Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Make level the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left." {Proverbs 4:25-27} As our Lord puts it, If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. This precept has frequently been given in the interests of worldly wisdom: The boy is told that if he means to get on he must concentrate his thoughts and refuse to let any of the seductions around him divert his attention. Singleness of eye may be the most ruinous of evils-if a man has only a single eye to his own advantage, and pursues nothing but his own pleasure. The precept is given here however in the interests of heavenly wisdom, and there is much to be said for the view that only the truly religious mind can be quite single-eyed. Selfishness, though it seems to be an undivided aim, is really a manifold of tumultuous and conflicting passions. He only, strictly speaking, has one desire, whose one desire is God. The way of wisdom is, after all, the only way which has no bifurcations. The man who has a single eye to his own interest may find before long that he has missed the way: he pushes eagerly on, but he flounders ever deeper in the mire; for though he did not turn to the right hand nor to the left, he never all the time removed his foot from evil. {Proverbs 4:27} The right life then is a steady progress undiverted by the alluring sights and sounds which appeal to the senses. "Look not round about thee," says Ecclesiasticus, {Sir 9:7} "in the streets of the city, neither wander thou in the solitary places thereof." We are to learn that the way goes through Vanity Fair, but admits of no divergences into its tempting booths or down its alluring alleys; the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, the vainglory of life, are not to distract the mind which has but one purpose in view. The path is to be kept level; {Proverbs 4:26} as we should say, an even tenor is to be preserved; we are to follow the plain unexciting path of duty, the beaten track of sober rightness. For while it is the mark of all unhallowed ways that they plunge up and down from despondency to wild elation, from giddy raptures to heartstricken depression, it is the sure sign of God’s hand in our life when the paths are made level. {Proverbs 5:21} Ah those tempting ways, on which shine the false lights of imagined duty, of refined selfishness, or of gilded sensuality. Surely it is the result of Wisdom, the gift of God’s grace, to keep the eyes "looking right on."

But it is time to sum up. Here is a great contrast between those whose early training has been vicious or neglected, and those who have been "taught in the way of wisdom, led in paths of uprightness." It is a contrast which should constantly be present to the eyes of parents with a warning and an encouragement. The unfortunate child whose infancy was passed in the midst of baleful example, whose heart received no instruction from parents’ lips, grows up like one stumbling in the dark, and the darkness deepens as he advances; observers cannot tell-he himself cannot tell-what it is at which he stumbles. {Proverbs 4:19} There is the old ingrained vice which comes out again and again after every attempted reformation; there is the old shuffling habit; there is the old unhallowed set of the thoughts and the tastes; there is the old incurable pharisaism, with its tendency to shift all blame on to other people’s shoulders. It is all like the damp in the walls of an ill-built house. In dry weather there are only the stains, but those stains are the prophecy of what will be again when the wet weather returns. The corrupt ways have become a second nature; they are as sleep and food to the wretched creature; to abstain from iniquity creates the restlessness of insomnia; if he has not been spreading an influence of evil and leading others astray, he feels as if he had been deprived of his daily food, and he is consumed with a fiery thirst. {Proverbs 4:16-17} Even when such a one is genuinely born again, the old hideous habits will appear like seams in the character; and temptations will send the flush along the tell-tale scars.

On the other hand, the life which starts from the sweet examples of a hallowed home, and all its timely chastisements and discipline, presents a most entrancing history. At first there is much which is difficult to bear, much against which the flesh revolts. The influences of purity are cold like the early dawn, and the young child’s spirit shrinks and shivers; but with every step along the leveled road the light broadens and the air becomes warmer, -the dawn shines more and more unto the perfect day. {Proverbs 4:18 margin} As the character forms, as the habits become fixed, as the power of resistance increases, a settled strength and a lasting peace gladden the life. The rays of heavenly wisdom not only shine on the face, but suffuse the very texture of the being, so that the whole body is full of light. Eventually it begins to appear that truth and purity, pity and charity, have become instinctive. Like a well-disciplined army, they spring at once into the ranks, and are ready for service even on a surprise. The graces of holy living come welling up from those untainted inner springs, and, be the surroundings ever so dry, the fountains fail not. The habit of single-eyed devotion to right avails even where there is no time for reflection; more and more the seductions of the senses lose their point of attack in this disciplined spirit. There is a freedom in the gait, for holiness has ceased to be a toilsome calculation, -the steps of the spiritual man are not straitened. There is a swiftness in all action, -the feet are shod with a joyous and confident preparation, for the fear of stumbling is gone. {Proverbs 4:12}

With daily growing gratitude and veneration does such a one look back upon the early home of piety and tenderness.



Proverbs 9:1-18, Proverbs 20:14 with Proberbs 3, and Proverbs 20:16 with Proverbs 4:1-27AFTER the lengthened contrast between the vicious woman and Wisdom in chapters 7 and 8, the introduction of the book closes with a little picture which is intended to repeat and sum up all that has gone before. It is a peroration, simple, graphic, and beautiful.

There is a kind of competition between Wisdom and Folly, between Righteousness and Sin, between Virtue and Vice; and the allurements of the two are disposed in an intentional parallelism; the coloring and arrangement are of such a kind that it becomes incredible how any sensible person, or for that matter even the simple himself, could for a moment hesitate between the noble form of Wisdom and the meretricious attractions of Folly. The two voices are heard in the high places of the city; each of them invites the passers-by, especially the simple and unsophisticated-the one into her fair palace, the other into her foul and deadly house. The words of their invitation are very similar: "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that is void of understanding, she saith to him:" but how different is the burden of the two messages! Wisdom offers life, but is silent about enjoyment; Folly offers enjoyment, but says nothing of the death which must surely ensue.

First of all we will give our attention to the Palace of Wisdom and the voices which issue from it, and then we will note for the last time the features and the arts of Mistress Folly.

The Palace of Wisdom is very attractive; well-built and well furnished, it rings with the sounds of hospitality; and, with its open colonnades, it seems of itself to invite all passers-by to enter in as guests. It is reared upon seven well-hewn marble pillars, in a quadrangular form, With the entrance side left wide open. This is no shifting tent or tottering hut, but an eternal mansion, that lacks nothing of stability, or completeness, or beauty. Through the spacious doorways may be seen the great courtyard, in which appear the preparations for a perpetual feast. The beasts are killed and dressed: the wine stands in tall flagons ready mixed for drinking: the tables are spread and decked. All is open, generous, large, a contrast to that unhallowed private supper to which the unwary youth was invited by his seducer. {Proverbs 7:14} There are no secret chambers, no twilight suggestions and insinuations: the broad light shines over all; there is a promise of social joy; it seems that they will be blessed who sit down together at this board. And now the beautiful owner of the palace has sent forth her maidens into the public ways of the city: theirs is a gracious errand; they are not to chide with sour and censorious rebukes, but they are to invite with winning friendliness; they are to offer this rare repast, which is now ready, to all those who are willing to acknowledge their need of it. "Come, eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled." {Proverbs 9:5}

We were led to inquire in the last chapter how far our Lord identified Himself with the hypostatic Wisdom who was speaking there, and we were left in some doubt whether He ever consciously admitted the identity; but it is hardly a matter of doubt that this passage was before His mind when He spoke His parable of the Wedding Feast. And the connection is still more apparent when we look at the Greek version of the LXX, and notice that the clause "sent forth her bond-servants" is precisely the same in Proverbs 9:3 and in Matthew 22:3. Here, at any rate, Jesus, who describes Himself as "a certain king," quite definitely occupies the place of the ancient Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, and the language which in this passage she employs He, as we shall see, in many slight particulars made His own.

Yes, our Lord, the Wisdom Incarnate, has glorious ideas of hospitality; He keeps open house; His purpose is to call mankind to a great feast; the "bread and the wine" are prepared; the sacrifice which furnishes the meat is slain. His messengers are not commissioned with a mournful or a condemnatory proclamation, but with good tidings which they are to publish in the high places. His word is always, Come. His desire is that men should live, and therefore He calls them into the way of understanding. {Proverbs 9:6} If a man lacks wisdom, if he recognizes his ignorance, his frailty, his folly, if he is at any rate wise enough to know that he is foolish, well enough to know that he is sick, righteous enough to know that he is sinful, let him approach this noble mansion with its lordly feast. Here is bread which is meat indeed; here is wine which is life-giving, the fruit of the Vine which God has planted.

But now we are to note that the invitation of Wisdom is addressed only to the simple, not to the scorner. {Proverbs 9:7} She lets the scorner pass by, because a word to him would recoil only in shame on herself, bringing a blush to her queenly face, and would add to the scorner’s wickedness by increasing his hatred of her. Her reproof would not benefit him, but it would bring a blot upon herself, it would exhibit her as ineffectual and helpless. The bitter words of a scorner can make wisdom appear foolish, and cover virtue with a confusion which should belong only to vice. "Speak not in the hearing of a fool; for he will despise the wisdom of thy words." {Proverbs 23:9} Indeed, there is no character so hopeless as that of the scorner; there proceeds from him, as it were, a fierce blast, which blows away all the approaches which goodness makes to him. Reproof cannot come near him; {Proverbs 13:1} he cannot find wisdom, though he seek it; {Proverbs 14:6} and as a matter of fact, he never seeks it. {Proverbs 15:12} If one attempts to punish him it can only be with the hope that others may benefit by the example; it will have no effect upon him. {Proverbs 19:25} To be rid of him must be the desire of every wise man, for he is an abomination to all, {Proverbs 24:9} and with his departure contention disappears. {Proverbs 22:10} They that scoff at things holy, and scorn the Divine Power, must be left to themselves until the beginnings of wisdom appear in them-the first sense of fear that there is a God who may not be mocked, the first recognition that there is a sanctity which they would do well at all events to reverence. There must be a little wisdom in the heart before a man can enter the Palace of Wisdom; there must be a humbling, a self-mistrust, a diffident misgiving before the scorner will give heed to her invitation.

There is an echo of this solemn truth in more than one saying of the Lord’s. He too cautioned His disciples against casting their pearls before swine, lest they should trample the pearls under their feet, and turn to rend those who were foolish enough to offer them such treasure. {Matthew 7:6} Men must often be taught in the stern school of Experience, before they can matriculate in the reasonable college of Wisdom. It is not good to give that which is holy to dogs, nor to display the sanctities of religion to those who will only put them to an open shame. Where we follow our own way instead of the Lord’s, and insist on offering the treasures of the kingdom to the scorners, we are not acting according to the dictates of Wisdom, we get a blot for that goodness which we so rashly offer, and often are needlessly rent by those whom we meant to save. It is evident that this is only one side of a truth, and our Lord presented with equal fullness the other side; it was from Him we learnt how the scorner himself, who cannot be won by reproof, can sometimes be won by love; but our Lord thought it worthwhile to state this side of the truth, and so far to make this utterance of the ancient Wisdom His own.

Again, how constantly He insisted on the mysterious fact that to him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken what he hath, precisely in the spirit of this saying: "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning." The entrance into the kingdom, as into the house of Wisdom, is by humility. Except a man turn, and become as a little child, he cannot enter. Wisdom is only justified of her children: until the heart is humble it cannot even begin to be wise; although it may seem to possess a great deal, all must be taken away, and a new beginning must be made-that beginning which is found in the fear of the Lord, and in the knowledge of the Holy. {Proverbs 9:10}

The closing words in the invitation of Wisdom are entirely appropriate in the lips of Jesus, and, indeed, only in His lips could they be accepted in their fullest signification. There is a limited sense in which all wisdom is favorable to long life, as we saw in chapter 3, but it is an obvious remark, too, that the wise perish even as the fool; one event happens to them both, and there appears to be no difference. But the Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ, was able to say with a broad literalness, "By Me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased." With Him the outlook widened; He could speak of a new life, of raising men up at the last day; He could for the first time give a solution to that constant enigma which has puzzled men from the beginning, How is it that Wisdom promises life, and yet often requires that her children should die? How is it that the best and wisest have often chosen death, and so to all appearance have robbed the world of their goodness and their wisdom? He could give the answer in the glorious truth of the Resurrection; and so, in calling men to die for Him, as He often does, He can in the very moment of their death say to them with a fullness of meaning, "By Me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased."

And then how entirely is it in harmony with all His teaching to emphasize to the utmost the individual choice and the individual responsibility. "If thou art wise, thou art wise for thyself: and if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it." There can be no progress, indeed no beginning, in the spiritual life, until this attitude of personal isolation is understood. It is the last result of true religion that we live in others; but it is the first that we live in ourselves: and until we have learnt to live in ourselves we can be of no use by living in others. Until the individual soul is dealt with, has understood the demands which are made upon it, and met them, it is in no position to take its rightful place as a lively stone in the temple of God, or as a living member in the body of Christ. Yes, realize this searching assurance of Wisdom, let us say, rather, of Christ: if you are like the wise virgins in the parable, it is for your own everlasting good, you shall enter into the hall with the Bridegroom; but if you are like the foolish virgins, no wisdom of the wise can avail you, no vicarious light will serve for your lamps; for you there must be the personal humiliation and sorrow of the Lord’s "I know you not."

If with scornful indifference to your high trust as a servant of the Master you hide your talent, and justify your conduct to yourself by pleading that the Master is a hard man, that scorn must recoil upon your own head; so far from the enlarged wealth of the others coming to meet your deficiencies, the misused trifle which you still retain will be taken from you and given to them. Men have sometimes favored the notion that it is possible to spend a life of scornful indifference to God and all His holy commandments, a life of arrogant self-seeking and bitter contempt for all His other creatures, and yet to find oneself at the end entirely purged of one’s contempt, and on precisely equal terms with all pious and humble hearts; but against this notion Wisdom loudly exclaims; it is the notion of Folly, and so far from redeeming the folly, it is Folly’s worst condemnation: for surely Conscience and Reason, the heart and the head, might tell us that it is false; and all that is sanest and wisest in us concurs in the direct and simple assurance, "If thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it."

Such is the invitation, and such the warning of Wisdom; such is the invitation, and such the warning, of Christ. Leave off, ye simple ones, and live. After all, most of us are not scorners, but only very foolish, easily dazzled with false lights, easily misled with smooth utterances which happen to chime in with our own ignorant prejudices, easily seduced into by-paths which in quiet moments we readily acknowledge to be sinful and hurtful. The scorners are but a few; the simple ones are many. Here is this gracious voice appealing to the simple ones, and with a winsome liberality inviting them to the feast of Wisdom.

At the close of verse 12 (Proverbs 9:12) the LXX give a very interesting addition, which was probably translated from a Hebrew original. It seems to have been before our Lord’s mind when He drew the description of the unclean spirit walking through waterless places, seeking rest and finding none. {Matthew 12:43} The passage is a figurative delineation of the evils which result from making shams and insincerities the support of life, in place of the unfailing sureness and available strength of wisdom; it may be rendered thus: "He who makes falsehood his support shepherds the winds, and will find himself pursuing birds on the wing; for it means leaving the paths of his own vineyard, and wandering over the borders of his own husbandry; it means walking through a waterless wilderness, over land which is the portion of the thirsty; he gathers in his hands fruitlessness." What a contrast to the spacious halls and the bountiful fare of Wisdom! A life based upon everlasting verities may seem for the time cold and desolate, but it is founded upon a rock, and not a barren rock either, for it sends forth in due course corn, and wine, and oil. The children in that house have bread enough and to spare. But when a man prefers make-believe to reality, and follows the apparently pleasant, instead of the actually good, what a clutching of winds it is! What a chase after swift-vanishing birds of joy! The wholesome ways, fruitful, responsive to toil, are left far behind; and here soon is the actual desert, without a drop of water to cool the lips, or a single fruit of the earth which a man can eat. The deluded soul consumes his substance with harlots, and he gathers the wind. The ways of vice are terrible; they produce a thirst which they cannot quench; and they fill the imagination with torturing images of well-being which are farther removed from reality by every step we take. Wisdom bids us to make truth our stay, for after all the Truth is the Way and the Life, and there is no other way, no other life.

And now comes the brief closing picture of Folly, to which again the LXX give a short addition. Folly is loud, empty-headed as her victims, whom she invites to herself, not as Wisdom invites them, to leave off their simplicity, but rather as like to like, that their ignorance may be confirmed into vice, and their simplicity into brutishness. She has had the effrontery to build her house in the most prominent and lofty place of the city, where by good rights only Wisdom should dwell. Her allurements are specially directed to those who seem to be going right on in their wholesome ways, as if she found her chief delight, not in gratifying the vicious, but in making vicious the innocent. Her charms are: poor and tawdry enough; seen in the broad sun-light, and with the wholesome air all round her, she would be revolting to every uncorrupted nature; her clamorous voice would sound strident, and her shameless brow would create a blush of shame in others; she naturally therefore seeks to throw a veil over herself and a glamour over her proposals; she suggests that secrecy and illicitness will lend a charm to what in itself is a sorry delight. It is clandestine, therefore it is to be sweet; it is forbidden, therefore it is to be pleasant. Could anything be more sophistical? That which owes its attraction to the shadows of the night must obviously be intrinsically unattractive. It is an argument fit only for the shades of the lost, and not for those who breathe the sweet air and behold the sun. Her house is indeed haunted with ghosts, and when a man enters her portal he already has his foot in hell. Well may the LXX add the vehement warning, "Spring away from her clutches; do not linger in the place; let her not have thy name, for thou wilt traverse another’s waters; from another’s waters hold aloof, from another’s fountains do not drink, in order that thou mayest live long, and add to thy years of life."

And now, before leaving this subject, we must briefly remark the great change and advance which Christ has brought into our thought of the relation between the two sexes. This Book of Wisdom is a fair illustration of the contempt in which woman was held by the wise men of Israel. One would suppose that she is the temptress, and man is the victim. The teacher never dreams of going a step backward, and asking whose fault it was that the temptress fell into her vicious ways. He takes no note of the fact that women are first led astray before they lead others. Nor does he care to inquire how the men of his day ruined their women by refusing to them all mental training, all wholesome interest and occupation, shutting them up in the corrupting atmosphere of the seraglio, and teaching them to regard the domestic sphere, and that only in its narrowest sense, as the proper limit of their thought and affection. It was reserved for the Great Teacher, the Incarnate Wisdom Himself, to redress this age-long injustice to woman, by sternly holding up to men the mirror of truth in which they might see their own guilty hearts. It was reserved for him to touch the conscience of a city woman who was a sinner, and to bring her from her clamorous and seductive ways to the sweetness of penitential tears, and the rapturous love which forgiveness kindles. It is He, and not the ancient Wisdom, who has turned the current of men’s thoughts into juster and kindlier ways on this great question. And thus it is that the great Christian poet represents the archangel correcting the faulty judgment of man. Adam, speaking with the usual virtuous indignation of the stronger sex in contemplation of the soft vision of frail women presented to his eyes, says:-

"O pity and shame, that they, who to live well

Entered so fair, should turn aside to tread

Paths indirect, or in the midway faint!

But still I see the tenor of man’s woe

Holds on the same, from woman to begin."

The correction is the correction of Christ, though Michael is the speaker:-

"From man’s effeminate slackness it begins," Said the angel, "who should better hold his place, By wisdom and superior gifts received."

Our Lord draws no such pictures as these in the book of proverbs; they have their value; it is necessary to warn young men against the seductions which the vices of other men have created in woman’s form; but He prefers always to go to the root of the matter; He speaks to men themselves; He bids them restrain the wandering eye, and keep pure the fountains of the heart. To that censorious Wisdom which judges without any perception that woman is more sinned against than sinning He would oppose His severe command to be rid of the beam in one’s own eye, before making an attempt to remove the mote from another’s. It is in this way that He in so many varied fields of thought and action has turned a half-truth into a whole truth by going a little deeper, and unveiling the secrets of the heart; and in this way He has enabled us to use the half-truth, setting it in its right relation to the whole.

The Expositor's Bible

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Proverbs 3
Top of Page
Top of Page