A Proverb a day, with commentary from H.A. Ironside, a great Bible teacher from the mid-20th Century.
The truly wise person acknowledges that learning from the experiences of others may save him from much trouble. Others can teach him about the road they have already traveled, which is all new ground to him.
In the first verse of this portion we are again reminded that it is the wise who are grateful for counsel and help; the foolish scorner will not accept rebuke. In his self-confidence he passes on, indifferent to the words of the wise. He must learn by bitter experience of the snares and pitfalls he might have avoided had he humbly accepted counsel from those competent to teach. Contrast Isaac (Genesis 26) with Simeon and Levi (Gen_34:25-31).
The evil speaker is only laying up trouble and sorrow for himself in the future; and the one whose mouth is full of grace will surely find grace when he is in need. To control the lips is to keep the life. The mature man is the one who controls his tongue. He who lacks wisdom in this respect will bring sure destruction on himself. Shimei is a solemn warning of this principle (1Ki_2:8); while David, when tempted greatly to speak for himself, illustrates the opposite (1Sa_17:28-29).
The New Testament reiterates the principle declared in this verse: “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2Th_3:10). It is as true of spiritual things as of physical. The diligent seeker of the precious truths in the Word of God is the one who rejoices over that Word as one who finds great spoil. The sluggard’s lot in life is leanness of soul and continual dissatisfaction. Contrast Ezr_7:10 with the returned captives (Hag_1:2-6).
A heart committed to truth is the secret of practical righteousness. The one who is following the way of holiness hates what is false. He has judged iniquity, and he desires to live before God so as to glorify His name in this world, where it has been so terribly dishonored. The disobedient man makes himself loathsome and is destroyed by his own sin. He is put to shame even in this life and his future portion is to be cast into outer darkness for eternity. Contrast Jehoiada and Athaliah (2 Kings 11).
It is the nature of fallen man to be hypocritical. The poverty-stricken will often pretend to be wealthy and the wealthy will feign poverty. He who has nothing desires to be esteemed as one who has much; and he who has great riches feels it is safer to be considered one who has little or nothing. The first is proud and vain; the last, mean and miserly. The one attitude was exhibited by the Laodiceans (Rev_3:17). The other attitude we see carried out by the wily Gibeonites to deceive Joshua and the army of Israel (Joshua 9).
The verse is confessedly ambiguous. Various renderings give little help. The thought seems to be that riches are the confidence of their possessor. He therefore can haughtily scorn the one who would reprove him. But the indigent is crushed by a rebuke, having no spirit left to stand against it. Apparently both are worldly men.
The flame of testimony burns brightly when fed with the oil of grace, which only the righteous possess. The lamp of the wicked may flare for a moment, but their true state of affairs will soon be evident. He lacks the oil, so the light must fail. Compare this proverb with the ten virgins (Mat_25:1-13).
The many bitter quarrels among saints meeting in the name of Christ are a dramatic commentary on the danger of pride. Strife comes only by pride. This solemn warning should be kept in mind. If the sin of pride were confessed and judged frankly before God, the reason for contention would be seen in its true light as contrary to Scriptures and opposed to the spirit of Jesus Christ! It is an old saying that “it takes two to make a quarrel.” Contention begins when the effort to maintain a foolish dignity prevails, or the heart covets what belongs to another. The strife soon ceases when the offended one meets his offender in lowliness and grace. Wisdom enables the well-advised to give the soft answer that turns away wrath. In the matter of the strife between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot, we see how pride was at the root. Abram solved the conflict most effectually when he offered first choice to Lot who had no title whatever to the land which Jehovah had given to Abram (Genesis 13).
That which comes easily, slips away easily. One highly values and is careful in the use of the treasure for which he has toiled. The principle abides when applied to the true riches, the precious truth of God. Some, like a sponge, readily absorb, but as readily give out under pressure. That which is valued is what has been won by labor. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Ti_2:15, italics added). Wealth such as this is surely worth the self-sacrifice and devotion required to obtain it; and when so obtained, it will abide and increase. See Ziba (2Sa_16:4; 2Sa_19:29), as contrasted with Caleb (Jos_14:6-14).
The unsatisfied longing of a hungry soul results in faintness of spirit and sickness of heart. Such is the hopeless hope of those without Christ. How blessed the contrast in the case of the Christian! He, too, at times is sick with longing: longing to behold the Beloved of his soul. But soon his desire will be accomplished, and its fulfillment will be precious as the tree of life. David once was sick with yearning desire. He wanted to taste the water of the well of his childhood. But when his desire was met and the water was brought, it was too precious for him to taste. He poured it out before the Lord (1Ch_11:15-19).
The word of instruction brings favor with God and man, as was so abundantly proven by Joseph, Daniel, and a host of others. To despise this law of the wise is to expose oneself to shame now and loss in eternity. But he that fears the commandment, recognizing in it a fountain of life, will be preserved from the sorrowful way of the transgressor and the darkness of eternity. Pharaoh despised the word and fell beneath the avenging hand of the Lord. Saul despised the word and was put to grief before the Philistines. The last three kings of Judah despised the word and learned too late the terrible mistake made. The solemn example of these and many more in sacred and secular history should speak loudly to those bent on taking their own way and ignoring the Lord’s commands. The Lord has said, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa_66:2).
A discreet person would take to heart the wisdom of the book of Proverbs. Only fools refuse it, thereby showing their folly. How sad that so many who are wise as to this world, should be fools as to the next! And yet, true wisdom for this life is demonstrated by obedience to God and dealing with the knowledge His Word imparts. It is the sinfully foolish one who turns a deaf ear to the voice of truth. Contrast Moses and Aaron with Korah and his company (Numbers 16).
The messenger who runs ahead, without waiting for his commission will only encounter and produce mischief. The one who faithfully goes forth as the ambassador of another carries health and blessing. This is all-important in the work of the gospel. We live in a day of great restlessness and activity. But few are the servants who wait to get the mind of the Lord as revealed in His Word. The result is much mischievous teaching and faulty instruction that bewilders and perplexes the hearers. Precious is the message of the faithful ambassador as he goes forth imploring men to be reconciled to God (2Co_5:20).
Men may foolishly consider it beneath their dignity to bow to instruction and learn from those competent to teach. But lasting honor comes to the one who is humble enough to receive help from whoever can impart true knowledge; while shame and poverty will be the portion of the self-sufficient soul. See Johanan and the captains (Jeremiah 42. Also compare with Pro_12:1).
The soul rejoices when the heart’s desire is attained. But the only desire of the fool is the gratification of his unbridled passions. He refuses to believe that iniquity should be avoided. “Evil communications corrupt good manners” (1Co_15:33). Association with the wise tends to wisdom. Companionship with vain people leads to further vanity and results in moral and spiritual ruin. Contrast Rehoboam with the young king Josiah (1Ki_12:8; 2 Kings 22).
Throughout this book the principle of retribution is insisted on even in this life. The sinner pursues evil, only to find evil pursuing him; while the righteous man who extends his goodness to others is repaid by kindness. When the good man dies, whether he leaves a fortune in material things behind him or not, he bequeaths to his descendants an honored name and a holy example-an inheritance of incalculable value. That which the evildoer has laid up is soon dissipated and passes into hands better able to use it properly. Contrast Jonadab the Rechabite (Jer_35:6-11) with Coniah (Jehoiachin, Jer_22:24-30).
The poor farmer, if diligent, will use every corner of his little plot. He produces an amount and a variety of food that is often astonishing to his wealthier neighbor. However, this same wealthy neighbor allows his acres to lie fallow and much of his crop to be carelessly wasted and destroyed.
The man of small opportunities often makes the most of what he has, while the one of large privileges becomes slothful and neglectful.
We can see an important spiritual lesson here. Frequently we see a gifted brother or sister with much leisure for study and prayer and boundless opportunities to enjoy the ministry. Yet he often will be careless and lazy, gaining very little real food daily and giving out little to others. On the other hand, we may see one whose daily toil occupies most of his waking hours and whose talents and education are average. Yet he devotes himself earnestly to using what he has and scarcely lets a moment slip by wasted. He gathers regularly much food for his own soul and constantly imparts refreshment and blessing to his brethren!
The lack of spirituality is not the result of a lack of time to cultivate the things of God; rather it indicates one’s failure to use the opportunities presented.
We have heard of a blacksmith blowing a bellows, with a page of God’s word before him on the wall, that he might gather a little strength for his soul as he attended to his forge; and of a cobbler pegging shoes with his Testament in front of him, from which now and then he snatched a precious morsel for his spiritual upbuilding. It was the work of the poor, but it was filled with satisfaction.
“No time for God” generally means “No heart for God,” if the full truth were told. The diligent soul will make time. He often proves that a small portion of Scripture or a few minutes of prayer bear rich fruit, when heart and conscience are truly exercised. See the prayer of Jabez (1Ch_4:9-10).
Family discipline should be patterned after the divine discipline of Hebrews 12. It is not love, but the lack of it, that allows a child to go undisciplined. He is allowed to develop unchecked tendencies and inclinations that will result in future sorrow. Ours is a day of great laxity in discipline. The coming generation will reap the bitter fruit of the absence of restraint and the evident aversion to discipline in the majority of homes. A sickly sentimentality, supposedly wiser and more compassionate than God Himself, has made it fashionable to denounce the use of the rod as a relic of a barbarous age. But the difference in the character of disciplined children and the well-ordered home certainly proves the truth of Scripture.
It is even worse when control is ignored among Christians on the plea that grace is reigning. Grace never sets aside restraint. The two principles are not opposed. In the divine ways, grace and restraint work side by side, as they should in the home. Contrast Eli (1Sa_3:13-14) with Abraham (Gen_18:19).
The portion of the righteous may be small, but it is enjoyable because the heart and conscience are at rest. But the wicked, though he lives riotously in pleasure and plenty for a time, finds no real satisfaction; his recklessness will bring him to want at last. How much happier the portion of Lazarus at the gate of the rich man, with Abraham’s bosom awaiting him, than that of the disobedient prodigal of the previous chapter (Luk_15:11-32; Luk_16:19-31).