A Proverb a day, with commentary from H.A. Ironside, a great Bible teacher from the mid-20th Century.
The wise woman and the foolish woman are brought before us in vivid contrast in the opening verse of this chapter.
The wise woman will lead her household in the right way by counsel and example. She directs their steps in accordance with the Word of the Lord. Consequently her house is established on an immovable foundation of righteousness. The foolish woman through her evil behavior and unworthy instruction, lays up sorrow for herself and grief for her children. Contrast the mothers of Moses and of Ahaziah (Exodus 2; 2Ch_22:2-3).
The manner of life proves whether one is really walking with God or not. The testimony of the lips is worthless if contradicted by the behavior. The one who fears the Lord will be characterized by godliness and faithfulness. “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1Jn_2:6).
Perverse ways opposed to His revealed will prove that God is really despised and not feared; He wants reality. To talk of reverence while obeying the dictates of a selfish, carnal nature is hypocrisy. This was Saul’s snare. Samuel summarized the issue of obedience when he said, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1Sa_15:22). The testimony of the people themselves proved that the prophet Samuel had walked before them in the fear of God (1 Samuel 12).
The fool condemns himself with his own mouth by his vain boasting. The words of the wise declare the state of their hearts. They are able to give the soft answer that turns away wrath and are slow to speak and swift to hear. Their conversation reveals the wisdom that is in them. See Goliath and David (1Sa_17:41-49).
It certainly would be a drastic measure to kill the oxen in order to have a clean stable. The purpose would surely be attained, but at what a cost!
The strength of the ox adds to the wealth of the farm. It is therefore well worth the time to regularly clean the stall. “Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written” (1Co_9:9-10). It is sad how quickly assemblies sometimes resort to getting rid of troublesome saints. This cuts off much increase and blessing that might have ensued had patience and grace been exercised. Too often it is taken for granted that the great object of discipline in the house of God is to get rid of the offender; whereas the truth is just the opposite. Our first priority should be to earnestly endeavor to recover the erring one. If our attitude is right before God we will cry to God and identify ourselves with the sinner. Finally, if all is in vain, and the evildoer persists in his sin, refusing to repent, excommunication is the last sad acknowledgment that the case must be left in the hands of God.
To bring the matter before the saints and take quick action, before every effort has been made to heal the offender may indeed cleanse the assembly; but it will be to the loss of all. We need one another. Blessing and increase of the body results when there is an effectual working of every part. How much better is it to cleanse by leading an erring brother to repentance, thus covering his sin, than by excommunicating him before all possible means have been exhausted in seeking his restoration to God! (See Jdg_20:35-48; Jdg_21:1-3.)
The words of the one who bears a faithful testimony are truthful and controlled. A false witness cannot be depended on, for he has committed himself to speak lies. The Christian is called to be a follower of Him who is preeminently “the faithful and true witness.” Refusing to handle the word of God deceitfully, he is to speak what he knows on the authority of divine revelation. To boastfully speak of the idle speculations of the human mind will be to utter lies instead of truth. See Paul before Festus and Agrippa (Act_26:25); and note the sad contrast in the case of Peter in the corridor of the council-room (Luk_22:55-62).
The scorner may inquire after the truth, but he does not set his heart on the answer. Therefore he fails to find wisdom. The discerning are motivated by a sincere desire to know the truth, even if they must judge themselves and their ways by it. To them, knowledge comes easily.
This principle of the importance of sincere desire is preeminently true regarding the understanding of the Scriptures. The mocker is continually finding cause for objections and foolish quibbles in the Word of God. The devout and upright soul sees only light where the other sees darkness. If a man has difficulty in accepting the truth of the Bible, almost invariably it is because he is clinging to some sin that the Word condemns. When that sin is judged and iniquity repented of, all becomes clear. Pilate once asked, “What is truth?” (Joh_18:38) But he was not concerned enough to wait for a reply, though Truth incarnate stood before him. Daniel had proven long before that all is plain to the spiritually discerning person.
When it becomes evident that a man is bent on folly with no concern about righteousness, it is best to leave him to himself. To argue or reason with such a one is useless. It is defiling to the wise and only gratifying to the pride of the fool. “From such turn away” (2Ti_3:5).
The prudent is given wisdom to guide him well. The fool has no desire for this wisdom. His heart is false and his lips are deceitful. He mocks sin and does not realize its heinousness. He has never realized the need for repentance. Consequently it is useless to try to turn him from his disobedient course. The righteous find acceptance because they have judged themselves and bowed to God’s just and holy sentence. Acknowledging their true estate, they find a better one. Walking in obedience to God, they are acceptable to Him.
This does not imply that Scripture teaches that acceptance by God resulting in salvation is on the ground of legal works. Far from it. As Abraham’s example showed, not until a man is justified by faith are his works declared righteous. Good deeds are not the procuring cause of justification and new birth, but the result of these great and important blessings.
For an example of the fools who make a mock at sin and refuse instruction, see Jer_44:15-19. There we read of the remnant in Egypt who defied the word of the Lord spoken through His prophet.
Every heart has its secret joy or sorrow that no other ever shares. Griefs or joys too great for words are often hidden deep down from the sight of others. How truly was this the case with our blessed Lord Himself! Who ever measured the depths of the anguish of His soul, or who can rightly estimate His joys?
To such a High Priest we can go with our own heaviest sorrows; with Him we can share our inmost thoughts of exultation and delight.
If the young man who reads the wisdom of Solomon still misses the path of life and finally perishes, it will not be for lack of warning or insufficient instruction. Clearly and unmistakably, the wicked and the righteous are often contrasted.
In these verses we read first of the house of the lawless and the tent of the righteous. The house might seem by far the more stable, but it will be overthrown; its foundations will be destroyed because they are built on sinking sand. The upright pilgrim lives in his tent as he journeys through this world that is foreign to his new nature. This tent will abide and flourish until tenting days are over.
Man naturally chooses his own way-a way that seems right to himself. But it ends in death, for it is opposed to the truth of God. “The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city” (Ecc_10:15).
There is a city that even the most sinful and vile must long to enter if they believe in a future life at all. That city was anticipated even by Abraham (Heb_11:10). It was described by John as the new and holy Jerusalem, where the Lamb who died is the center and lamp from whom shines all the glory of God. He Himself said, while on earth, “I am the way” (Joh_14:6). His name alone is salvation proclaimed to lost and guilty sinners. There is no other name and no other way that will lead to the city of light.
There is a way-yes, many ways; but none can rightly be designated the way except Jesus. The end of a way that seems right is death-moral, spiritual, eternal death, yet conscious forever!
Those who refuse the Way, to tread a way of their own choosing, find no true joy or confidence. “They being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom_10:3). Therefore their way is one of doubt and uncertainty. Though they laugh, the heart is not at rest, and their mirth is destined to end in madness. See Micah in Judges 17; Jdg_18:14-26.
Happy are those who refuse man’s devices and turn to Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!
This is the only verse in which the word backslider occurs in the Bible (kjv). The few times that the word backsliding is found in our English version, occur only in the books of Jeremiah and Hosea. It is used generally as an adjective, though also as a participle and several times as a noun. It should be noticed that neither form of the word occurs in the New Testament.
A backslider is one who has given up ground once taken for God. Many a soul gives up in heart long before it is seen in their life. The conscience becomes defiled and if self-judgment does not follow, the truth begins to lose its power over the heart. The sad result of a broken-down testimony soon follows until the backslider is living for himself. It is important, however, to distinguish carefully between backsliding and apostasy. The backslider is one who fails to carry out the truth of his profession into his life. The apostate, on the other hand, gives up the truth entirely, even denying the Lord; this proves his falseness, whatever his previous profession may have been. John refers to apostates (1Jn_2:19), as does Paul in Hebrews 6 and 10. Needless to say, no true believer ever becomes an apostate.
The good man is controlled by a sincere testimony and his life is in harmony with his testimony. He truly lives for God and this brings satisfaction to him.
Peter was a backslider in heart long before he fell; so, we may rest assured, was David. In the faithful stand of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we see men whose hearts were committed to divine principles when in seclusion. Therefore they overcame in public (Daniel 3).
Wise and simple are relative terms. They refer not so much to mental condition as to the fear of the Lord on the one hand and indifferent self-sufficiency on the other.
The simple are ready to believe anything said by men as foolish as themselves. Yet they stumble over the clearest truths of God’s revelation. The same man who quibbles over the truth of God has strong faith in the greatest absurdities. The unbeliever can believe unhesitatingly that he is the descendant of a long line of lower animals ranging all the way from protoplasm to ape. Yet he sneers at the Christian who receives by faith the divine record that “God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecc_7:29). The prudent man mistrusts himself and trusts the Word of the living God. Ordering his steps in the Word, he looks well to his paths.
Fearing the Lord, the wise man departs from evil. The fool heeds no one and is led by his lustful desires. He rushes on in conceited self-confidence to his own destruction. If opposed in his foolishness, he rages in anger. But he finds himself the object of other’s hatred, because of his wicked devices. In searching for wicked pleasures he will inherit folly. When his wild race is run and his years of recklessness are past, in his feebleness and poverty he will bow to the wisdom of the righteous. He will be forced at last to acknowledge that they had chosen the better part. The good devote themselves to the acquisition of wisdom. They are crowned with knowledge and honored, when the simple are despised. Contrast Saul and David.
In this world, where covetousness rules, the rich will always have many to laud and admire them; while the poor will be despised and oppressed. It is wrong to act this way; for God often chooses the poor of earth to be rich in faith (Jam_2:5). God sees all, and He will reward those who are gracious and kindly in their dealing with the lowly. He will see that lovingkindness and truth are given to the merciful in return. Contrast the princes of Judah with Ebed-melech (Jer_38:1-13; Jer_39:15-18).
Labor is profitable because of what is produced and because it fills the hands and occupies the mind. This greatly lessens the danger of giving way to a corrupt nature. But mere talk and empty boasting of oneself result in material and spiritual poverty. How suited the prayer for fallen creatures, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psa_141:3)! See the parable of the two sons. One labored in the vinyard and profited; the other said he would work, but did not: it was the talk of the lips alone (Mat_21:28-31).
Whether poor or wealthy in this world’s goods, the wise are always rich because they possess treasure that can never fade away. The fool, whatever his possessions, is only filled with folly, and nothing will profit him in the end. Of Nabal, Abigail had to say, “Nabal [a fool] is his name, and folly is with him” (1Sa_25:25). And these words are true of all that are like him. Amnon is a fit illustration of this unhappy company (2Sa_13:13). For the lasting reward of the wise, see Dan_12:3.
In Pro_14:5 we had a faithful witness (kjv); here we have a true witness. Such a one will deliver souls. Our Lord presents Himself in the double character of the “faithful and true witness” to Laodicea (Rev_3:14). In a day of lukewarmness and laxity, He remains both the faithful testimony-bearer, maintaining the truth, and the true witness, delivering all who bow in repentance. A deceitful witness is in every way the opposite of this. He plays fast and loose with the teaching of the Scriptures, to the eternal loss of those who believe his unholy speculations. “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Mat_15:14). Contrast Moses with Jannes and Jambres (2Ti_3:8).
The object of the Holy Spirit in inspiring Solomon to pen the Proverbs was to teach the fear of Jehovah. He who has learned this lesson finds strong confidence and a place of refuge. It is not the slavish fear of an abject bondsman, but that filial reverence of loving children. Such rejoice to have found a fountain of life and instruction for their earthly path, so that they may avoid the snares of death. Children is used in verse Pro_14:26 in a moral sense. Relationship to God, as we now know it, was not revealed before the Son of God came into the world to make known the Father. But those who truly feared the Lord were seen as His children though they had not received the Spirit of adoption, enabling them to cry, “Abba, Father.” See Cornelius (Acts 10).
The rank and title of a monarch mean nothing if there is no one to acknowledge his authority. When the Lord Jesus “in his times… shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1Ti_6:15), all redeemed creation will bow before Him. David and Ish-bosheth illustrate the verse (2 Samuel 3-4).
The man of God will have the ability to rule his spirit. By controlling himself, he demonstrates great understanding; he who lacks self-control is not able to profit others. A hasty spirit just exalts folly and hinders the understanding of true wisdom. Bad temper is always a sign of weakness. The man who knows he has the mind of God can afford to wait quietly on Him. See Micaiah and Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah (1Ki_22:24-25).
A sound heart is the heart of one who is broken before the Lord and has learned not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. Envy reveals a lack of self-judgment. In a Christian, it indicates an impending breakdown of his discipleship if he fails to humble himself in secret. This was the hidden cause of Asaph’s unhappiness until he went into the sanctuary of the Lord (Psalm 73).
To deal harshly with those in poverty is to reproach God who made both rich and poor. His inscrutable wisdom permits some to be in affliction, while others have more than heart can wish. He who honors God will view the needy as left to test the hearts of those in more comfortable circumstances. Also he will value the privilege of ministering to them as he is able, thus showing them the kindness of God. See the case of Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9).
The deaths of the wicked and the righteous stand out in vivid contrast like their lives. The wicked is taken away in and by his iniquities. He goes out into a hopeless eternity to face his guilty record at the bar of omnipotent justice. The upright in heart has faced his sins during life in the presence of the Holy One. He dreads no judgment after death, so he leaves this world with trustful hope of coming joy and bliss. Balaam wished for such a death but found the opposite (Num_23:10; Num_31:8). Stephen knew of this confidence. He could kneel down and die with a prayer for the forgiveness of his murderers on his lips (Act_7:59-60).
The intelligence and insight of the man of understanding reveal the wisdom that is in his heart; while the senseless behavior of fools tells all too plainly what is within their hearts. See note on Pro_14:24.
History is the perpetual illustration of what is declared in this proverb. Nations, like individuals, are judged according to their ways. No country that forsook the path of national righteousness has prospered long. When pride and vanity, coupled with greed and cruelty, have been in control, the hour of humbling was not far away. Israel will ever be the great object-lesson for all people. When the Word of God was esteemed and His will honored, they prospered. When sin and neglect of God triumphed, they became a reproach. He was right who said, “Israel is the pillar of salt to the nations, crying to all people, ‘Remember!’”
When an ambassador displays wisdom and discretion the king values his services. But let his advice prove disastrous and the king’s indignation will know no bounds. May those who seek to serve a greater King be characterized by the wisdom that will make them of real value in the work He has committed to them. See Darius and Daniel, in contrast with Ahasuerus and Haman (Dan_6:3; Est_7:7-9).