A Proverb a day, with commentary from H.A. Ironside, a great Bible teacher from the mid-20th Century.
Chapter 11 of Proverbs continues to delineate the contrast between righteousness and lawlessness. God, in His wonderful grace, uses every opportunity to warn the young and inexperienced of the dangers and sorrows of rebelling against His Word. He puts before them the physical and spiritual blessings to be found in obedience to wisdom and truth.
Our God would have earthly scales regulated by heavenly standards. He delights in absolute integrity. A deceitful balance indicates lack of uprightness in heart. Man may never be cognizant of the error; but those who fear God will consider Him and conduct every transaction in His presence. It is a solemn thing when Christians follow the world in the slipshod business methods of the day. The name of Christ is dishonored when shams and false weights are discovered among Christians. It is good to remember what is written in the law:
Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small. But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee (Deu_25:13-15).
This was God’s standard for His earthly people. How shameful when His heavenly people fall below it! It may seem trivial that what is measured by a yardstick is slightly short or a pound weight not up to the standard; and one may try to ease his conscience by saying that it is customary and that people know what to expect. But these are the things that indicate character, and tell of a seared conscience. The example of Zaccheus should cause dishonest people to be ashamed (Luk_19:8).
Nothing is more detestable in God’s sight than pride on the part of creatures who have absolutely nothing to be proud of. This was the condemnation of the devil-self-exaltation. We instinctively see it to be hateful in others; but in ourselves, it is readily and almost unconsciously tolerated! In any case, it indicates a lack of brokenness and self-judgment before God. Humility is an indication of true wisdom. It characterizes the man who has learned to judge himself correctly in the presence of God. In Nebuchadnezzar we have a striking illustration of the two opposite states exhibited at different times in the same person (Daniel 4).
The Spirit of God will guide and direct the one who purposes in his heart to walk in the truth. When the heart is treacherous, destruction will assuredly follow. The principle in this verse is far-reaching and of vast importance. It enters into every detail and ramification of a believer’s path and service. It is not so much intelligence that is lacking among the mass of saints as real integrity of heart. Often we see a person with true devotedness to Christ coupled with very little knowledge of Scripture. Yet with a remarkable ability to examine different aspects of the faith he uses what little knowledge he has for the glory of God. On the other hand, great intelligence has frequently been found coupled with gross carelessness and treachery of heart. This eventually leads to a moral and spiritual breakdown. The great requirement of a Christian is a tender conscience, obedient to the guidance of the Word and Spirit of God. Contrast Obadiah and Ahab (1Ki_18:3-4; 1Ki_21:25).
The wealthy person’s confidence in uncertain riches will prove empty and vain in the day of wrath. God could allow such a day to overtake men on earth, or wait until the full outpouring of His wrath on the wicked dead! See Rev_6:12-17; Rev_20:12-15.
Only righteousness delivers from death: righteousness that man is lacking in his natural state. The believer is declared righteous by faith when He believes God’s testimony. Practical righteousness flows from the new nature received when one is born again. Noah is an apt illustration of this truth. He was found righteous when the rest of the world had lapsed into violence and corruption (Genesis 6).
The great lesson of these verses is that retribution is an obvious law of God both in this world and the next (See Pro_10:27-30). “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”-whether of the flesh unto corruption or of the Spirit unto life eternal (Gal_6:7-8). “The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed” (1Sa_2:3). Nothing escapes His notice. All will receive a just recompense of reward. The path of righteousness leads to endless glory; the way of lawlessness ends in sorrow and woe. He who seeks to ensnare the upright will fall into the meshes of his own trap. The entire book of Esther is one of the best examples of the instruction of this section. (Those who have not studied the moral instruction of Esther might find profit in the commentary on Esther, by the same author and publisher.) Daniel’s experience with his accusers, as noted earlier, emphasizes the same principle. God’s retributive justice is swift and sure. It is futile to seek to change His holy and righteous administration.
The hypocrite’s only thought is to cover his contemptible character, whatever the consequences to others. He is always ready to falsely accuse and destroy the peace of the innocent in order to maintain his own mask of righteousness. But the upright can afford to leave all in the hands of God. He trusts God to vindicate His servant in His own way and time. The case of Potiphar’s wife and Joseph might have been in Solomon’s mind as he penned these words (Genesis 39-41).
Whatever their individual evil propensities, collectively men realize, in some measure at least, the value of righteousness in their government leaders. Therefore they acclaim rulers who are wise and good for they build up a city; while evil rulers are detested because of the obvious unhappy results of their oppression. This is why men rejoiced over the downfall of Abimelech (Jdg_9:53-57) and later, in the exaltation of David (2Sa_19:14).
Answering bitter speech and unkindness with contempt or anger, however well deserved, only fuels the flame. A troublemaker should always be met by one who is following the example of Christ “who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1Pe_2:23). The course of wisdom and blessing is to go on quietly committing all to God. This is what David did when cursed by Shimei. See notes on Pro_20:22.
Telling tales, even if the tales are true, is very harmful. If there is a fault, one should lovingly admonish in private, and then conceal it from all others. This is in accordance with the mind of God.
There is an instructive word in this connection in Exo_37:17-24. These verses relate to the making of the candlestick, or lampstand, for the tabernacle. Among the accessories to it, Moses “made his seven lamps, and his snuffers, and his snuffdishes, of pure gold” (Exo_37:23). There is something here that is intensely interesting and precious when applied to the subject of tale-bearing.
No lamp will burn well for long without occasional snuffing. God has made provision even for such an apparently insignificant matter as this. It might not seem important how a light was snuffed and what was done with the black snuff afterwards. But in God’s eye nothing is trivial that concerns the glory of His Son or the welfare of His people.
The snuffers were made of pure gold-that which symbolizes divine glory and perfect righteousness. It may often happen that some saint of God is losing his brightness and no longer shining for Him as he once did. The priest with the golden tongs is entrusted with the delicate task of trimming the charred end of the candlestick. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal_6:1). In this way the “snuffing” of evil is accomplished God’s way and the restored brother’s light burns all the brighter.
Is the evil then to be spread abroad and made a matter of common knowledge? There were not only the snuffers, but the snuff-dishes, which were also made of pure gold. The priest was to put carefully the black, dirty snuff which he had removed from the wick in these golden receptacles. To have spread the filth on the spotless garments of other priests would have been to defile them all. It must be hidden away in the presence of God! Is not this where we often fail?
How much grief and sorrow might have been prevented in many an assembly if the golden snuff-dishes had been used to carry away the evil. So much strife and discord are brought about through evil speaking; and it is remarkable how ready we are to listen to that which we know can only defile. Oh that there might be more “angry countenances” among us when the backbiter tries to blacken the white garments of God’s holy priests! See Pro_25:23.
In the New Testament the divine way of dealing with a brother’s fault is clearly defined: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother” (Mat_18:15). Much evil speaking would be eliminated if Christians would sternly refuse to listen to complaints against others until this first condition has been followed. Many a brother would be won if approached by one who in godly humility carried with him the golden snuffers and the snuff-dish.
But what if he refuses to hear? Then take one or two more with you and if he still is not repentant tell it to the church. But this is only a last resort after the other means have failed.
By obeying God’s Word in this way innocent people might be spared much shame and misery. And many wandering ones might be recovered who otherwise would be driven deeper into sin. God, too, will be glorified, and the Lord Jesus honored; for He has said, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet… If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (Joh_13:14; Joh_13:17).
To depend entirely on one’s own judgment is the height of folly. Even the wisest and godliest are often given to blunders and errors of discernment. No one is infallible. To weigh a matter in the presence of God and to invite the spiritual counsel of those who are able to discern differences is the course of wisdom. Rehoboam lost the major part of his kingdom by neglecting this important truth; and many have suffered grievous loss for the same disdain of counsel and help.
This proverb was written centuries before the cross to warn men of what is still a very common ground for failure and ruin in business. It is a most dangerous thing to pledge security for a stranger, as thousands have learned to their sorrow.
But there was One who knew fully the consequences of His action, yet, deigned in grace to become the security for strangers. “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2Co_8:9). He was the stranger’s surety.
A surety is one who accepts liability for another’s debts. Many a man will do this for a trusted, long-time friend, but no wise man will do so for a stranger. Yet Jesus became our surety when we were strangers and foreigners, “alienated and enemies in [our] mind by wicked works” (Col_1:21). He died, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1Pe_3:18).
All we owed was exacted from Him when He suffered on the tree for sins that were not His own. He could then say, “I restored that which I took not away” (Psa_69:4). Bishop Lowth’s beautiful rendering of Isa_53:7 reads, “It was exacted, and He became answerable.” This is the very essence of the gospel.
He fully proved the truth of the words of Pro_11:15 when He endured that cross of shame. How He had to suffer when God ‘s awful judgment against sin fell on Him! But He wavered not. In love to God and to the strangers whose surety He had become, He “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb_12:2).
His sorrows are now forever past. He has paid the debt and met every claim in perfect righteousness. The believing sinner is cleared of every charge and God is fully glorified.
He bore on the tree the sentence for me;
And now both the Surety and sinner are free.
None other could have met the claims of God’s holiness against the sinner and have come out triumphant at last. He alone could atone for sin. Because He has settled every claim God has raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in highest glory. This glorified One administers grace and blessing to all who see Him as the stranger’s security and trust Him for themselves.
Physical strength enables a man to retain his wealth against those who would attack it. Similarly a woman evidences strength of character by graciously yielding, rather than standing for what she thinks are her rights; in this way she retains honor. Many are fearful of losing the admiration of others by showing kindness and humility. So they wrap themselves in a haughty, chilling dignity which actually makes them the objects of scorn and disgust. Nothing is as lovely and admirable as a gracious, conciliatory spirit, whether in the home, the assembly, or in the world. How brightly does this shine out in Abigail (1 Samuel 25)!
A kindly, forgiving spirit is again praised in this verse. Not only others, but one’s own self, will be blessed and helped by this attitude. Hardness and cruelty will inevitably come back on the one who acts mercilessly. He can only be unhappy in his own soul; and then, with the measure he uses, judgment will be measured to him again. Joab was a man of cruelty (1Ki_2:5-6); in Isaac we see the opposite (Genesis 26).
Sin and righteousness are set in sharp contrast again. Deceit and lawlessness go together. They will be the eternal undoing of those who practice them, because they are an abomination to the Lord.
He delights in the upright, therefore their reward is sure. It is useless for men to attempt to avert the coming judgment by joining together to defeat the justice of the Almighty. Vengeance inevitably will follow their evil course; but deliverance will come in due time to the righteous. Sennacherib and Hezekiah are the central figures in a solemn scene that illustrates this great and important principle (2 Chronicles 32).
The picture in this verse is utterly incongruous! Beauty allied to virtue is incomparably lovely, but without discretion, beauty is sad indeed. See Jezebel’s melancholy history.
“Thoughts of peace, and not of evil” (Jer_29:11) fill the heart of the righteous. His desire will be more than met; for “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom_8:28). The only expectation of the wicked is judgment. He heaps up wrath for himself against the day of wrath. Note Pro_10:28 and see Jeremiah and Zedekiah (Jer_17:16-18; Jer_34:1-3).
Bunyan’s quaint rhyme is in itself a suited commentary on these verses. It was propounded as a riddle by Old Honest and explained by Gaius.
“A man there was, though some did count him mad,
The more he cast away, the more he had.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
“He that bestows his goods upon the poor
Shall have as much again, and ten times more.”
These verses give us the divine plan for increase. The Egyptian farmer scatters his seed on the retreating waters of the Nile to reap a rich harvest after many days. Likewise the one who is touched by the philanthropy of God will find true increase later by scattering now. While he who greedily seeks to keep all for himself will find his course has led to complete ruin. In 2 Corinthians the Holy Spirit uses these verses in Proverbs as a divine principle that applies to the grand subject of Christian benevolence.
But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work (2Co_9:6-8).
These verses assure us that God notes all done for His glory. He will minister abundantly to those who freely use what He has given them for the blessing of others. The Philippian assembly had tasted of the joy of ministering to the Lord in this way (Php_4:10-19). In Nabal we learn the folly of greed and self-occupation (1Sa_25:10-11; 1Sa_25:38).
One who withholds food from starving people in order to make a profit later deserves the curses his actions invoke. The story of the medieval bishop of Rouen who so acted has made his name detestable for centuries. We saw this in Nabal, who, living in prosperity himself, refused to share with David and his followers when persecuted by Saul. Joseph was the manager of Egypt’s resources for the good of the famine-stricken world. In him we see the type of behavior that is commended in the last clause of Pro_11:26.
If in this world the curses of the dying will fall on those who refuse to share physical bread, what will be said of him who refuses to share the Bread of life. He has the knowledge of the precious grace of God and yet is quite unconcerned about the need of the vast multitudes who are going on to the second death, the lake of fire. It is not enough to plead that they know but do not heed. The Christian is responsible to warn, to preach, to entreat the lost to be reconciled to God. We are debtors to all men because of the treasure committed to us. Sad indeed will be the accounting for those who live to themselves, withholding that spiritual food which alone can meet the dire need of the spiritually starving. Blessings will be on the head of those who seek to offer to men the free grace of God, as earnestly as businessmen seek to sell their goods.
Again our attention is turned to God’s just rewards. The seeker after good will be rewarded according to his faithfulness in endeavoring to bring joy and cheer to others. But the mischief-maker, who rejoices in iniquity and desires the undoing of his neighbor, will be undone himself. The confession of Adoni-bezek is a striking case in point (Jdg_1:5-7). Caleb well illustrates the first clause (Jos_14:6-14).
Those who prosper in this world are very apt to “trust in uncertain riches” (1Ti_6:17); therefore the need to be continually reminded of the evanescent character of all that this world offers. See the rich fool of Luk_12:16-21.
The genuine riches are moral-not material. It is the righteous-not the man with money-who is truly wealthy. See the blessed man of Psalm 1.
To trouble one’s own house is to walk so as to leave an evil example for succeeding generations. Jehovah visits the iniquities of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation (Exo_20:5). It is not merely physical ills handed down in judgment, as in the case of the alcoholic’s child being born with an inherent tendency to disease; but the father’s ways are copied by the children. This is what is so prominent in the case of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, “who made Israel to sin” (1Ki_14:16).
The fool, though superior in position, will be the servant to the wise in heart. It is not the outward trappings and insignia of office that make a man truly great. When Daniel and Belshazzar met face to face, or when Paul and Festus confronted each other, who were the superior persons?
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life to those who perish. Refreshment and gladness are produced so that those who weaken may enter into blessing. So he who is wise will win souls. It is not merely that “he that winneth souls is wise”; but all who are truly wise according to God will be channels of blessing to others-winners of souls. There is a searching truth stated here. Wisdom consists not in the knowledge of Scripture, precious as that is, but in the ability to live in the power of the Word. True wisdom is being able to so minister to men, women, and children that they will be won for Christ and His truth. Tested by this standard, how few are the wise!
It is evident that soul-winning is not the slipshod business many would make it out to be-the mere hit-or-miss ministry that is so common today. On the contrary, it is a divine science, requiring sincere preparation of the heart in the presence of God. It requires careful study of the need of men’s souls and of the truth of the Scriptures that can meet that need. Of all human soul-winners, Paul is the great example “made all things to all men, that (he) might by all means save some” (1Co_9:19-23). This is the wisdom so much needed in turning men from the power of Satan unto God.
This is the passage quoted by the apostle Peter (though from the Septuagint version). He said:
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (1Pe_4:17-18)
Much light is shed on this quotation by comparing it in its transposed form with the proverb itself. The righteous being scarcely, or with difficulty saved, refers to their salvation on earth, not their entrance into Heaven. Here on earth the righteous and wicked are subjects of God’s authority. If the godly will be recompensed here for the evil they may do when their heart turns away from the Lord, what about the wicked? Their judgment will be dire indeed. In a national way, we see this in the case of the righteous nation of Israel, who was punished in measure for its sins. Edom, the proud, defiant persecutor, who had cast off all fear of God was also punished. See the prophecy of Obadiah.
God never spares His children when they willfully follow their own ways. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb_12:6). How irreverent the thought that the wicked can defy Him as they please and go unpunished! Judgment may linger, but it is certain to be executed eventually. “They shall not escape” (1Th_5:3).