A Proverb a day, with commentary from H.A. Ironside, a great Bible teacher from the mid-20th Century.
This chapter begins the second division of the book, which is strictly proverbial. Previously we have been listening to Wisdom’s exhortation to enter her house. She called us to heed the instructions gathered together for our enlightenment regarding suitable behavior in all circumstances. The seductive voice of Folly would turn us aside from this right course.
Happy the man who refuses Folly and, attracted by Wisdom, conscientiously seeks to follow her words. This is particularly true of the young man, for this is the book for the direction and guidance of youth.
Scripture itself abounds with illustrious examples of almost every proverb before us. A reference will generally be given in the notes to some person or circumstance demonstrating the truth of the saying in question. These references show the fullness and richness of the Word of God and the remarkable way in which every part of it is linked up with the book of Proverbs.
The keynote struck in this verse is referred to throughout the book of Proverbs. The son who is characterized by wisdom brings joy to his father as in the case of Solomon himself (1Ch_22:12; 2Ch_1:7-12). On the other hand it is the mother who feels most keenly the folly of her child. See the record of Esau in Gen_26:34-35; Gen_27:46.
God has not abdicated His throne as the moral governor of the universe; therefore reaping follows sowing, as surely as night follows day. “As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool” (Jer_17:11). On the other hand righteousness, however much one may be called on to suffer for it in this world, “delivereth from death,” when that death (as in the case of the flood) is an evidence of God’s judgment. In the book of Esther, Haman illustrates the first half of this proverb and Mordecai exemplifies the righteous.
Whatever his outward circumstances are, the soul of the righteous is lifted above them all and finds cause to rejoice in the midst of tribulation. The lawless have no such confidence. Their desire is often taken away in a moment, just when they are beginning to feel comfortable. The triumphant song of Habakkuk (Hab_3:17-19) fitly illustrates the first clause of Pro_10:3, and the fate of the rich fool (Luk_12:16-21) the second.
Scripture never commends slothfulness; instead it commands the Christian to be zealous. The disorderly among the Thessalonians had evidently forgotten this command (2Th_3:7-12). The apostle wrote urging them “that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.” Faith and laziness do not mingle. What is sometimes miscalled faith is really presumption. Diligence is the fit companion of faith. The Moabitess Ruth demonstrated both qualities. She took the place of the poor and the stranger among the gleaners in the fields of Boaz, but was exalted in due time (Ruth 2-4).
The principle abides whether in relation to time or eternity. The hour of opportunity if used profitably indicates wisdom; if neglected tells of present folly and future shame. It is of the utmost importance that one set a proper value on the God-given present; “redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph_5:16). Let the laborer in God’s harvestfields heed the word of Pro_10:5. Now is the time to gather precious sheaves that will be cause for rejoicing in the day of the soon-coming harvest home. He who sleeps in the present reaping season will suffer shame and loss at the judgment seat of Christ. Paul was an excellent example of the diligent laborer throughout his life of ceaseless activity and concern for a dying world. Demas was one who, charmed by the love of the present world, went off to sleep and left the service for other hands. His shame abides to this day (2Ti_4:10).
The memory of the righteous and the wicked after their death is the same as the esteem in which they are held in life. In 2Ti_4:17 we find Paul standing for judgment before Nero. Paul calls him a lion from whose mouth he was at that time delivered. Despite his loneliness and his apparently despicable condition, this bold servant of Christ experienced the blessings of God. On the other hand, violence covered the mouth of his oppressor, leaving him without excuse before the judgment of man and of God. Both have long since passed from this world. Let the centuries witness whose memory has rotted and whose is still cause for thanksgiving!
As we have seen, wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Those so exercised are ready indeed to bow to His Word and obey His commandments. This is the way the Christian shows his love for Christ. The babbling fool, who is too wise in his own conceit to require instruction, must learn by coming to grief. In Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar we see the wise and the fool contrasted (Dan_5:18-23).
To walk in integrity is to walk with God. Whatever misunderstanding there may be at times, the one who lives honestly will be shown to have walked securely. Men of the world confess that “Honesty is the best policy.” For the man of God, uprightness is not policy, but the delight of his heart. Even wicked men acknowledge that the ways of the upright are above reproach. Joseph displayed this integrity after being so severely tested (Genesis 40-41). On the contrary, he whose ways are perverse, though he may cover them for a time, must inevitably be discovered. See Ziba’s case (2Sa_16:1-4; 2Sa_19:24-30).
Winking has always been construed as indicating a lie in what the lips utter. He whose words and intentions are opposed brings grief to others and failure to himself. The kiss of Judas was an action of this nature. Note the last clause here is the same as is in Pro_10:8.
When a person’s life is ordered by righteousness, his words will be a blessing and refreshment to others. Carelessness in speech leaves many who attempt to minister the gospel powerless and barren in their service. The testimony of their lips is not backed up by the testimony of their life. Consequently, power and usefulness are lacking. Mere good words are not necessarily used in blessing. But if they come from a heart in touch with God, as evidenced by Christlike actions, they will be a well of life to thirsty hearers. Such was the ministry of Samuel in the dark days after the death of Eli. Notice that the last clause of this verse is the same as the last clause of Pro_10:6.
The latter part of this verse is quoted in 1Pe_4:8 : “and above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” This does not mean that kindness on the part of one otherwise guilty before God will atone for his transgressions. Benevolence will not cover those sins in the day of judgment. I am called on to cover other’s faults, not my own. I am not to be indifferent to evil, but to faithfully and lovingly show my brother his sin. As he confesses it and repents of it, the sin is covered. Where love is lacking, it is a common practice to be a talebearer, which only tends to add to the evil; for the repeating of sin is defiling and often leads to life-long unhappiness and misunderstandings. In Doeg the Edomite we have a sample of the hatred that stirs up strife; Nathan’s dealing with David is a lovely exemplification of the love that covers (1Sa_22:9-19; 2Sa_12:1-14). See the notes on Pro_11:13.
None have exhibited the contrast of this verse so markedly as Solomon himself and his son Rehoboam. The former, having been under God’s training, had been given a wise and understanding heart (1Ki_3:5-28). Rehoboam trusted his own wisdom and the counsel of the companions of his youth. He found a rod for his back in consequence (1Ki_12:8-19).
None perceive their own limitations so clearly as the truly wise. They are characterized by humility and a willingness to learn from all who can instruct them. The conceit of the foolish knows no bounds. With their own mouths they proclaim it in the ears of all men of sound judgment. Their boasting invites destruction. From childhood Timothy followed the ways of the wise man (2Ti_3:14-15). The magician Elymas is an illustration of the boasting fool (Act_13:6-11).
This proverb only applies here on earth and in an era of peace. For “riches profit not in the day of wrath” (Pro_11:4); neither does temporal poverty affect future glory. See Rich man and Lazarus (Luk_16:19-31).
This verse is an Old Testament way of stating the truth of Rom_8:6, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” The righteous man is the spiritual man. His labor is in accordance with the mind of God, and consequently leads to life. Everything the wicked produces is sin in the sight of infinite holiness because the sinner is polluted. He is like a poisoned well that may produce cold and sparkling water, but it is to be dreaded in the end. The first two offerers, Cain and Abel, exemplify the truth here stated (Gen_4:3-8).
As man learns to mistrust himself and to rely only on the unerring Word of God, revealed by the Holy Spirit, his feet will walk in the way of life. It is not a question of eternal life or final salvation, but following God’s chosen path. God’s children cannot afford to refuse reproof. The greatest kindness another saint can show me is to point out any portion of God’s truth that I am not following. Let me gladly receive correction to keep me from dishonoring the One who has redeemed me to Himself. Saul refused reproof and lost his kingdom (1Sa_15:23). David, even though he failed at times, was characterized by keeping instruction and walking the path of life.
Hypocrisy and tale-bearing are alike detestable. To make a false show of love and friendship while the fire of hatred bums in the heart, and to spread evil stories are most reprehensible.
In God’s Word over and over again He expressed His abhorrence of evil-speaking in unmistakable terms. Christians today do not often enough display that same hatred of that sin. In the law it is written, “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people” (Lev_19:16). The tales might be true; but that could not excuse the bearer of them. If a brother or sister had sinned, there was a far different way to deal with the matter than to spread the story of his or her shame through the camp of Israel. The following verse delineates the godly way to deal with such a case: “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” (Lev_19:17)
This command is most searching and solemn. I am bearing false witness if I repeat evil that is untrue. If it is true, I am defiling others and injuring the soul of the wrongdoer, who might be delivered from his error if I went to him in the spirit of meekness. It is “an ungodly man [who] diggeth up evil” (Pro_16:27). A man of God will seek to cover it by leading the sinning one to repentance and self-judgment.
The first clause of Pro_10:18 is exemplified in Joab’s dealing with Abner (2Sa_3:27); the accusers of Jeremiah are described in the last clause (Jer_37:11-15).
It is remarkable how much of the Scripture God has seen fit to devote to His creatures’ speech. Being quick to speak often leads to sin. To refrain the lips is difficult, but it is truly wise. The entire third chapter of James is devoted to the tongue, that small but most unruly member. The man of God will weigh his words, remembering that he must give an account for every idle word. “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Mat_12:36-37). See also Ecc_5:1-7.
Tongue and heart seem to be used here almost synonymously, for the one is controlled by the other. The tongue of the just indicates a heart in subjection to God. Therefore the words uttered are valuable. The heart of the lawless is revealed by his idle and perverse conversation. It was so in the case of Simon the Sorcerer, while his reprover displayed the opposite (Act_8:18-24).
The righteous man’s conversation is not only without foolishness and slanderous statements, but it is profitable. When he speaks, it is for edification. Others are blessed; his lips feed many. Not so with the fool. His speech is worthless, and he lacks the heart to learn from those who could instruct him. Samuel and Saul again come to mind. Samuel’s words were a means of blessing to thousands, but the unhappy man he had anointed failed to profit by them. See also Pro_10:31-32.
It is great foolishness to reject eternal pleasures and imperishable riches. They are untainted by sorrow, whereas the vain trinkets offered by the world and Satan leave only pain and disappointment! The blessing of the Lord is found in the pathway of obedience. Even Christians often miss it by laxity and indifference to moral and doctrinal evil. Walking by the light of their own fire they have only themselves to blame when their life ends in sorrow.
It is not that the blessing of the Lord ensures freedom from tribulation in this world; but whatever the trial, all can be received as from a loving Father’s hand. Habbakuk and Paul, in large measure, had entered into the blessing spoken of here (Hab_3:17-19; Php_4:11-13).
The wise man shrinks with horror from the mischief the fool practices with complacency and fiendish delight. The man of understanding, whose heart and mind are controlled by the fear of the Lord, will behave himself wisely in a perfect way. Such a fool was Balaam; and Phinehas was a man of understanding, whose wisdom stayed the vengeance of the Lord (Num_31:16; Num_25:6-13).
The two proverbs are really one, contrasting the expectation and end of the righteous and the wicked. The lawless, however bold he appears, has a gnawing fear of impending calamity. He should dread the future, for it holds unsparing judgment for him. The desire of the righteous will as surely be granted-even eternal blessing.
As the whirlwind passes, the wicked will pass away and be in this world no more. It is not a question of extinction of being. He will be gone from earth into a dark and grief-filled eternity. But God’s imperishable truth is the everlasting foundation of the righteous. Daniel and his accusers illustrate the two sides (Dan_6:4-24).
A strong acid sets the teeth on edge and smoke inflames the eyes. In the same way it is irritating to place confidence in a man who is really indifferent to the success or failure of his commission. How often have the Lord’s messengers proven to be sluggards. They dally with the world, turning aside for any trifle, instead of pursuing their path with purpose of heart! See the unfaithful servant in Luk_19:20-26.
Though each is a distinct proverb, these four proverbs contrast the righteous and the lawless regarding both their present and their future condition. In this world the fear of the Lord prolongs life; whereas the indiscretions and iniquities of the lawless break their physical strength and shorten their days. In eternity, gladness will be the fulfilled hope of the righteous; while the expectation of the wicked will perish and his reward will be endless judgment.
Strength is found in the way of Jehovah. Those who tread the paths of sin find destruction and woe. In the age to come, the portion of the righteous will abide; he will never be removed. The evildoer however will have no inheritance in the glorious kingdom. In both worlds the lawless are not gainers, but losers, because of their willful rejection of the Word of Life; while “godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1Ti_4:8).
There are many examples that confirm these solemn truths: Cain and Abel; Noah and the antediluvian world; Abraham and his idolatrous kin; Isaac and Ishmael; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his accusers-all in the first book of the Bible. The remaining books of the Bible also tell of a vast number who give witness to this great contrast that has been confirmed through the ages.
The chapter closes with two additional proverbs on the tongue. We have noticed the way and end of the two classes of people mentioned in these proverbs. Again we are instructed as to the difference in their speech, which reveals the state of their hearts. Wisdom and acceptable words proceed from the lips of the righteous, like clear streams from a pure fountain. Perverseness pours out like a filthy torrent from the mouth of the wicked. It soon will be silenced in judgment. Jezebel is a solemn beacon, declaring the truth of this proverb in regard to the wicked. Elijah, whom she hated, may be cited as an instance on the other side.