A Proverb a day, with commentary from H.A. Ironside, a great Bible teacher from the mid-20th Century.
We now begin a portion that did not form any part of this book until the days of Hezekiah, nearly three centuries after the death of Solomon himself. Certain unnamed scribes, called in the Septuagint “the friends of Hezekiah,” rescued from oblivion the maxims that form the next five chapters. We know from 1Ki_4:32 that the wise king “spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five.” We know little of the songs. We have the Song of Songs, the dirge of Ecclesiastes, and it seems likely that Psalm 127 and perhaps others were from his pen. The rest of his songs God has not seen fit to preserve. In the book of Proverbs we have already had before us over four hundred sayings which he collated and handed down to future generations.
Whether the proverbs of chapters 25-29 were transmitted orally or in writing from Solomon’s days to the times of Hezekiah, we are not able to definitely decide. The word translated “copied” would favor the latter thought, but as the word is as correctly translated “collected” (according to well-informed Hebraists), we cannot be positive as to either position. All the Christian needs to be confident of the divine inspiration of these proverbs is the well-known fact that they formed part of the Old Testament Scriptures when Jesus authenticated all of the three great divisions of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms.
More than once in the Bible our attention is called to the inscrutableness of God’s counsels and designs. See Deu_29:29 and Rom_11:33-34. As the heavens are high above the earth, so are His thoughts above ours. It is His nature to conceal His wondrous purposes from prurient curiosity.
But though He so acts, He would have those in authority search earnestly His Word that they may find out His mind and will. This is good and profitable exercise. As they delve into His hidden things, so He also searches out the secret chambers of their hearts which are unknown to their subjects. He keeps His own secrets, even as they keep theirs, revealing them only to a chosen few.
Now all saints are kings to God. Therefore He would communicate His mind to each one who studies to show himself approved unto Him. May it be ours to be “kings” in this happy sense of the word.
See the words of the angel of the Lord to Manoah and his wife (Jdg_13:17-18).
See note on Pro_17:3. By the removal of all dross from melted silver, there is produced that which suits the refiner; so by removing evil counselors and lawless men from before a king, his throne is established in righteousness. Notice in Solomon’s history, the many evildoers who had to be judged before he could occupy his throne in peace and safety. See 1 Kings 2.
The same principle abides in regard to the coming kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. The wicked will be destroyed and all the transgressors rooted out of the land when He returns in triumph to usher in the great day of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1 and 2; Revelation 19).
These verses are similar in meaning and language to our Lord’s parable in Luk_14:7-11. Undoubtedly He set high value on this precious collection of wise and helpful sayings.
That pride and love of approbation which leads one to boast in the presence of the great will almost certainly be followed by a crushing rebuke. He who places importance on himself and takes his place accordingly will likely rate himself far higher than others would. He will be forced in shame to give place to abler and better men. The man who is content with the lowly seat may be called to a higher one if he is found to be deserving of such recognition. See David, who was chosen as king when only a shepherd-boy (1 Samuel 16).
See notes on Pro_24:5-6; Pro_24:27. Only when a dispute is clearly of the Lord should one “go forth to strive.” Too often, to their shame and deep grief, saints are found like king Josiah meddling in matters that do not concern them. How significant the words, “After all this,” which introduce the unhappy account of Josiah’s failure in going out against Pharaoh-necho. After a lifetime of carefulness and devotion to God, he went out hastily to take part in what he should never have interfered with and so meets a dishonored death (2Ch_35:20-24).
Compare these verses with our Lord’s words in Luk_12:57-59; Luk_14:31-33.
Much trouble and mischief might be avoided if people were careful to keep their differences to themselves, instead of spreading around information of their shameful quarrels. If the simple scriptural rule, “Tell him his fault between thee and him alone,” were more generally acted on, many misunderstandings might be put right at once (Mat_18:15). Instead dissension often drags on and involves an ever-increasing circle of people who should properly never even have heard of the case.
The proverb commends going directly to the one with whom there is danger of a quarrel and graciously discussing the matter in secret, being careful to keep it from sharp ears and prying eyes. Nor is this principle only something recommended. It is directly commanded by God Himself (Mat_5:25-26). His people will be happy when it is taken to heart and conscientiously acted on!
The imagery in this verse has puzzled most commentators. Just what apples of gold might be is a question with many. One supposes embroidery of golden apples among picture-work of silver.
The explanation that seems most reasonable and commendable is that by golden, we are to understand a rich yellow or orange color merely; not that the apples are actually of gold. Many understand this figurative language to mean citron fruit or oranges on a silver platter.
But the writer witnessed one day a most unusual occurrence in the largest orange-growing district of southern California; something, indeed, that none remembered as having taken place previously. A fairly heavy fall of snow occurred during the height of the orange harvest. The trees everywhere were covered with the silvery down. As the lovely view spread out before me, and I noticed the great yellow globes hanging among the whitened boughs and leaves, I exclaimed, “Apples of gold in pictures of silver!”
Perhaps Solomon gazed on just such a scene. In his time, oranges were plentiful in Palestine; and the citron, a large fruit of the lemon variety, abounds there still. It is not unlikely that some wintry day he had beheld a similar view to that which I have attempted to depict.
The effect is lovely beyond all powers of pen to describe, but equally lovely are right words spoken at the proper time. Read the words of Boaz to Ruth, the Moabitess (Rth_2:8-13).
A rebuke kindly administered by a wise man should be esteemed as of greater value than a costly present. Loving rebuke should not arouse indignation. Such were the words of Oded the prophet to the host of Judah, and we find them acted on as a message from God (2Ch_28:9-15).
In ancient times, during the winter in Palestine snow was carefully put away so as to be available for cooling drinks in the heat of summer. The simile therefore is very easy to understand. As the cold snow refreshes the reapers in the warm harvest days, so a dependable messenger refreshes the soul of his masters. See Jahaziel in 2Ch_20:14-17.
See the contrast to this proverb in Pro_18:16. When clouds are seen in the sky in a period of drought, men hope for showers and are disappointed if they do not come. So when one talks of giving gifts but fails to fulfill his promises, he disappoints in the same way.
But Jude refers to this passage in regard to those who profess to be gifted as teachers of the truth of God, but who in reality have nothing for the souls of their hearers. It is common to see men who are self-confident and positive about their abilities and spiritual insight, but who possess no true godly discernment. See the full description of such false gifts in Jud_1:11-13.
Continued kindness and patience are powerful agents in overcoming obstinacy and angry passion, which seem as unyielding as a bone. A bone is hard and inflexible, but a soft tongue is said to break it. In other words, mild, persuasive language can overcome where heated words and wrathful expressions would only arouse deeper resentment. See David’s words to Saul after he had spared that monarch’s life a second time (1Sa_26:17-25).
See note on Pro_24:13-14. To eat honey in moderation is good and healthful. Taken to excess it may be very harmful. The same is true of what honey signifies.
Throughout the Old Testament, honey seems to illustrate mere natural sweetness, hence it was forbidden to form part of the meatoffering which typified Christ in His perfect sinless humanity (see Leviticus 2). Jesus never sought solace in natural things, however pleasant or agreeable they may have been. However, we are permitted to enjoy the comforts natural things afford, but we need to beware of making them the chief object of our souls.
Wives and husbands need to watch lest their affection for each other, sweet and lovely as it is, crowds out the things of God. So with the various joys and pleasures of life. What is legitimate and wholly proper in its place, may prove very detrimental to all spiritual growth if it is permitted to become the supreme controlling power of the life. A little honey may be desirable and helpful, as in Jonathan’s case (1Sa_14:27). Its abuse is another thing altogether.
So too, honey may be extracted from the difficulties of life if they are met and overcome in the fear of God. But to set one’s mind on searching for honey is far different than receiving it thankfully. Read of Samson’s attitude when he found honey in the carcass of a lion slain in the power of faith (Jdg_14:5-9; Jdg_14:14). Also notice Pro_25:27.
The lesson is simple and important, but one which many of us are slow to learn. The heart of the proverb is expressed in today’s axiom, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This is one form of the honey which the previous verse warns us about indulging in too freely. Even in the case of the best of friends we should be sensitive regarding continually visiting and intruding; it is an easy thing to wear out one’s welcome. Frequently people who were the best of friends become the bitterest enemies because of neglect of so simple a Scripture as this.
More time spent in secret with God and less spent in socializing would result in far greater profit to our souls and bring much more glory to our Lord Jesus Christ. Consider the error to which the younger widows were prone, and be warned (1Ti_5:13).
How little the slanderer considers the grief he causes to the innocent objects of his vicious tongue! The hateful and cruel words he recklessly utters are war-like weapons, carrying pain and anguish, destroying peace of mind, and arousing indignation. On the other hand, the injured one should take all injustice to the Lord Himself and leave it at His feet, accepting it as part of the discipline of the path. He will rise triumphantly above the tongue of slander and every other evil when he remembers that nothing can come to a believer but what divine love can use in blessing.
Nothing is harder for a wounded spirit and a sensitive soul than to endure untrue accusations. It is natural to the human heart to display indignation against the false accuser, and a determination to clear oneself or take revenge. But to go on, looking to God for grace to live so that all will see the falsity of the charge; to commit the keeping of my reputation to Him who permitted the trial for my humbling; to admit the righteousness of God’s ways as I reflect on the many occasions on which I have dishonored His name-these are healthful exercises indeed. This is how I am kept from taking things into my own hand. I can count on God to act for me, as He did for Job, David, Daniel, and a host of others who had learned to commit all to Him whose love is unchanging. He never permits a trial unless He discerns in the condition of one’s soul a necessity for the affliction. See Pro_25:23 of this chapter.
What is more trying on the nerves and wearing on the spirit than a broken tooth or a dislocated foot? Anxiety and inconvenience are ever present. In the same way frustrations abound when we depend on a faithless man who deserts his post in time of trouble. See John Mark (Act_13:13; Act_15:37-38).
In ancient Palestine nitre was a native mineral soda that would foam when put in contact with an acid. To take away a person’s coat in cold weather would add to his discomfort and arouse his indignation, even as vinegar poured on soda would effervesce. In the same way one who sings light frivolous songs to him who is of a heavy heart only increases his distress and causes his anger to be stirred.
There is a time for all things. The merry-hearted love to sing; the sad and grief-stricken prefer loving sympathy. See Judah by the waters of Babylon (Psa_137:1-4).
These are the verses quoted, with the exception of the last clause, by the apostle Paul in Rom_12:20-21. There he takes them verbatim from the Septuagint. It is certainly worthy of note that the Holy Spirit quotes from the Proverbs of the Old Testament when commenting on conduct suited to Christians. This but bears out the remark made in the introduction that in the book of Proverbs we have the behavior which becomes the man of God basking in the full blaze of present truth.
Vengeance should be far from the thoughts of the saint. He is to show grace and compassion even to his enemies, losing no opportunity to minister to their need. By so doing, the fire of love will soften their angry feelings. The Lord will reward the one who imitates his Master, who said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Mat_5:44). It would be the greatest incongruity for one who was himself the object of loving grace to attempt to seek revenge. Read of the attitude displayed by Stephen during his stoning (Act_7:60).
The receiver of stolen goods is as guilty as the thief. So is it with the one who encourages another to relate scandalous stories. Nothing is more conducive to strife and sorrow among the people of God than the repeating of matters that cannot profit and that bring pain to the one of whom they are related. But there is no surer way to encourage the backbiter than by listening to his tales. If met by an angry countenance and reproved in the fear of God, the malicious gossip might often be nipped in the bud.
When people come with unsavory tales about absent persons it would be well to meet them in the spirit that David manifested towards Rechab and Baanah, for such people are character-assassins (2Sa_4:5-12).
This is a repetition of Pro_21:9. It is not by mere chance that the words are repeated; the wretchedness of dwelling with a rebellious and contentious woman is referred to several times. God has established an order in creation which is not broken with impunity. See Eph_5:22-24.
The glorious gospel of the blessed God is the preeminent good news from a far country. It is like a draught of clear sparkling water from a cold spring to a thirsty soul. When weary, famished, and ready to perish, the poor sinner drinks the living water, and it becomes in his inmost being a fountain springing up unto everlasting life. See the woman of Samaria (Joh_4:6-29).
To the thirsty traveler a polluted fountain or a spring defiled with filth and impurities is a cause for grief and vexation. So a godly and upright man is disappointed and pained to see a righteous person oppressed by those who have no principle and who refuse to obey divine or human law. See Gedaliah and Ishmael (Jer_41:1-3 ).
See note on Pro_25:16. The immoderate use of honey is pernicious. Much more so is excessive ambition. He who lives only to glorify himself will be wearied in the search. The entire book of Ecclesiastes is witness of the emptiness of selfish aspirations. Also see God’s message to Baruch the son of Neriah (Jer_45:5).
See note on Pro_16:32. Self-control is ever important. Paul kept his body under control to avoid dishonoring the Lord (1Co_9:26-27). Lack of this self-control sadly dishonored Noah shortly after he had been given dominion over the earth (Gen_9:20-21). Moses, too, the meekest of all men, failed in self-control when angered at Meribah (Numbers 20). May grace hold our spirits in godly subjection, so we do not become like a city exposed to the ready assaults of its enemies! Even when one is clearly in the right, nothing so negatively influences his case as losing control of his temper and uttering heated, hasty words. Others are prone to forget the minor points of the evidence at such a time and to judge by the spirit demonstrated. Therefore the importance of exemplifying in our words and ways “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2Co_10:1).