William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them.Proverbs Chapter 24
The value of wisdom is the main topic in chapter 24: 1-9; but here, not as we have already seen, in the fear of Jehovah, but as the strength of the faithful in the midst of evil men given to destruction and mischief. Why should any envy their lot or like their company?
"Be not thou envious of (or, against) evil men, neither desire to be with them; for their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.
"Through wisdom is a house built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge are the chambers filled with all precious and pleasant wealth.
"A wise man [is] in strength, and a man of knowledge increaseth strength. For with wise counsels thou shalt make thy war; and in the multitude of counsellors [is] safety (or, victory) .
"Wisdom [is] too high for a fool: he will not open his mouth in a gate. He that deviseth to do evil shall be called a master of intrigues.
"The thought of foolishness [is] sin, and the scorner [is] an abomination to men."
Men may be clever and interesting; but what of these qualities, if they are "evil"? They may flourish for a while; but they are enemies of God, and just objects of horror, but pity too, and no more to be envied in any respect than their company to be sought. Underneath wit on the surface is their study of destruction, so that their lips cannot conceal the mischief they talk.
It is wholly different with the wisdom that begins with fearing Jehovah, which instead of active mischief builds up a house for family use, and by understanding establishes it. And as He prospered the wise in their projects, so He gave knowledge to furnish richly and pleasantly. For this book contemplates His people on earth, not present suffering with Christ and glory on high. How different Christ's part here below, and the lot of His faithful ones!
A wise man is strong, we are told. It is moral strength, the reverse of Samson's physical strength with moral weakness and folly. Hence too a man of knowledge increaseth strength, instead of losing its advantage by heedlessness. As it is prospered in peace, so wise counsel is of the greatest weight in war (v. 6), where, as danger thickens, safety is in multitude of counsellors, not in self-confidence.
How well it is said that "wisdom is too high for a fool!" He is self- satisfied, knows not his emptiness, and asks not of God what he lacks. So far, he does well not to open his mouth where counsel is sought; for what could a fool say?
But there is a man more to be dreaded and avoided than the senseless - such as devises evil doings. Hence he earns the character of a master of intrigues. These men are truly mischievous.
To a godly soul another consideration arises still more serious: "the thought of foolishness is sin, and the scorner is an abomination to men." It is not only the carrying out of mischief, but the thought of foolishness is sin. How sad when the heart allows it, instead of fleeing at once to God against it! But the scorner is odious above all, as one who is not only evil in mind and heart, but he takes pleasure in lowering and maligning the righteous.
Courage is tested in the day of trouble, which gives the occasion to show its worth. But it shines better in delivering those who are in it; and this with integrity before Him who sees, to whom each owes his preservation, and who takes account of man according to his work. He would have one to enjoy the good He gives, but consider wisdom and the issue. A wicked man is warned against lying in wait against the righteous man, who, if he fall, will surely rise, while his enemy stumbles into ruin. Nor does it become one to rejoice at the fall even of an adversary, lest Jehovah see it, and not for nothing.
"[If] thou losest courage in the day of trouble, thy strength [is] small.
"Deliver those taken forth to death, and withdraw not from them that stagger to slaughter.
"If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not, will not he that weigheth the hearts consider it?
"And he that preserveth thy soul, he knoweth [it]; and he rendereth to man according to his work.
"Eat honey, my son, for [it is] good; and a honeycomb [is] sweet to thy taste.
"So consider wisdom for thy soul; if thou hast found [it], there shall be a result, and thine expectation shall not be cut off.
"Lay not wait, wicked [man], against the dwelling of the righteous; lay not waste his resting place.
"For a righteous man falleth seven times, and riseth up again; but the wicked stumble into disaster.
"Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thy heart be glad when he stumbleth;
"Lest Jehovah see [it], and it be evil in his sight, and he turn away his anger from him." vv. 10-18.
A day of trouble naturally alarms and bewilders one who has not faith and hope in God. Even the believer, distressed after the word of Christ emboldened him to join his Master on the sea, "when he saw the wind boisterous," was afraid and began to sink. Had he looked off to Jesus, his strength had been great, for there only it lay. Little faith is little strength. Jesus is the same to us whatever the sea or the wind; and Peter apart from looking to Jesus would have sunk equally on the smoothest sea without a puff of wind.
To use strength for ourselves has no worth; but to deliver those who are in peril of death unjustly, from whatever source, public or private, becomes a righteous soul. It is a duty independent of either friendship or neighbourly claim. The Samaritan was the Lord's answer to the lawyer's question, Who is my neighbour? Without the least thought of justifying himself, he becomes neighbour to the sufferer who needed his help.
In vain did the priest and the Levite say of the man lying half dead on the opposite side of the road, We knew it not: Jehovah considered it.
The conviction that He preserves one's soul brings His knowledge of all before the heart, as we may believe it moved the Samaritan to mercy, besides the certainty that He renders to man according to his work.
Honey is a good thing naturally where God made all things good, nor did He begrudge the honeycomb sweet to the taste in a land flowing with milk and honey. He had pleasure in providing good things freely for man, though He knew man would abuse them all.
But what is wisdom to thy soul? The communications of Jehovah are sweeter still, says Psalm 19. If thou hast so found it, "there shall be a result, and thine expectation shall not be cut off." He that does the will of God abides forever.
The next is a warning to a wicked man to beware of craft or violence against the house of the righteous. Does not Jehovah see?
It is true that the righteous may fall ever so often - "seven times" - yet he riseth again; as the wicked do not stumble into disaster. Look on the one hand at David; at Shimei, Ahithophel, Absalom, and Joab on the other.
How selfish and base to rejoice in the fall of an enemy! It may please the subtle enemy and the flesh too; but let not your heart be glad that he stumbles, else Jehovah will surely see and be displeased, and turn away His anger from him. And to whom? Let your conscience answer.
In order to walk righteously before Jehovah, both faith and hope are very requisite. Present results are no real standard of judgment, and too apt to do harm to our spirits as well as to deceive others. And what does He see fitting?
"Fret not thyself because of evil-doers, be not envious of the wicked;
"For there shall be no future (or, reward) to the evil [man]; the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.
"My son, fear Jehovah and the king; meddle not with those that are given to change;
"For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the destruction of them both (or, of their years)?
"These [things] also [are] of the wise.
"To have respect of persons in judgment is not good.
"He that saith to the wicked, Thou [art] righteous, peoples shall curse him, nations shall abhor him;
"But to those that rebuke [him] shall be delight, and a good blessing cometh upon them.
"He kisseth the lips who giveth a right answer." vv. 19-26.
It is a great thing for a believer to occupy himself and his lips with the good, especially now that God has revealed Himself in the Son incarnate, that he may not be overcome of evil, but overcome it with good. The Jew was expressly separated from the Gentile, devoted as he was to his gods that were in no sense God. But the Christian who is surrounded by evil men and impostors is called to bear witness to Him who came in grace and truth, a divine Person as truly as He was manifested in flesh, and this that his soul might receive of His fullness. He is thus enabled to pity and seek the blessing of the wicked instead of envying them.
The awful end of rejecting the Saviour to his own ruin is present to one's own spirit, humbled by the known grace of God who will send the Lord Jesus shortly to execute a judgment which will extinguish the lamp of the wicked.
Therefore all the more does the believer fear God and the king in the form of honouring him who is His representative in earthly things, and to be obeyed in all things save to the dishonour of God and His Word. Even then he is to suffer the consequences, never to resist or rebel like those given to meddling and change. For even here their calamity rises suddenly when they least expect it; and who knows the ruin that impends till it falls far and wide? "Fear God, honour the king," says 1 Peter 2:17.
In a sort of appendix that follows the opening maxim is the value and duty of impartiality in judgment, which with respect of persons is but a mockery. But this undue favour assumes its worst form when the wicked person is complimented as righteous. Such a reversal of equity provokes whole peoples to curse the perpetrator, and draws out the abhorrence of the nations in hasty likes and dislikes.
Honest rebuke of the wicked, or of any unprincipled favour shown them, as the rule, wins delight and the cordial desire for a blessing upon such. It draws out the strongest mark, not only of respect but affection, when a right answer is given, whereas self curries favour by compromise.
Verses 27-34 counsel practical wisdom in postponing one's comforts to the providing things honest outwardly, forbid unkindness and deceit in testimony, and denounce paying off old scores of ill feeling, as they portray graphically the issue of the slothful at the close.
"Prepare thy work without, and make it ready for thee in the field, and afterwards build thy house.
"Be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause, neither deceive with thy lips.
"Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.
"I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, behold, it was all grown over with thorns: nettles had covered its face, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.
"Then I beheld with set heart; I saw [and] received instruction.
"A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep;
"So shall thy poverty come, [as] a robber; and thy want as a man in armour."
Consideration of others and personal honesty are entitled to have a place superior to providing personal or family comfort.
How often too the question of a neighbour comes up, and the danger of a prejudice! But the word is distinct: "be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause." Things might not be as one would desire, but "deceive not with thy lips." As the Lord put it, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." He makes it positive duty, even if the neighbour failed on his side.
Still less should a righteous person venture on retribution. Who is he to assume God's place, and say, I will do to him as he has done to me? How awful if He only rendered to us what we deserved!
The slothful man is an object of pity as well as censure. He might be estimable this way or that, but his field and his vineyard proclaim the fault, and presage his ruin. Thorns and nettles hold the field where the good grain should wave; and the wall is so broken down as to invite injurious man and beast. Is it not an objective lesson to him that beholds all with the least attention? Certainly it is no example, but a serious warning. The outward discloses the inward. The heedless man lives to sleep his life away: "a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep." He may be innocent of strong drink, or of sensual pleasure, or of wasteful company. His laziness ensures his ruin. "So shall thy poverty come as a robber and thy want as a man in armour."
The true remedy is not industry for self, or activity in the world and the things of the world, but Christ the life eternal and sole propitiation for our sins to God's glory, the Lord of all, saints or sinners, the fullness of blessing and pattern of service.
For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.
Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established:
And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.
For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellers there is safety.
Wisdom is too high for a fool: he openeth not his mouth in the gate.
He that deviseth to do evil shall be called a mischievous person.
The thought of foolishness is sin: and the scorner is an abomination to men.
If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.
If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain;
If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?
My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste:
So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off.
Lay not wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous; spoil not his resting place:
For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.
Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth:
Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.
Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the wicked;
For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.
My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change:
For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?
These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment.
He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him:
But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.
Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer.
Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.
Be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause; and deceive not with thy lips.
Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding;
And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.
Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction.
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.