Proverbs 29:4. He that receiveth gifts. Zöckler translates this, “a man of taxes.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 29:1
REPROOF AND DESTRUCTION
I. An act of benevolence which is often resented. When a child is reproved, and if need be chastised, for playing with the fire or neglecting its lessons, all reasonable people see that it is a kind act, and the child itself, when it has grown wiser, acknowledges that the reproof, even if it took the form of punishment, was an act of true benevolence, for it has saved him from bodily suffering or from intellectual loss. But it is probable that at the time the reproof was administered it was received with resentment, and the parent or friend who administered it was looked upon as an enemy. And it is so generally with men in relation to the reproofs of God, whether they come direct in the shape of providential chastisements or indirectly in the rebukes of His servants. God can have but one aim in reproving His creatures, and that is to save them from the pain which follows sin, and to increase their capabilities of happiness by bringing them under His Divine training. But this effort of God is often resisted, and man in the act of resistance is here and elsewhere likened to the ox which refuses to obey his master. He “hardens his neck” against the yoke of Divine reproof. Repentant Ephraim acknowledges that under Divine chastisement he was “as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke” (Jeremiah 31:18); he resisted the efforts of his God to bring him into subjection to His wise rule, and into harmony with His benevolent purposes concerning him. The ox who does nothing but browse is living the lowest form of life which a brute can live—he eats, and sleeps, and fattens for the knife. But if his master leads him from his pasture, and harnesses him to the plough, he thereby makes him a co-worker with himself; the beast now helps to raise the corn which not only feeds himself, but feeds men also, and thus, by coming under the yoke, he becomes a more useful and valuable creature. But as he is only a brute, he is not to be blamed if he prefers the lower life to the higher. As it is with the ox and his master, so it is with the sinner and God. The godless man is content to live upon a level with the lowest level of brute life—to satisfy his bodily appetites, to eat and drink, and die and leave undeveloped all his capacities for spiritual growth and blessedness. But God would make him a co-worker with Himself in lifting him to a higher level and in making him a more useful and blessed creature. But men often resist this benevolent intention, and resent this check upon their self-will.
II. The resistance to many acts of benevolence bringing one act of judgment. It must at last be decided whose will is to be the law of the universe—that of rebellious men or that of the Holy God; and though the Divine longsuffering is so exceedingly great, He must, in the interests of His creatures, assert His right to their obedience. This He did in the case of His chosen people—after centuries of resisted reproof sudden and irremediable destruction came upon the nation, and those who, like the Jews, will not come under the yoke of God, must sooner or later feel His rod. If they will not be His children they must be treated as rebellious subjects. On this subject see also on chap. Proverbs 6:15, page 82.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Such was the destruction of the old world, and of the cities of the plain, long hardened against the forbearance of God. Pharaoh grew more stubborn under the rod, and rushed madly upon his sudden ruin. Eli’s sons “hearkened not unto the voice of their father, and in one day died both of them.” Ahab, often reproved by the godly prophet, hardened his neck, and “the bow, drawn at a venture,” received its commission. How must Judas have steeled his heart against his Master’s reproof! Onward he rushed, “that he might go to his own place.”—Bridges.
Sins repeated and reiterated are much greater than sins once committed … As in numbers, one in the first place stands but for a single one, in the second place ten, in the third place for a hundred, so here, each repetition is a great aggravation. It is one thing to fall into the water, another thing to lie there; it is the latter that drowns men.—Swinnock.
On the subject of Proverbs 29:2, see on chap. Proverbs 11:10, page 206. On Proverbs 29:3, see on chap. Proverbs 10:1, page 137, and chap. Proverbs 5:1-20, page 68. The subject of Proverbs 29:4 has been treated on page 472, in the homiletics on chap. Proverbs 16:10-15, and that of Proverbs 29:5 in the homiletics on chap. Proverbs 26:23-28, page 721.
Proverbs 29:7. Considereth. Literally knoweth. Zöckler and Delitzsch translate the latter clause, “the godless discern, or understand not, knowledge.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 29:6
A SNARE AND A SONG
I. Sin deceives men. If a man digs a pit for the purpose of entrapping a victim, his great aim is to make the path over it as inviting as possible, and entirely to hide from sight the snare which he has laid, for, as Solomon tells us elsewhere, “Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.” (Chap. Proverbs 1:17.) So when the great deceiver of men tries to lead them into sin, he makes the way of transgression look very inviting, and persuades his victim that some great gain is to be gotten by the sin. He hides from view the pit of misery which lies at the end of every path of disobedience to God. He did not let Adam and Eve see beforehand the bitter consequences of breaking the Divine command or he would not have succeeded in accomplishing their downfall. And be does not let the young man whom he persuades to rob his master see the felon’s cell beyond, or his persuasions would be ineffectual. His great aim is to make men believe there is security where there is danger—a solid rock where there is a yawning pit—probable gain where there is certain loss. Seeing that sin is against the sinner’s own interests, and that there is in every man an instinct of self-preservation, we must conclude that if transgressors were not ensnared, Satan could take the captive in no other way.
II. Righteousness gladdens men. God, who is the Fountain and Source of all the joy in the universe, made man for happiness. This is the portion which He intended all His creatures to possess, and which they forfeit by their own act and deed. Before sin entered our world, song was man’s natural employment—it was as natural for him to rejoice in God’s love as it was to breathe God’s air. And in proportion as sin is banished from the human soul, and the right relation between it and God is re-established, joy and gladness re-enter the heart. The indissoluble connection which is found everywhere between righteousness of life and peace of mind is a revelation of the character of the Being who sits upon the throne of the universe, and although the song of the righteous in this world is not an unbroken one, and they have sorrow as well as joy, they are hastening to a world where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Or, a cord, viz., to strangle his joy with—to check and choke all his comforts. In the midst of his mirth he hath many a secret gripe, and little knows the world where the shoe pinches him. Every fowl that hath a seemly feather hath not the sweetest flesh, nor doth every tree that bringeth a goodly leaf bear good fruit. Glass giveth a clearer sound than silver, and many things glitter besides gold. The wicked man’s jollity may wet the mouth, but not warm the heart—smooth the brow, but not fill the breast … But though Saul could not be merry without a fiddler, Ahab without Naboth’s vineyard, Haman without Mordecai’s courtesy, yet a righteous man can be merry without all these.—Trapp.
Proverbs 29:8. Bring a city, etc., literally, “set a city on fire.”
Proverbs 29:9. The second clause should rather be “he rageth and laugheth (i.e., the fool), and there is no rest.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 29:8
THE CITIZEN’S ENEMY AND THE CITIZEN’S FRIEND
I. A scornful man is a social calamity. A scorner is a man who has a great opinion of his own wisdom and ability, and a very low one of all who oppose him. From his self-constructed elevation he looks down upon those who refuse to obey him, and counts them his inferiors simply because they do so. This is a perilous course to pursue even when only individual interests are at stake, but when the scornful man holds the welfare of others in his hand, the disastrous effects of his conduct are more widely spread. When he is the only person who suffers from over-estimating himself and underrating the strength of his opponents the issue is hardly to be regretted, but Solomon here has in his mind a public man who brings ruin upon many besides himself by his proud disdain of their foes, and by his refusal to recognise a common danger. Goliath was such a man. As the representative and champion of the Philistines he over-estimated the value of his physical strength, and set too low an estimate upon the unseen power arrayed against him, and his scorn of his enemies brought a great calamity upon his nation. A scornful man brings the heaviest calamity upon a people when he scoffs at the power of God and persuades his followers to set at nought His demands and threatenings. This was the great crime of many of Solomon’s successors to the throne, and of the false prophets of Judah and Israel, and hence the sentence passed upon them and upon those who listened to them: “Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because ye have said, we have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we in agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us; for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: Therefore thus saith the Lord God … Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuges of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place,” etc. (Isaiah 28:14-22.)
II. A wise man is a social blessing. We have before seen (see on chap. Proverbs 14:16, page 364) that it is one of the characteristics of a wise man that he recognises the presence of moral danger in relation to himself, and the same may be said concerning danger of every kind, not only as regards himself, but others also. The recognition of danger is quite distinct from the fear of it; indeed those who are most quick to discern it have generally the most courage to meet it and the most wisdom to avert it. Scornful men generally have nothing but scorn wherewith to meet a foe, but the man who is truly wise can afford to acknowledge the strength of his enemies because he is fully prepared to meet them. If he seek to turn away the wrath of man by persuasion, he will be able to back his persuasion by wise reasoning, and if he strive to avert the wrath of God he will endeavour to bring those for whom he intercedes to such a state of mind as will render them fit to appreciate Divine pardon. But if he cannot do this his own character will give effect to his prayers, and as in the case of Moses and the children of Israel, God will spare many sinners for the sake of one righteous man.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Surely it was wisdom in the king and people of Nineveh, instead of bringing their city into a snare by scornful rebellion, to avert by timely humiliation the impending destruction. (Jonah 3:5-10.) Let the people be gathered; let the ministers of the Lord gird themselves to their work of weeping and accepted pleaders for the land. (Joel 2:17.) Surely “except the Lord of Hosts had left us a very small remnant” of these powerful intercessors, “we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.” (Isaiah 1:9.) Praised be God! The voice is yet heard—“Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it.” (Isaiah 65:8.) The salt of the earth preserves it from corruption. (Matthew 5:13.) Shall not we, then, honour these wise men with reverential gratitude—“My father—my father! the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof?” … Moses— Exodus 32:10-14; Deuteronomy 9:8-20; Psalms 106:23; Aaron— Numbers 16:48; Phinehas Proverbs 25:11; Psalms 106:30. Elijah— 1 Kings 18:42-45; James 5:16; James 5:18; Jeremiah 18:20; Daniel 9:3-20; Amos 7:1-6. The righteous remnant— Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 6:13. Comp. Genesis 18:32; Job 22:30; Jeremiah 5:1; Ezekiel 22:30-31. Contrast Proverbs 13:5.—Bridges.
Proverbs 29:10. Delitzsch translates this verse:—“Men of blood hate the guiltless and the upright; they seek his soul.”
Proverbs 29:11. His mind. Rather his wrath. Keepeth it till afterward. Rather restraineth it, keeps it in the background.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 29:10
SOUL-SEEKERS AND SOUL-HATERS
I. A proof of the unnatural condition of the human family. When we look at a human body we see that every limb and organism belonging to it ministers to the well-being of the whole frame, and thus to the comfort of the living soul that inhabits it. This we recognise to be a natural and fitting state of things—just what we should have expected to find before experience. If in any human body we at any time see the hand inflicting injury upon the head, or any one member causing discomfort to another, we conclude, and with reason, that some disturbance of the natural condition has taken place—that there is physical disease in some bodily organism, or moral disease in the spirit that animates the body. So our human instincts and our reason force us to the conclusion that the natural relation of the members of the great body of humanity is one in which “each for all and all for each” should be the rule of action. That it is not so, can but strike all thinking men and women as a terrible incongruity. That most men not merely regard their human brethren with indifference, but that many actually hate and seek to injure their fellow-creatures is surely an evidence that some fatal moral distemper has laid hold of the race. And the evidence becomes stronger when we consider the truth of the first assertion in the proverb—that not only do bloodthirsty men seek to injure other men in general, but that the objects of their especial malignity are the upright—those who have given them no provocation, but whose desire and aim is to bless their human brothers and sisters.
II. An example in renewed men of what human brotherhood ought to be. Notwithstanding the great amount of self-seeking and enmity that is found in the world, there always has been found a small minority who have been seekers of the good of others, and in whom love to their human brethren has been the keynote of existence. And this love has been felt, and this seeking has been active, in behalf of those who hated them, and sought to do them ill. All such members of the human family are doing their part towards restoring men to the condition of peace and goodwill in which their Creator intended them to live, and help us to form some idea of what earth would have been if sin had never entered it. It is true they would then have had no opportunity of loving their enemies, and of doing good to those who hate them, but the love which “seeketh not her own” would have found free scope for her activities in going out towards those animated by the same spirit of love and would never have had to sorrow over efforts to seek and save that have been apparently fruitless. All just men who are seekers of the well-being of others, and especially those who seek the good of their enemies, are followers of that Just One who was hated by the bloodthirsty of His day, and who sought their souls while they sought His life. The history of the martyr Church in all ages has been the history of the “bloodthirsty hating the upright,” and of the just treading in the footsteps of their Divine Master, and “seeking the souls” of their persecutors.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
These words may mean—and probably do mean—that the upright, in opposition to the blood-thirsty by whom the just is hated, “seek his soul,”—that is, the soul or life of the object of the hatred—of the just or the upright. Of the Lord Himself it is said—“He loveth the righteous.” And in this all His people resemble Him. It is one of their characteristic distinctions. They pray for the upright, and endeavour, by all means in their power, to preserve them from the deadly machinations of their persecutors. The amount of love required of God’s people towards God’s people is that they be ready to “lay down their lives for the brethren.” And if “for the brethren”—how much more for THE JUST ONE. Wardlaw.
The just seek his soul. As Paul did of his countrymen the Jews, of whom five times he received forty stripes save one (2 Corinthians 11:24); as the disciples did of those spiteful Pharisees that had causelessly accused them (Matthew 15:2-12); as that martyr Master Saunders did: “My lord,” said he to Bishop Bonner, “you seek my blood, and you shall have it. I pray God you may be so baptized in it as hereafter you may loathe blood-sucking, and so become a better man.”—Trapp.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 29:12
A MORAL CANCER IN A KING’S COURT
I. A man in authority should be a discerner of character. The man whose bodily sight is defective is not fit to be entrusted with the destinies of others in any case in which clear vision is needed. A purblind seaman would not be the man to stand upon the bridge of a vessel and direct its movements, nor would a general unable to distinguish friends from foes be a safe person to whom to entrust the guidance of an army in the field. And a man is manifestly in the wrong place if he is a ruler over others and is not a discerner of character.
II. A man in authority should be the possessor of a character. A ruler may be a good man himself and yet be imposed upon by others, but as a rule a lover of truth is a discerner of truth, and an honest man will detect the false ring of the liar’s words. But if a man is himself a liar, he will instinctively shrink from contact with true men, and true men will not care to hold intercourse with him, or to serve him, and so he must necessarily gather round him servants who are like himself. Such processes of attraction and repulsion are always going on in the world, in all departments of government, in the family, in the factory, and in the court. The servants are generally what the master is, and the courtiers reflect the character of the monarch.
III. It is therefore indispensable to the moral purity of any community that its head be first a good man and then an able man. Moral excellence is before all other things needful, but it is not the only thing needful. A good man is not always a keen discerner of character, although his goodness will strengthen his power of discernment, but he who rules men should possess in an uncommon degree the power of reading them as well as that of setting them a good example in his own life.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
He that carrieth Satan in his ear is no less blameworthy than he which carrieth him in his tongue. Untruths are cherished and fostered, as it were, by those who are too light of belief. But this credulity is especially to be shunned by rulers in church, commonwealth, or private families; for all the inferiors commonly follow the example of the superiors.… It may indeed sometimes fall out that an Obadiah may lurk in Ahab’s court, but this is rare, and commonly the sway goeth another way. Who were Saul’s courtiers but Doeg and such backbiters?—Muffett.
How wise was David’s determination—both as the sovereign of his people and the ruler of his house—to discountenance lies, and uphold the cause of faithful men! (Psalms 101:2-7.—Bridges.
It is natural, when we think of Solomon’s own situation as king of Israel, to expect to find some of his maxims of proverbial wisdom bearing special reference to the character and conduct of men in power. And so it is. When, moreover, we think of the wisdom with which, at the outset of his reign, and at his own earnest request, he was divinely endowed, we as naturally anticipate a correspondence between the maxims and the character. Nor are we disappointed. The maxims are not those of the selfishness of power,—not those of arbitrary despotism or the sovereignty of royal will; nor are they those of an artful, intriguing, Machiavelian policy. They are sound and liberal, and based on the great principle of the public good being the end of all government—the principle that kings reign, not for themselves, but for their people; while, in all their administration, they ought to be swayed and regulated by the laws of an authority higher than their own, by a regard to the will of God as their rule, and the glory of God, to which all else must ever be subordinate, as their supreme aim. But we must not forget, that the Book of Proverbs forms part of the canon of inspired Scripture; that it does not contain, therefore, the mere dictates of human wisdom, how extraordinary soever that wisdom was; that “a greater than Solomon is here.”—Wardlaw.
The reigns of those princes who gave an easy belief to accusations, are stained with the most atrocious crimes. Tiberius Cæsar put to death the greater number of his own privy councillors, by giving ear to lies, and encouraging his servants to be wicked; and it is probable that the worst action that ever was committed since the fall of Adam, the murder of the Prince of Life, was occasioned by Pilate’s wicked and cowardly regard to the temper of that tyrant, and his fear of being accused as an encourager of treason, if he had suffered our Lord to escape.—Lawson.
Rulers are the looking-glasses according to which most men dress themselves. Their sins do much hurt, as by imputation (2 Samuel 24.)—the prince sinned, the people suffered—so by imitation; for man is a creature apt to imitate, and is more led by his eyes than his ears.… Height of place ever adds two wings to sin, example, and scandal, whereby it soars higher and flies much further.—Trapp.
The subject of Proverbs 29:13 is the same as that of chap. Proverbs 22:22, page 636. The deceitful man should be “the man of usury, money-lender,” meaning simply the “rich man.” (Zöckler.) For subjects of Proverbs 29:14-15, see on chapter Proverbs 16:10-15, page 472, and Proverbs 13:24, page 335, also on chap. Proverbs 19:13-18, page 573.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 29:16
VICTORY NOT WITH THE MAJORITY
I. There is no necessary connection between numbers and righteousness. Weeds grow faster than wheat, and are much more abundant than the grain. But the simple fact that there are more weeds than there is corn does not alter the character of either. In the same field it may happen that there is more to bind for fuel than for food—that the tares far outnumber the ears of wheat—and in this case the worth is on the side of the smaller quantity. So is it in the moral field of the world. It is a startling fact that under the government of God the wicked are permitted to multiply—that when a man sets himself in opposition to his Maker, he is not at once removed from the earth, but is permitted to live and use his life to make other men wicked like himself. We may sometimes be inclined to ask with the patriarch, “Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power” (Job 21:7), and the question may be difficult for us to answer: but this we must never forget, that neither with man nor with God is there any necessary connection between quantity and quality, between worth and abundance.
II. Neither are numbers any guarantee of victory. The greatness of a tree and the number of its branches do not make it certain that it will outlive the storm—on the contrary, its great bulk and height are often the causes of its fall. When the wicked multiply, and so increase transgression, they sometimes lose sight of their personal sin and danger in the sin and danger of the multitude, and persuade themselves that there is safety in numbers. But the very opposite is the case. Men grow more bold in transgression in proportion as they are surrounded with other transgressors, and venture to do deeds of wickedness when in company with others that they would fear to commit alone. And so the multiplication of the wicked, as it increases transgression, is the means of hastening their fall instead of retarding it. It was “when men began to multiply upon the face of the earth” (Genesis 6:1) that their wickedness became so great as to compel God to destroy them by a flood. It was the combination of the entire Jewish nation that enabled them to commit the crime of crucifying the Lord of Glory, but it was this “increase of transgression” that led to their final fall.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Combination emboldens in sin. (Isaiah 41:7.) Each particle of the mass is corrupt. The mass therefore of itself ferments with evil. Hence the prevalence of infidelity in our densely crowded districts above the more thinly populated villages. There is the same evil in individual hearts, but not the same fermentation of evil.—Bridges.
The reference is, in all probability, to the influence of wicked rulers in promoting the increase of wickedness in the community, which requires not either illustration or proof.—“But the righteous shall see their fall.”—Their fall, that is, from power and authority. It is not the final fall—the perdition of the wicked, that is intended. In that the righteous have no pleasure. Herein they resemble God; are of one mind and heart with Him. He says, and confirms it by His oath—“As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” In the execution of the sentence against them, God glorifies Himself; and the righteous solemnly acquiesce, acknowledging and celebrating the justice of the divine administration:—“Even so, Lord God, Almighty, for true and righteous are Thy judgments!” But pleasure in witnessing the execution of the sentence, we cannot, we must not, for a moment, imagine them to have.—Wardlaw.
Cyrillus Alexandrinus tells us, when man was alone upon the earth there was then no such matter as sinning.… Much company in sin ever makes more, it being the weakness of man’s understanding to fear little hurt and danger, where many run into it, and it being the nature of wickedness to take strength from a multitude, as not fearing then to be opposed or resisted.—Jermin.
Proverbs 29:18. Vision. Rather “Revelation.” “The word denotes prophetic prediction, the revelation of God by His seers (1 Samuel 9:9); the chief function of these consisted in their watching over the vigorous fulfilling of the law, or in the enforcement of the claims of the law (Zöckler).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 29:18
DIVINE REVELATION AND HUMAN OBEDIENCE
I. The human soul needs what it cannot produce. If the flower is to attain to its development of beauty and colour it must have the sunlight and the rain from without itself—it needs what it has no power to produce. The husbandman and all mankind need a harvest, but they have no power within themselves to supply their need; although they can plough, and plant, and sow, they cannot give the quickening rays of light and heat which alone can make the seed to live and grow. The entire human race has spiritual needs which it cannot supply, and capabilities which must be developed by influences outside and above itself. It needs a knowledge of God’s nature, and will, and purposes, if it is to grow in moral stature, and blossom and ripen into moral beauty and fruitfulness, but no human intellect or heart can acquire this knowledge by its own unaided efforts. If the human soul is to grow in goodness it must know God, and if it is to know Him, God must reveal Himself.
II. God by revelation has supplied man’s need. This supply man had a right to look for and expect. He had a right to look to the Creator of his bodily appetites and needs for the supplies that are necessary to his physical life and well-being, and he does not look in vain. God has given the “earth to the children of men” (Psalms 115:16), and every year He causes it to bring forth and bud, not only giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, but an abundance of luxuries for his enjoyment. It is most natural and reasonable to look to the Giver of all these good things for the body, and expect from Him the supply of the deeper needs of the soul. We do not think a human parent does his duty to his child if he only feeds and clothes him and makes no effort to enlighten his mind and satisfy his heart. And surely the Great Father of the universe would not be worthy of His name if He dealt so with the children of whose bodies and souls He is the Author. But He has not left us thus unprovided for, but “at sundry times and in divers manners He has spoken unto men” (Hebrews 1:1), telling them enough of Himself and of themselves to satisfy their spiritual cravings, and to elevate their spiritual nature.
III. It follows that gratitude and self-love should prompt men to listen to God, and to obey Him. If the foregoing assertions are true, it follows that man must give heed to the revelation of God, or sustain permanent and irretrievable loss. As he cannot reject the Divine provision for the body without bodily death, so he cannot refuse attention to God’s provision for his soul without spiritual ruin—without causing to perish all those powers and faculties of his highest nature the exercise of which make existence worth having. Self-love, therefore, should prompt a man to “keep the law,” and if he do not listen to its voice he has only himself to blame for missing real happiness. If a man is starving, his best friend can do no more than supply his need, he must eat the food set before him; and when God has offered to the children of men that wine and milk which will satisfy the soul, and cause it to grow, He has done all that even a God can do. (Isaiah 55:1-2.) Man is a self-murderer if he refuse it.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
He doth not say they may perish, but they do perish; or they are in danger of perishing, but they do certainly perish where there is no serious, conscientious, faithful, powerful preaching.… There men perish temporarily; when vision, when preaching ceased among the Jews, oh, the dreadful calamities and miseries that came upon the people!… There men perish totally: both the bodies and the souls of men perish where serious conscientious preaching fails (Hosea 4:6); “My people are destroyed for want of knowledge.” … The Papists say that ignorance is the mother of devotion; but this text tells us that it is the mother of destruction.—Brooks.
This is only a hypothetical case, for there are no such “people.” Nevertheless there is such a principle. Just in proportion as men do not know they will not be punished. Paul and Solomon are in full accord. “They that sin without law shall also perish without law; but they that sin in the law shall be judged by the law.” (Romans 2:12.) These Proverbs elsewhere have taught the same doctrine (chap. Proverbs 8:36). Men might all perish, but some less terribly, from a difference of light. All men have some light (Romans 1:20); and that which they actually have is all that they shall answer for in the day of final account. Still there is a form of ignorance that will exactly proportion our guilt. It is ghostly ignorance, or the absence of spiritual knowledge. Perhaps I may still say that a man is punished for what he has, and not for what he has not. A man who knows of this ignorance, and has light enough to know his need of light, has enough to give account for in that without being supposed to suffer for a profound negation. Be this as it may, there is such an ignorance. It exactly grades our sins. It is the measure of our depravity, The profounder it sinks we sink. No man need sink or perish. There is a remedy. “The word is nigh” (us.)—Miller.
Proverbs 29:19. Doth not answer. Rather “there is not an answer,” that is in action, by obedience. Delitzsch translates “does not conform thereto”
Proverbs 29:21. A son, etc. There are many different translations of this verse, but the general verdict of scholars seems to favour the English rendering. Luther translates the verse, “If a servant is tenderly treated from youth up, he will accordingly become a squire”
MASTERS AND SERVANTS
I. Human servants generally need correction. The relation of master and servant is generally, though not always, founded upon some superiority on the one side and inferiority on the other. Where there is any right adjustment of social relations, those who serve are those who lack knowledge of some kind which those who rule are able to impart, and hence arises the necessity of correction on the part of the master and of submission on that of the servant. It is undeniable that there are many inversions of this ideal moral order, but the proverb can only refer to what ought to be, and what often, though not always, is the case.
II. The means of correction ought to be moral means. A servant is a moral and intelligent agent, and not a machine or a brute, and he can and ought to appreciate appeals to his reason and conscience. A wise and humane rider will use his voice to his steed in preference to the whip or the spur, and generally finds it effectual. And words of reproof and encouragement are probably the only successful means of dealing with human nature in this relationship. If these fail, no others will avail, and all benefit from the connection will cease.
III. Therefore human masters need much wisdom. If they are over-indulgent the servant may take undue advantage and claim privileges to which he has no right (Proverbs 29:21). In the present constitution of things in this world, and probably throughout the universe, there are inequalities of position and rank which no wise man can ignore, and it is kind and wise to those beneath us to maintain these differences and distinctions. But to maintain them without haughtiness, and with that consideration and sympathy which ought to mark all our intercourse with our fellow-creatures, needs much wisdom on the part of superiors. Dr. David Thomas suggests another, and perhaps a pleasanter application of this proverb. “There is another side,” he says, “to the kindness of a master towards is servant, that is, the making of the servant feel towards him all the sympathy and interest of a son.… He who can make his servant feel towards him as a loving, faithful, and dutiful child, will reap the greatest comfort and advantage from his service.” But this happy result can only be brought about where the master is truly wise as well as kind.
For Homiletics on Proverbs 29:20; Proverbs 29:22, see on chap. Proverbs 14:17; Proverbs 14:29, pages 363 and 386. On Proverbs 29:23, see on chap. Proverbs 11:2, page 192, and Proverbs 16:18, page 482.
Proverbs 29:24. He heareth cursing. Rather the curse, i.e., according to Zöckler, “the curse which according to the law (Leviticus 5:1. sq.) marks a theft as an offence demanding a heavy penalty.” Delitzsch translates “he heareth the oath,” and explains it “as that of the judge who adjures the partner of the thief by God to tell the truth.” (See also Leviticus 5:1).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 29:24
I. Partnerships are self-revealing. That proverb is an old and true one—“Tell me what company you keep, and I will tell you what you are.” A man seeks the society and shares the pursuits of those who are likeminded with himself; if he chooses the fellowship of the good it shows that there is something in his character that has an affinity to theirs, and if he willingly associates himself with bad men, he proclaims himself to be a bad man. Good men do not “walk in the counsel of the ungodly,” or “sit in the seat of the scornful”—men who are found in such places must be counted among the ungodly and scornful, although they may be negative rather than positive sinners.
II. Criminal partnerships are self-destroying. As we have seen, partners with criminals are criminals themselves in spirit if not in actual deed, and must therefore meet with the doom of the transgressor. Probably the proverb is directed against those who shelter themselves under the idea that those who do not commit the crime themselves, but only consent to it beforehand, or conceal it afterwards, are not so very guilty; but this is nowhere the teaching of Scripture, nor is it the verdict of the human conscience.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
A partnership life is becoming more and more common and necessary in our commercial England. Great undertakings can only be carried out by companies. Modern legislation has greatly encouraged these combinations, by limiting the monetary liability of its members. Hence, joint-stock companies are multitudinous and multiplying. Such companies are often, perhaps generally, projected and managed by selfish, needy, and unprincipled speculators; and honest men are often tempted by the glowing promises of their lying programmes to become their adherents, and they soon find themselves in the unfortunate position referred to in the text.—Dr. David Thomas.
The receiver and resetter is at least as guilty as the thief. I say at least; for in one obvious respect he is worse. His is a general trade, which gives encouragement to many thieves, by holding out to them the means of disposing of their stolen property and evading the law. He is thus, in fact, a partaker in the guilt of all. One thief cannot set up and maintain a resetter; but one resetter may keep at their nefarious trade many thieves.—Wardlaw.
This is a warning under the eighth commandment. Do we realise the same solemnity of obligation as under the first? Many professors attach a degree of secularity to a detailed application of the duties of the second table. But both stand on the same authority. The transgressions of both are registered in the same book. The place in the decalogue cannot be of moment, if it be but there with the imprimatur—“I am the Lord thy God.”—Bridges.
It is the cursed policy of Satan, that he strives to join men in wickedness. In drunkenness there must be a good fellow; in wantonness there must be a corrival; in bloody duels there must be a second; in theft there must be a partner, yoking men together to draw upon themselves the heavy burden of God’s displeasure.… Wherefore, although it may be a love unto the things stolen, or else a love unto the stealer, which maketh others to join with him, certainly he showeth little love to God’s law, certainly he proveth great hatred, which he has to his own soul. For while he joineth with another in stealing some worldly goods, he joineth with Satan in stealing his own soul from himself. And whatsoever fear he may have of some curse which the other hath laid upon him, if that he doth reveal it, he hath much more cause to feel the curse of God’s wrath, if he doth conceal it. He hath but heard the one, he shall feel the other.—Jermin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 29:25-26
SAFETY FROM A SNARE
I. Men fear and hope too much from their fellow men. This fear and this hope are very active agents in this world, influencing men often to abstain from what they know to be right, and inducing them to do deeds of evil. Good men have often staggered and sometimes fallen before this fear and have been misled by this false hope, and both the hope and the fear are intensified when the object of them belongs to the ranks of the conventually great—when the man whom they desire to propitiate is a “ruler” among his fellows. Such a man sometimes has the power to injure those who displease him, and has also much that he can bestow upon those who seek his favour; but the weight of his displeasure and the worth of his gifts are generally estimated far too highly by his inferiors in rank, and when this is the case they are snares which lead to sin.
II. Trust in God is the only escape from the fear that will mislead, and the hope that will disappoint. The many and great contrasts, not only between the favour of God and the favour of man, but between all that is connected with the seeking and the bestowal, will lead every wise man to forsake the pursuit of the less for the greater.
1. The favour of an earthly ruler is often obtained only by the exercise of great skill on the part of the seeker. When the woman of Tekoa desired to obtain from David the forgiveness of Absalom, what ingenuity on her part was necessary in order to gain the monarch’s ear and goodwill. She had to study how to put the case before him in the best light, and to enact a little drama before his eyes in order to enlist his attention and soften his heart. And yet she was pleading with a tender-hearted father for his own son. How different is it when we plead for the mercy of God either for ourselves or others. The simplest statement of the case is sufficient; no schemes or plans of any kind are necessary to win the ear of Him who is always waiting to be gracious.
2. Success with an earthly ruler is often quite unconnected with the merit or demerit of the pleader. It often happens that the most worthless characters obtain the greatest favours, even if the ruler himself be a fairly impartial man, because they have more friends at court than a deserving man. In the case just mentioned, Absalom, a thoroughly bad man, was able to command the services of a person who was probably more fitted to gain the desired end than any person in the kingdom. If there had been a banished subject who really merited a free pardon from the king, he would probably not have been able to command the services of so successful a pleader as the woman of Tekoa. But the case is altogether different with Him who doth not “judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears.” (Isaiah 11:3.) The “judgment which cometh from the Lord” is founded on the strictest impartiality, and depends upon nothing but the character and needs of the suitor. If we add to these drawbacks the uncertain good which may be contained in the “favour of a ruler” even after it is obtained, we may well wonder that it is as true now as in Solomon’s days that the “many” seek it, and only the few trust their earthly and their spiritual interests with their God. How many of the few who are not disappointed of the favour of great men are disappointed in it, and find it a poor and unsatisfying portion after all; but the testimony of all those who seek the higher good is “In Thy favour is life, and Thy loving-kindness is better than life.” (Psalms 63:3.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
To those who look out upon society from the standpoint of trust in God, the greatest magnates of the world will appear only as grasshoppers.… He who can say, “Surely my judgment is with the Lord,” will stand before his race with undaunted heroism, and before his God with devotion. Conscious dependence on the Almighty is the spirit of independence towards men.—Dr. David Thomas.
The fear of man leads you into a snare, and will the fear of God make you safe? No; if the character of the affection remain the same, you will gain nothing by a change of object. If you simply turn round and fear God as you feared man you have not thereby escaped. The fear of the greater Being is the greater fear. The weight presses in the same direction, and it is heavier by all the difference between the finite and the infinite.… It is not a transference of fear from man to God that can make the sinner safe. The kind of affection must be changed, as well as its object. Safety lies not in terror, but in trust. Hope leads to holiness. He who is made nigh to God by the death of His Son stands high above the wretched snares that entangled his feet when he feared men. The sovereign’s son is safe from the temptation to commit petty theft.… When you know in whom you have believed, and feel that any step in life’s journey hereafter may be the step into heaven, the fear of this man and the favour of that will exert no sensible influence in leading you to the right hand or to the left.—Arnot.
Albeit faith, when it is in the heart, quelleth and killeth distrustful fear, and is therefore fitly opposed to it in this sacred sentence; yet in the very best sense it fights sore against faith when it is upon its own dunghill. I mean in a sensible danger. Nature’s retraction of itself from a visible fear, may cause the pulse of a Christian that beats truly and strongly in the main point—the state of the soul—to intermit and falter at such a time, as we see in the examples of Abraham, Isaac, David, Peter, and others.… The chameleon is said to be the most fearful of all creatures, and doth therefore turn himself into so many colours to avoid danger, which yet will not be. God equally hateth the timorous and the treacherous. “Fearful” men are the first in that black roll. (Revelation 21:8.)—Trapp.
There is a higher step to be taken before we can well step so high; there is the favour of God to be procured before that the favour of the ruler can well be obtained. For kings are but God’s kingdoms; as they reign over their people, so He reigneth over them; as they sit on the throne of their kingdom, so He sitteth on the throne of their hearts, and by a distributive justice dispenseth the judgment of his and their favours according as it seemeth good to His eternal wisdom. The favour therefore of thy ruler is worth thy seeking for; but first seek and get God’s favour, if thou wilt get and enjoy the other to thy happiness. And when thou hast gotten it, remember that it was God’s hand which directed the king’s hand to reach it forth unto thee. For it is too commonly seen, as one speaketh, “Then doth God especially slip out of the minds of men, when they enjoy His benefits and favours.”—Jermin.