corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Proverbs 26

 

 

Verses 1-28

THIS SECONDCHAPTER of the series is clearly the Exodus section, the work of the enemy manifesting itself in various forms of opposition to the truth, beginning with foolishness and ending with hatred. To the end of verse 11 the fool is dealt with, then to the end of verse 16, the sluggard; verse 17 only, the meddler; verses 18 and 19, the trifler; to the end of verse 22, the talebearer; and lastly the dissembler. The real character of all enmity against the truth is here exposed thoroughly, and if we are not ignorant of the resources of the enemy, we shall be the better prepared to meet the opposition. There is no virtue in underestimating the enemy's power; but we must not limit the power of our God to deal with this rightly.

"As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honor is not seemly for a fool." The basic character of a fool in the Scriptural sense is that of leaving God out of his calculations: he is simply a rationalist. He says in his heart, "No God"; he builds greater and greater barns to store his earthly goods, and forgets eternity (Psalms 14:1; Luke 16:21). A man like this receiving honors is grossly out of his place; for he is worthy only of dishonor and contempt. Only faith can maintain what is truly becoming to any position. Snow in summer and rain in harvest are both unbecoming and hindering to proper activity, no matter how proper they may be at the proper time. So honor is proper for some men, but not for a fool. Folly is the precise opposite of faith. Pharoah was in the highest place of honor in Egypt but blatantly defied God: "Who is the Lord?" "I know not the Lord" (Exodus 5:2). How repulsively foreign to noble kingly dignity!

"As the bird by wandering, and as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come." A curse does not come without some cause. Moreover it is most characteristic of a fool to be a wanderer, and as restless as the swallow, always on the wing. The bird may havebeen made for this, but not so man, and he will reap the baneful effects. The believer, on the other hand, is like the sparrow that has found a house (no more wandering) and like the swallow having found a nest (no more restlessness) in the courts of God (Psalms 84:3). Let the believer then act in proper character, and not like the fool,-not wandering from God's place for him, not allowing a restless, discontented spirit. These are real enemies of the truth, and will bring bad results.

"A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back." The horse and the ass, both unclean animals, are typical of the unbeliever in different ways; the horse of Palestine unwilling to work, the ass generally wild and unwilling to be controlled. Soft, soothing measures are hopeless in such cases. Concerning "unruly and vain talkers", the apostle says, "whose mouths must be stopped" (Titus 1:10-11). The rod of authority is the only language they understand. In certain cases it was necessary for Paul to use this authority, howevermuch it pained him: Hymenaeus and Alexander he delivered unto Satan that they should learn not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:20). If even a believer should act as a horse or an ass, resorting to foolish ways or sidetracked by foolish doctrine, a rod of discipline may he necessary for him too, even to the point of putting away from fellowship.

"Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him." The connection here with the previous verse is evident. A fool will argue for the sake of ridicule, with no real reasonableness. It is a mistake therefore to lower oneself to the same unwholesome level of argument. Heated words are likely to betray a believer into the use of the same unsound argument and ridicule. Thus we make ourselves like the one whom we so resent! A fool's objections ought to find us most careful to weigh our answers well. 2 Timothy 2:2-3 is directly to the point here: "Foolish and unlearned (or unsubject) questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes."

Yet there is a delicate balance to be observed here, and there follows what appears on the surface a contradiction, though it is of course no such thing: "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit." While mere argument on the same basis is to be avoided, yet it may be most necessary that a fool should be answered in such a way that his argument will be exposed as folly, without any resorting to argument, as Titus 1:9 implies. "that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort, and to convince (or refute) the gainsayers." The wisdom of the Lord Jesus inanswering contentious men illustrates this beautifully. Rather than merely answering their cunning questions, he answered the men. Consider Luke 10:25-37 and Matthew 22:15-22. There could then be no argument: they were silenced.

"He that sendeth a message by thehand ofa foolcutteth off (his own) feet and drinketh damage" (New Trans.). To employ a fool to convey a serious message would be itself folly even in the world's view. Ought then an unbeliever to be ordained by men to proclaim the message of God to a sinful world? Yet how many "fools" occupy pulpits today! Such men, not born again, having no love for the Lord Jesus, no regard for the truth of the Word of God, can only be expected to misrepresent the message they pretend to carry. The senders of such a man by this means cut off their own feet: they render themselves unfit for a proper walk: their association with the fool is the drinking of a deadly portion that damages their own testimony for God. Yet there have been many Christian men on church boards, who have shared in the ordaining of false teachers with apparently little concern as to what they were doing! How important a contrast to this is seen in Paul's words to Timothy: "The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." This is no human ordination, but godly discernment of men's characters and earnest communication of the precious truth of God, such as will connect the messenger directly with God as the Sender, rather than men. Let us have no association with a fool who professes to be carrying a message from God.

"The legs of the lame are not equal: so is a parable in the mouth of fools." A parable should accurately re-present what it is intended to teach, but subtle manipulation can so use a parable as to convey a completely false conclusion. A fool will use comparisons that are not equal, not parallel at all: his whole argument then is lame because not balanced. The wise woman of Tekoah, being hired by Joab, used subtle, worldly wisdom in presenting to David a case that was in measure similar to that of his son Absalom, but not at all parallel: in fact completely at odds in fundamental points. David allowed himself to be deceived by it. This was plain dishonesty, the type of thing to which an unbeliever will resort to gain his own ends, the resource of one who in God's eyes is a fool. David ought to have easily discerned that these legs were not equal (2 Samuel 14:1-33). No believer should be deceived by such things.

"As a bag of gems in a stone heap, so is he that giveth honor to a fool" (New Trans.). In all of these things we cannot but be reminded of present - day corruptions of Christianity. But let us note that it is not the fool who is here reproved: it is that one who gives honor to the fool; just as we have seen that one who sends a message by the hand of a fool damages himself. So here, if we give honor, dignity, any place of spiritual elevation to one who dishonors our Lord, we are virtually like precious jewels in a stone-heap, a thoroughly unseemly association. Shall we place a common, unsightly stone in a lovely setting, to have a place that stands out among precious jewels?

"As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouth of fools." A parable can be dangerous when used by a fool. We have before seen feet cut off and lame legs (verses 6, 7) and now the hand damaged. It is evidently the fool's own hand, a virtual drunkard, intoxicated with pride in the subtle use of his tongue. His own hand (his work) is badly affected by the thorn, which is the very word used in Scripture for sin. He is sinning against his own soul by such abuse of a parable, the same type of person as "those that oppose themselves," spoken of in 2 Timothy 2:25. It is well to keep this in mind when considering such men, whose words no doubt seek to damage others. We shall have a more balanced, godly attitude in meeting them if we remember they are harming themselves even more than others.

But it is important that we remember an even more pertinent matter than this. "The great God that formed all things both rewardeth (or hireth) the fool, and rewardeth (or hireth) transgressors." While the name God does not appear in the Hebrew here, yet this seems implied in the fact of being "the great (one) who formed all." However great may be the damage caused by a fool, there is One infinitely greater than he, One who has formed all things, and Who has all still in the control of His own hand. He is a Master who hired even the fool, or the "passerby," as the New Translation renders "transgressors." True that He will reward each in perfect righteousness; but it seems here that the true word is "hireth," and indicates the sovereign power of God, by which "He maketh even the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He doth re-strain." He has a wise reason for allowing the fool to work his evil counsels, and every incidental "passerby" He uses in a manner precisely according to His great wisdom. The believer therefore is to discern God's hand in the most dreadful cases of trial, persecution, opposition; and in every little detail of his pathway, whether deeply distressing or whether merely irritating. Does this not encourage calm confidence in the face of all enmity against the path of faith?

Now the closing verse of this section concerning the fool is quoted in 2 Peter 2:22, and there applied to a false teacher, one making a profession of Christianity that is hypocrisy. This will of course confirm the applications made in the previous verses.

"As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly." The dog an unclean animal, is typical of the unbeliever, as is the sow returning to her wallowing in mud, after being washed. Whatever may be done to such animals, their nature remains the same, and will show itself. So thefool may reform in a measure and appear even to be a converted man, but his nature not being changed, hewill return to his folly. Thus did Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:1-40 ), and he is refused all "part or lot" with the people of God (vs. 21).

But a different form of enmity against the truth is seen the verses 12 to 16, where the proud, self-opinionated sluggard is considered. "Seest thou a man wise in his own eyes? there is more hope of a fool than of him." A fool may be actively opposed to God; but the sluggard takes a haughty, contemptuous attitude, considering himself wiser than everybody else, and therefore indifferent to what is good and precious. He can easily tell how everything ought to be done, but does nothing himself. A man of this kind is less likely to be converted than is a fool.

"The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets." He can always perceive difficulties standing in the way of doing good; but does not perceive the tragic harm that his laziness brings to his own soul. No faith is present, to give courage to overcome difficulties, whether real or imagined. If Satan (the lion) is in our way, the believer may count upon the power of God to overcome this; but the slothful man gives up before he ever tries. The believer ought not to be like him in any way.

"As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon hisbed." If this is only worthy of strong censure in ordinary life, how much more so in the things of God! The door swings only in the same place: so for the sluggard there is no getting free from mere selfish, self-centered habit: no acting in faith for God. The believer too must take care not to hide his light under a bed.

"The sluggard burieth his hand in the dish: it wearieth him to bring it again to his mouth" (New Trans.). It is evident this is not merely intended literally, but who can doubt its spiritual significance? Food is available for him: he knows it, and reaches out his hand, but only to trifle with it: he has not energy even to eat it. How descriptive of the way many treat the food of the Word of God! They complacently think they know all about it, and have no concern about digesting it!

"The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men that answer discreetly" (New Trans.). This sums up this section, and of course connects with the first verse of it (vs. 12). Seven men may be careful, judicious, honorable; and give a united judgment upon a matter. But the sluggard will contemptuously reject their judgment upon no other basis than his own self-cantered opinion, considering that wisdom is his exclusive possession. May we who are Christians be careful that we do not in any measure resemble such egotists. This sluggish character of fleshly religion is typified clearly in the enmity of Moab against Israel. "Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed." In the days of Ehud,the king of Moab was Eglon, an exceedingly fat man, how easily is discerned here a fat, lazy, opulent religion, the turning of God's grace into lasciviousness, no exercise of soul, no earnest feeding upon the Word of God, but self-complacent boasting, "I am rich and increased With goods, and have need of nothing." The above quotation concerning Moab (Jeremiah 48:11) is followed later in the chapter thus: "We have heard of the pride of Moab, (he is exceeding proud,) his loftiness, and his arrogance, and his pride, and the haughtiness of his heart." The boaster is not a worker: how much better to work, and not boast!

Verse 17 alone deals with the case of the meddler: "He that passeth by and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears." This is not the case simply of one who leaves God out of his reckoning (the fool) nor of the proud, indolent observer (the sluggard), but of the pride that considers itself capable of settling the quarrels of others. This is dangerous. If one should interfere in domestic affairs, for instance, between a husband and wife, he may find them both his vicious enemies. Nations do this today, and once taking the dog by the ears, they fear to let go, for the longer one holds a dog's ears, the more violent is likely to be the reaction when he does let go. A proud world considers itself able to settle troubles belonging to others. Ungodly men often think they can do this even in matters of spiritual conflict, but the results will be tragic. But even a believer may attempt something like this, to his own regret. King Josiah was warned by Necho, king of Egypt, "from the mouth of God," not to interfere in a battle that had nothing to do with him; but he persisted and was killed (2 Chronicles 35:20; 2 Chronicles 35:24).

Let us learn from these things that present-day testimony is to walk with God in true faith, whatever others may do. When John told the Lord of seeing one casting out demons in Christ's Name, and that they "forbad him, because he followeth not us," the Lord firmly corrected him: "Forbid him not." This was simply not John's business: whatever others were doing, he was to follow Christ. On the other hand, this verse must not be taken to apply to one who is doing work for which the Lord has sent him, just because his work may disturb the comfort of a selfish person. Doubtless some in Corinth felt that Paul was interfering when he reproved and exposed evil in their assembly; but this was a matter that deeply affected Paul himself and his Master required his intervention. Any honest child of God shouldbe able to discern such distinctions.

Now verses 18 and 19 go a step further in this actual contention against the truth. "As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death,so is the man that deceivth his neighbor, and saith, `Am not I in sport?" Here is the man who trifles with truth as though it were a plaything to use as he pleases, even to the point ofdeceiving another and excusing himself for it on the basis that it was a joke. How strong is the condemnation of such conduct here: he is likened to a mad man indiscriminately throwing firebrands and arrows, likely to cause death. And if one should dare to use the Word of God in this light, frivolous way, to make fun of its infinitely serious truths, what deadly influence this may have upon others! Let us hold the truth in the pure, serious sublime dignity that belongs to it. It would appear that Lot, a believer, but in evil associations, had effected too light an attitude in Sodom, the truth not exerting living, serious power in his own conversation; for when he warned his sons-in-laws of the impending doom of Sodom, they thought it was a mere deceptive joke (Genesis 19:14). If one acquires a reputation for frivolity then when he is in earnest, he will have no effect.

The following three verses now speak of the tale-bearer. In this there is another advance of evil, for the talebearer will do more real damage than will the trifler, simply because hewill give his evil work the appearance of zeal for righteousness. "Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth." Discord between the people of God can certainly be stopped simply by adding no fuel to the fire. "It is an honor for a man to cease from strife." But to spread abroad by talebearing the details of trouble or wrong-doing (or imagined wrong-doing) is grievous guilt, and multiplies the fury of the flames.

"As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife." The talebearer and contentious man are here synonymous: their spirit is the same, the contrary of the peacemaker. If the fire is doing damage, they are all ready to add further coals or wood. "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God" (1 Corinthians 11:16). If I dare to speak of the wrongs of another, it ought always to be with a genuine desire for his proper restoration, and only when necessity calls for it. This is a matter we ought all to deeply take to heart.

"The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly." How aptly this describes the normal reaction of the soul to the words of talebearers. They are as deep, internal wounds, the Hebrew word meaning "to burn in." Such things will have such deep effect that they may never be forgotten, while other forms of wrong may soon be dismissed from the mind. Talebearing may easily lead to a permanent rupture between saints of God. "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine" (Titus 2:11).

But now the final and most flagrant manifestation of evil occupies the last five verses of the chapter. This deals with the deliberate dissembler, moved by hatred, assuming a cunning disguise, with the object of breaking apart the people of God, and any testimony for God. This is the enemy's work, which so opposes the precious unity emphasized in chapter 25.

"Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross." A piece of a broken vessel of earth may be covered, not with silver plate, but with the dross from refined silver, which of course will have a silvery appearance, ill concealing the roughness of the dross. So 2 Timothy 2:20 speaks of vessels of wood and of earth as being unbelievers: but the covering of silver dross is of course deception. "Burning lips" are the silver dross, fervent with apparent zeal, yet its hypocrisy evident enough to be discerned by those who walk with God. A wicked heart will stoop to such things, but the believer ought not to be deceived.

"He that hateth dissembleth with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him. When he speakethfair believe him not:for there areseven abominations in his heart."If one's character is formed by hypocrisy, we may be certain that actual hatred is behind this. "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15). To think of a man of this kind having any place among Christians is dreadful: he can be there with no other purpose than to scatter the sheep. True, his own immediate object may be to get personal gain, but behind this is the Satanic intention of mining what is of God. He may speak fair, his voice gentle and gracious, but in this is the most danger: "believe him not." The "seven abominations in his heart" indicate that he is completely given over to idolatry, seven being the number of completeness, and abominations a term for idols.

No believer actually has the character of the dissembler, no more than of the fool. Yet again, it is all too possible for a believer to be guilty of dissembling, as we see in Galatians 2:13, when "even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation." Peter's influence in this was grievously wrong, not because of hatred, but because of fear. The believer must take care to act true to his character, and not as does the wicked enemy of God. But the wicked "layeth up deceit within him." That is, he feeds on it, conceives it, stores it up for use at his pleasure. But let every believer be able to say with the Psalmist, "Thy Word have I hid in my heart" (Psalms 119:11).

"Whose hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness shall be showed before the whole congregation." Hatred cannot indefinitely cover itself: there comes a point where hypocrisy is laid bare. "For there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known" (Luke 12:2). Would one not recoil bothfrom the disgusting sin of hypocrisy, and from the humiliation of being exposed? But there is no doubt of such exposure.

"Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him". The object in these cases is of course to do harm to another. But "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Haman built a gallows for Mordecai, and was himself hanged upon it (Esther 5:14; Esther 7:10). Jezebel in cunning cruelty had Naboth murdered; but the poor deluded woman was little prepared herself to be thrown from a window, trampled by horses, and eaten by dogs (1 Kings 21:1-29; 2 Kings 9:30-37).

"A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin." Falsehood and hatred always go hand in hand. One may have done not a particle of harm to another, yet through the other lying about the first, the hatred of the guilty against the innocent will only increase. The remedy is of course honest confession, but one who is accustomed to falsehood steels himself against confessing the truth. If one should be accused of lying against another, the wise believer will watch for evidences of hatred before drawing his own conclusions. Again, if we are honest ourselves, then we shall discern that the flattery of others is actually false-hood.Commendation, approval, appreciation are no doubt right in their place, but if this is excessive, it is unbecoming: if it should take the form of flattery, it is just not true. The one who practices this cannot be trusted: ruin follows hard upon his words, if he is successful in deceiving his victims.

It seems significant that this chapter, dealing with the opposition of the enemy, should present six forms of evil, each an advance upon the other: for six is the number of man's work, the manifestation of the evil heart of man. How good for us to be well armed against it, not deceived by it, and in no way or measure imitating it.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Proverbs 26:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/proverbs-26.html. 1897-1910.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology