Proverbs 1:1. Proverbs. See Introduction.
Proverbs 1:2. Instruction, properly “chastisement,” signifying moral training, admonition, then good habits, the practical side of wisdom.
Proverbs 1:3. Wisdom. A different word from that in Proverbs 1:2. It means “prudence.” Justice relates to a man’s attitude in relation to God, and would be better translated “righteousness.” Judgment includes our duties to our fellow-men and should be rendered “justice.” Equity is “uprightness,” “sincerity of purpose.”
Proverbs 1:4. Subtlety, “prudence,” Simple, literally “the open,” those easily persuaded.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.— Proverbs 1:1-4
THE AUTHOR, HIS METHOD, AND HIS OBJECT
I. Four things connected with Solomon would tend to commend his proverbs to the Hebrew nation.
1. His remarkable antecedents. The influence of any man in this world depends very much upon his antecedents. If they happen to be such as are held in esteem by society, they form at once letters of commendation for him, and often prove stepping-stones to great positions. The question, “Whence art thou?” is more often asked than “What art thou?” Perhaps this was even more true of Hebrew society than it is of English. Solomon was the son of a king. The king whom he claimed as his father was the man whom God had honoured more than any other since the days of Moses. He was not only a king, but a prophet and a poet, who had no equal in the day in which he lived. He was more than this. His reputation as a warrior, more than anything else, endeared him to a people who looked upon him in this light as the best representative of their nation. The fact that Solomon was the “son of David,” would ensure him the ear of the Jewish people throughout all their generations.
2. His personal position. He was not only the son of a king but a king himself—a king who had attained the highest pinnacle of royal greatness.
3. His practical wisdom. The instance of this narrated in 1 Kings 3:16-28, proved to Israel that “the wisdom of God was in him to do judgment.” Who so fit to utter proverbs concerning human life as a man who could thus so skilfully bring to light the hidden counsels of the heart? The Son of God Himself speaks of Solomon as a wise man (Matthew 12:42).
4. The variety of his experience. Experience is always a good reason why men should speak their thoughts. Those are most fitted to counsel others who have travelled by the same path before them. Solomon’s experience had been great and varied. He knew the real value of all that is held in estimation by men. See Eccles., Chapter s 1 and
2. These considerations gave weight to his words in the day in which he lived and among his own people, and have done so in every succeeding age and in every nation in which his proverbs have been made known.
II. The form in which Solomon communicates his thoughts. A proverb is a large amount of wisdom wrapped up in the fewest possible words. It is like a corn-seed which, though a tiny thing in itself, encloses that which may expand and increase until it furnishes food for millions. Even a child may carry a large sum of money when it is in the form of golden coin, although his strength would be quite unequal to the task if the same amount were in baser metal. One diamond may constitute a small fortune, and may be easily carried and concealed upon the person, but its value in iron could only be lifted by the united strength of many. The proverb stands in the same relation to mental and moral wisdom as gold and diamonds do to copper or iron. It is so portable that it can be carried and retained by the weakest memory.
III. The main object of the utterer of these proverbs. “To give subtilty to the simple.” The man who has to travel a dangerous path may be ignorant of the way to arrive at his destination in safety. His simplicity arises from his ignorance. Anyone who has gone the same way before, and has thus experimentally gained the knowledge which he lacks, can make him wise upon this subject. Solomon had trodden the greater part of the path of human life, those who had not done so were the simple, or ignorant, to whom he here desires to impart the knowledge which might save them from moral ruin. There were those in the days of Solomon, as there are now, who would take advantage of simplicity to destroy character. Solomon desires to preserve and strengthen character by showing how to avoid and resist sin.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 1:1. The Bible is not given to teach us philosophy, but religion: not to show us the way to science, but the way to holiness and heaven. Notwithstanding, therefore, the extent and variety of Solomon’s knowledge in botany, in natural history, and other departments of science, we have in preservation none whatever of his discoveries or his speculations on such subjects.—Wardlaw.
The Queen of Sheba came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear Solomon’s wisdom. Did she come so far upon uncertain reports, and shall not we receive with gladness his instructions, since he is come to us to be our teacher?—Lawson.
Proverbs 1:2. The general idea of wisdom is, that it consists in the choice of the best ends, and of the best means for their attainment. This definition admits of application both in a lower and higher department. In the first place it may be applied to the whole conduct of human life,—in all its daily intercourse and ordinary transactions, and amidst all its varying circumstances.… To accommodate our conduct to these variations—to suit to all of them the application of the great general principles and precepts of the divine law, and “to guide our affairs with discretion” in them all, requires “wisdom.” And for enabling us to act our part rightly, creditably, and usefully, from day to day, there is in this book an immense fund of admirable counsel and salutary direction.
And then, secondly, the knowledge of wisdom may be taken in its higher application—to interests of a superior order, to spiritual duties, to the wellbeing of the better part, to all that regards true religion and the salvation of the soul. Wisdom, in this book, is generally understood in this its highest application, as might indeed be expected in a book of instructions from God. How important soever may be the successful and prudential regulation of our temporal affairs, yet in a divine communication to man, as an immortal creature, we cannot conceive it to be the only, or the principal subject.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 1:3. “To perceive the words of understanding” is a phrase which may be interpreted as meaning the power of justly distinguishing between good and evil counsel—between that which is right in its principle and salutary in its operations, and that which is unsound and pernicious.—Wardlaw.
All through Ecclesiastes and throughout the present book, the more mental aspects of sin are always made prominent—piety is called wisdom. The saints are the wise. The impenitent man is a fool. Nothing could be more natural than that just here there should be the broad assertion that knowledge is piety. Nothing could be more seminal. A new heart comes from a new light. If a man sees, he believes, he loves, he hopes, he serves, he repents, he rejoices; and this as but new forms of the one blessed illumination.—Miller.
Proverbs 1:4. There are none that need to be politicians more than they that desire to serve God because they have to deal with most politic enemies … No gift is worse taken, though never so well bestowed, than this is, where there is no feeling of the want of it. The simple seeth not his defects, the young man thinketh that he seeth great abundance of ability in himself.—Jermin.
The teacher offers to save the young and inexperienced from the slower and more painful process of learning by experience.—Plumptre.
Over the gates of Plato’s school it was written: “Let no one who is not a geometrician enter.” But very different is the inscription over these doors of Solomon: “Let the ignorant, simple, foolish, young, enter.”—Cartwright.
Proverbs 1:5. Wise counsels, or “capability to guide,” literally “helmsmanship.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.— Proverbs 1:5-6
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A WISE MAN
I. He will hear. He shows that he values what he has already attained by giving heed to those who are able to add to his knowledge. Those who know the most are the most open to receive fresh knowledge.
II. The necessary consequence of this willingness to hear is a growth in knowledge. The wise man “will increase learning.” There is an absolute promise in connection with spiritual wisdom. “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have” (Luke 8:18). He who has wisdom to give heed shall have his wisdom increased by giving heed. To those who are willing to hear, that which was once dark and difficult becomes clear and plain. They “understand a proverb and the interpretation; the words of the wise and their dark sayings.” This hearing implies more than a mere reception of sound. It includes a desire to translate precepts into deeds. Many who can understand the grammatical construction and literal meaning of the Divine oracles cannot apprehend their spiritual signification because they do not desire to submit to their guidance. This was the condition of many of the Scribes and Pharisees in the days of our Lord. They saw and yet were blind (Matthew 13:13; John 9:39). “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine,” etc. (John 7:17).
III. This growth in knowledge gives a man a guide for his own life and enables him to guide others. (For “wise counsels,” see Critical Notes). Such a man will not sound all the mysteries of life or of God, but enough will be made plain to give him a compass by which to steer; and he will be able to lead others. A diligent pupil will by-and-by be fit for a teacher. How fully was the truth of these verses exemplified in the history of the Apostles. What dull pupils they were at first, and even until after their Master’s resurrection. (Luke 24:25.) But their willingness to be disciples—learners—fitted them at length to “go and teach all nations.” (Matthew 28:19.) Continuing in Christ’s Word, they came to “know the truth,” according to His promise. (John 8:31.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 1:5. True wisdom is never stationary, but always progressive; because it secures the ground behind it as a basis for further advances. “He who is not adding is wasting; he who is not increasing knowledge is losing from it,” says Rabbi Hillel.—Fausset.
As long ago as the time of Melancthon it was recognised as a significant fact that wisdom claims as her hearers and pupils, not only the simple, the young, and the untaught, but those who are already advanced in the knowledge of the truth, the wise and experienced. It is indeed Divine wisdom in regard to which these assertions are made, and it is precisely as it is within the department of the New Testament with the duty of faith, and of growth in believing knowledge, which duty in no stage of the Christian life in this world ever loses its validity and its binding power. Compare Luke 17:5; Ephesians 4:15-16; Colossians 1:11; Colossians 2:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Peter 3:18.—Lange’s Commentary.
Proverbs 1:6. If the law be dark to any, the fault is not in the lawgiver, but in those that should better understand it.—Trapp.
The sayings of the wise are but words (two or three words), and it is their shortness that maketh them to be dark. Now, David says: “I will incline mine ear unto a parable”—there is his study to understand; “I will open my dark saying upon the harp”—there is the interpretation. It is not David, but He who came from David, that there is spoken of, and who, despising inanimate instruments, having made this world and the little world man, and by His Holy Spirit having compacted his soul and body, doth praise the Lord by an instrument of many voices, and to this instrument man doth sing the knowledge of His truth. Wherefore to understand the words of His wise prophets and penmen, we must go to Him.—Jermin.
Proverbs 1:7. Fools, derived from a word meaning to be gross and dull of understanding. Gesenius understands it to signify “one who turns away,” the “perverse.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.— Proverbs 1:7-9
THE ROOT OF TRUE KNOWLEDGE AND THE MEANS OF ITS ATTAINMENT
When the husbandman comes to examine a fruit-tree, he disregards everything in the way of leaf and branch; if he does not also find evidence of fruit in the appointed season, he considers that the end of planting is not attained. God, the great Husbandman, here declares that all human wisdom and intelligence avail nothing unless they have for their basis that fear of Him which enables a man to attain the end for which he was created.
I. The fear of the Lord springs
(1) from a practical recognition of His existence. God, to the vast majority of mankind, is but a name; they no more recognise the personality and moral character of the Divine Father than they recognise a personality and moral attributes in the wind or the sunlight. He has no influence upon their hearts; to them, practically, there is no God. There is no fear of God before their eyes, because there is no God.
2. From an experimental knowledge of His kindness. The mightiest being cannot be reverenced for his power; that may produce the “fear which hath torment,” but not the “reverence and godly fear” which leads to willing obedience. When a king’s character is such that his subjects taste of his kindness and feed upon his bounty, it begets a reverence which makes them fear to break his law. The “fear of the Lord” is synonymous with heart-religion, and must be born of a personal experience of Divine mercy. This fear says, “O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him” (Psalms 34:8).
II. The means by which this beginning of knowledge ought to be attained. The rule in creatures below man is, that they instruct their offspring as soon as they are capable of instruction. The eagle teaches her young to fly: she “stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings.” (Deuteronomy 32:11.) And this is what God expects every parent to do in a moral sense. A child ought to get his first ideas of God from his parent, and his father’s and mother’s love ought to be the stepping-stones by which he rises to apprehend the love of his Father in heaven. This exhortation takes for granted that the parents will be possessors of this true knowledge, and will impart it to their children.
III. The reason given to the young for receiving and retaining parental instruction. The coronet on the brow of the noble proclaims his place in society—sets forth his high position. The necklace of pearls on the young and beautiful maiden proclaims the wealth of the wearer, and adds to her attractiveness. So the obedience of a good son to a true father proclaims him to belong to the noble in spirit—sets a crown upon his character. And a daughter’s reverential love to a good mother is a true indication of moral wealth. That mother’s words, treasured in the memory and translated into life, are so many precious pearls of soul-adornment, and are in the sight of God of great price.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 1:7. This, “the fear of the Lord,” comes as the motto of the book. The beginning of wisdom is found in the temper of reverence and awe. The fear of the finite in the presence of the Infinite—of the sinful in the presence of the Holy; self-abhorring, adoring, as in Job’s confession (Job 42:5-6), this for the Israelite was the starting point of all true wisdom. What the precept “Know thyself” was to the sage of Greece, that this law was for him. In the book of Job (Proverbs 28:28) it appears as an oracle accompanied by the noblest poetry. In Psalms 111:10, it comes as the choral close of a temple hymn. Here it is the watch-word of a true ethical education. This, and not love, is the beginning of “wisdom.” Through successive stages, and by the discipline of life, love blends with it and makes it perfect.—Plumptre.
Why is this the only way that God hath pointed out for the attaining to ?Wisdom
1. One reason may be the falseness of man’s spirit. The heart is deceitful above all things, and so God will not entrust it with such estimable treasures of durable wisdom before a trial hath been upon it. “To him will I look, even to him that is of a pure and contrite spirit, and trembleth at my words.”
2. Here is another argument, viz., impossibility. “The natural man perceiveth not the things of the spirit of God,” &c. “The eye sees not the sun, unless it bear the image of the sun in it;” nor could it receive that impression if it were covered with dirt and filth. So the necessary foundation of true wisdom is unfeigned righteousness and pureness. The purging of a man’s soul takes away the main impediments to true knowledge,—such as self-admiration, anger, envy, impatience, desire of victory rather than of truth, blindness proceeding out of a love of riches and honour, the smothering the active spark of reason by luxury and intemperance, &c.—Henry Moore.
Where God is, there is the fear of God; and where the fear of God is, there are all things which God requireth.—Jermin.
The fear of the Lord consists, once for all, in a complete devotion to God,—an unconditional subjection of one’s own individuality to the beneficent will of God as revealed in the law (Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20; Deuteronomy 13:4; Psalms 119:63, &c.)
How, then, could they be regarded as fearing God, who should keep only a part of the Divine commands, or who should undertake to fulfil them only according to their moral principles, and did not seek also to make the embodying letter of their formal requirements the standard of life.—Lange’s Commentary.
Proverbs 1:8. The relation of the teacher to the taught is essentially fatherly.—Plumptre.
In Scripture and that oriental speech framed to be its vehicle, narrow examples stand often for a universal class. “Honour thy father and mother,” means—obey all superiors. “Thou shalt not steal,” means—keep clear of every fraud. In those patriarchial countries, obedience to a father was the finest model of subordination.… Let the child take the first and obvious meaning; let the man look deeper. The earlier principles having been settled, the Proverbs have begun with a grand practical direction—that we are to listen to our teachers; that we are to begin at our firesides, and obey all the way up to God.—Miller.
Proverbs 1:9. The instruction and discipline of wisdom do at first seem difficult and hard, and are like fetters of iron restraining the corruption and rebellion of nature; but at length they are like chains of gold, worn like ornaments and no burden at all.—Jermin.
Nothing so beautifies as grace doth. Moses and Joseph were “fair to God,” (Acts 7:20) and favoured of all men. Trapp.
As Christ prays, “Hallowed be thy name,” as his first petition, so Solomon puts first in his promises mere beauty, the mere prize of being right. The best thing in being pious is the mere comeliness of piety.—Miller.
Proverbs 1:10. Entice thee, “lay thee open.” Miller here reads “if sinners would make a door of thy simplicity, afford thou no entrance.”
Proverbs 1:17. Some interpret this verse as referring to the godly who escape the snares laid for them, others to the wicked, who, not so wise as the bird, plunge themselves into ruin by plotting against the good. Then the blood and lives of Proverbs 1:18 refer to the blood and life of the sinner.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.— Proverbs 1:10-19
ENTICEMENT TO SIN AND EXHORTATION AGAINST YIELDING TO IT
I. Youth will certainly be tempted.
1. Because he is in an evil world. In this world everything that possesses life is in danger of losing it. The tree is liable to have its root eaten by the worm, the smaller creatures in the animal world are beset with danger from those above them in size and strength, the fish in the sea is ever in danger of the hook or the net, the bird of the fowler’s snare, the forest king of the hunter’s gun. Man, in respect to his mere bodily existence, is surrounded by influences antagonistic to the preservation of his animal life. And this danger often presents itself in the form of enticement. The crumbs lure the bird into the trap, the bait tempts the fish to bite the hook. A smooth sea and bright sunshine in the morning tempts the fisherman to the voyage upon the treacherous deep, which becomes his grave in the evening. Moral life is not excepted from this rule. Wherever the youth finds himself in the world he will be tempted, because he is everywhere surrounded by influences which war against his soul life.
2. Because it is an ordination of God. The Divine Ruler has ordained that men shall suffer temptation. There are things in this world which are the common lot of all men, from the highest to the lowest. Disease and death come alike to the proudest monarch and his meanest subject, to the man of highest intellect and to the most unlettered savage. And temptation is also an ordained heritage of man. Not even the “second Adam, the Lord from heaven,” was exempted from this rule.
3. Because it is necessary for the formation of moral character. The seaman needs to come into conflict with the stormy winds and the rough waves of the ocean if he is to become a skilful mariner. The very effort which he puts forth to overcome them makes him more fit for his calling. So men must have temptation in order to test their powers of resistance; the struggle against sin, if successful, strengthens the moral character.
II. The elements which form the strength of the temptation.
1. The secresy promised by the tempter. “Let us lay wait for blood,” let us lurk privily for the innocent, etc. No one commits a crime against his fellow man, without an underlying hope that he will not be found out; he even persuades himself that it is hidden from God. “They say, how doth God know, and is there knowledge in the Most High?” (Psalms 73:11).
2. The hope of gain. Advantage of some kind is supposed to be the fruit of every sin. That which the tempter uses here is an increase of wealth. “We shall find all precious substance,” etc. This temptation is most common. A man is persuaded that by a very slight risk he can make a large fortune, that the deed will never come to light, and these two persuasions have been the ruin of hundreds.
3. The number of the tempters. Here several are represented as tempting one. “Come with us.” Numbers always influence us even when no persuasion is used. Men are naturally inclined to do what the many do, to go with the multitude. There is an undefined feeling that safety is with the majority, or, at least, that the being involved with many others lessens personal responsibility. This element of temptation is very powerful in a world where “the many” go in at the gate which leadeth to destruction, and “few” walk in the way which leadeth unto life (Matthew 7:13-14).
III. The way of escape from the tempter.
1. Calling to mind his filial relation. “My son.” It is a great help to a youth who is in danger of being drawn away from his steadfastness in the path of virtue to call his parents to mind. His father’s instructions and example, his mother’s love and prayers, the grief that his fall would bring upon them will, if reflected on, be a means of escape from the tempter’s snare. The thought that he is a son ought to be sufficient to keep him from straying.
2. A consideration of the certain end of sinners. Those who promise themselves and others secresy shall be taken openly. The bird will not be decoyed into the net if he sees it spread, the trap must be laid in secret if it is to be successful. But sinners go on in sin although they are forewarned by God, by their own consciences, by the law of human society, and by the experience of others what the end will be. “Be sure your sin will find you out,” is written, not only in the book of God, but within us and around us. The young man is to bear in mind that they are fools who tell him there is gain to be had by sin. Those who seek to take life in order to enjoy the property of others, or in any way to wrong their fellows for their own fancied gain, shall themselves, like Haman, be hanged upon the gallows which they have made. Let the youth reflect up the sad histories of those who now fill our convict-prisons, and he will feel that it is indeed true that evil-doers “lay wait for their own blood.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
I. A supposition implied, that sinners will entice. Sin is of so virulent and malignant a nature, that it tainteth the whole air about it and filleth it with infection, and there is no safety to be found within its neighbourhood without the blessed antidotes of piety and carefulness. And the sinner will take as much pains to pervert his companions, as the Jews did to make proselytes, and with the same fatal design and consequence, viz., to make them twofold more the children of hell than themselves. For since the good have all other advantages, and vastly outweigh them in intrinsic worth, they will endeavour to come as near a level as they can by making up in number what they want in value. Besides, it silences in some measure the loud alarms of their own consciences, when many join with them in their vicious performances, and the approbation of others, by complying with their practices, lulleth them to sleep in a dull security.
II. A caution subjoined, “Consent thou not.” To which end—
1. Consider the baseness and danger of consenting. We must sacrifice our reputation, render ourselves unfit for the company of men of worth, and exchange the glorious liberty of the children of God for that of vassals of iniquity. We must call in question the existence of God, and expose ourselves to that avenging hand which will lie heavy upon sinners to all eternity.
2. Take some plain and short directions to secure yourself against their enticements. Repel the first attempts upon your character. When that which is wrong is spoken or acted in your presence, do not suffer yourself to give it inward approbation. Withdraw from such society as soon as possible. Seek God’s assistance.—Nicolas Brady, D.D.
This verse, in brief compass and transparent terms, reveals the foe and the fight. With a kindness and wisdom altogether paternal, it warns the youth of the danger that assails him, and suggests the method of defence.—Arnot.
Carry a severe rebuke in thy countenance, as God doth (Psalms 80:16). To rebuke them is the ready way to be rid of them.—Trapp.
Proverbs 1:11-13. Two unreasonable and insatiable lusts they propose to gratify.
1. Their cruelty. They thirst for blood, and hate those that are innocent, and never gave them any provocation. Who could imagine that human nature should degenerate so far that it should ever be a pleasure to one man to destroy another?
2. Their covetousness. What, though we venture our necks, we shall fill our houses with spoil. See here
(1) the idea they have of worldly wealth. They call that precious substance which is neither substance nor precious; it is a shadow and vanity, especially that which is gotten by robbery. It is the ruin of thousands, that they overvalue the wealth of this world.
2. The abundance which they promise themselves. Those who trade with sin promise themselves mighty bargains. But they only dream that they eat, the housefuls dwindle into scarcely a handful.—Henry.
Proverbs 1:11. The warning, as such, is true for all times and countries, but has here a special application. The temptation against which the teacher seeks to guard his disciple is that of joining a band of highway robbers. At no period in its history has Palestine ever risen to the security of a well-ordered police system, and the wild licence of the marauder’s life attracted, we may well believe, many who were brought up in towns (Judges 11:3; 1 Samuel 22:2), and the bands of robbers who infested every part of the country in the period of the New Testament, and against whom every Roman governor had to wage incessant war, show how deeply rooted the evil was there. The history of many countries (our own, e.g., in the popular Traditions of Robin Hood and Henry V.) presents like phenomena. The robber-life has attractions for the open-hearted and adventurous. No generation, perhaps no class, can afford to despise the warning against it.… Without cause may mean in vain, and receive its interpretation from the mocking question of the tempter: “Doth Job serve God for nought?” The evil-doers deride their victims as being righteous gratis, or in vain.—Plumptre.
If sinners have their “come,” should not saints much more? Should we not incite, entice, whet, and provoke one another, rouse and stir up each other, to love and good works? (2 Peter 1:13; Hebrews 10:24; Isaiah 2:3; Zechariah 8:21.)—Trapp.
Proverbs 1:12. The force of the verse noteth the allurement of wickedness from the cleanly despatch of it, so that nothing appeareth of the doing of it.—Jermin.
We will be as Sheol, as Hades, as the great underworld of the dead, all-devouring, merciless. The destruction of those we attack shall be as sudden as that of those who go down quickly into Sheol. (Numbers 16:30; Numbers 16:33)—Plumptre.
Proverbs 1:13. Wickedness has always been a very bragging boaster. These sinners make a brag like that which the devil made to Christ: “All these things will I give thee.” Covetousness is a strong chain to draw men on to wickedness.—Jermin.
Proverbs 1:14. The first form of temptation is addressed to the simple lust of greed. The second, with more subtle skill, appeals to something in itself nobler, however easily perverted. The main attraction of the robber-life is its wild communism, the sense of equal hazards and equal hopes. To have “one purse,” setting laws of property at nought among themselves, seems almost a set-off against their attacks on the property of others.—Plumptre.
The affairs of this life are the highways of the King of Heaven; thou mayest walk in the ways of them, but not with the wicked. It is an argument of a wicked man but to company with the wicked. We judge evil accompanyings to be next to evil deeds.—Jermin.
Proverbs 1:16. They may talk of walking, of walking in pleasures and delights, to get thee to walk with them. But, though, from what thou findest at first, thou little thinkest what will be the end, yet let me tell thee that it is to evil the journey tendeth; to that it will quickly come, for their feet run unto it. What shame is it that evil should be so pursued after!—Jermin.
Proverbs 1:17. These men are plotting with their eyes wide open. The verse teaches the great doctrine of deliberateness to ruin. Men go to hell when they expect it; at least, they go when it is a trap to them, of which they know the setting. They go open-eyed on into the gin.—Miller.
The great net of God’s judgments is spread out, open to the eyes of all, and yet evil-doers, wilfully blind, still rush into it.—Plumptre.
Proverbs 1:18. These couriers of hell, who carry the despatches of the devil, cannot run faster to the hurt of others than they do to their own mischief; they cannot make more haste to shed the blood of others than they do to shed their own blood.—Jermin.
Proverbs 1:19. These “ways” are certainly some of the worst. The persons described are of the baser sort; the crimes enumerated are gross and rank. Yet when these apples of Sodom are traced to their sustaining root, it turns out to be greed of gain. The love of money can bear all these. When this greed is generated, like a thirst in the soul, it imperiously demands satisfaction wherever it can most readily be found. In some countries of the world it still retains the old-fashioned iniquity which Solomon has described. In our country, though the same passion domineer in a man’s heart, it will not adopt the same method, because it has cunning enough to know that it will not succeed. Dishonesty is diluted, and coloured, and moulded, to suit the taste of the times. But the ancient and modern evil-doers are reckoned brethren in iniquity, despite the difference in the costume of their crimes.… This greed, when full-grown, is coarse and cruel. It has no bowels. It marches right to its mark, treading on everything that lies in the way. If necessary “it taketh away the life of the owners thereof.” Covetousness is idolatry. The idol delights in blood. He demands and gets a hecatomb of human sacrifices.—Arnot.
Midas, the Phrygian king, asked a favour of the gods, and they agreed to grant him whatever he should desire. The monarch, overjoyed, resolved to make the favour inexhaustible. He prayed that whatever he touched might be turned to gold. The prayer was granted, and bitter were the consequences. What the king touched did turn to gold. He laid his hand upon the rock and it became a huge mass of priceless value; he clutched his oaken staff, and it became in his hand a bar of virgin gold. At first the monarch’s joy was unbounded, and he returned to his palace the most favoured of mortals. Alas for the shortsightedness of man! He sat at table, and all he touched turned to gold—pure solid gold. The conviction rushed upon him that he must perish from his grasping wish—die in the midst of plenty; and remembering the ominous saying he had heard, “The gods themselves cannot take back their gifts,” he howled to the sternly smiling Dionysius to restore him to the coarsest, vilest food, and deliver him from the curse of gold.—Biblical Treasury.
Proverbs 1:20. The word wisdom is in the plural form in the Hebrew.
Proverbs 1:27. Desolation, or “tempest.”
Proverbs 1:32. The turning away of the simple, i.e., their rejection of wisdom. Prosperity, “Security,” “idle, easy rest.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH— Proverbs 1:20-23
THE CRY OF WISDOM
I. The wisdom of God is the voice of God.
1. The wisdom of God in nature, in the heavens which declare His glory and in the firmament which sheweth His handiwork” is Divine speech which speaks loudly of eternal power and Godhead.
2. There is a voice of wisdom in the laws and economy of the old dispensation, although that voice gave sometimes but an indistinct sound concerning Divine mercy and judgment.
3. The wisdom of God as displayed in the plan of salvation by Christ is the loudest, the most persuasive and unmistakable voice of God.
II. God’s voice of Wisdom is an earnest voice. Wisdom crieth. The voice of the mother who thinks that her children are in danger rings upon the ear with no uncertain, theatrical sound. When the voice of Paul rang through the Philippian prison and fell upon the man who was about to destroy himself, it was a loud voice, because he was in earnest. God has to deal with his human children who are in danger, and therefore He speaks with earnestness when He says, “Do thyself no harm.” The voice of God in the human conscience sometimes speaks as loudly as the trump of Sinai. He said by His prophets in the days of old, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). The voice of Christ was an earnest voice. His death enforced the earnestness of the appeals which He uttered in His life. It proved the reality of His own and His Father’s desire that “all should come to repentance.” The voice of the Gospel ministry is an earnest voice. Those who have been baptised by the Spirit of God, beseech men to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
III. God’s voice of wisdom has been uttered where men could hear it. Wisdom uttereth her voice “in the streets,” “in the chief places of concourse,” “in the gates.” The merchant brings his silks and diamonds to the crowded cities, because in them he is most likely to find purchasers. The vendors of goods seek the broad thoroughfares, because there they find streams of human beings to whom they offer their wares. God has observed this method in offering His Divine wisdom to the sons of men. The highest wisdom of God—the Gospel—was first proclaimed in the city of Jerusalem, at a time when there were gathered there men “out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). The apostles of Christ preached in the chief cities of the civilised world, in Corinth, Athens, Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome. And now the voice of wisdom cries in the principal centres of the population of the world. The fishermen spread their nets where most fish congregate, and the fishers of men are attracted to the places where most human souls are gathered.
IV. God’s voice of wisdom addresses all classes of sinners.
1. The simple ones. The unwary and those easily misled. Some men sin through ignorance or through the influence of others. As the unwalled garden is open to the foot of every dog that passes by, so the man who has no principle of his own to defend him is liable to have his soul entered and taken possession of by the first tempter who passes by.
2. The scorner. He is a sinner of a deeper dye. The child who is indifferent to his good father’s love and the attractions of his happy home is a sinner, but the son who mocks his parents and holds up their words to ridicule is certainly a greater sinner. The simple man denotes a sinner who is passive in the hands of evil, but the scorner is active against good. He is placed before us in Holy Scripture as one who has reached the climax of human iniquity (Psalms 1:1).
3. Fools are addressed. The man who would rather use means to increase his disease than seek to cure it, may very properly be called a fool. The blind man who chooses to remain blind when he might be healed is certainly a fool. And certainly this is an appropriate name for those who love moral darkness rather than light. He who hates the knowledge which would save him and prefers death to life is the most unwise man upon the face of God’s earth.
V. Although sinners may differ in degree, the same reproof and invitation are addressed to all. A rich man may be able to satisfy the wants of a hungry multitude, although all may not be equally hungry. If a physician possesses remedies which can heal men whose disease is deeply rooted, he will be able to cure those upon whom it has as yet a lighter hold. The voice of God to men offers but one way of satisfaction and soul-healing, viz., repentance. “Turn ye at my reproof.” And the gift of his spirit which accompanies repentance (Acts 2:38) is powerful to change the greatest sinner into a saint.
VI. The rejection of Wisdom’s voice of invitation changes it to one of threatening. The refusal of the invitation to the Gospel feast shut out to retribution those who rejected it (Luke 14:16). The space given for repentance will not last for ever. A time is here foretold when God will not hear them who have refused to hear him. Their cry for help will be treated as they once treated the earnest cry of wisdom. “I will mock when your fear cometh.”
VII. The blessed condition of those who accept Wisdom’s invitation. The promises given under the Old Testament dispensation referred in a large degree to the present life. Dwelling safely here doubtless has its immediate reference to a home in Canaan, as in Isaiah 1:19. “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.” Yet the underlying principle is that God will take charge of the real interests of those who yield themselves to Him—who fall in with His plans for their real eternal good.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 1:20. What was in the views of godly men, in Solomon’s days, an abstraction, became concrete when Christ was manifested on earth. The manifold character of this Divine wisdom (Isaiah 11:2-3), and the multiplicity of the messengers of this wisdom of God in all ages of the Church accord with the plural form. (See “Critical Notes.”)—Fausset.
The orientals used the plural form to denote the highest excellence. But wisdoms may be plural to denote wisdom in all forms, or all “wisdoms” in one; specially two forms of wisdom—wisdom in a worldly sense, and wisdom in the spiritual sense which the natural man does not discern. Wisdom in both these senses unites in piety. The pious man has spiritual wisdom of which the sinner knows nothing; and fleshly or natural wisdom to avoid hell and to secure heaven, to provide for death and get ready for an eternal world, to a degree altogether superior to a fleshly nature.—Miller.
After that Solomon hath brought in a godly father warning and instructing his sons, now he raiseth up, as it were, a matron or queen-mother provoking her children unto virtue.—Muffet.
The words of men may be wise; but when God speaks, Wisdom itself addresses us.—Lawson.
Perhaps some wide law of association connecting the purity and serenity of wisdom with the idea of womanhood, determines the character of the personification. Not in solitude, but in the haunts of men, through sages, lawgivers, and teachers, and yet more through life and its experiences, she preaches to mankind. Something of the same kind was present, we may believe, to Socrates when he said that the fields and the trees taught him nothing, but that he found the wisdom he was seeking in his converse with the men whom he met as he walked in the streets and agora of Athens. (Plato, “Phædrus,” p. 230.)—Plumptre.
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, “Come unto me and drink.” (John 7:37.)—Trapp.
In the Scriptures, Wisdom cried unto men. “They testify of me,” said Jesus. The prophets all spake of His coming. The sacrifice offered year by year, continually proclaimed aloud to each generation the guilt of men, and the way of mercy. The history of Israel, all the days of old, was itself Wisdom’s perennial articulate cry of warning to the rebellious. The plains of Egypt and the Red Sea, Sinai and the Jordan, each had a voice, and all proclaimed in concert the righteousness and mercy that kissed each other in the counsels of God. And the things were not done in a corner.… But the wisdom of God is a manifold wisdom. While it centres bodily in Christ, it is reflected and re-echoed from every object and every event. There is a challenge in the prophets, “Oh earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord!” The receptive earth has taken in that word, and obediently repeats it from age to age.… He hath made all things for Himself. He serves Himself of criminals and their crimes. From many a ruined fortune, Wisdom cries, “Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy.” From many an outcast in his agonies, as when the eagles of the valley are picking out his eyes, Wisdom cries, “Honour thy father and mother, that thy days may be long.” From many a gloomy scaffold Wisdom cries, “Thou shalt not kill.”—Arnot.
Proverbs 1:21. Wisdom’s walk through the streets. The Lord and His Spirit follow us everywhere with monition and reminder.—Lange’s Commentary.
In Proverbs 1:10 sin was represented as trying to get in. Here wisdom is represented as trying to reach out. Sin is harmless unless it can get into the conscience. Wisdom is utterly helpless unless it begins with the flesh. One strives to get in, the others yearns to reach out. “The natural man discerneth not the things of the spirit.” She must begin, therefore, without. The impenitent can only hear natural reasons. “The law is a schoolmaster.” The terrors of death are applied by the Almighty to draw us nearer, within, and finally into the region that is spiritual. It is “out of doors,” therefore, that Wisdom must lift up her voice.—Miller.
The voice of wisdom is heard everywhere. It sounds from the pulpit. From every creature it is heard (Job 12:7-8). The word is in our very hearts, and conscience echoes the voice in our souls. Let us go where we will we must hear it, unless we wilfully shut our ears.—Lawson.
In the Temple she crieth for holiness and reverence, in the gates she crieth for justice and equity, in the city she crieth for honesty and charity. Or else by accommodation we may thus take the words, the head is the chief place of concourse in man, where all the faculties do meet and all affairs are handled: the openings of the gate are the outward fences, the city is the heart, to all which wisdom strongly applieth her instructions. In the head she crieth for a right understanding, in the outward fences for watchfulness, in the heart for upright sincerity.—Jermin.
Proverbs 1:22. Men are always going to be wise, and, therefore, Wisdom plunges upon this very difficulty. You are going to repent; but when? And, as a still more imperative question, “How long first? You are, perhaps, a grey old man, and your resolutions have been for fifty years.—Miller.
Lovers of simplicity and haters of knowledge are joined together; for where there is a love of simplicity, there is a hatred of knowledge, where there is a love of vice there is a hatred of virtue.—Jermin.
Scorners love scorning. The habit grows by indulgence. It becomes a second nature.—Arnot.
These simplicians are much better than scorners, and far beyond those fools that hate knowledge. All sins are not alike sinful, and wicked men grow worse and worse.—Trapp.
Proverbs 1:23. The two things mentioned here are to be taken in connection with each other. The latter is the result of the former—the former in order to the latter. There can be no plea, therefore, for continued ignorance. The Word of God is in possession, and the Spirit of God is in promise.—Wardlaw.
When it is said: “Turn,” &c., could any essay to turn be without some influence of the Spirit? But that, complied with, tends to pouring forth a copious effusion not to be withstood.—J. Howe.
When we turn at His reproof, He will pour out His Spirit; when He pours out His Spirit, we will turn at His reproof: blessed circle for the saints to reason in.—Arnot.
Little as we might have expected it, the teaching of the Book of Proverbs anticipates the prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28) and the promise of our Lord (John 14:26; John 15:26.) Not the Spirit alone, with no articulate expression of truths received and felt: nor words alone, spoken or written, without the Spirit to give them life.—Plumptre.
He that reproves and then directs not how to do better, is he that snuffs a lamp, but pours not in oil to maintain it.—Trapp.
There are no words that can make known Wisdom’s words but her own, and there is no one that can make known Wisdom’s words but herself. She can, and here she saith: “I will.” And it is as she will, not as she can, and yet freely and fully too, whereof she saith: “I will pour out.”—Jermin.
I. The reproof God administers. God reproves
(1) by the Scriptures;
(2) by ministers;
(3) by conscience;
(4) by Providence.
II. The submission He requires. Turn
(1) with penitent hearts;
(2) with believing minds;
(3) with prompt obedience.
III. The encouragements He imparts. The Spirit is
(4) sanctifying.—Sketches of Sermons.
Proverbs 1:24. It is an honour to be invited to the feast of an earthly prince; how much more to be bidden unto the banquet of the King of kings! And as the desiring of any to dinner or supper is a sign of love and goodwill in him that offereth this courtesy, so it is a point of great ungentleness and sullenness for a man, without just cause, to refuse so kind a proffer; for, in so doing, he sheweth that he maketh none account at all of him, who not only hath borne toward him a loving affection, but made declaration thereof in some sort, and gone about to seal it by certain pledges of friendship; yea, that which is yet more, he causeth him to lose the cost which he hath bestowed about provisions and entertainment, and his messengers to lose their pains and their travail. Then, when those who are bidden to the kingdom of God (Luke 14:18) desire to be excused, how can this be but a great sin? but, when God shall not only call with His voice, but all day long stretch out His hand to a rebellious people, continuing His Word preached with all means pertaining thereunto; as the grace offered in this respect is doubled, so the sin of not profiting thereby is mightily increased.—Muffet.
God called for a famine on the land, and was not refused; God called for a drought upon the land, and was not refused; and, no doubt, should God call any other of His creatures, they would not refuse to come unto Him, seeing those things which are not, when they are called, do come to God. Only man refuseth. Surely hence it is that the prophets of God do so often speak unto insensible things, as: “Hear, O heavens: give ear, O earth.” For it is not seldom that God calleth to men and is refused.—Jermin.
Proverbs 1:26. There is not in the Lord any such affection or disposition of mocking as in man; but when in the course of His providence He so worketh that He leaves the wicked to his misery, or maketh him a mocking stock to the world, He is said in the Scripture to scorn, or have them in derision (Psalms 2), because He dealeth as a man which scorneth.—Muffet.
If God laugh, thou hast good cause to cry.—Trapp.
There is, as has been said, a Divine irony in the Nemesis of history. It is, however, significant that in the fuller revelation of the mind and will of the Father in the person of the Son, no such language meets us. Sadness, sternness, severity there may be, but from first to last no word of mere derision.—Plumptre.
Even I, not, “I also,” I, who have warned you so often, so tenderly, so earnestly.—Stuart.
Proverbs 1:27. Cataline was wont to be afraid at any sudden noise, as being haunted with the furies of his own evil conscience. So was our Richard the Third after the murder of his two innocent nephews, and Charles the Ninth of France after the Parisian massacre. These tyrants became more terrible to themselves than ever they had been to others.—Trapp.
You cannot paint an angel upon light: so mercy could not be represented—mercy could not be, unless there were judgment without mercy, a ground of deep darkness lying beneath, to sustain and reveal it.—Arnot.
Here also the parallelism which we have traced before holds good. The “coming of the Son of Man” shall be as “the lightning” in its instantaneous flashing. And at that coming He will have to utter the same doom. “Many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”—Plumptre.
Proverbs 1:28. Does the sinner ever cry, and not get answered? Does he ever seek diligently, and God laugh at him? The passage is the profoundest Gospel. A man has two ways of seeking, before he becomes a Christian, and after he becomes a Christian. Before he becomes a Christian he seeks from natural motives, otherwise he would be already spiritual. We cannot say that natural seeking has no promise. We think it has. A man can only start outside the camp to get in. The man who out of a deep sense of terror flies toward the wicket gate under that schoolmaster the law, will reach it if he keep on, and that by promise. If he begs God to make him spiritual and to give him the true motives of the kingdom with even a proper common spirit though it be under the terrors of escape, he draws nearer all the time to being spiritual. The light will at last break. If he keeps on in that way he will emerge some day into the light of the blessed. The action of common grace will merge into that which is saving. But if his motives are too carnal; if his state is mere terror; if his moral part has been so abused that it has passed the boundary which our text suggests; if there be the mere terror of the lost, and the mere selfishness, such as wakes up at the judgment day, we could easily understand that oceans of such tears would drift a man only farther off. They are only a more insidious carnality. The sum of the doctrine is, that natural motives may become instruments of conversion if we seek God early, but if we sin away the day of grace, no terror, however selfishly and therefore passionately expressed, can become a saving prayer to bring us any nearer to the Redeemer.—Miller.
This was Saul’s misery: “The Philistines are upon me, and God will not answer me.” This was Moab’s curse (Isaiah 16:12). This was the case of David’s enemies (Psalms 18:41). Even if God answer him at all, it is according to the idols of his heart (Ezekiel 14:3-4) with bitter answers, as in Judges 10:13-14. Or, if better, it is but as He answered the Israelites for quails and afterwards for a king; better have been without. Giftless gifts God gives sometimes.—Trapp.
Proverbs 1:29. Those who do not choose the fear of the Lord are condemned no less than those who hate it. Not to choose is virtually to dislike, and ends in positive hatred. (Matthew 12:30.) Men are free in choosing destruction, so that the blame rests wholly on themselves. “Ye judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life.” (Acts 13:46.)—Fausset.
God will give them a reason of their punishment. No marvel if they who hate knowledge do not choose the fear of the Lord. For knowledge is the guide of election, and if the guide be bad the choice cannot be good. And to show the badness of the choice, there being many fears proposed to man’s choice to which man’s life is subject; to choose the fear of the Lord, freeth from all the rest; not to choose that, is to be a slave to all the rest.—Jermin.
Proverbs 1:30. There is not a word here of disability, it is all unwillingness. Point me to one passage in the Bible where sinners are represented as being condemned for not doing what they could not do. The blessed God is no such tantaliser. When, at any time, inability is spoken of, it is inability all of a moral nature, and resolves itself into unwillingness.—Wardlaw.
Can it be that none of God’s counsel should be followed? Can it be that all his reproof should be despised? Yes; not to have a care of following all God’s counsel is to follow none: not to have a mind that regardeth all His reproof, is to despise all.… As the wings of the living creature which Ezekiel saw, were joined together, so is the joining together of God’s commandments, our desire of yielding a general obedience unto them, that must carry us up to heaven.—Jermin.
Proverbs 1:31. Their miserable end is the fruit—not of God’s way, but of their own. His plan, His device for them, was a plan of salvation.—Wardlaw.
If a man plants and dresses a poisonous tree in his garden, it is just that he should be obliged to eat the fruit. If our vine is the vine of Sodom, and our clusters the clusters of bitterness, we must leave our complaint on ourselves, if we drink till we are drunken, and fall, and rise no more.—Lawson.
The sinner’s sin is its own punishment (Isaiah 3:9-11. Hell is not an arbitrary punishment, like human penalties, which have no necessary connection with the crimes, but a natural development of the seed and the bud (Isaiah 59:4; Galatians 6:8). “Filled with their own devices”—i.e. filled even to loathing, which is the final result of the pleasures of sin. “They did eat, and were well filled; for He gave them their own desire; … but while the meat was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them” (Psalms 78:29). Men’s own desires fulfilled are made their sorest plagues (Psalms 106:11).—Fausset.
Bad will it be for them that shall eat of it; and yet due will it be to them to eat of it, because it is their own.… It is not said they shall gather the fruit of their ways, which were some expression of their misery, but they shall eat it, it shall enter into them, and be made, as it were, their very substance. This it is that filleth up the misery, and that the filling is of their own devices, that it is, that maketh it be pressed down.—Jermin.
Proverbs 1:32. When Jeshurun waxed fat, he kicked (Deuteronomy 32:15). Thus the objection is met, that sinners often prosper now. Yes, replies wisdom; but that very prosperity proves their curse, and accelerates the judgment of God. It is they who are “settled on their lees” that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil (Zephaniah 1:12)—Fausset.
Prosperity ever dangerous.
1. Because every foolish or vicious person is either ignorant or regardless of the proper ends and rules for which God designs the prosperity of those to whom He sends it.
2. Because prosperity, as the nature of man now stands, has a peculiar force and fitness to abate men’s virtues and heighten their corruptions.
3. Because it directly indisposes them to the proper means of amendment and recovery.—South.
Because they are fools, they turn God’s mercies to their own destruction; and because they prosper, they are confirmed in their folly.—Baxter.
When sinners are moved a little by wisdom, and turn away, it is deadly; it is worse than if they had never listened. Prosperity or tranquillity (see “Critical Notes”). The mere doing nothing of impenitent men is carrying them downward.—Miller.
Bernard calls prosperity a mercy that he had no mind to. What good is there in having a fine suit with the plague in it. A man may miscarry upon the soft sands as soon as upon the hard rocks.—Trapp.
Not outward prosperity, but the temper which it too often produces; the easy going indifference to higher truths is that which destroys.—Plumptre.
Proverbs 1:33. He shall enjoy genuine security. His mind will enjoy unmoved tranquillity amidst all the turmoils and all the vicissitudes of this life (Philippians 4:6-7). And he shall be quiet from the fear of ultimate evil. The season of the impenitent sinner’s last alarm shall be to him the season of peace, and hope, and joy.—Wardlaw.
Be it so, that some fits of fear, like grudgings of an ague, in the midst of fiery temptations, begin sometimes to cause the faithful to quake a little, yet the grace of God’s Spirit will drive them out in time, and put them all to flight in such manner at the end, that instead of timorousness, stoutness; of unquietness, peace; of bashfulness, boldness; of shrinking, triumph will arise. O, the valiant courage and unterrified heart of the Christian knight and spiritual champion, who is furnished with the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6), and fighteth under the banner of Divine wisdom, his renowned lady and mistress!—Muffet.
His ark is pitched within and without; tossed, it may be, but not drowned: shaken, but not shivered.—Trapp.
Eternal life, secure in the world to come, casts a bright beam of hope across, sufficient to quiet the anxieties of a faint and fluttering heart in all the dangers of the journey through.—Arnot.
There is no dwelling but in heaven; hell is a prison; earth is a pilgrimage. In Heaven there be many mansions, wherein every room is the lodging of quietness, the walls whereof are safety, the gates security, and all fear of evil shut out for ever.—Jermin.
Proverbs 1:2. Incline. To sharpen or prick the ear, like an animal.
Proverbs 1:5. God. Elohim. One of five instances in the book in which God is thus designated, the appellation Jehovah occurring nearly ninety times. In explaining the all but universal use of Jehovah as the name of God in the Proverbs, while it never occurs in Ecclesiastes, Wordsworth says: “When Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs he was in a state of favour and grace with Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel; he was obedient to the law of Jehovah; and the special design of that book is to enforce obedience to that law.”