William Kelly Major Works Commentary
A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.Proverbs Chapter 11
The saving grace of God instructs us to live righteously in the present age. It is far from all that He looks for in a saint. Sobriety He claims, and godliness also. But honesty in our dealings with men is indispensable, the lack of which wholly discredits any profession of piety. It betrays a covetous man, whom the Holy Spirit brands as an idolater (Ephesians 5:5), and without inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. How hateful it was to Him of old, we see in the opening of our chapter.
"A false balance [is] abomination to Jehovah, but a just weight his delight.
"Pride cometh, then cometh shame; but with the lowly [is] wisdom.
"The integrity of the upright guideth them; but the crookedness of the treacherous destroyeth them.
"Wealth profiteth not in the day of wrath; but righteousness delivereth from death.
"The righteousness of the perfect maketh plain his way; but the wicked falleth by his own wickedness.
"The righteousness of the upright delivereth them; but the treacherous are taken in their own craving.
"When a wicked man dieth, expectation shall perish; and the hope of evil ones perisheth.
"The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.
"With the mouth a hypocrite destroyeth his neighbour; but through knowledge are the righteous delivered." vv. 1-9.
"A false balance" is much more than an act of dishonesty; it implies the pretension to integrity, and withal deliberate purpose to cheat. It is therefore an abomination to Him whose eyes behold, whose eyelids try the children of men, as a just weight is His delight. Trickery in trade is a corroding evil, most of all fatal to such as gain a sullied or a seared conscience.
Pride readily comes in this poor world, where man poses as something when he is nothing and worse. But its shadow is close at hand; "shame cometh"; and this even here, before the judgment. For God resists the proud, and proclaims their abasement. But with the lowly is wisdom. He is not ever on the tenterhooks of self. He looks above the petty ways of men, and refuses to be irritated even if wronged. The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, without hypocrisy.
It is not only unworthy devices in trade, or a self-exalting spirit, that we need to watch against, but perverseness in our heart and ways. Christ could designate Himself as "the truth." He was absolutely what He also spoke. His ways and His words perfectly agreed. Are we begotten by the word of truth, and sanctified by the Spirit? Let us follow Him, finding it is our sin and shame if we turn aside in aught. How blessed to be truthful in love! "The integrity of the upright shall guide them; but the crookedness of the treacherous destroyeth them." A tortuous path ends in ruin.
Nor can "riches" avail to avert or stay God's displeasure, however they may shield and deliver in man's day. "Riches profit not in the day of wrath; but righteousness delivereth from death." The just have a special resurrection (Luke 14:14). "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power." Death is now our servant (Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 3:22).
Nor is it only that righteousness delivers from death; "the righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way; but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness." The man to whom grace has given a single eye sees the way straight before him, while the wicked needs no executioner, as he shall die by his own evil.
Death ruins the flattering expectation of a wicked person. In hades he lifts up his eyes, being in torments; they had been closed before, save to the lie of the enemy. "When a wicked man dieth, expectation shall perish; and the hope of evil ones perisheth." "Thou fool" is then heard and felt in his despair.
How different is the lot of the just! "The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead." Even here the believer proves that God is his great Deliverer; how much more when the morning dawns without clouds! The wicked even here are not without evidence that God's eye is on them, to let them taste the fruit of their own way. "In the net which they hid is their own foot taken."
"With the mouth a hypocrite (or, impious one) destroyeth his neighbour; but through knowledge are the righteous delivered." Violence is not so dangerous as deceit, and no deceit is so evil as that which clothes itself with the name of the Lord and His Word. But God causes all things to work together for those that love Him, and this "through knowledge," through that which faith is now to learn, because God gives it in His grace. Thus is the righteous kept, yea garrisoned, by God's power, whatever ill will may plot to destroy.
The use and abuse of the mouth has a large place in the verses which come into review. Yet how small is the circle pursued compared with the vast range which Scripture touches elsewhere! There is much in the Old Testament which sets forth its evil; but in the New Testament it is exposed more deeply still, and in no part so much as the epistle of James.
"When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth; and when the wicked perish, [there is] shouting.
"By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted; but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.
"He that despiseth his neighbour is void of heart; but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.
"He that goeth about tale-bearing revealeth secrets; but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.
"Where no advice [is] the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors [there is] safety.
"It goeth ill with him that is surety for a stranger; but he that hateth suretyship is secure." vv. 10-15.
The impious person of verse 9 described as ruining his neighbour with his mouth must have been as deceitful as mischievous. We can understand therefore why it should be narrowed to "a hypocrite." ("Hypocrite" here and elsewhere seems defined unduly. The cognate verb is rendered to "profane," "defile," "pollute." Why should another force be given to the appellative?) Certainly he covers his neighbour with his defiling imputation so as to injure and destroy, as far as his intention could. But God takes care of the righteous in their unsuspecting simplicity, and gives knowledge, so that they are delivered.
Again, whatever may be the ill will of men provoked by a course of life which silently condemns them, conscience is forced to justify the truehearted. Hence, when it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices. Compare Esther 8:15-17. Just so, when downfall comes to the notoriously wicked, men cannot disguise their loud satisfaction.
Further, good fruit is expected to others from the upright. "By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked." Here the public ruin is attributed to the same source as that which destroys private reputation. A veil of piety but adds to the iniquity and to the mischief.
Next, we are told where silence is golden, both by contrast and directly: "He that despiseth his neighbour is void of heart." Where is his sense, where is propriety, to say nothing of the love and fear of God? It is certain that the Highest despises not any. What can a creature's state be who forgets either the body made of dust, or the soul from the inbreathing of Jehovah Elohim? Least of all does it suit Him who died to save the lost. "A man of understanding holdeth his peace" in such a case, unless there be a divine obligation to speak out. "He that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter; whereas he that goeth about as a slanderer revealeth secrets." To receive nothing so said, and to reprove the talebearer, will soon check and put such to shame; to repeat slanderous tales is to share the guilt and the mischief.
On the other hand there are those whom God sets as watchmen, and who are therefore bound to warn; as again the humble rejoice to be helped in their difficulties, instead of decrying those who have more discernment than themselves. "Where no advice is, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." Whatever the haughty spirit of independence may aspire to, there are chief men, or guides, among God's people; and none can ignore or slight them but to their own loss. The Holy Spirit does not lead to self-conceit, but to unfeigned humility and to cordial value for fellowship.
But to be surety for another is quite another thing from either giving or taking counsel. "It goeth ill with him that is surety for a stranger; but he that hateth suretyship is secure." Yet He who was best and wisest deigned to be surety for us where suffering followed to the uttermost; but as He knew beforehand, so He endured it all for us to God's glory. In our way and measure we too may incur the risk; but we should do it only where we are prepared to stand the forfeit, and can do it considerately and honourably. Otherwise it is right as well as safe to refuse. But speculation without or beyond means is wholly unjustifiable; it is not kindness, but rather dishonesty.
The next verses open with a contrast, a gracious rather than graceful woman, and violent men; but in verse 22 it is the very different image of a fair woman without discretion with its painful incongruity.
"A gracious woman retaineth honour, and the violent retain riches.
"The merciful man doeth good to his own soul, but the cruel troubleth his own flesh.
"The wicked earneth deceitful wages, but he that soweth righteousness a sure reward.
"As righteousness [tendeth] to life, so to death he that pursueth evil.
"The perverse in heart [are] abomination to Jehovah, but the upright in way [are] his delight.
"Hand in (or, for) hand, evil man shall not be unpunished; but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.
"As a gold ring in a swine's snout [is] a woman fair and indiscreet.
"The desire of the righteous [is] only good; the wicked's expectation [is] wrath (or, arrogance)." vv. 16-23.
The spirit that is "virtuous" is quite distinct from "gracious"; but the picture given in the latter part of Proverbs 31 is of a woman of whom the latter might be predicated as the former is. They are but different aspects of the same person. How can there be found a more vivid answer to one who seeks the meaning of her retaining honour? In fact it is well illustrated in the history of Abigail the Carmelite, as her husband Nabal shows how the violent retain riches. For the one a meek and quiet spirit is not only of great price in God's sight, but a blessing that endures; whereas what are the stoutest in holding their wealth before death? There is no discharge in that war.
It is obvious to everyone how blessed mercy is to the needy and wretched. Here is shown the good it does to the man's own soul. Who that reflects can dispute this, or its moral importance? On the other hand, equally certain it is that the cruel person does trouble not only his victims but his own flesh. Far from meaning it, he becomes in divine retribution a self-tormentor even now.
The force of verse 18 seems to be not only the deceitful work that the wicked man does, but the kindred and disappointing wages he earns. It deceives himself as much or more than those he injures. But he that walks consistently with his relationship to God and man sows and reaps accordingly. He has a sure reward. How fully the New Testament bears both out, is evident from Romans 8 and Galatians 6.
This is carried farther in terms still more general but no less sure and weighty in the verse that follows. Righteousness certainly tends to life, as he that pursues evil to his own death. The devil is not only a liar but a murderer from the beginning till his end come; and those who are swayed by him must share his doom, as they reject the Righteous One who alone gives life to those that believe.
Then we hear of a class whose aggravated evil makes them offensive to God. For the froward or perverse in heart are declared to be "an abomination to Jehovah." But it is a comfort to know from Himself that such as are perfect (or, upright) in way are His delight. It was man, independent and rebellious, that departed from Jehovah Elohim, before He drove him from the earthly paradise. Yet does His goodness lead the guilty to repentance, and by revealed grace render him upright and guileless, but this only through His Son becoming not only the pattern man, but the sacrifice for our sins. What a joy to the believer that His complacency in man is beyond doubt, and according to His Word! Yes, He delights in those whose way is marked by integrity.
"Hand to hand," here and in Proverbs 16, is a phrase open to a variety of explanations. Even, to all generations, and certainly, have been suggested by some, while another refers it to terms in making a bargain. Whichever it be, an evil person shall not be scatheless in one version; in the other, not only the righteous but their seed shall be delivered. Israel, as they have been, attest the one; Israel, as they shall be, will be the plain proof of the other. Jehovah can by redemption forget iniquities, but will remember and bless for the fathers' sake; in Christ He can afford to do so.
But how unseemly a sight is a fair woman without that discretion which the weaker vessel needs in the world and the race as they are! Truly a jewel of gold in a swine's snout - a phrase purposely framed to convey incongruity and disgust.
Again, the desire of the righteous is only good. Begotten as they are of incorruptible seed through God's word, their affections flow from that new life. They have another nature prone to evil; but this they judge before God who watches over His husbandry for good and the repression of evil. The expectation of the wicked is according to their unremoved evil and their deadly opposition to God, which only vexes them to wrath, and must end in outer darkness with its weeping and gnashing of teeth. Who can wonder that in chapter 11 we read, "the hope of the righteous shall be granted," and that the fear of the wicked shall come upon him no less than his expectation?
A deathblow seems struck at selfishness in the following verses. They open with a maxim expressly framed to startle souls and call for reflection. But the more the words are weighed, their certainty appears all the clearer and the more important.
"There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is right, but only to want.
"The blessing soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.
"He that withholdeth corn, the people curse him; but blessing [shall be] upon the head of him that selleth [it].
"He that is earnest after good seeketh favour; but he that searcheth after mischief, it shall come upon him.
"He that trusteth in his riches shall fall; but the righteous shall flourish as a green leaf.
"He that troubleth his own house shall inherit wind; and the fool [shall be] servant to the wise of heart.
"The fruit of the righteous [is] as a tree of life; but the wise winneth souls.
"Behold, the righteous shall be requited on the earth: how much more the wicked and the sinner!" vv. 24-31.
Even agriculture, trade, and commerce illustrate faith in the unseen, however severed from that sovereign grace which is the spring of blessing in the spiritual realm. But increase as the result cannot be without judgment along the way. On the other hand, niggardliness and fear cannot ward off want, nor do they deserve it. He who is alone worthy of all trust, and even in a scene of confusion, holds the reins, is entitled to form and guide the heart, and He loves a cheerful giver.
Hence the blessing or liberal one is richly blessed; and the waterer of others, according to this expressive figure, gets watered himself. Have we not known it here and there, if we have not proved it as we ought? See its perfection in Him who at the well of Sychar touched the core of the fatal evil, that the Spirit might act as the fountain of His living water springing up to life eternal, Himself finding His food in doing the will of the One who sent Him.
Next we hear the people, on the other side, cursing the withholder of corn in the time of want and suffering to enrich himself, as surely as blessing does not fail to be on his head that fairly disposes of it. See it in the beautiful tale of Joseph during Egypt's years of famine. Alas! the sad story prevails today too often where the glad one should be heard.
Now we are shown a larger and higher application. He that is earnest, or rises early, after good seeks favour, nor does he fail as the rule to procure it. How pleasant it is in His eyes who alone is absolutely and essentially good! But what can one look for in divine government, but that mischief shall come upon him that is industrious in devising it? What a solemn and sudden witness of it in Haman, the Jews' enemy, during their servitude to the Gentile, as of no less favour is in Mordecai!
Precarious indeed is confidence in riches, as we are next told; for they certainly make for themselves wings and flee away as an eagle toward heaven. No wonder then that he that trusts in them shall fall. On the other hand, righteousness endures, whatever comes from without; so the wise man can say that the righteous shall flourish as the branch or green leaf. He, as David sang, is like a tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth fruit in season, and with leaf also that withers not. "Your bones," said the prophet, "shall flourish like the tender grass." For the Christian, this is through abiding in Christ.
Verse 29 brings before us the man "that troubleth his own house." This might be by one or other of the aforesaid objectionable ways - undue scattering, or undue withholding. By either course, not only is his own house made a scene of vexation, but the end for himself is the wind, a heritage of nothing but disappointment. "The fool" seems to sink still lower, and becomes servant to those who are "wise of heart," the very reverse of his own heartless inconsiderateness.
How contrasted with persons so failing in righteous wisdom is that which is next set before us. "The fruit of the righteous is as a tree of life; and the wise winneth souls." A tree is a noble object in the landscape, but the fruit of the righteous is far beyond such a comparison; it is as "a tree of life." They are blessed and a blessing. But the wise rises yet higher, and wins souls; or he that wins souls is wise - a work impossible without divine love constraining, a divine fear communicated by the Word and Spirit of God. How richly the gospel of His grace now produces both! How sad where it does not!
The chapter closes with a vivid call to "behold", and what then? A cardinal principle for Israel: "the righteous shall be requited on the earth: how much more the wicked and the sinner!" It has been but imperfectly seen, for rulers and subjects have alike fallen short. For a full witness it awaits His kingdom who will come in power and glory, whose right it is. He has spoken, and He will do it. And the time is short; the end of all things is at hand.
When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.
The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them.
Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death.
The righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way: but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness.
The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them: but transgressors shall be taken in their own naughtiness.
When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth.
The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.
An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.
When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting.
By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted: but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.
He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.
A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.
Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellers there is safety.
He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it: and he that hateth suretiship is sure.
A gracious woman retaineth honour: and strong men retain riches.
The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.
The wicked worketh a deceitful work: but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward.
As righteousness tendeth to life: so he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death.
They that are of a froward heart are abomination to the LORD: but such as are upright in their way are his delight.
Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.
As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.
The desire of the righteous is only good: but the expectation of the wicked is wrath.
There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.
The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.
He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him: but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it.
He that diligently seeketh good procureth favour: but he that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him.
He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch.
He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.
Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner.