William Kelly Major Works Commentary
My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger,Proverbs Chapter 6
From these grave moral dangers we are next directed to matters of a very different complexion. But if on the surface they seem much less serious, their consequences are often ruinous. How gracious of Jehovah to take notice of things which might seem beneath Him! Is it not due to His deep interest in His people?
"My son, if thou art become surety for thy neighbour (or friend), - hast thou stricken thy hand for a stranger, thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth. Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself since thou art come into the hand of thy neighbour; go, humble thyself, and importune thy neighbour. Give not sleep to thine eyes nor slumber to thine eyelids; deliver thyself from the [hunter's] hand, and as a bird from the fowler's hand.
"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no chief, overseer, or ruler, provideth her bread in the summer, [and] gathereth her food in the harvest. How long, sluggard, wilt thou lie down? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to lie down! So shall thy poverty come as a rover, and thy want as an armed man." vv. 1-11.
It was the more notable that Jehovah should counsel His own, who might feel embarrassed by His command to love the neighbour as oneself. Instead of leaving it to human judgment or its conflict with amiable sentiment, He warns of the dangerous consequence in yielding to impulse. If the unwise step has been taken, it is right to acknowledge it, and wrong to break the words which have passed though to hurt. What then is becoming? "Go, humble thyself, and importune thy neighbour." This is painful, but wholesome. Jehovah will not fail to bless subjection to His word, and make a way of escape for both, though each may have to suffer for his own measure of fault in the transaction.
Does this word then absolutely prohibit such an act of kindness? It assuredly admonishes against the inconsiderate rashness which enters into such an engagement too often. If you are prepared before God to lose all that is at stake, and believe it His will, you are free. But apart even from the claims of nearer relationship, are you not a steward? Are you sure that the undertaking will bear the light? Is it for speculation? But supposing that your words have been spoken, and you wake up to see your folly, do not yield to pride or obstinacy, "deliver thyself"; and this, not by scolding your neighbour, but by confessing the simple truth of your own heedlessness. "Give not sleep to thine eyes nor slumber to thine eyelids" till this is done; He who thus directs can give efficacy to His word, which is as wise as ours may be foolish.
In full contrast with the earnestness enjoined here is the indolent folly which is next portrayed vividly. The sluggard is sunk so low, that Jehovah bids him learn of the tiny "ant" as his sufficient monitor; so the lilies of the field are made in the New Testament to rebuke anxiety for raiment. Not a word is said of hoarding store for winter, as in fact like many animals they are then torpid for the most part. But their unceasing industry and good order and even care for others in the summer and harvest while activity is open to them, may well put to shame the self-indulgent slumberer. If moral weakness in its easygoing has exposed its prey to the hunter and the fowler, so on the listless and lazy, poverty comes like a tramp or an armed man that will not be denied. What goodness on Jehovah's part to guard His people from both snares along their earthly pathway! How salutary for such as are called to higher things!
The Septuagint adds without warrant a lesson from the bee in verse 8, and gives a quite different turn to verse 11, making it a promise rather than a threat. One need not say that, however such words got into this Greek version, they are without warrant in the Hebrew. The Latin Vulgate follows the latter, not the former.
Unworthy as slothfulness is, bad and unwise for one to be idle, it is far worse to be active in evil, for this works mischief to others without end. The Holy Spirit first draws a portrait of the dangerous man in verses 12 to 15, and then presents the evils impersonally, save at the close, which are emphatically hateful to Jehovah in verses 16 to 19.
"A man of Belial, a wicked person, walketh with a perverse mouth. He winketh with his eyes; he speaketh with his feet; he teacheth with his fingers. Deceits [are] in his heart; he deviseth mischief at all times; he sendeth out discords. Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly, in a moment shall he be broken, and without remedy. Six [things] Jehovah hateth, yea, seven [are] an abomination of his soul; haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that are swift in running to mischief, a false witness breathing out lies, and he that sendeth out discords among brethren." vv. 12-19.
The first term reveals the evil source, the second characterizes him humanly and in general, whatever his position. The tongue, given to praise God and to help our fellows, too surely indicates what he is; he walks with a froward and perverse mouth. It is not merely that he feels no affection, but he has only things awry to say. He likes to differ and to insinuate what is painful. Nor is there candour even in his perverse expression, "he winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers." He plies his pertinacious and evil activity with the utmost skill. Not only practicing ill, but having pleasure in those that do it, he in an underhand way loves to make others his instruments; a wink of his eyes suffices for one; a shuffle with his feet influences another and even his restless fingers give a signal to the third. The evil has a root deeper than his perverse mouth; "deceits are in his heart." Other bad men may seek money, pleasure, ambition. His heart has it in frowardness; and to gratify this perverse spirit is his business and life; "he deviseth mischief at all times." His pleasure is to set people by the ears; "he sendeth out, or soweth, discords." He that bows to the written Word cannot doubt what will be the issue of a course so ungodly and malicious; but even now how often a blow falls on evil in this world! "Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; in a moment shall he be broken, and without remedy." The day of the Lord will display this judicial dealing publicly, and far and wide; but from time to time there may be a witness that God is not mocked.
To impress the abhorrence with which Jehovah regards malignant iniquity, we have special evil qualities. They are set forth in a more abstract style, which might not be in the same person, that in the mouth of these two divine testimonies every word should be the more established. "These six Jehovah hateth, yea, seven [are] an abomination to him." Haughty eyes are first, or a proud look; what a contrast with Him who made heaven and earth, and all that in them is, when He deigned to become man here below! The dependent and obedient man, meek and lowly in heart, who ever looked up and did only what pleased His Father, full of compassion toward suffering man, ready to forgive the sinful. "A lying tongue" comes next; Jesus was not true only but the truth; He alone. Far from Him "hands that shed innocent blood," Himself the holy sufferer to the utmost. But in man there may be worse still? "a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations," in hateful and unmistakable resemblance to the evil one. What can be more opposed to Jehovah and His Anointed? "The counsel of peace shall be between them both."
Do we read of men's "feet swift and running to mischief"? The Son tells us of the father running to meet the prodigal. But man under Satan's power, if he cannot kill or injure physically, may inflict a worse wrong as "a false witness breathing out lies." The goodness of God who discovers to us the truth about ourselves, leads to repentance; and He is the God of peace, in the fullest contrast with him "that sendeth out discords among brethren." "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" How hateful to Jehovah is he that soweth discords among brethren!
Proverbs 6:20-26 turns to another snare of more than usual danger, especially though by no means exclusively for the young. Hence the tenderness of the appeal to influence; hence memories, which did not fail to warn of so insidious a snare in the lusts of the flesh.
"My son, observe thy father's commandment, and forsake not thy mother's law. Bind them continually on thy heart, tie them about thy neck: when thou walkest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and [when] thou awakest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment [is] a lamp, and the law a light, and reproofs of instruction the way of life: to keep thee from the evil woman, from the smoothness of the tongue of a strange woman. Lust not after her beauty in thy heart, nor let her take thee with her eyelids; for by means of a whorish woman [one cometh] to a piece of bread, and another's wife doth hunt for the precious soul."
When men bearing the Lord's name are characteristically self-lovers, and disobedient to parents, it is the more urgent for the young and inexperienced to beware of the spirit of the age, and to recognize the place that Jehovah gave to a father's command and a mother's teaching. For those who fail in natural affection soon become implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce; instead of love for good, they are traitors, headstrong, and puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. If they hold a form of piety, they deny its power, and are to be promptly turned from.
Here the Son is exhorted to lay to heart those precepts to purity from early years, from the mother no less than the father. Indeed it falls to the mother most of all to form the bent of the young. Bind these words therefore "continually on thy heart, tie them about thy neck." They are both shield and ornament in a world as evil as is the fallen nature. When one walks, do we not need direction? When one sleeps, do we not need to be guarded? And when one awakes alone, is it not good and pleasant to have such a word shining and talking with us?
"For the commandment is a lamp, and the law (or teaching) a light." "A lamp" is excellent in a squalid place, as we are told of the prophetic word, which came when things went wrong, tells of even worse at hand, but assures of divine judgment when least expected. There we are also told of a still better light in the truth fully revealed and crowned by the blessed hope of Christ's coming for scenes more glorious. Here, if it rise not high, the teaching appears to exceed the commandment in breadth, positiveness, and intimacy too; how well then called a "light"! And we are reminded of "reproofs of instruction" as the way of life. How much do we not owe to that which, humbling as it is to our good opinion of ourselves, takes pains with us in love, and turns even our faults to profitable account!
At length comes the main point here - "to keep thee from the evil woman, from the smoothness of the tongue of a strange woman." How many a one trusting himself has been decoyed! A little license rapidly betrays into shameful sin. "Lust not after her beauty in thy heart, nor let her take thee with her eye-lids." If the Jews were God's people, much closer is our relationship as His children, and bought with a price, which they in their blindness despised. We are not our own, and are called to beware of a whorish woman, and yet more of another's wife, an adulteress; for here the evil is still more heinous, ruin both of soul and body, object too of God's especial judgment.
Still more emphatic is the warning here given, which deals with a more aggravated and destructive evil. It is not only the evil woman, or a strange woman, or a whorish woman. It is the wife of another, as in the last clause; and the language rises in severity, for marriage is a divine tie; and God hates its breach and judges those who break it.
"Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his garments not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be scorched? So he that goeth in to his neighbour's wife: whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. They do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry; and [if] he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house. Whoso committeth adultery with a woman is void of understanding; he [that] doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and contempt shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away. For jealousy [is] the rage of a man, and he will not spare in the day of vengeance; he will not regard any ransom, neither will he rest content though thou multiplieth gifts." vv. 27-35.
There is a baseness peculiar to itself, even among the dissolute, for a man to tamper with the wife of another. But lust is insidious on either side, and little beginnings, where that relationship subsists, are apt to go on to great evils. For Satan acts on the flesh, and leads souls which forget God's presence to venture in the vain hope of escape. But can a man take fire to his bosom, and his garments not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals and his feet not be scorched? That corruption will not escape the fire of human vengeance, how much less of divine judgment? Any approach, however small or passing, is dangerous and evil.
The inspired writer contrasts it with stealing even, though men are extremely sensitive of any loss in their property. If dire need were evident, men extenuate a thief when he steals a little rather than perish of starvation. But what is so senseless, no less than abominably sinful, as adulterous iniquity? Pity mingles with blame in the one case, but nothing can excuse the other. It is the foulest dishonour of the husband; it is the lifelong ruin of the entrapped wife; it is the shame of the house and of its connections; it is the abhorrence of God who judges it. And what must be his resentment who is chiefly wronged? No wonder that the evildoer is said to lack understanding or heart, and to destroy his own soul. The law laid down fines fourfold, fivefold, and sevenfold, for rising guilt in stealing; but death Moses commanded in Jehovah's name for adultery. If Christendom, pretending to judge the world, betrays its wicked levity by a lenient sentence, it tells its own tale of corruption, which will draw down the strong hand of the Lord God in judgment.
Even in this world, a wound and dishonour will the adulterer get, and his reproach shall not be wiped away, spite of the heathenism which dared to consecrate this enormity and every other - spite of Christendom which did once adopt heathen ways and seems now returning to them, even where Protestant zeal once chased them out in a large measure, though never up to the true Christian standard. Here it regards man's feelings. "For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance." The overture of any ransom is vain; to give many gifts, contents not him who cannot rest without wrong's condign punishment.
Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth.
Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend.
Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids.
Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?
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.
A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.
He winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers;
Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord.
Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy.
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother:
Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck.
When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.
For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:
To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.
Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.
For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life.
Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?
Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?
So he that goeth in to his neighbour's wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent.
Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry;
But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house.
But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul.
A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away.
For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance.
He will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts.