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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Proverbs 18

 

 

Verses 1-24

EXPOSITION

Proverbs 18:1

This is a difficult verse, and has obtained various interpretations. The Authorized Version gives, Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom; i.e. a man who has an earnest desire for self-improvement will hold himself aloof from worldly entanglements, and, occupying himself wholly in this pursuit, will become conversant with all wisdom. This gives good sense, and offers a contrast to the fool in Proverbs 18:2, who "hath no delight in understanding." But the Hebrew does not rightly bear this interpretation. Its conciseness occasions ambiguity. Literally, For his desire a man who separates himself seeks; in (or against) all wisdom he mingles himself. There is a doubt whether the life of isolation is praised or censured in this verse. Aben Ezra and others of Pharisaic tendencies adopt the former alternative, and explain pretty much as the Authorized Version, thus: "He who out of love of wisdom divorces himself from home, country, or secular pursuits, such a man will mix with the wise and prudent, and be conversant with such." But the maxim seems rather to blame this separation, though here, again, there is a variety of interpretation. Delitzsch, Ewald, and others translate, "He that dwelleth apart seeketh pleasure, against all sound wisdom he showeth his teeth" (comp. Proverbs 17:14). Nowack, after Bertheau, renders, "He who separates himself goes after his own desire; with all that is useful he falls into a rage." Thus the maxim is directed against the conceited, self-willed man, who sets himself against public opinion, delights in differing from received customs, takes no counsel from others, thinks nothing of public interests, but in his mean isolation attends only to his own private ends and fancies (comp. Hebrews 10:25). The Septuagint and Vulgate (followed by Hitzig) read in the first clause, for taavah, "desire," taanah, "occasion;" thus: "He who wishes to separate from a friend seeks occasions; but at all time he will be worthy of censure." The word translated "wisdom" (tushiyah) also means "substance," "existence;" hence the rendering, "at all time," omni existentia, equivalent to omni tempore.

Proverbs 18:2

A fool hath no delight in understanding. This may mean that he takes no pleasure in the wisdom of others, is self-opinionated; or, it may be, does not care for understanding in itself, apart from the use which he can make of it. Vulgate, "The fool receives not the words of wisdom;" Septuagint, "A man of no sense has no need of wisdom." To try to teach a fool is to cast pearls before swine, and to give that which is holy unto dogs. But that his heart may discover itself; i.e. his only delight is in revealing his heart, displaying his un-wisdom and his foolish thoughts, as in Proverbs 12:28; Proverbs 13:16; Proverbs 15:2. He thinks that thus he is showing himself superior to others, and benefiting the world at large. The LXX. gives the reason, "For rather by folly he is led."

Proverbs 18:3

When the wicked cometh, then cometh also contempt. The contempt here spoken of is not that with which the sinner is regarded, but that which he himself learns to feel for all that is pure and good and lovely (Psalms 31:18). As the LXX. interprets, "When the wicked cometh into the depth of evil, he despiseth," he turns a despiser. So the Vulgate. Going forward in evil, adding sin to sin, he end by casting all shame aside, deriding the Law Divine and human, and saying in his heart, "There is no God." St. Gregory, "As he who is plunged into a well is confined to the bottom of it; so would the mind fall in, and remain, as it were, at the bottom, if, after having once fallen, it were to confine itself within any measure of sin. But when it cannot be contented with the sin into which it has fallen, while it is daily plunging into worse offences, it finds, as it were, no bottom to the well into which it has fallen, on which to rest. For there would be a bottom to the well, if there were any bounds to his sin. Whence it is well said, 'When a sinner hath come into the lowest depth of sins, he contemneth.' For he puts by returning, because he has no hope that he can be forgiven. But when he sins still more through despair, he withdraws, as it were, the bottom from the well, so as to find therein no resting place" ('Moral.,' 26.69, Oxford transl.). Even the heathen could see this terrible consequence. Thus Juvenal is quoted ('Sat.,' 13.240, etc.)—

"Nam quis

Peccandi finem posuit sibi? quando receipt

Ejectum semel attrita de fronte ruborem?

Quisnam hominum est, quem tu contentum videris uno

Flagitio?"

And with ignominy cometh reproach. Here again it is not the reproach suffered by the sinner that is meant (as in Proverbs 11:2), but the abuse which he heaps on others who strive to impede him in his evil courses. All that he says or does brings disgrace, and he is always ready to revue any who are better than himself. Both the Septuagint and the Vulgate make the wicked man the victim instead of the actor, thus: "but upon him there cometh disgrace and reproach." The Hebrew does not well admit this interpretation.

Proverbs 18:4

The words of a man's mouth are as deep waters. "Man" (ish) here means the ideal man in all his wisdom and integrity, just as in Proverbs 18:22 the ideal wife is intended under the general term "wife." Such a man's words are as deep waters which cannot be fathomed or exhausted. The metaphor is common (see Proverbs 20:5; Ecclesiastes 7:24; Ec 21:13). For "mouth," the Septuagint reads "heart:" "Deep water is a word in a man's heart." The second hemistich explains the first: The well spring of wisdom as a flowing (gushing) brook. A man's words are now called a well spring of wisdom, gushing forth from its source, the wise and understanding heart, pure, fresh, and inexhaustible. Septuagint, "And it leapeth forth ( ἀναπηδύει) a river and a fountain of life." Or we may, with Delitzsch, take the whole as one idea, and consider that a man's words are deep waters, a bubbling brook, and a fountain of wisdom.

Proverbs 18:5

It is not good to accept the person of the wicked. To "accept the person" is to show partiality, to be guided in judgment, not by the facts of a case, or the abstract principles of right or wrong, but by extraneous considerations, as a man's appearance, manners, fortune, family. (For the expression, comp. Le Proverbs 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; and in our book, Proverbs 24:23; Proverbs 28:21.) The Septuagint phrase is θαυμάσαι πρόσωπον, which St. Jude adopts (Jude 1:16). Other writers in the New Testament use λαμβάνειν πρόσωτον in the same sense; e.g. Luke 20:21; Galatians 2:6). To overthrow (turn aside) the righteous in judgment is not good (comp. Isaiah 10:2). The construction is the same as in Proverbs 17:26. The LXX. adds in the second clause, οὐδὲ ὄσιον, which makes the sentence clear; not seeing this, the Vulgate renders, ut declines a veritate judicii. The offence censured is the perversion of justice in giving sentence against a righteous man whose cause the judge has reason to know is just.

Proverbs 18:6

A fool's lips enter into contention; literally, come with quarrel (comp. Psalms 66:13); i.e. they lead him into strife and quarrels; miscent se rixis, Vulgate; "lead him into evils," Septuagint. The foolish man meddles with disputes in which he is not concerned, and by his silly interference not only exposes himself to reprisals, but also exacerbates the original difficulty. His mouth calleth for strokes. His words provoke severe punishment, "stripes for his back," as it is said in Proverbs 19:29. Septuagint, "His mouth which is audacious calls for death."

Proverbs 18:7

The results of the fool's disposition and actions are further noted. A fool's mouth is his destruction (comp. Proverbs 10:15; Proverbs 13:9; Ecclesiastes 10:12). A mediaeval adage pronounces, "Ex lingua stulta veniunt incommoda multa." His lips are the snare of his soul; bring his life into danger (see on Proverbs 12:13; comp. Proverbs 13:14; Proverbs 14:27; Proverbs 17:28). So St. Luke (Luke 21:35) speaks of the last day, coming upon men like "a snare ( παγίς)," the word used by the Septuagint in this passage.

Proverbs 18:8

The words of a tale bearer are as wounds. Nergan, "tale bearer," is better rendered "whisperer" (see on Proverbs 16:28). The Authorized Version reminds one of the mediaeval jingle—

"Lingua susurronis

Est pejor felle draconis."

The verse recurs in Proverbs 26:22; but the word rendered "wounds" (mitlahamim) is to be differently explained. It is probably the hithp. participle of laham," to swallow," and seems to mean "dainty morsels," such as one eagerly swallows. Thus Gesenius, Schultens, Delitzsch, Nowack, and others. So the clause means, "A whisperer's words are received with avidity; calumny, slander, and evil stories find eager listeners." The same metaphor is found in Proverbs 19:28; Job 34:7. There may, at the same time, be involved the idea that these dainty morsels are of poisonous character. Vulgate, Verba bilinguis, quasi simplicia, "The words of a man of double tongue seem to be simple," which contains another truth. They go down into the innermost parts of the belly (Proverbs 20:27, Proverbs 20:30). The hearers take in the slanders and treasure them up in memory, to be used as occasion shall offer. The LXX. omits this verse, and in its place introduces a paragraph founded partly on the next verse and partly on Proverbs 19:15. The Vulgate also inserts the interpolation, "Fear overthrows the sluggish; and the souls of the effeminate ( ἀνδρογύνων) shall hunger."

Proverbs 18:9

He also that is slothful (slack) in his work. A man that does his work in some sort, but not heartily and diligently, as one who knows that labour is not only a duty and necessity, but a means of sanctification, a training for a higher life. Is brother to him that is a great waster; a destroyer. "Brother" is used as "companion" in Proverbs 28:24 (comp. Job 30:29), for one of like attributes and tendencies; as we say, "next door to;" and the destroyer is, as Nowack says, not merely one who wastes his property by reckless expenditure, but one who delights in such destruction, finds a morbid pleasure in haves and ruin. So the maxim asserts that remissness in duty is as mischievous as actual destructiveness. "An idle brain," say the Italians, "is the devil's workshop." The word rendered "great" is baal (Proverbs 1:19), "owner," patrono (Montanus), domino (Vatablus); and, taking this sense, according to Wordsworth and others, the sentence implies that the servant who is slothful is brother to a master who is a prodigal. But the interpretation given above is best founded. The LXX; reading מתרפא instead of, מתרפה, renders, "He who healeth not ( ὁ μὴ ἰώμενος ) himself in his works is brother to him who destroyeth himself." Maxims concerning laziness are found in other places; e.g. Proverbs 10:4; Proverbs 12:11, Proverbs 12:24; Proverbs 23:21.

Proverbs 18:10

The Name of the Lord is a strong tower. The Name of the Lord signifies all that God is in himself—his attributes, his love, mercy, power, knowledge; which allow man to regard him as a sure Refuge. "Thou hast been a Shelter for me," says the psalmist (Psalms 61:3), "and a strong Tower from the enemy." The words bring before us a picture of a capitol, or central fortress, in which, at times of danger, the surrounding population could take refuge. Into this Name we Christians are baptized; and trusting in it, and doing the duties to which our profession calls, with faith and prayer, we are safe in the storms of life and the attacks of spiritual enemies. The righteous runneth into it (the tower), and is safe; literally, is set on high; exaltabitur, Vulgate; he reaches a position where he in set above the trouble or the danger that besets him. Thus St. Peter, speaking of Christ, exclaims (Acts 4:12), "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other Name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." "Prayer," says Tertullian ('De Orat.,' 29), "is the wall of faith, our arms and weapons against man who is always watching us. Therefore let us never go unarmed, night or day. Under the arms of prayer let us guard the standard of our Leader; let us wait for the angel's trumpet, praying." Septuagint, "From the greatness of his might is the Name of the Lord; and running unto it the righteous are exalted."

Proverbs 18:11

In contrast with the Divine tower of safety in the preceding verse is here brought forward the earthly refuge of the worldly man. The rich man's wealth is his strong city. The clause is repeated from Proverbs 10:15, but with quite a different conclusion. And as an high wall in his own conceit. The rich man imagines his wealth to be, as it were, an unassailable defence, to preserve him safe amid all the storms of life. בְּמַשְׂכִּתוֹ (bemaskitho), rendered "in his own conceit," is, as Venetian has, ἐν φαντασίᾳ αὐτοῦ, "in his imagination," maskith being "an image or picture," as in Le Proverbs 26:1; Ezekiel 8:12; but see on Proverbs 25:11. Aben Ezra brings out the opposition between the secure and stable trust of the righteous in the Lord's protection, and the confidence of the rich worldling in his possessions, which is only imaginary and delusive. Vulgate, Et quasi murus validus circumdans eum, "Like a strong wall surrounding him;" Septuagint, "And its glory ( δόξα) greatly overshadows him;" i.e. the pomp and splendour of his wealth are his protection, or merely paint him like a picture, having no real substance. The commentators explain the word ἐπισκιάζει in both senses.

Proverbs 18:12

(Comp. Proverbs 16:18; Proverbs 15:33; where the maxims are found in almost the same words.)

Proverbs 18:13

He that answereth a matter, etc. Thus Ecclesiasticus 11:8, "Answer not before thou hast heard the, cause; neither interrupt men in the midst of their talk." A reminiscence of the passage occurs in the Talmud ('Aboth.' 5. 10), "I weighed all things in the balance, and found nothing lighter than meal; lighter than meal is the betrothed man who dwells in the house of his intended father-in-law; lighter than he is a guest who introduces a friend; and lighter than he is the man who answers before he has heard the other's speech". So Menander—

ὁ προκαταγιγνώσκων δὲ πρὶν ἀκοῦσαι σαφῶς

αὐτὸς πονηρός ἐστι πιστεύσας κακῶς.

Seneca, 'Medea,' 199—

"Qui statuit aliquid, parte inaudita altera,

AEquum licet statuerit, haud aequus erit."

Proverbs 18:14

The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity. That high property or faculty of man called "spirit" enables the body to bear up against trouble and sickness (comp. Proverbs 17:22). The influence of the mind over the body, in a general sense, is here expressed. But taking "spirit" in the highest sense, in the trichotomy of human nature, we see an intimation that the grace of God, the supernatural infusion of his presence, is that which strengthens the man and makes him able to endure with patience. But a wounded (broken) spirit who can bear? The body can, as it were, fall back upon the support of the spirit, when it is distressed and weakened; but when the spirit itself is broken, grieved, wearied, debilitated, it has no resource, no higher faculty to which it can appeal, and it must succumb beneath the pressure. Here is a lesson, too, concerning the treatment of others. We should be more careful not to wound a brother's spirit than we are to refrain from doing a bodily injury; the latter may be healed by medical applications; the former is more severe in its effects, and is often irremediable. In the first clause, רוַּח "spirit," is masculine, in the second it is feminine, intimating by the change of gender that in the former case it is a manly property, virile moral quality, in the latter it has become weakened and depressed through affliction. Septuagint, "A prudent servant soothes a man's wrath; but a man of faint heart ( ὀλιγόψυχον) who will endure?" The LXX. take "spirit" in the sense of anger, and "infirmity" as standing for a servant, though whore they find "prudent" is difficult to say. Vulgate, Spiritum vero ad irascendum facilem, quis poterit sustinere? The Latin interpreter takes one form of weakness of spirit, viz. irascibility, as his interpretation of נכאה, "wounded." St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 5.78) has yet another version, "Who can dwell with a man whose spirit is ready to wrath?" adding, "For he that does not regulate his feelings by the reason that is proper to man, must needs live alone like a beast."

Proverbs 18:15

The first clause is similar to Proverbs 15:14; the second gives a kind of explanation of the former—the understanding of the wise man is always expanding and increasing its stores, because his ear is open to instruction, and his ability grows by wholesome exercise (comp. Proverbs 1:5). Daath, "knowledge," which is used in both clauses, the LXX. translates by two words, αἴσθησιν and ἔννοιαν.

Proverbs 18:16

A man's gift maketh room for him (comp. Proverbs 19:6). Mattam, "gift," has been taken in different senses. Some consider it to mean a bribe offered for underhand or fraudulent purposes; but the context does not lead to this conclusion, and the parallel passage mentioned above makes against it. Hitzig sees in it a spiritual gift, equivalent to χάρισμα; but such a meaning is not elsewhere attached to the word. The term here signifies the present which duty or friendship offers to one whom one wishes to please. This paves a man's way to a great person's presence. Bringeth him before great men. The Oriental custom of offering suitable gifts to one in authority, when a favour or an audience is desired, is here alluded to. So the Magi brought gifts so the newborn King at Bethlehem (Matthew 2:11). In a spiritual sense, the right use of riches opens the way to eternal life, evincing a man's practical love of God and man; as Christ says (Luke 16:9), "Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles" (Revised Version).

Proverbs 18:17

He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; Revised Version, he that pleadeth his cause first seemeth just. A man who tells his own story, and is the first to open his case before the judge or a third party, seems tot the moment to have justice on his side. But his neighbour cometh and searcheth him out (Proverbs 28:11). The "neighbour" is the opposing party— ὁ ἀντίδικος Septuagint, which recalls Matthew 5:25—he sifts and scrutinizes the statements already given, shows them to be erroneous, or weakens the evidence which appeared to support them. Thus the maxims, "One story is good till the other is told," and "Audi alteram partem," receive confirmation. Vulgate, Justus prior est accusator sui. So Septuagint, "The righteous is his own accuser in opening the suit ( ἐν πρωτολογίᾳ)." He cuts the ground from under the adversary's feet by at once owning his fault. St. Gregory more than once, in his 'Moralia,' adduces this rendering. Thus on Job 7:11, "To put the mouth to labour is to employ it in the confession of sin done, but the righteous man doth not refrain his mouth, in that, forestalling the wrath of the searching Judge, he falls wroth upon himself in words of self-confession. Hence it is written, 'The just man is first the accuser of himself'" (so lib. 22.33).

Proverbs 18:18

The lot causeth contentions to cease (comp. Proverbs 16:33). If this verse is taken in connection with the preceding, it refers to the decision in doubtful cases, where the evidence is conflicting and ordinary investigation fails to elicit the truth satisfactorily. The lot, being considered to show the judgment of God, settled the question. And parteth between the mighty. If it were not for the decision by lot, persons of eminence and power would settle their differences by violent means. This peaceful solution obviates all such contentions. The Septuagint, in place of "lot" ( κλῆρος), reads now σιγηρός, "silent;" but it is evidently originally a clerical error, perpetuated by copyists. The error is noted by a second hand in the margin of the Sinaitic Manuscript.

Proverbs 18:19

A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city. Something must be supplied on which the comparative notion min, "than," depends. So we may understand "resists more," or something similar. A brother or a once close friend, when injured or deceived, becomes a potent and irreconcilable enemy. The idea of the preceding verses is carried on, and the primary thought is still concerning lawsuits and matters brought before a judge. This is shown in the second clause by the use of the word "contentions" (midyanim). And their contentions are like the bars of a castle. They close the door against reconciliation, shut the heart against all feeling of tenderness. True it is, χαλεποὶ πόλεμοι ἀδελφῶν (Eurip; 'Fragm.'). And again, 'Iph. Aul.,' 376—

δεινὸν κασιγήτοισι γίγνεσθαι λόγους

΄άχας θ ὅταν ποτ ἐμπέσωσιν εἰς ἔριν.

Aristotle also writes thus ('De Republ.,' 7.7): "If men receive no return from those to whom they have shown kindness, they deem themselves, not only defrauded of due gratitude, but actually injured. Whence it is said, 'Bitter are the quarrels of friends;' and, 'Those who love beyond measure also hate beyond measure.'" An English maxim gloomily decides, "Friendship once injured is forever lost." Pliny ('Hist. Nat.,' 37.4), "Ut adamas, si frangi contingat malleis, in minutissimas dissidit crustas, adeo ut vix oculis cerni queant: ita arctissima necessitudo, si quando contingat dirimi, in summam vertitur simultatem, et ex arctissimis foederibus, si semel rumpantur, maxima nascuntur dissidia." Ecclesiasticus 6:9, "There is a friend, who being turned to enmity will also discover thy disgraceful strife," i.e. will disclose the quarrel which according to his representation will redound to thy discredit. The Vulgate and Septuagint have followed a different reading from that of the present Hebrew text: "Brother aided by brother is like a strong and high city, and he is powerful as a well founded palace," Septuagint. The last clause is rendered in the Vulgate. Et judicia quasi vectes urbium; where judicia means "lawsuits," legal disputes; these bar out friendship. The first member of the sentence in the Greek and Latin recalls Ecclesiastes 4:9, etc; "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour," etc. St. Chrysostom, commenting on Ephesians 4:3 ('Hom.,' 9.), writes, "A glorious bond is this; with this bond let us bind ourselves together alike to one another and to God. This is a bond that bruises not, nor cramps the hands it binds, but it leaves them free, and gives them ample play and greater energy than those which are at liberty. The strong, if he be bound to the weak, will support him, and not suffer him to perish; and if again he be tied to the indolent, he will rather rouse and animate. 'Brother helped by brother,' it is said, 'is as a strong city.' This chain no distance of place can interrupt, neither heaven, nor earth, nor death, nor anything else, but it is more powerful and stronger than all things."

Proverbs 18:20

With the first clause, comp, Proverbs 12:14, and with the second, Proverbs 13:2. A man's belly; i.e. himself, his mind and body, equivalent to shall he be filled, or satisfied, in the second clause. A man must accept the consequences of his words, good or evil. The next verse explains this.

Proverbs 18:21

Death and life are in the power of the tongue; literally, in the hand of the tongue. The tongue, according as it is used, deals forth life or death; for speech is the picture of the mind (comp. Proverbs 12:18; Proverbs 26:28). The vast importance of our words may be learned from James 3:1-18.; and our blessed Lord says expressly (Matthew 12:36, etc.), "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Hence the gnome—

γλῶσσα τύχη γλῶσσα δαίμων

intimating that the tongue is the real controller of man's destiny; and another—

λόγῳ διοικεῖται βροτῶν βίος μόνῳ

By words alone is life of mortals swayed."

And they that love it (the tongue) shall eat the fruit thereof. They who use it much must abide the consequences of their words, whether by kind and pure and edifying conversation they contribute health and life to themselves and others, or whether by foul, calumnious, corrupting language they involve themselves and others in mortal sin. For "they that love it," the Septuagint has, οἱ κρατοῦντες αὐτῆς, "they who get the mastery over it."

Proverbs 18:22

Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing. A good wife is meant, a virtuous, prudent helpmate, as in Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 19:14; and 31. The epithet is omitted, because the moralist is thinking of the ideal wife, the one whoso union is blessed, who alone deserves the holy name of wife. Thus in Proverbs 19:4 we had the ideal man spoken of. Septuagint, εὖρε χάριτας," findeth graces," viz. peace, union, plenty, ruder (see a different view, Ecclesiastes 7:26-28). And obtaineth favour of the Lord (Proverbs 8:35; Proverbs 12:2); or, hath obtained (Proverbs 3:13), as shown by the consort whom God has given him. Ratson, "good will," "favour," is rendered by the Septuagint ἱλαρότητα, and by the Vulgate, jucunditatem, "cheerfulness," "joyousness" (see on Proverbs 19:12). Ecclesiasticus 26:1, etc; "Blessed is the man that hath a good wife, for the number of his days shall be double. A virtuous ( ἀνδρεία) woman rejoiceth her husband, and he shall fulfil the years of his life in peace. A good wife is a good portion which shall be given in the portion of them that fear the Lord." "A good wife," says the Talmud. "is a good gift; she shall be given to a man that feareth God." And again, "God did not make woman from man's head, that she should not rule over him; nor from his feet, that she should not be his slave; but from his side, that she should be near his heart". A Greek gnome runs—

γυνή δικαζα τοῦ βίου σωτηρία

The Septuagint and Vulgate here introduce a paragraph which is not in the Hebrew, and only partly in the Syriac. It seems to be a further explanation of the statement in the text, founded on the practice prevalent at the time when the Septuagint Version was composed, which appears to have made divorce a recognized necessity in the case of adultery: "He who casteth away a good a wife casteth away good things; but he who retaineth an adulteress is a fool and impious." The advice of Siracides concerning a wicked wife is austere: "If she go not as thou wouldest have her, cut her off from thy flesh" (Ecclesiasticus 25:26). Nothing is here said about the marriage of divorced persons; but the absolute indissolubility of the marriage bond was never held among the Jews, a certain laxity being allowed because of the hardness of their heart (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:8, etc.). The original intently of the marriage contract was re-established by Christ.

Proverbs 18:23

This and the following verse, and the first two verses of the next chapter, are not found in the chief manuscripts of the Septuagint, though in later codices they have been supplied from the version of Theodotion. The Codex Venetus Marcianus (23, Holmes and Parsons) is the only uncial that contains them. The poor useth intreaties; but the rich answereth roughly. The irony of the passage is more strongly expressed by Siracides: "The rich man hath done wrong, and yet he threateneth withal: the poor is wronged, and he must intreat also" (Ecclesiasticus 13:3). The rich man not only does wrong, but accompanies the injury with passionate language and abuse, as if he were the sufferer; while the poor man has humbly to ask pardon, as if he were in the wrong. Thus the Roman satirist writes—

"Libertas pauperis haec est:

Pulsatus rogat et pugnis concisus adorat,

Ut liceat paucis cum dentibus inde reverti."

(Juv; 'Sat.,' 3.299.)

Aben Ezra explains the verse as denoting that a poor man making a submissive request from a rich man is answered cruelly and roughly. The hardening effect of wealth is seen in our Lord's parables of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:1-31), and the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:1-43).

Proverbs 18:24

A man that hath friends must show himself friendly. The Authorized Version is certainly not correct. The Hebrew is literally, a man of friends will come to destruction. The word הִתְרוֹעֵעַ (hithroea) is the hithp, infinitive of רעע, "to break or destroy" (comp. Isaiah 24:19 ); and the maxim means that the man of many friends, who lays himself out to make friends of bad and good alike, does so to his own ruin. They will fled upon him, and exhaust his resources, but will not stand by him in the day of calamity, nay, rather will give a helping hand to his downfall. It is not the number of so called friends that is really useful and precious. But there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother (Proverbs 17:17; Proverbs 27:10).

νόμιζ ἀδελφοὺς τοὺς ἀληθινοὺς φίλους.

"Thy true friends hold as very brethren."

The Vulgate has, Vir amabilis ad societatem magis amicus erit quam frater, "A man amiable in intercourse will be more of a friend than even a brother."

HOMILETICS

Proverbs 18:10

A strong tower.

These words suggest to us an image of a disturbed country with a massive fortified tower standing in its midst, ready to serve as a refuge for the peasants, who till the fields when all is peaceful, but who flee to the tower for shelter when they see the enemy scouring over the plain. The baronial castles of England served the same purpose when our own country was suffering from the ravages of war. In the dangers of life the Name of the Lord is a similar refuge for his people.

I. NOTE THE NATURE OF THE TOWER. "The Name of the Lord."

1. God himself. "God is our Refuge and Strength" (Psalms 46:1). He does not send an angel to protect us. The Church is not a citadel for those who have not first found their shelter in God. But God is with his people for their protection. Even when we have sinned we must "flee from God to God"—from his wrath to his mercy.

2. The God of Israel. The Lord, Jehovah. He is known in revelation, and he has been proved in history. This is no new tower that has not been tried and may be found faulty in the hour of need, like a fortress that has never been besieged. The story of God's people in all ages is one long confirmation of its venerable strength.

3. God as he is revealed—in his Name. This implies two things.

II. OBSERVE THE CHARACTER OF THE REFUGE. A tower.

1. Strong. God is a Fortress. We do not confide in a weak goodness. Our security is in God's strength.

2. Lofty. The tower stands high up above the plain. It is the opposite to a mine. We must look up for shelter. We must climb to God. Our safety is in aspiration,

3. In our midst. Though the top of the tower soars above our heads, its foundation is at our feet, and we can enter it from where we stand. God is near at hand for shelter and safety.

4. Conspicuous. A cave may not be easily discovered among the rocks of the hillside, but a tower is visible to all. Though the presence of God is not visible to the eye of sense, the revelation of the gospel is open and conspicuous.

III. CONSIDER HOW THE REFUGE MAY BE USED.

1. For the righteous. The tower is a shelter from undeserved suffering, as in the case of Job. Here wronged innocence is safe. It is also for all the redeemed who stand before God in the new righteousness of Christ. We cannot be sheltered by God till we are reconciled to God.

2. By entering it. There is no safety in looking at it. It is necessary to flee to God in order to be protected by him. The fugitive may even need to run to reach the tower before the foe overtakes him.

3. With safety. It is not a palace with a banqueting hall and couches of ease. It is a fortress, and therefore it may not always be comfortable; but it is safe. We are safe with God.

Proverbs 18:13

The folly of hasty judgment

We may observe some of the cases in which this folly of answering a matter before it is heard is commonly practised.

I. THE SOCIAL RELATIONS. Men are often too quick in forming their opinions of other people. A superficial glance is considered enough for an irrevocable verdict. The sentence is pronounced and the neighbour is characterized before he has had a fair chance of revealing his true nature.

1. This is ungenerous. We ought to give a man every opportunity of showing the good that is in him, and to be ready to believe that there may be an unseen goodness that is slow to come to the surface.

2. It is untruthful. The verdict should never go beyond the evidence.

3. It is hurtful. Much harm has been done by the hasty circulation of raw tales of idle calumny. It would be well to take warning, pause, and inquire before encouraging such mischievous gossip.

4. It is foolish. Surely we ought to know that a human character is not to be thus rapidly read off. If we are wise we shall be slow in forming a judgment on our neighbours.

II. IN RELIGIOUS BELIEF. Men are only too hasty in forming their opinions in religion. A minimum of evidence and a maximum of prejudice contribute to form the faith of many people. The same is equally true in regard to unbelief. It does not require much knowledge to show that prejudice is rife in the camp of those who venture to call themselves "free thinkers." Bigotry is always blind. No men are so perverse as the dogmatic. Just in proportion to their assurance is the weakness of the grounds on which they base their assertions. On the other hand, the fear of forming a false judgment should not drive us into a perpetual suspension of inquiry. We can hear the matter of Divine revelation. Our duty is neither to rush to a hasty conclusion nor to retreat into paralyzing doubt, but to "search the Scriptures," "try the prophets," and "hear" the teaching on which we can found our convictions. To fail of this is foolishness that must end in shame, because in the end truth must conquer, and then all the votaries of prejudice will be confounded.

III. IN OUR CONDUCT TOWARDS GOD. This is more personal and practical than the question of religious belief, although the two things are very closely connected. We are tempted to misjudge providence, rebel against the action of God, and try to answer him who is unanswerable. Yet we have not the materials for judging God if the very thought of so doing were not presumptuous. We cannot understand his ways, which are other than ours—higher, wider, wiser, better. Perhaps we shall hear the matter at some future time. It may be that when we have reached the other side of the grave we may be able to look back upon the course of life with the light of heaven upon it, and so to solve some of the enigmas of earth. Meanwhile we have no alternative but to walk by faith. Any attempt at a higher flight will but reveal our folly and issue in our shame.

Proverbs 18:14

Strong in spirit

This thought is near akin to that of Proverbs 17:22, where the medicinal properties of a merry heart are commended. But there is some difference between the two. Both ascribe vital energy to the inner life, and commend such a cultivation of it as shall conquer weakness and suffering; but the verse now before us treats of vigour of spirit, while the earlier passage commends cheerfulness.

I. A MAN'S TRUE STRENGTH RESIDES IN HIS INNER LIFE. Samson was a weak man, although he had bodily strength, because he had not strength within. St. Paul was regarded as contemptible in bodily appearance (2 Corinthians 10:10), yet he was a hero of fiery energy and rock-like steadfastness. He could say, "When I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). The true self is within. All real weakness or power, failure or success, must ultimately spring from this true self. Therefore the first question is as to the condition of the inner life. Those people who live only in the outer experiences do not yet know the deeper meaning of life. We have all to learn how to cultivate the powers of the spirit.

II. STRENGTH IN THE INNER LIFE CAN SUPPORT EXTERNAL INFIRMITY.

1. Weakness of body. No doubt the normal condition of health would be one of mens sana in corpore sano. But when that is not attained, mental health will do much to counteract the evil effects of bodily disease. The mind has so great power over the body that some forms of functional disease are actually cured through mental influences, as in what is called "faith healing." The will to live is a great help to recovery from an illness. A crushed and broken spirit too often brings the body into a condition which is the despair of the physician. Higher considerations tell in the same direction, and spiritual health—though, perhaps, not what is meant in our text—will sustain, under disease, if it will not lead to bodily cure.

2. Temporal trouble. Misfortune can be borne by a brave, strong spirit; while a crushed, feeble spirit succumbs under it.

3. Spiritual infirmity. It is difficult to resist the frailty of our own souls. But when we cultivate our better selves we are best able to overcome infirmities of temper, selfishness, etc.

III. STRENGTH OF SPIRIT IS A DIVINE GRACE.

1. A gift of God. He can make the weak strong. "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength" (Isaiah 40:29).

2. An acquisition of faith. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:1-31 :81). It is possible for the weak to become strong, because all can "wait upon the Lord." No grace is more needed, and an grace proves itself to be more fruitful.

Proverbs 18:17

Private judgment

The Protestant claim to the right of private judgment is not without its limitations. Applied to general truths it is unanswerable; but carried out in personal affairs it is often very dangerous. Every man may say that he is the best judge of what concerns himself. But two considerations modify that contention.

1. No one truly knows himself.

2. A man's doings are not confined to himself. They cross the boundaries of other lives and interests. Therefore, while s man is seemingly making an innocent demand concerning his own business, he is really claiming to be the judge of what affects his neighbours. Hence the need of caution.

I. PRIVATE JUDGMENT IS APPARENTLY JUST, EVEN WHEN IT IS ERRONEOUS. It is rarely that a man will own himself to he in the wrong when he is engaged in any contention with his neighbour.

1. Judgment is prejudiced by previous opinions. We all approach a subject with a stock of prepossessions. Even while honestly intending to make a fair estimate, we cannot but apply the standards of our old set notions. Hence the need of working out "the personal equation."

2. It is biassed by self-interest. This may be quite unintentional and unconscious. We may not be aware that we are showing any favour to ourselves. Yet so long as the selfishness of human nature remains as it is, there must be a secret weight in the scale inclining it to our own side.

3. It is distorted by self-deception. Not knowing ourselves, we misread our own position. We give ourselves credit for aims that do not exist, and we disregard the real motives that actuate our conduct.

4. It is perverted by ignorance of the position of other people. We think we are acting justly when we do not know all the circumstances of the case. If we could see all the rights and claims of our neighbours we might be ready to admit our own error.

II. PRIVATE JUDGMENT MAY BE CORRECTED BY GENERAL TESTIMONY. We recognize in the law courts that it is only right for both parties to a suit to be heard. The same concession is necessary for obtaining a just estimate of all matters in regard to which differences of opinion are expressed. In private life, in public affairs, in theological controversies, we want to learn how to hear the other side. The very difficulties of private judgment call for the correction that may be thus afforded. But other considerations also demand it.

1. Truth is many sided. Even if we be right, it is possible that our neighbours may not be wrong. Our narrowness prevents us from seeing the solid form of truth and its various facets.

2. Other people have rights. Until these have been considered we cannot be sure that what looks like a most just contention or our own part may not be a trespass upon them.

3. Justice may require investigation. We see the way in which a skilful counsel will break down the most plausible evidence by probing into its weak places; how he will worm secrets out of the most reticent witness. Truth is often revealed through antagonism. The man who prides himself on hoodwinking his fellows is foolish and short sighted. If his insincerity is not discovered on earth, it will be revealed at the great judgment.

Proverbs 18:22

The blessedness of true marriage

The Bible does not regard marriage as "a failure," nor does it treat celibacy as a more saintly condition. Even St. Paul, who does not seem to have been a married man, and who is thought by some to undervalue marriage, gives to it a eulogium in describing the union of husband and wife as a copy of the mystical union of Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5:22-32).

I. THE BLESSEDNESS OF MARRIAGE.

1. The companionship of love. The creation of woman is ascribed to the need of this. "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18). In a true marriage a man's wife is his best friend. Fellowship of soul makes the union more than a mere contract of external relationship. Now, this fellowship is greatly needed for solace amid the cares of life, and strength to face its difficulties. The wife is able to give it to her husband, and the husband to the wife, as no persons in the outer circle of social relationship can hope to offer it.

2. Mutual helpfulness. In the narrative of the creation, God says, concerning Adam, "I will make him a help meet for him" (Genesis 2:18). Woman is degraded when she is treated as a toy of idle hours, to amuse in the drawing room, but not to take her share in the serious concerns of life. No true woman would desire so idle a position. The wife who understands the Christian calling will aim at ministering to her husband in all ways of helpfulness that are within her power, but chiefly in helping his higher life; and the duty of the husband towards the wife will be similar.

3. Variety of ministration. The wife is not the counterpart of the husband, but the complement. Human nature is completed in the union of the two. Therefore it is not the part of women to imitate men, nor is inferiority to be assigned to women because they differ from men. The rich, fall, perfect human life is attained by the blending of differences.

II. THE SECRET OF THIS BLESSEDNESS. No ideal of human life can be more beautiful than that of the happy home. The serious question is how it shall be realized.

1. By adaptation. Every woman is not suitable forevery man. Hasty courtships may lead to miserable marriages. So serious a matter as the choice of a companion for life is not to be lightly undertaken if there is to be any hope of its issuing in happiness.

2. By sympathy. There must be mutual confidence between husband and wife if the marriage is to be one of true and lasting blessedness. The Oriental cruelty of imprisonment in the harem, and the Western cruelty of degradation in domestic drudgery, are both fatal to the idea of marriage. Whatever be their position in the social scale, it is possible for husbands and wives to share one another's interests and enlarge one another's lives by conceding the fullest mutual confidence.

3. By self-sacrifice. Selfishness is fatal to marriage. Love must learn to give, to suffer, to endure. The happiness is most complete when each seeks it chiefly for the other.

4. By religion. The true marriage must be ratified in heaven. Its happiness may be wrecked on so many hidden rocks that it is not safe to venture on to the unknown sea without the assurance that God is guiding the voyage.

Proverbs 18:24

The Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.

Without determining for certain which of the various renderings of the first clause of this verse should be adopted, there can be little doubt that it points to the difficulty of maintaining a wide circle of friends in true affection, contrasted with the blessedness of enjoying one deep and real friendship. The second cause which describes that friendship claims our attention on its own account.

I. THE NATURE OF BROTHERLY AFFECTION. If the true friend is even more than a brother, he will have the marks of brotherhood in an exceptional degree. Now, we have to ask—What are those peculiarities of the relation of brotherhood that determine the brother's affection?

1. Blood relationship. We must all feel the peculiar oneness that belongs to membership in the same family.

2. Close companionship. Brothers are usually brought up together. They share the same hardships, and they enjoy the same family favours. They are knit together by similarity of experience.

3. Community of interests. Brothers share certain family interests in common. Thus families learn to hold together for the general well being of the members.

4. Similarity of constitution. Brothers resemble one another, more or less. To some extent they have common traits of mind, feelings, sympathies, desires. Hence they are drawn together. How great and wonderful must be the friendship that exceeds even this close brotherly affection! Without the natural cause, it yet surpasses the love of brotherhood!

II. THE SIGN OF BROTHERLY AFFECTION. It is seen in cleaving to one's friend. With the highest type of friendship this will be observed under the most trying circumstances.

1. In spite of the lapse of time. Some friendships are but temporary. But brotherhood is lifelong. So also is the truest friendship.

2. In sore need. Then shallow friendship proves to be false. But at such a time brother should stand by brother.

3. When faithfulness is costly. Possibly one is under a cloud and cruelly misjudged; the brotherly soul will claim this as the most suitable time for showing true affection. Or it may be that some great sacrifice must be made to render needed assistance; this requirement will discover the nature of a friendship, and show whether it be truly that of a brother.

4. When love is tried by indifference or enmity. Though a man be unworthy of his brother, still true brotherly love will not cast him off. This is also the case with the highest friendship.

No doubt the object of Solomon was simply to give us a type and picture of true friendship. But as in a previous case (Proverbs 17:17), it is impossible for Christians not to recognize the application of the picture to Jesus Christ. His friendship is in all senses truly brotherly. He became a brother Man in order that he might enter into closest relations of love and sympathy with us, and he proves his friendship by doing more than any man ever did for his brother.

HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON

Proverbs 18:1-9

Unsocial vices

There is an inner connection between them all.

I. MISANTHROPY. (Proverbs 18:1.) If this verse be more correctly rendered, this is the meaning yielded. From a diseased feeling the man turns aside to sullen solitude, and thus rejects wisdom. This affords a fine meaning. It is one thing to feel the need of occasional solitude, another to indulge the passion for singularity.

II. OBTRUSIVENESS. (Proverbs 18:2.) Contrast Proverbs 18:4. The talkative fool is the very opposite of the misanthrope in his habits; yet the two have this in common—they both unfit themselves for society. We may go out of solitude to indulge our spleen, or into society to indulge our vanity. Talking for talking's sake, and all idle conversation, are here marked, if as minor vices, still vices.

III. BASENESS. (Proverbs 18:3.) The word rendered "contempt" points rather to deeds of shame. And the meaning then will be that the evil of the heart must necessarily discover itself in the baseness of the life. As the impure state of the blood is revealed in eruptions and blotches on the skin, so is it with moral evil.

IV. CONSPIRACY AND PLOTTING. (Proverbs 18:5.) The figure employed, literally, to lift up a person's face, signifies to take his part. All party spirit is wrong, because it implies that truth has not the first place in our affections. But party spirit on behalf of the wicked is an utter abomination, for it implies a positive contempt for, or unbelief in, right and truth.

V. QUARRELSOMENESS. (Proverbs 18:6, Proverbs 18:7.) "The apostle, when giving the anatomy of man's depravity, dwells chiefly on the little member with all its accompaniments—the throat, the tongue, the lips, the mouth. It is 'a world of iniquity, defiling the whole body.'" It leads to violence. The deadly blow is prepared for and produced by the irritating taunting word. But there is a recoil upon the quarrelsome man. The tongue to which he has given so evil licence finally ensnares him and takes him prisoner. And the stones he has cast at others fall back upon himself. Thus does Divine judgment reveal itself in the common course of life.

VI. SLANDEROUSNESS. (Proverbs 18:8.) The word "tale bearer" is represented more expressively in the Hebrew. It is the man that "blows in the ear." And the picture comes up before the mind of the calumnious word, whispered or jestingly uttered, which goes deep into the most sensitive places of feeling, and wounds, perhaps even unto death.

VII. IDLENESS. (Proverbs 18:9.) Here we strike upon the root of all these hideous vices. It is the neglect of the man's proper work which suffers these vile weeds to grow. What emphasis there needs to be laid on the great precept, "Do thine own work"! The idler is brother to the corrupter, or vicious man, and his kinship is certain sooner or later to betray itself. The parable of the talents may be compared here. Then, again, how close are the ideas of wickedness and sloth!J.

Proverbs 18:10-16

Some conditions of weal and woe

I. CONSTITUTIONS OF LIFE WEAL.

1. First and foremost, religion (Proverbs 18:10) and humility (Proverbs 18:12). The Name of Jehovah stands for all that God is (the "I am"). Trust in the Eternal is the real ground of confidence for a creature so transient and frail as man. To put the same truth in another way, it is religious principle which can alone sustain the soul calm and erect amidst distress. And with true religion is ever connected humility. The knowledge of one's just position in the world is, on the whole, humbling. It is the conceit that one is greater than one really is which is so pernicious inwardly, and will prove so outwardly.

2. Competence of worldly means. (Proverbs 18:11.) It is the worst hypocrisy and affectation to deny the good of money, even with reference to the culture of the soul. Here we have the common view of riches; they are a source of strength. Truly; but one easily exaggerated.

3. A cheerful temper. (Proverbs 18:14.) Health is the grand elementary and all-inclusive blessing. Well! one of the main conditions of health is a merry heart, or a disposition to look on the best side of things. "I thank it, poor fool; it keeps on the windy side of care."

4. An open mind. (Proverbs 18:15.) The intelligent heart and the ever-listening ear,—these are the great instruments or means of knowledge and wisdom. It is good to have many and large windows in the house; and to keep the soul open on all sides to the light of God.

5. Judicious liberality. (Proverbs 18:16.) We found this lesson insisted on in Proverbs 17:8. The heathen poet said, "Gifts persuade the gods, gifts persuade dread kings." Often as the principle is made bad use of, let us recollect it has an opposite aspect, and make friends to ourselves of the "mammon of unrighteousness."

II. SOURCES OF TROUBLE.

1. Pride. (Proverbs 17:12.) How emphatic by repetition is the warning against this inward vice (Proverbs 16:18)! Like the clouds going up the hill, portending rain, so does self-conceit prophesy sorrow.

2. Excessive eagerness. (Proverbs 17:13.) "Condemn no one," says the Book of Jesus Sirach (Ecclesiastes 11:7), "before thou knowest the matter in question: know first, and then rebuke. Thou shalt not judge before thou hearest the matter; and let others speak first." Ignorance and self-conceit are ever forward; wisdom holds its strength in reserve.

3. Indulgence in depression. (Verse 14.) "A cast down spirit who can bear?" We must remember that the ailments of the mind are strictly analogous to those of the body; and if the latter are to an indefinite degree under the control of the will, so too are the former. We must believe in the God-given power of the will, or no medicine can avail us.—J.

Proverbs 18:17-21

Evils of the tongue and of contention

I. THE FOLLY OF HASTE IN DEBATE. (Proverbs 18:17.) "One tale is good till another be told." This saw holds good of private life, of lawsuits, of controversies in philosophy and theology. Audi alteram, partem," Listen to both sides." This is the duty of the judge, or of him who for the time being plays the judicial part. If we are parties in a debate or a suit, then nothing will hold good except to have the "conscience void of offence."

II. THE ADVANTAGE OF ARBITRATION. (Proverbs 18:18.) The lot was the ancient mode of arbitration and settlement of disputes in a peaceful manner. Something corresponding to it in modern times may be adopted as a wise resource where other means of reconciliation have failed. Still better, the general lesson may be drawn—commit the decision to the wisdom of God.

III. THE MISERY OF DISSENSION. (Proverbs 18:19.) The alienated brother or friend is compared to an impregnable fortress. "Oh how hard to reconcile the foes that once were friends!" The sweeter the wine, the sharper the vinegar; and the greater the natural love, the more violent the hate where that love has been injured.

IV. THE SATISFACTION OF WISE COUNSELS. (Proverbs 18:20; comp. Proverbs 12:14; Proverbs 13:2.) The mode of expression is strange to a modern ear, but the thought is familiar and welcome. Words here stand for thoughts; the fruit of the lips comes from the root of the heart. When an intensely modern writer says, "Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of your principles," he puts the old truth in a new light.

V. LIFE AND DEATH IN THE TONGUE. (Proverbs 18:21.) Here is another great principle, vast in its sweep. "Life and death are in the power of witnesses according to the testimony they bear, of judges according to the sentence they pass, of teachers according to the doctrine they preach, of all men who by their well or evil speaking bring death or life to themselves or to others" (Gill). Perhaps it is true that the tongue has slain its ten thousands where the sword has slain only its thousands. The employment of the tongue, whether for good or for evil, in blessing or in cursing (James 3:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3), brings its own fruit and reward to the speaker. "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."—J.

Proverbs 18:22-24

Love in different relations

I. CONJUGAL LOVE. (Proverbs 18:22.) The blessing of a good wife. "Young men's mistresses; companions for middle age; and old men's nurses" (Lord Bacon). On the choice of a with none but a recluse or a pedant would pretend to lay down infallible precepts or counsels. But every man who has been happy in the married relation will recognize his happiness as among the chiefest of blessings from above. It is indeed a good that is found, cannot be inherited nor deserved.

II. COMPASSION. (Proverbs 18:23.) Here, as so often, the duty is suggested by means of a dark picture of the opposite, of its neglect. The rich man who "against the houseless stranger shuts the door," or who, like Dives, fares luxuriously while Lazarus lies in sores at his gate,—these revolt the heart and may more move the conscience than declamations on the positive duty. When chilled by the coldness and severity of selfish man, let the poor and afflicted turn to the "God of all compassion," and to the revelation of him in the "good Samaritan," in Jesus Christ.

III. FRIENDSHIP. (Proverbs 18:24.)

1. The spurious friendship. The more correct rendering of the first half of the verse seems to be, "a man of many companions will prove himself to be worthless." Mere agreeableness may be a surface quality, may spring more from variety than anything else, will soon wear out, cannot be counted on. Number counts for little in friendship.

2. The genuine friendship. More tenacious than the mere natural love of kindred, because founded on the affinity of soul with soul. All the purest types of earthly affection and friendship are but hints of the eternal love of him who calls the soul into espousal, friendship, and eternal communion with himself.—J.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Proverbs 18:2

(See homily on Proverbs 17:16, Proverbs 17:24.)—C.

Proverbs 18:4

The utterances of wisdom

Taking the sense of this passage to be continuous and not antithetical, and understanding it to refer to the utterances of the wisdom which is from above, we notice their constant characteristics, viz.—

I. THEIR DEPTH. The words which come from the mouth of wisdom are "as deep waters." How shallow is much, if not most, that is spoken in our hearing! It strikes no deeper than "the hour's event," than the mere gilding of our life; it only extends to the circumstances or to the conventionalities of life; it deals with tastes and customs, with regulation and proprieties; it goes no further than pecuniary or social expectations; it lies upon the surface and does not touch "the deep heart and reality of things." But the wisdom of the wise strikes deep; it goes down into the character; it touches first principles; it has to do with the sources and springs of human action; it concerns itself with the intrinsically true, the really beautiful, the solidly and permanently good.

II. THEIR SPONTANEITY. The utterances of men who are not truly wise are lacking in this. They can only repeat what they have learned; they have to consult their "authorities" in order to know what they should say; they have to labour and strive in order to express themselves. Not so the truly wise. Their words come from them as water from a well spring; their speech is the simple, natural, unconstrained outflow of their soul; they speak from the heart, not from the book. Their spirit is full of Divine wisdom; they "have understanding" (Proverbs 17:24); they have knowledge, insight, love of the truth; they "cannot but speak" the truth they have learned of God, the things they have heard and seen. And the spontaneity of their utterance is one real element in their eloquence and their influence.

III. THEIR COMMUNICATIVENESS. They are "as a flowing brook." As water that is not pent up like a reservoir, but flows on through the thirsty land, communicating moisture, and thus ministering to life and growth, so the words of the wise are continually flowing; they spread from heart to heart, from land to land, from age to age. And as they flow they minister to the life and the growth of men; they communicate those living truths which enlighten the mind, which soften and change the heart, which transform and ennoble the life. Their career is never closed, for from soul to soul, from lip to lip, from life to life, wisdom passes on in its blessed, unbroken course.

1. Be ever learning of God. He himself, in the book which he has "written for our learning," is the Divine Source of such wisdom as this. Only as we receive from him who is "the Wisdom of God" shall we be partakers and possessors of this heavenly wisdom. And therefore:

2. Come into the closest communion and connection with Jesus Christ himself.

3. Open your mind to all sources of truth whatsoever.—C.

Proverbs 18:8

(See homily on Proverbs 17:9.)—C.

Proverbs 18:9

Needless destitution

This strong utterance suggests—

I. THE PREVALENCE OF DESTITUTION. How much of human life is needlessly low! how many men live low down in the scale who might just as well be living high up it! how sadly do men bereave themselves of good! This applies to:

1. Their circumstances: their daily surroundings; the homes in which they live, their food and raiment, the occupations in which they are engaged; their companionships, etc.

2. Their intelligence: their intellectual activity, their knowledge, their acquaintance with their own complex nature and with the world in which they live, their familiarity with (or their ignorance of) men and things.

3. Their moral and spiritual condition: their capacity or incapacity to control their temper, to govern their spirit, to regulate their life, to form honourable and elevating habits, to worship God, to set their lives in accordance with the will and after the example of Christ.

II. THE TWO MAIN SOURCES OF IT. These are those which are indicated in the text.

1. The absence of energy in action; being "slothful [or, 'slack,' Revised Version] in work." Men who fail in their department, of whatever kind it may be, are usually those who do not throw any heart, any earnestness, any continuous vigour, into their work. They do what is before them perfunctorily, carelessly, or spasmodically. Hence they make no profits, they earn low wages, they have poor crops, they gain few customers or patients, they win no success; hence they read few instructive books, they make no elevating and informing friendships, they acquire no new ideas, they store up no new facts, they make no mental progress; hence they do not cultivate their moral and spiritual nature, they do not "build themselves up" on the foundation of truth; they are adding no stones to the living temple; they do not grow in wisdom, or in worth, or in grace. The other source is:

2. The presence of prodigality. He that is slothful in work is "brother to him that is a great waster." What sad wastefulness is on every hand! what dissipation of gathered treasure! what expenditure of means and of strength on that which does not profit! For these are the two forms of waste.

III. A SOLID REMAINDER, NOT THUS ACCOUNTED FOR. Although sloth and waste together explain a very large part indeed of the destitution on the earth, they leave much still to be accounted for. And of this remainder part is due to simple and pure misfortune or incapacity, and part to the guilt of others who are not the sufferers. All this destitution is the proper field for Christian effort. It is the proper object of our genuine compassion, and of our strenuous endeavour toward removal. But to those who are culpably destitute we have to go and say—Your way upward is before you; you must exert yourselves if you would rise. No one can really enrich a human soul but himself.

1. Bring a sustained energy to bear on the work in which you are engaged.

2. Guard with a wise watchfulness what you have won.

3. Put out your powers upon that which is worthy of them and that which will repay them.—C.

Proverbs 18:10

God our Refuge

By "the Name of the Lord" we understand the Lord as he has revealed himself to us, the Lord as he has taught us to think and to speak of him. He is our strong Tower in the time of trouble.

I. OUR NEED OF A REFUGE IN THE BATTLE OF LIFE. There may be much in our life that may lead us to speak of it as a song or a tale, or as a march or pilgrimage; but there is much that compels us to consider it a battle or a struggle. Many are the occasions when we have to look about us for a refuge to which we may flee; for we have, at different times and under different circumstances, to confront:

1. Oppression. Ill treatment, severity; the injustice, or the inconsiderateness, or the assumption of those who can afflict us.

2. Disaster. The loss of that which is valuable or of those who are precious to us.

3. Difficulty. The uprising of great obstacles which seem to be insurmountable.

4. Temptaion. Which may act upon us quietly but continuously, and therefore effectively, or which may come down upon us with almost overwhelming suddenness and force. Then we ask ourselves—What is the refuge, the high tower, to which we shall resort?

II. TWO RESOURCES WHICH ARE GOOD, BUT INSUFFICIENT.

1. Our own fortitude. This is that to which Stoicism, the noblest form of ancient philosophy, had recourse—our courage and determination as brave men, who are

"Strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

2. The sympathy and succour of our friends. The kind heart and the helping hand of those who love us, with whom we have walked along the path of life, and who have linked their heart and hand with ours. Both of these are good; but, as all history and observation teach us, they do not suffice. We want another heart that comes nearer to us, another power that can do more for us than these. So we thankfully turn to—

III. THE REFUGE WE HAVE IN GOD. We know that with him is:

1. Perfect sympathy. He is "afflicted in all our affliction;" he is "touched with a feeling of our infirmity;" he "knows what is in" us—what pain of body, what desolateness of spirit, what wrestlings and agonies of the soul.

2. Boundless wisdom. He knows what to save us from, and what to let us suffer; how far and in what way he may relieve and restore us; how he can help us so as to bless us truly and permanently.

3. Almighty power. Our eyes may well be lifted up unto him, for he can "pluck our feet out of the net." "Our God is a Rock;" all the billows of human rebellion will break in vain upon his power. Into the "strong tower" of his Divine protection we may well "run and be safe." "Who is he that can harm us" there?—C.

Proverbs 18:12

(See homily on Proverbs 16:18.)—C.

Proverbs 18:14

The wounded spirit

How much is a man better than a sheep? By the whole range of his spiritual nature. The joys and sorrows of a man are those of his spirit; yet no inconsiderable proportion of his experiences come to him through the flesh. The text tells us—

I. THAT THE CONQUERING SPIRIT WITHIN US TRIUMPHS OVER THE BODILY INFIRMITY. There have been times when, and people by whom, the very worst bodily afflictions have been borne with lofty indifference or with still loftier and nobler resignation. Such was the Roman whose right hand was consumed in the fire without a groan; such were the Christian martyrs; such have been and such are they who are condemned to long years of privation or of suffering, and who wear the face of a holy contentment, of even a beautiful cheerfulness of spirit. Beneath the infirmity of the flesh is the sustaining spirit: but what of the wounded spirit itself?

II. THAT IT IS THE WOUNDED SPIRIT FOR WHICH HELP IS NEEDED. There are many ways in which our spirit may be wounded.

1. There is the merciful wound from the hand of God. For God does wound; he wounds in part in order that, he may heal altogether; for the moment, that he may make whole forever. The weapon (or one weapon) with which he smites the soul is the human conscience. We have all felt the smart from its righteous blow. We have before us the alternative of either blunting the edge of the instrument or learning the lesson and turning away from the sin. To do the former is to take the path which leads to wrong and ruin; to do the latter is to walk in the way of life.

2. The faithful wound from the hand of man. There are circumstances under which, and there are relations in which, we are simply bound to wound one another's spirit. As Christ wounded the spirit of Peter with a reproachful glance (Luke 22:61, Luke 22:62); as Paul wounded the Corinthian Christians (2 Corinthians 2:1-10); so will the faithful minister of Christ, the conscientious parent or teacher, the true and loyal friend, now administer rebuke, offer remonstrance, address an appeal which will fill the heart with compunction and regret.

3. The cruel wound from the hand of man. This includes

4. Spare to wound another's spirit. It is worse to hurt the feelings than to filch the purse; to cause a bad heartache than any suffering of the nerve. "The spirit of a man can sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?"

5. When your heart is wounded repair to the One who can heal it. There is only One who can "heal the broken heart, and bind up its wounds."—C.

Proverbs 18:17

Hear the other side

There is no truer, as there is no homelier maxim, than that we should "hear the other side," or—what is virtually the same thing—"there are two sides to everything." This is the idea in the text; the lessons are—

I. WE SHOULD NOT EXPECT ABSOLUTE ACCURACY WHEN A MAN TELLS HIS OWN CASE.

1. He may intentionally misrepresent it.

2. He may unconsciously misstate it.

How things shape themselves to our mind depends on our individual standpoint; and when two men regard a subject from different and even opposite points of view, they necessarily see it, and as necessarily state it, with considerable variation. Such are the limitations of our mental faculties, and such is our tendency to be biassed in our own favour, that no wise man will expect his neighbour to give him the whole case, without either addition, colouring, or omission, when he pleads his own cause.

II. WE SHOULD REMEMBER THE INEQUALITY IN MEN'S CAPACITY OF PRESENTMENT. Some men can make a very lame cause look like a sound one; but others cannot give to a good cause the appearance of justice to which it is entitled. Truth often yields to advocacy.

III. WE SHOULD INSIST ON HEARING THE OTHER SIDE. This is due to both sides.

1. It is in the true interest of the complainant, or he will persuade us to give him credence to which he is not morally entitled; he will then wrong his brother; he will be an oppressor or a defamer; from this evil end we should save him by our good sense.

2. It is due to the defendant; for otherwise he will have judgment passed when things have been left unspoken which certainly ought to be taken into the account. Justice imperatively demands that we should never condemn our neighbour until we have heard what he has to say for himself.

3. It is due to ourselves; otherwise we shall not be just, and it is our Saviour's express desire that we should "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24), and we shall not be like unto "him who judgeth righteously." Our Christian character will be incomplete and our life will be blemished. Moreover:

4. It is due to the cause of Christ; for if we condemn or acquit without full and impartial inquiry, we shall do injustice to many, and we shall certainly do injury in many ways to the cause and kingdom of our Lord.—C.

Proverbs 18:19

Brethren at strife

The reference in the text is to—

I. A DIFFICULTY EVERYWHERE ACKNOWLEDGED. It seems to have been universally felt that a "brother offended" is very hard indeed "to be won." It is more easy to effect a reconciliation between strangers than between those united by ties of blood. Hence a family feud is usually a very long as well as a very sad one. This does not seem to be a local or a national peculiarity. What Solomon wrote in his land and age might be written by any English or continental moralist today. It is human.

II. ITS EXPLANATION.

1. It is an aggravated difficulty, inasmuch as the bitterness aroused is more intense. For always in proportion to the fulness of our love is the greatness of our wrath. Anger is love reversed. Whom we love the most we are in danger of disliking the most; it is against his own wife that the madman first turns his hand. And how should we love another with all the affection we feel for the companion of our childhood and our youth, the sharer of our joys and sufferings from the very cradle and under the parental roof?

2. We shrink with greatest sensitiveness from humbling ourselves before our kindred. Reconciliation usually means apology, and apology means a measure of humiliation. And we do not like to humble our hearts before one with whom we have had and may have so much to do.

3. We are inclined to "stand upon the order of our going;" each thinks the other should make the first move; the younger thinks the elder should because he is the elder, and the elder the younger because he is the younger.

4. We are apt to resent interposition as interference; to any peacemaker who would intervene we are inclined to say, "Do not intrude into our family secrets."

III. OUR DUTY IN VIEW OF THIS FACT. It is clearly this:

1. To avoid all serious differences with our near kindred;

2. To make a determined effort, after earnest thought and prayer, to master the difficulty we find in our heart, and make the first overture to the offended brother. Be shall we win a really noble victory over ourselves; so shall we gain the warm approval of the Prince of peace.—C.

Proverbs 18:24

The unfailing Friend

If these words had occurred in a book written any time A.D we should unhesitatingly have referred them to our Lord; they are beautifully and perfectly applicable to him. For closer than any brother is he who is "not ashamed to call us brethren."

I. HE COMES NEARER TO US THAN ANY BROTHER CAN. A human brother can draw very near to us in his knowledge of us and his brotherly sympathy with us; but not as Christ, our Divine Friend, can and does. His knowledge of us is perfect—of our hopes and fears, of our struggles and our sorrows, of our aspirations and endeavours, of all that passes within us. And his sympathy with us and his succour of us are such as man cannot render. He can pity us with a perfect tenderness of spirit, and he can touch our hearts with a sustaining and healing hand as the kindest and wisest of men cannot.

II. HE IS ALWAYS THE SAME TO US; OUR BROTHER IS NOT. We can never be quire sure that our kindest brother will be in a mood or in a position to lend us his ear or his hand. But we have not to make this qualification or enter into this consideration when we think of Christ. We know we shall not find him too occupied to hear us, or indisposed to sympathize with us, or unable to aid us. He is always the same, and ever ready to receive and bless us (Hebrews 13:8).

III. HIS PATIENCE IS INEXHAUSTIBLE; OUR BROTHER'S IS NOT. By our importunity, or by our infirmity, or by our unworthiness, we may weary the most patient human friend or brother; but we do not weary the Divine Friend; and even though we do that or be that which is evil and hurtful, which is painful and grievous in his sight, still he bears with us, and at our first moment of spiritual return he is prepared to welcome and restore us.

IV. HE EVER LIVETH; OUR BROTHER MAY BE TAKEN FROM US.

1. Seek the lasting favour and friendship of Jesus Christ.

2. Realize the honour of that friendship, and walk worthily of it.

3. Gain from it all the comfort, strength, and sanctity which a close and living friendship with him will surely yield.

4. Introduce all whom you can to him, that they may share this invaluable blessing.—C.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 18:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/proverbs-18.html. 1897.

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