Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.
Verse 1. - Every wise woman buildeth her house. Wise women order well their household matters and their families; they have an important influence, and exercise it beneficially.
Γυναικὸς ἐσθλῆς ἐστὶ σώζειν οἰκίαν.
"A good wife is the saving of a house." The versions render as above. A different pointing of the word translated "wise" (chakhmoth) will give "wisdom" (chokhmoth), which it seems best to read here, as the parallel to the abstract term "folly" in the second member. So we have, "Wisdom hath builded her house" (Proverbs 9:1; comp. Proverbs 1:20). Thus: "The wisdom of women buildeth their house" (Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 24:3). But the foolish plucketh it down with her hands; "but Folly plucketh it down with her own hands;" of course, the folly of women is intended.
Γυνὴ γὰρ οἴκῳ πῆμα καὶ σωτηρία
"Bane or salvation to a house is woman." Foolish, unprincipled women, by their bad management or their evil doings, ruin their families materially and morally. "The husband should labour," says a Servian proverb; "the wife should save."
He that walketh in his uprightness feareth the LORD: but he that is perverse in his ways despiseth him.
Verse 2. - He that walketh in his uprightness feareth the Lord. So the Septuagint. He who lives an upright life does so because he fears the Lord; and his holy conversation is an evidence that he is influenced by religious motives. The outward conduct shows the inward feeling. So he that is perverse in his ways despiseth him - the Lord. A man is evil in his actions because he has cast off the fear of God; and such wickedness is a proof that he has lost all reverence for God and care to please him. Delitzsch renders, "He walketh in his uprightness who feareth Jahve, and perverse in his ways is he that despiseth him;" i.e. the conduct of the two shows the way in which they severally regard God and religion, the former acting conscientiously and uprightly, the latter following his own lusts, which lead him astray. Either interpretation is admissible. Septuagint, "He that walketh in crooked ways (σκολιάζων ταῖς ὁδοῖς αὐτοῦ) shall he dishonoured." The Vulgate gives quite a different turn to the sentence, "He who walketh in the right way and feareth the Lord is despised by him who pursueth the path of shame." This intimates the hatred which sinners feel for the godly (comp. Job 12:4; and especially Wisd. 2:10-20; and our Lord's warning, John 15:18-21).
In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: but the lips of the wise shall preserve them.
Verse 3. - In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride. חֹטֶר (choter), "rod," or "shoot," is found also in Isaiah 11:1. From the mouth of the arrogant fool proceeds a growth of vaunting and conceit, accompanied with insolence towards others, for which he is often chastised. So the tongue is compared to a sword (e.g. Psalm 57:4; Psalm 64:3; Jeremiah 18:18; Revelation 1:16. St. Gregory ('Mor. in Job.,' 24) applies this sentence to haughty preachers, who are anxious to appear superior to other people, and study more to chide and reprove than to encourage; "they know how to smite sharply, but not to sympathize with humility." Septuagint, "From the mouth of fools cometh a staff of insolence." The lips of the wise shall preserve them - the wise (Proverbs 13:3). These do not abuse speech to insult and injure others; and their words tend to conciliate others, and promote peace and good will (comp. Proverbs 12:6, 18).
Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.
Verse 4. - Where no oxen (cattle) are, the crib is clean. This does not mean, as some take it, that labour has its rough, disagreeable side, yet in the end brings profit; but rather that without bullocks to labour in the fields, or cows to supply milk - that is, without toil and industry, and necessary instruments - the crib is empty, there is nothing to put in the granary, there are no beasts to fatten. The means must be adapted to the end. Much increase is by the strength of the ox. This, again, is not an exhortation to kindness towards animals, which makes no antithesis to the first clause; but it is parallel with Proverbs 12:11, and means that where agricultural works are diligently carried on (the "ploughing ox" being taken as the type of industry), large returns are secured. Septuagint, "Where fruits are plentiful the strength of the ox is manifest."
A faithful witness will not lie: but a false witness will utter lies.
Verse 5. - A repetition of Proverbs 12:17 (see also Proverbs 6:19). A faithful witness cannot be induced to swerve from the truth by threat or bribe. Will utter; Hebrew, breatheth forth. A false witness with no compulsion, as it were naturally, puts forth lies (comp. ver. 25; Proverbs 19:5). Septuagint, " An unrighteous witness kindleth (ἐκκαίει) falsehood."
A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.
Verse 6. - A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not; literally, it is not - there is none (Proverbs 13:7). A scorner may affect to be seeking wisdom, but he can never attain to it, because it is given only to him who is meek and fears the Lord (Psalm 25:9). Wisd. 1:4, "Into a malicious soul wisdom shall not enter; nor dwell in the body that is pledged to sin" (comp. Psalm 111:10). True wisdom is not to be won by those who are too conceited to receive instruction, and presume to depend upon their own judgment, and to weigh everything by their own standard. This is especially true of the knowledge of Divine things, which "scorners" never really acquire. Septuagint, "Thou shalt seek wisdom among the wicked, but thou shalt find it not." Knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth; "that hath understanding," i.e. to the man who realizes that the fear of God is a necessary condition to the acquiring of wisdom, and who seeks it as a boon at his hands. This acquisition, as it is difficult, nay, impossible for the scorner, is comparatively easy for the humble believer who seeks it with the right temper and in the right way. "Mysteries are revealed unto the meek" (Ecclus. 3:19, in some manuscripts).
Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.
Verse 7. - Go from the presence of a foolish man. There is some doubt about the rendering of this passage. The Vulgate gives, vade contra stultum, which is probably to be taken in the sense of the Authorized Version. The Revised Version has, "Go into the presence of a foolish man." The Hebrew מִנֶּגֶד (minneged) may mean "from before," "over against," "in the presence of." Hence arises an ambiguity. The Authorized Version considers the sentence to be an injunction to turn away from a stupid man when you perceive that you can do him no good. The Revised Version is equivalent to "if you go into the presence," etc. When thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge; Revised Version, and thou shalt not perceive in him, etc., which embodies a truism with no special point. The whole sentence is better translated, Go forth from the presence of a foolish man, and thou hast not known the lips of knowledge; i.e., as Nowack explains, "Leave the presence of a fool, and you carry nothing away with you; after all your intercourse with him, you quit his presence without having gained any advance in true knowledge" (see on Proverbs 20:15). The LXX. presents a very different version: "All things are adverse to a foolish man; but wise lips are the arms of knowledge (αἰσθήσεως)." A foolish man, by his inconsiderate, slanderous, or bitter words, makes every one his enemy; a wise man uses his knowledge to good purposes; his words are the instruments by which he shows what he is.
The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit.
Verse 8. - The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way. The wisdom of the prudent is shown by his considering whither his actions lead, the motives from which they spring, the results that attend them. As the apostle enjoins (Ephesians 5:15), "See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise." Or the clause may be taken as enjoining a wise choice in life, a selection of such a calling or occupation as best suits one's capabilities, station, and opportunities. The folly of fools is deceit. This is not self-deceit, which the word does not denote, but deceit of others. Stupid persons show their folly in trying to cheat others, though they are sure to be detected, and their fraud recoils on themselves. In the case of fools, what they would call wisdom is folly; hence the wording of the sentence.
Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous there is favour.
Verse 9. - Fools make a mock at sin. So the Vulgate (comp. Proverbs 10:23). Fools, wicked men, commit sin lightly and cheerfully, give specious names to grievous transgressions, pass over rebuke with a joke, encourage others in crime by their easy way of viewing it. But in the original the verb is in the singular number, while the noun is plural, and the clause could be translated as in the Authorized Version only with the notion that the number of the verb is altered in order to individualize the application of the maxim ('Speaker's Commentary'). But there is no necessity for such a violent anomaly. The subject is doubtless the word rendered "sin" (asham) which means both "sin" and "sin offering." So we may render, "Sin mocks fools," i.e. deceives and disappoints them of the enjoyment which they expected. Or better, as most in harmony with the following member, "The sin offering of fools mocks them" (Proverbs 15:8). Thus Aquila and Theodotion, ἄφρονας χλευάζει πλημμέλεια, where πλημμέλεια may signify "sin offering" (Ecclus. 7:31). It is vain for such to seek to win God's favour by ceremonial observances; offerings from them are useless expenditure of cost and trouble (Proverbs 21:27). The Son of Sirach has well expressed this truth: "He that sacrificeth of a thing unlawfully gotten, his offering is mockery (μεμωκημένη), and the mockeries of unjust men are not well pleasing. The Most High is not pleased with the offerings of the godless, neither is he propitiated for sin by the multitude of sacrifices" (Ecclus. 31:18, 19). It is always the disposition of the heart that conditions the acceptableness of worship. Among the righteous there is favour - the favour and good will of God, which are bestowed upon them because their heart is right. The word ratson might equally refer to the good will of man, which the righteous gain by their kindness to sinners and ready sympathy; but in that case the antithesis would be less marked. Septuagint, "The houses of transgressors owe purification (ὀφειλήσουσι καθαρισμόν); but the houses of the just are aceeptable." This is explained to signify that sinners refuse to offer the sacrifice which they need for their legal purification; but the righteous, while they have no necessity for a sin offering, are acceptable when they present their free will vows and thanksgivings.
The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.
Verse 10. - The heart knoweth its own bitterness; literally, the heart (leb) knoweth the bitterness of his soul (nephesh). Neither our joys nor our sorrows can be wholly shared with another; no person stands in such intimate relation to us, or can put himself so entirely in our place, as to feel that which we feel. There is many a dark spot, many a grief, of which our best friend knows nothing; the skeleton is locked in the cupboard, and no one has the key but ourselves. But we can turn with confidence to the God-Man, Jesus, who knows our frame, who wept human tears, and bore our sorrows, and was in all points tempted like as we are, and who has taken his human experience with him into heaven. A stranger doth not intermeddle with its joy. The contrast is between the heart's sorrow and its joy; both alike in their entirety are beyond the ken of strangers. St. Gregory remarks on this passage ('Moral.,' 6:23), "The human mind 'knoweth its own soul's bitterness' when, inflamed with aspirations after the eternal land, it learns by weeping the sorrowfulness of its pilgrimage. But 'the stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy,' in that he, that is now a stranger to the grief of compunction, is not then a partaker in the joy of consolation." A homely proverb says, "No one knows where the shoe pinches so well as he that wears it;" and an Italian maxim runs, "Ad ognuno par piu grave la croce sua" - "To every one his own cross seems heaviest." Septuagint, "The heart of man is sensitive (αἰσθητική), his soul is sorrowful; but when it rejoices, it has no intermingling of insolence;" i.e. when a man's mind is sensitive it is easily depressed by grief; but when it is elated by joy, it should receive its pleasure and relief without arrogance and ribaldry.
The house of the wicked shall be overthrown: but the tabernacle of the upright shall flourish.
Verse 11. - The house... the tabernacle. The house of the wicked, which they build and beautify and love, and which they look upon as a lasting home, shall perish; the hope which they founded upon it shall come to a speedy end (Proverbs 12:7); but the righteous rear only a tent on earth, as becomes those who are strangers and pilgrims; and yet this abode is more secure, the hopes founded upon it are more lasting, for it continues unto everlasting life. The text in its first sense probably means that sinners take great pains to increase their material prosperity, and to leave heirs to carry on their name and family, but Providence defeats their efforts: good men do their duty in their state of life, try to please God and benefit their neighbour, leaving anxious care for the future, and God prospers them beyond all that they thought or wished (comp. Proverbs 3:33). Shall flourish. The word applies metaphorically to the growth, vigour, and increase of a family under the blessing of God. Septuagint, "The tents of the upright shall stand." There is a cognate proverb at Proverbs 12:7.
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
Verse 12. - This verse occurs again in Proverbs 16:25. There is a way which seemeth right unto a man. This may refer to the blinding effects of passion and self-will; for these make a man think his own way best and most desirable. But it seems better to take it as a warning against following a perverted or uninstructed conscience. Conscience needs to be informed by God's Word and ruled by God's will to make it a safe guide. When properly regulated, it is able to pronounce a verdict upon contemplated action, and its verdict must always he obeyed. But warped by prejudice, weakened by disuse and disobedience, judicially blinded in punishment and in consequence of sin, it loses all power of moral judgment, and becomes inoperative of good; and then, as to the way that seemed at the moment right, the end thereof are the ways of death (Proverbs 5:5). The man is following a false light, and is led astray, and goes headlong to destruction (comp. Romans 1:28; 1 Timothy 4:2; see on ver. 13). St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 5:12) has some words on this subject: "There are times when we are ignorant whether the very things which we believe we do aright, are rightly done in the strict Judge's eye. For it often happens that an action of ours, which is cause for our condemnation, passes with us for the aggrandizement of virtue. Often by the same act whereby we think to appease the Judge, he is urged to anger when favourable Hence, while holy men are getting the mastery over their evil habits, their very good practices even become an object of dread to them, lest, when they desire to do a good action, they be decoyed by a semblance of the thing, lest the baleful canker of corruption lurk under the fair appearance of a goodly colour. For they know that they are still charged with the burden of corruption, and cannot exactly discern the things that be good" (Oxford transl.).
Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.
Verse 13. - Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful (comp. ver. 10). This recalls Lucretius's lines (4:1129) -
"Medio de fonte leporum
Surgit amari aliquid, quod in ipsis fioribus angat. The text is scarcely to be taken as universally true, but either as specially applicable to those mentioned in the preceding verse, or as teaching that the outward mirth often cloaks hidden sorrow (comp. Virgil, 'AEneid,' 1:208, etc.). And the end of that joy is bitterness; it has in it no element of endurance, and when it is past, the real grief that it masked comes into prominence. In this mortal life also joy and sorrow are strangely intermingled; sorrow fellows closely on the steps of joy; as some one somewhere says, "The sweetest waters at length find their way to the sea, and are embittered there." Lesetre refers to Pascal, 'Pensees,' 2:1: "Tous se plaignent...de tout pays, de tout temps, de tous ages, et de toutes conditions. Une preuve si longue, si continuelle et si uniforme, devrait bien nous convaincre de l'impuissance ou nous sommes d'arriver au bien par nos efforts: mais l'exemple ne nous intruit point... Le present ne nous satisfaisant jamais, l'esperance nous pipe, et, de malheur en malheur, nous meue jusqu'a la mort, qui en est le comble eternel. C'est une chose etrange, qu'il n'y a rien dans la nature qui n'ait ete capable de tenir la place de la fin et du bonheur de l'homme .... L'homme etant dechu de son etat naturel, il n'y arien a quoi il n'ait ete capable de so porter. Depuis qu'il a perdu le vrai bien, tout egalement peut lui paraitre tel, jusqu'a ea destruction propre, toute contraire qu'elle est a la raison et a la nature tout ensemble." This illustrates also ver. 12. Proverbs like "There is no rose without a thorn" are common enough in all languages. The Latins said, "Ubi uber, ibi tuber;" and "Ubi mel, ibi fel." Greek experience produced the gnome -
Αρ ἐστὶ συγγενές τι λύπη καὶ βίος.
"Sorrow and life are very near of kin." Who Christian learns another lesson, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). The LXX. has introduced a negative, which gives a sense exactly contrary to the Hebrew and to all the other versions: "In joys there is no admixture of sorrow, but the final joy cometh unto grief." The negative has doubtless crept inadvertently into the text; if it were genuine, the sentence might be explained of the sinner's joy, which he finds for a time and exults in, but which does not last, and is felt to be a delusion as life closes.
The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.
Verse 14. - The backslider in heart - he who turns away from God (Psalm 44:18) - shall be filled with his own ways, shall reap the fruits of his evil doings (Proverbs 1:31; Proverbs 12:14). Matthew 6:2, "Verily I say unto you, they have their reward." And a good man shall be satisfied from himself. There is no verb expressed in this clause, "shall be satisfied" being supplied by our translators. Delitzsch and others read, "and a good man from his own deeds." It is simpler to repeat the verb from the former clause: "A good man shall be filled with that which belongs to him;" i.e. the holy thoughts and righteous actions in which he delights. Isaiah 3:10, "Say ye of the righteous that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings." The Vulgate, neglecting the prefix, translates, "And over him shall be the good man;" Septuagint, "And a good man from his thoughts," the produce of his heart and mind.
The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.
Verse 15. - The simple believeth every word. "Simple" (pethi), the credulous person, open to all influences (Proverbs 1:22). The Vulgate has innocens, and the Septuagint ἄκακος; but the word is best taken in an unfavourable sense. The credulous fool believes all that he hears without proof or examination; having no fixed principles of his own, he is at the mercy of any adviser, and is easily led astray. Ecclus. 19:4, "He that is hasty to give credit is light minded, and he that sinneth (thus) shall offend against his own soul." It is often remarked how credulous are unbelievers in supernaturalism. They who refuse to credit the most assured facts of Christ's history will pin their faith on some philosophical theory or insufficiently supported opinion, and will bluster and contend in maintenance of a notion today which tomorrow will prove untenable and absurd. Many who despise the miraculous teaching of the Bible accept the follies and frauds of spiritualism (comp. John 5:43). Hesiod, Ἔργ, 372 -
Πίστεις δ ἄρ τοι ὁμῶς καὶ ἀπιστίαι ὤλεσαν
"Belief and unbelief alike are fatal." Cato, 'Dist.,' 2:20 -
"Noli tu quaedam referenti credere semper;
Exigua his tribuenda fides qui multa loquuntur.' The prudent man looketh well to his going (ver. 8); Vulgate, Astutus considerat gressus suos. The prudent man considers whither the advice given will lead him, always acts with deliberation. This maxim is attributed to Pythagoras -
"Let none persuade thee by his word or deed
To say or do what is not really good;
And before action well deliberate,
Lest thou do foolishly."
(Crus. Eph, 25, sqq.) Septuagint, "The clever man (πανοῦργις) cometh unto repentance [or, 'afterthought'] (μετάνοιαν);" i.e. if he, like the simpleton, is too credulous, he will smart for it. Μετάνοια, so common in the New Testament, is not found elsewhere in the Greek Version of the canonical Scriptures, though it occurs in Ecclus. 44:16; Wisd. 11:23, etc. The Vulgate here introduces the Septuagint addition in Proverbs 13:13.
A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil: but the fool rageth, and is confident.
Verse 16. - A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil (Proverbs 22:3). In Proverbs 3:7 we had, "Fear the Lord, and depart from evil;" but here the idea is different. A wise man fears the evil that lurks in everything, and examines and ponders actions by the standard of religion, and is thus saved from many evils which arise from hastiness and inadvertence. The fool rageth, and is confident (Proverbs 21:24; Proverbs 28:26). The fool easily falls into a rage, and has no control over himself, and is confident in his own wisdom, in contrast to the wise man, who has trust in God, and is calm and thoughtful (Isaiah 30:15). Revised Version, "beareth himself insolently, and is confident;" but, as Nowack remarks, the word (mithabber), where it occurs elsewhere, means, "to be excited," "to be in a passion" (comp. Proverbs 21:24; Proverbs 26:17; Psalm 78:21, 59, 62), and this usual signification gives a good meaning here. Vulgate, transilit, "he overleaps" all laws and restrictions. The LXX., by transposition of the letters, reads mithareh, and translates μίγνυται," The fool trusting to himself mixes himself up with sinners."
He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated.
Verse 17. - He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly. The contrast to the irascible, passionate man is seen in the man slow to anger (ver. 29; Proverbs 15:18). Such a one, in his haste and passion, does things which in calmer moments he must see are foolish and ridiculous. Says Euripides ('Hyp.,' Fragm.) -
Ἔξω γὰρ ὀργῆς πᾶς ἀνὴρ σοφώτερος
"Wiser is every man from passion freed." Be not angry, says the Talmud, "and you will not sin." Cato, 'Dist.,' 1:37 -
"Ipse tibi moderare tuis ut parcere possis." And a man of wicked devices is hated. The contrast is not between the different ways in which the two characters are regarded, as that one is despised and ridiculed, and the other hated; but two kinds of evil are set forth in contradistinction, viz. hasty anger and deliberate plotting against others. Septuagint, "The irascible man (ὀξύθυμος) acts without deliberation. but the prudent man endureth much." The Hebrew term, "man of devices," being ambiguous, the LXX. takes it in a favourable sense, φρόνιμος; and they have a different reading of the verb.
The simple inherit folly: but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
Verse 18. - The simple inherit folly. The credulous simpleton naturally falls into possession of folly, feeds upon it, and enjoys it. The LXX. regards the simple as communicating their folly to others, and translates, "Fools will divide malice." But the prudent are crowned with knowledge; put on knowledge as a crown of glory, in accordance with the Stoic saying, quoted in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' "The wise is the only king." Nowack thinks the above translation and the idea alike belong to later times, and prefers to render, "The prudent embrace knowledge," which is parallel to the sentiment of ver. 6. The word is found only in Psalm 142:8, where it is translated either "shall compass me about" or "crown themselves through me." The Vulgate has expectabunt, i.e. "wait for it patiently," as the fruit of labour and perseverance. Septuagint, "The wise shall get possession of (κρατήσουσιν) knowledge."
The evil bow before the good; and the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
Verse 19. - The evil bow before the good; and the wicked stand at the gates of the righteous (Proverbs 8:34). The final victory of good over evil is here set forth. However triumphant for a time and apparently prosperous the wicked may be, their success is not lasting; they shall in the end succumb to the righteous, even as the Canaanite kings crouched before Joshua's captains (Joshua 10:24), and, hurled from their high estate, they shall stand humbly at the good man's door, begging for bread to support their life (1 Samuel 2:36). The contrast here indicated is seen in our Lord's parable of Dives and Lazarus, when the beggar is comforted and the rich man is tormented, and when the latter urgently sues for the help of the once despised outcast to mitigate the agony which he is suffering (comp. Wisd. 5).
The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich hath many friends.
Verse 20. - The poor is hated even of his own neighbour (Proverbs 19:4, 7). This sad experience of selfishness (comp. Ecclus. 6:8, etc.; 12:8) is corrected by the following verse, which must be taken in connection with this; at the same time, it is a truth which has been expressed in various ways by many moralists and satirists. Says the Greek Theognis -
Πᾶς τις πλούσιον ἄνδρα τίει ἀτίει δὲ πενιχρόν.
"The rich all honour, but the poor man slight." Says Ovid, 'Trist.,' 1:9. 6 -
"Donec eris felix, multos numerabis amicos;
Tempora si fuerint nubila, solus eris."
"Prosperous, you many friends will own;
In cloudy days you stand alone." In the Talmud we find (Dukes, 'Rabb. Blum.'), "At the door of the tavern there are many brethren and friends, at the poor man's gate not one." The rich hath many friends. Says Theognis again -
Αϋ μεν ἔχοντος ἐμοῦ πολλοὶ φίλοι η}ν δέ τι δεινον
Συγκύρσῃ παῦροι πιστὸν ἔχουσι νόον And again, a distich which might have been written today -
Πλήθει δ ἀνθρώπων ἀρετὴ μία γίγνεται ἥδε
Πλουτεῖν τῶν δ ἄλλων οὐδὲν ἄρ η΅ν ὄφελος
"One only virtue you must needs possess
(As say the most of men), and that is wealth;
All others are of small account."
He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.
Verse 21. - He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth. Taken in connection with the preceding verse, this teaches that it is a sin to despise and shun a man because he is poor or of low estate; such a one has a claim for love and pity, and it is a crime to withhold them from him for selfish considerations. The Christian view is taught by the parable of the good Samaritan. But he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he; hail to him! (Proverbs 16:20). Contempt is contrasted with mercy, sin with blessing. "Blessed are the merciful," said Christ (Matthew 5:7): "for they shall obtain mercy;" and St. Paul preserves another precious word, "It is mere blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). The merciful disposition, which shows itself in works of mercy, is a proof that the soul is in union with God, whose mercy is over all his works, whose mercy endureth forever, and therefore such a soul is blessed. "The poor," wrote James Howell, "are God's receivers, and the angels are his auditors" ('Five Hundred New Sayings'). The Vulgate here appends a line absent from the Hebrew and the ether versions, "He who believeth in the Lord loveth mercy." The true believer is charitable and bountiful, knowing that he will not hereby impoverish himself, but lay up a rich store of blessing; he acts thus not from mere philanthropy, but from higher motives: he has the grace of charity which springs from and rests upon his faith in God.
Do they not err that devise evil? but mercy and truth shall be to them that devise good.
Verse 22. - Do they not err that devise evil? or, Will they not go astray? The question is an emphatic mode of asserting the truth. They who meditate and practise evil (Proverbs 3:29; Proverbs 6:14) go astray from the right way - the way of life; their views are distorted, and they no longer see their proper course. Thus the remorseful voluptuary bemoans himself, "We have erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness hath not shined unto us We wearied ourselves in the way of wickedness and destruction; yea, we have gone through deserts, where there lay no way; but as for the way of the Lord, we have not known it" (Wisd. 5:6, etc.), Mercy and truth shall be to them that devise good. God's blessing will rest upon them. The combination of "mercy and truth" is found in Psalm 61:7; in Wisd. 3:9 and 4:15, and in 1 Timothy 1:2 we have "grace and mercy" (see note on Proverbs 3:3, where the two words occur in connection; and comp. Proverbs 16:6; Proverbs 20:28). The two graces in the text signify the love and mercy which God bestows on the righteous, and the truth and fidelity with which he keeps the promises which he has made. The Vulgate makes the two graces human, not Divine: "Mercy and truth procure blessings." The Septuagint renders, "The good devise mercy and truth." It adds a paraphrase not found in the Hebrew, "The devisers of evil know not mercy and faith; but alms and faith are with the devisers of good."
In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.
Verse 23. - In all labour there is profit. All honest industry has a reward, and all care and pain borne for a good object bring comfort and content (comp. Proverbs 10:22). So the Greek distich says -
Ἅπαντα τὰ καλὰ τοῦ πονοῦντος γίγνεται
"To him who labours all fair things belong." In contrast to the diligent are those who talk much and do nothing. But the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury (Proverbs 21:5). Those who work much get profit; those who talk much and do little come to want. So in spiritual matters Christ teaches that they who think that prayer is heard for much speaking are mistaken; and he adds, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 6:7; Matthew 7:21). Septuagint, "In every one who taketh thought (μεριμνῶντι) there is abundance; he who liveth pleasantly and without pain shall be in want." Cato, 'Dist.,' 1:10 -
"Contra verbosos noli contendere verbis:
Sermo datus cunctis, animi sapientia paucis."
"Against the wordy strive not thou in words;
Converse with all, but to the favoured few
Impart thy heart's deep wisdom." Oriental proverbs: "Sweet words, empty bands;" "To speak of honey will not make the mouth sweet;" "We do not cook rice by babbling" (Lane). Turkish, "The language of actions is more eloquent than the language of words."
The crown of the wise is their riches: but the foolishness of fools is folly.
Verse 24. - The crown of the wise is their riches. This is taken by some ('Speaker's Commentary') to mean the glory of the wise man, the fame and splendour which surround him, constitute his wealth; but it is better to interpret it thus: Riches are an ornament to a wise man; they enhance and set off his wisdom in the eyes of others, enable him to use it to advantage, and are not the snare which they might be because they are employed religiously and profitably for the good of others. Ecclesiastes 7:11, "Wisdom is good together with an inheritance, and profitable to them that see the sun." The Septuagint has, "The crown of the wise is the clever man (πανοῦργος)," for which has been substituted by some editors, in agreement with the present Hebrew text, πλοῦτους αὐτῶν, " their wealth." The Greek translators, according to their reading, denote that one eminently clever man is a glory to the whole body of wise men. But the folly of fools is only folly; that is, even though it were accompanied with riches. Decorate folly as you may, trick it out in gaud and ornament, it is still nothing but folly, and is discerned as such, and that all the more for being made conspicuous. Schultens, followed by Wordsworth, finds a play of words here. The words rendered "fool" and "folly" imply "fatness," like the Greek παχὺς and the Latin crassus, which have also this double meaning. So the sentence reads, "Riches are a crown to the wise; but the abundant fatness of fools is only fatness." The last clause is translated by the LXX., "But the fools' way of life (διατριβὴ) is evil." St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 22:8) comments on this verse thus: "It was these riches of wisdom that Solomon having before his eyes, saith, 'The crown of the wise is their riches.' Which same person, because it is not metals of earth, but understanding, that he calls by the name of riches, thereupon adds by way of a contrary, 'But the foolishness of fools is imprudence.' For if he called earthly riches the crown of the wise. surely he would own the senselessness of fools to be poverty rather than imprudence. But whereas he added, 'the foolishness of fools is imprudence,' he made it plain that he called prudence 'the riches of the wise'" (Oxford tran cf.).
A true witness delivereth souls: but a deceitful witness speaketh lies.
Verse 25. - A true witness delivereth souls (ver. 5; Proverbs 12:17). A true witness saves persons who are in danger owing to false accusation or calumny; saves lives; "saves from evils," says the Septuagint. But a deceitful witness speaketh lies, and therewith endangers lives. Literally, He who breatheth out lies is deceit; he is a personification of fraud, dominated and informed by it; it has become his very nature. "Falsehood is the devil's daughter, and speaks her father's tongue." Septuagint, "But a deceitful witness kindles (ἐκκαίει) lies."
In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge.
Verse 26. - In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence. The fear of God casts out all fear of man, all despairing anticipations of possible evil, and makes the believer confident and bold. St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 5:33), "As in the way of the world fear gives rise to weakness, so in the way of God fear produces strength. In truth, our mind so much the more valorously sets at naught all the terrors of temporal vicissitudes, the more thoroughly that it submits itself in fear to the Author of those same temporal things. And being stablished in the fear of the Lord, it encounters nothing without it to fill it with alarm, in that whereas it is united to the Creator of all things by a righteous fear, it is by a certain powerful influence raised high above them all." Comp. Psalm 27:1 and St. Paul's words, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). Septuagint, "In the fear of the Lord is hope of strength." And his children shall have a place of refuge (Psalm 46:1). There is an ambiguity as to whose children are meant. The LXX. renders, "And to his children he will leave a support." Thus many refer the pronoun to the Lord named in the first clause - God's children, those who love and trust him, and look up to him as a Father, an expression used more specially in the New Testament than in the Old. But see Psalm 73:15, and passages (e.g. Hosea 11:1) where God calls Israel his son, a type of all who are brought unto him by adoption and grace. Others, again, refer the pronoun to "the fear of the Lord," "its children," which would be quite in conformity with Hebrew idiom; as we have "sons of wisdom," "children of obedience," equivalent to "wise," "obedient," etc. But most modern commentators explain it of the children of the God-fearing man, comparing Exodus 20:6 and Psalm 103:17. Such a one shall confer lasting benefits upon his posterity (ch. 13:22; 20:7). So God blessed the descendants of Abraham and David; so he shows mercy unto thousands i.e. the thousandth generation of them that love him and keep his commandments (see Genesis 17:7, etc.; Exodus 34:7; 1 Kings 11:12, etc.; Jeremiah 33:20, etc.).
The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.
Verse 27. - A repetition of Proverbs 13:14, substituting the fear of the Lord for "the law of the wise." The fear of the Lord can he called a fountain of life, because, showing itself in obedience, it nourishes the flowers and fruits of faith, produces graces and virtues, and prepares the soul for immortality. Septuagint, "The commandment of the Lord is a fountain of life, and makes one decline from the snare of death."
In the multitude of people is the king's honour: but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince.
Verse 28. - In the multitude of people is the king's honour (glory); but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince; or, of the principality. This maxim is not in accordance with the views of Oriental conquerors and despots, who in their selfish lust of aggrandizement cared not what suffering they inflicted or what blood they shed; who made a wilderness and called it peace. The reign of Solomon, the peaceful, gave an intimation that war and conquest were not a monarch's highest glory: that a happy and numerous people, dwelling securely and increasing in numbers, was a better honour for a king and more to be desired (1 Kings 4:20). Increase of population is not, as some political economists would teach, in itself an evil; it is rather a sign of prosperity, and is in agreement with the primeval blessing, "Increase and multiply;" and though it may be hard to maintain the exact equilibrium between production and consumers, yet wise legislation can foresee and remedy the difficulty, the abundance in one part can supply the scarcity in another, the providence of God watching over all.
He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.
Verse 29. - He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding. The Hebrew expression for what the Septuagint calls μακροθυμος, "long suffering," and the Vulgate, patiens, is "long in nostrils" (Proverbs 15:18), as the contrary temper, which we had in ver. 17, is "short in nostrils." That organ, into which was breathed the breath of life (Genesis 2:7), is taken as the seat of the inward spirit, and as showing by exterior signs the dominant feeling. The original is very terse, "long in nostrils, great in understanding." A man's prudence and wisdom are displayed by his being slow to take offence and being patient under injury. He that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly; i.e. flaunts it in the eyes of all men, makes plain exposure of it. Septuagint, "He who is short in temper is a mighty fool." "Passion," says an old saw, "makes fools of the wise. and shows the folly of the foolish" (comp. Proverbs 12:23; Proverbs 13:16). The word rendered "exalteth," צּצּצּ (marim), occurs in Proverbs 3:35, and is taken by Delitzsch and Nowack in the sense of "carries away" as the assured result. "By anger," says St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 5:78), "wisdom is parted with, so that we are left wholly in ignorance what to do, and in what order to do it.... Anger withdraws the light of understanding, while by agitating it troubles the mind."
A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.
Verse 30. - A sound heart is the life of the flesh. The heart that is healthy, morally and physically, spreads its beneficent influence over the whole body in all its functions and relations; this is expressed by the word for "flesh" (besarim), being in the plural number, as the Vulgate renders, vita carnium, but the contrast is better developed by taking מרפא in its other signification of "calm," "gentle," "meek," as Ecclesiastes 10:4. Thus the Septuagint, "The man of gentle mind (πραυ'´θυμος) is the physician of the heart." The tranquil, well controlled heart gives health and vigor to the whole frame (see on Proverbs 15:4). But envy is the rottenness of the bones (Proverbs 12:4). Envy, like a canker, eats away a man's life and strength; it tells on his physical as well as his moral condition. We hays parallel expressions in classical authors. Thus Horace, 'Epist.,' 1:257 -
"Invidus alterius macrescit rebus opimis." Martial, 'Epigr.,' 5:28 -
"Rubiginosis cuncta dentibus rodit;
Hominem malignum forsan esse tu credas,
Ego esse miserum credo, cui placet nemo." Bengal proverb, "In seeing another's wealth it is not good to have the eyes smart." Arabic. "Envy is a raging fever, and has no rest" (Lane). "O invidia," cries St. Jerome ('Epist.,' 45), "primum mordax tui." "When the foul sore of envy corrupts the vanquished heart," says St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 5:85). "the very exterior itself shows how forcibly the mind is urged by madness. For paleness seizes the complexion, the eyes are weighed down, the spirit is inflamed, while the limbs are chilled, there is frenzy in the heart, there is gnashing with the teeth, and while the growing bate is buried in the depths of the heart, the pent wound works into the conscience with a blind grief" Septuagint, "A sensitive heart (καρδία αἰσθητική) is a worm (σής) in the bones." A heart that feels too acutely and is easily affected by external circumstances, prepares for itself constant vexation and grief.
He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.
Verse 31. - He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker, even God. who hath placed men in their several conditions (Proverbs 17:5; Proverbs 22:2). "The poor shall never cease out of the land" (Deuteronomy 15:11); "The poor ye have always with you," said Christ (Matthew 26:11); therefore to harass and oppress the poor because he is in this lowly condition, is virtually to arraign the providence of God, who is the Father of all, and has made all men brothers, however differing in worldly position. Christ puts the duty of aiding the poor on the high ground of his solidarity with his people (Matthew 25:40, 45), how that in ministering unto the least of these his brethren men are ministering unto him. "Prosperity and adversity, life and death, poverty and riches, come of the Lord" (Ecclus. 11:14). Even the heathen could say -
Ἀεὶ νομίζονθ οἱ πένητες τῶν Θεῶν.
Deem ever that the poor are God's own gift." Septuagint, "He that calumniates (συκοφανῶν; calumniatur, Vulgate) the poor angers him who made him." This version refers to oppression of the poor by means of calumny or false and frivolous accusation. But he that honoureth him - the Lord - hath mercy on the poor; or, better, he that hath mercy upon the poor honoureth him; for he shows that he has proper regard to God's ordinance, acts on high motives, and is not led astray by worldly considerations. Christ himself has consecrated poverty by coming in low estate (2 Corinthians 8:9), and they who love and honour him are glad to minister to his brethren in their poverty and distress (comp. James 1:27).
The wicked is driven away in his wickedness: but the righteous hath hope in his death.
Verse 32. - The wicked is driven away in his wickedness. So the Greek and Latin Versions. In his very act of sin, flagrante delicto, the wicked is defeated, driven from hope and life; as the Revised Version renders, "The wicked is thrust down in his evil doing;" i.e. there is some element of weakness in an evil deed which occasions its discovery and punishment, sooner or later. Thus "murder will out," we say. But the contrast is better emphasized by taking ra in its other sense of "calamity," "misfortune," thus: "In his calamity the wicked is cast down" (Proverbs 24:16). When misfortune comes upon him, he has no defence, no hope; he collapses utterly; all his friends forsake him; there is none to comfort or uphold him (comp. Matthew 7:26, 27). But the righteous hath hope in his death (comp. Ecclus. 1:13). Primarily, the clause means that even in the greatest danger the good man loses not his trust in God. It is like Job's word (if our reading is correct, Job 13:15), "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him;" and the psalmist, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4). Thus the Christian martyrs went joyfully to the stake, and gentle women and little children smiled on the sword which sent them home. It is natural to see in this clause a belief in a future life, and a state of rewards and punishments; and some commentators, holding that this doctrine was net known in pre-exilian days, have taken occasion from its plain enunciation in this paragraph to affix a very late date to our book. There are two answers to be made to this assertion. First, it is capable of proof that the belief in the immortality of the soul, with its consequences in another state, was held, however vaguely, by the Jews long before Solomon's time (see note, Proverbs 12:28); secondly, the present passage is by some read differently, whence is obtained another rendering, which removes from it all trace of the doctrine in question. Thus Ewald and others would read the clause in this way: "The righteous hath hope, or taketh refuge, from his own deeds." There can be no reasonable doubt that the usual reading and translation are correct; but the above considerations show that no argument as to the date of the Proverbs can be safely founded on this verse. The LXX. has a different reading for במותו, "in his death," and translates, "But he who trusteth in his own holiness is just" - which looks like a travesty of Scripture, but probably refers to the consciousness of having a heart right with God and obedient to the requirements of the Divine Law.
Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding: but that which is in the midst of fools is made known.
Verse 33. - Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding. The wise man is not always blurting out and making a display of his wisdom; he lets it lie still and hidden till there is occasion to use it with effect (Proverbs 10:14; Proverbs 12:23). But that which is in the midst of fools is made known; literally and better, but in the midst of fools it, wisdom, maketh itself known. That is, in contrast to the folly of fools, wisdom is seen to great advantage; or, it may be, the conceited display of the fool's so called wisdom is contrasted with the modesty and reticence of the really intelligent man. "A fool's heart is ever dancing on his lips," says a proverb. So Ecclus. 21:26, "The heart of fools is in their mouth; but the mouth of the wise is in their heart." Theognia, 1163 -
Ὀφθαλμοὶ καὶ γκῶσσα καὶ οὔατα καὶ νόος ἀνδρῶν
Ἐν μέσσῳ στηθέων ἐν αυνετοις φύεται.
"The eyes, and tongue, and ears, and mind alike
Are centred in the bosom of the wise." Vulgate, "In the heart of the prudent resteth wisdom, and it will teach all the unlearned." Wisdom sits enshrined in the intelligent man's mind, and thence disseminates instruction and light around to all who need it. The Septuagint, with which agree the Syriac, Aquila, and Theodotion, inserts a negative in the second clause, thus: "In the good heart of a man shall rest wisdom, but in the heart of fools it is not discerned" (Wisd. 1:4).
Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.
Verse 34. - Righteousness exalteth a nation. "Righteousness" (Proverbs 10:2) is the rendering to all their due, whether to God or man. We are taught the salutary lesson that a nation's real greatness consists not in its conquests, magnificence, military or artistic skill, but in its observance of the requirements of justice and religion. Hesiod, Αργ. 223 -
Οἱ δὲ δίκας ξείνοισι καὶ ἐνδήμοισι διδοῦσιν
Ἰθείας καὶ μή τι παρεκβαίνουσι δικαίου
Τοῖσι τέθηλε πόλις λαοὶ δ ἀνθεῦσιν ἐν αὐτῇ But sin is a reproach to any people; to peoples. The words for "nation" (goi) and "peoples" (leummim) are usually applied to foreign nations rather than to the Hebrews; and Wordsworth sees here a statement a fortiori: if righteousness exalts and sin degrades heathen nations, how much more must this be the case with God's own people, who have clearer revelations and heavier responsibilities! חֶסֶד (chesed) occurs in the sense of "reproach," in Leviticus 20:17, and with a different punctuation in Proverbs 25:10 of this book. Its more usual meaning is "mercy" or "piety;" hence some have explained the clause: "The piety of the peoples, i.e. the worship of the heathen, is sin; and others, taking "sin" as put metonymically for "sin offering," render: "Piety is an atonement for the peoples." But there is no doubt that the Authorized Version is correct (comp. Proverbs 11:11). Thus Symmachus renders it by ὄνειδος, "shame;" and in the same sense the Chaldee Paraphrase. The Vulgate and Septuagint, owing to the common confusion of the letters daleth and resh, have read cheser instead of chesed, and render thus: Vulgate, "Sin makes peoples miserable;" Septuagint, "Sins diminish tribes." The sin of nations contrasted with the righteousness in the first clause must be injustice, impiety, and violence. See a grand passage in the fifth book of St. Augustine's 'De Civitate Dei,' ch. 12.
The king's favour is toward a wise servant: but his wrath is against him that causeth shame.
Verse 35. - The king's favour is toward a wise servant; servant that dealeth wisely (Revised Version). Thus Joseph was advanced to the highest post in Egypt, owing to the wisdom which he displayed; so, too, in the case of Daniel (comp. Matthew 24:45, 47). But his wrath is against him that causeth shame; literally, he that doeth shamefully shall be (the object of) his wrath. The Vulgate translates, Iracundiam ejus inutilis sustinebit; the Septuagint makes the second clause parallel to the first, "An intelligent servant is acceptable to the king, and by his expertness (εὐτοροφίᾳ) he removeth disgrace." Then is added, before the first verse of the next chapter, a paragraph which looks like an explanation of the present clause, or an introduction to ver. 1 of ch. 15.: "Anger destroyeth even the prudent."