Searchlights from the Word by G. Campbell Morgan: Proverbs

Helpful outline sermon suggestion from every chapter from the Book of Proverbs

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The Book of Proverbs - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.

Chapter 1

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
Proverbs 1:7

In these words we have a declaration of the fundamental principle of Hebrew wisdom, that is philosophy. This book is one of the three Wisdom books in the Old Testament. The others are Job and Ecclesiastes. The first six verses of this chapter reveal the purpose of the book. It was written to teach wisdom, and that rather in its application to life, than in theory. It consists of - (1) A series of addresses on wisdom delivered by a father to his son; (2) Two collections of Proverbs; and (3) Two discourses in the realm of Wisdom, one by Agur, the other by Lemuel. Throughout, the purpose is practical, rather than theoretical. Here, after the introduction or preface, and before the series of addresses, the theory is stated in one inclusive definition. It is of importance to any study of this book that this fundamental and inclusive definition should be rightly apprehended; and in order to that, we halt with the word rendered beginning. In the King James Version we find a marginal alternative suggested, viz. "the principal part," and the English and American revisers marginally suggest "the chief part." Why this reading was relegated to the margin remains a mystery, for there is no doubt that this is the real meaning of the Hebrew word. The other truth emerges later (9:10). The fundamental fact, then, is that in all knowledge, all understanding of life, all interpretation thereof, the fear of Jehovah is the principal thing, the chief part, the central light, apart from which the mind of man gropes in darkness, and misses the way. Whether in prosperity or adversity, in light or in darkness, in life or in death, in order to intelligent apprehension, and true conduct, there must be the fear of Jehovah. That is the sum total of wisdom.

Chapter 2

Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.
Proverbs 2:5

Let us glance back at Chapter 1. In his addresses to his son, this Hebrew father first applied the way of wisdom to home (verses 8 and 9), then to companionships (verses 10-19), and then began a series of addresses intended to help as the boy passed out into the wider world. These addresses, commencing at verse 20 of the first chapter, run on through chapter 9. The first (1:20-33) recorded the message of wisdom amid the highways of human life, in general terms. In this chapter the value of wisdom in life is dealt with, and the first matter is that of the conditions upon which a man may have wisdom. If the chief thing in wisdom is the fear of Jehovah, the natural question arises as to how a man is to understand that fear, and to find the knowledge of God. This verse is of value, as by its opening word it compels us to return to things already said: "Then shalt thou understand." When? The answer is found by relating the statement of result to that of causes, introduced by the word "If." "If thou wilt receive ... if thou cry after ... if thou seek ... then." Observe carefully the action and reaction suggested. The fear of Jehovah is the inspiration of the search for wisdom. The search for wisdom, rightly undertaken, becomes the interpretation of the fear of Jehovah, and the way for the discovery of God. But this search must be serious, strenuous. The way of wisdom is never revealed to triflers. It is when the quest for it becomes the master passion of the life, controlling and conditioning all other interests, that it is found, and the soul is brought to understanding, and that final knowledge of God, which indeed is life.

Chapter 3

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. - Prov. 3:5, 6

Continuing his instructions on the value of wisdom in the ordering of life, in these words the father enunciated for his son the complete law of life according to wisdom. So simple and so clear is the statement, that interpretation is unnecessary. The reader, then, will be patient if for this once the writer becomes reminiscent, and so a witness rather than an advocate. I distinctly remember the day when I left home to face life, amid its crowded ways, for myself. My father, whose philosophy was certainly that of the Hebrew Wisdom, gave me these verses as providing a complete guide to life. Looking back over the intervening years I know he was right. In them there has been much of failure, many turnings aside from the straight highway, many devious and sorrowful wanderings from the true paths of life. All such failure, such turnings aside, such wanderings, have resulted from leaning to one's own understanding. The measure in which I have trusted Jehovah, and acknowledged Him, has been the measure of walking in the paths of real life. Doubt of God, pride of intellect, and independence in volition, these are the things which blight and blast. Paths chosen for us by God all lead onward and upward, even when they seem to us to turn about in inextricable confusion, and to move downward to the valleys of humiliation and suffering. He is the All-Wise, and to Him, Wisdom is the way by which Love gains His victory.

Chapter 4

For I was a son unto my father, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.
Proverbs 4:3

This chapter opens with a personal testimony, whereby the father endeavours more completely to appeal to his son to walk in the ways of wisdom. He says that he also had received instruction from his father, and verses 4-9 contain his summary of that instruction. If indeed this book was the work of Solomon, this reference to David becomes full of suggestiveness. The life of Solomon was characterized by persistent departure from the ways of wisdom, constant wanderings in the bypaths of folly. The experiences of such wanderings we shall find recorded in Ecclesiastes. In spite of all these sad facts, this man never escaped from the power of these early instructions; and there is no doubt that at last he found restoration to the highest things in personal life, even though he finally failed in his official function as king. Those who receive from their parents direction in the fear of Jehovah, have that for which to be perpetually thankful. They can never escape its power. It may be that they will ultimately reject its appeal, but the fact that they have received it will create for them a way of escape from evil through all life's pilgrimage. Again I say they may never obey it, but I believe it is the hardest thing possible for any son, rightly instructed of his father, finally to resist the appeal of that instruction. The subject must be left an open one as to final issues, but let us not underestimate the value and importance of having received true instruction; and therefore, the obligation resting upon us who have children, to give them such instruction also.

Chapter 5

He shall die for lack of instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.
Proverbs 5:23

This is a tremendous chapter, dealing with a delicate subject daringly, and with great directness. In it, the subject of the way of wisdom is illustrated superlatively, by contrasting the false and the true, in the exercise of the highest functions of physical being, those namely of pro-creation. Those functions are exercised under the mastery of lust, or of love. Lust is only material; love is ever spiritual. Lust is animal desire; love is spiritual approbation. Lust is lawless in its attempt to satisfy itself; love is law-abiding in its expression. The contrast between the two ways in this chapter is graphic, and proven true in all human experience. Exposition is not necessary. No page in Holy Writ is more explicit. Let every young man, conscious of the strength and glory of his own powers in this marvellous realm, ponder this page with earnest attention. We may summarize its teaching by saying that it brings before us with sharp and clear incisiveness the arresting truth, that in the realm of the highest powers and possibilities of human personality, there lurk the gravest perils. The more wonderful the function, the more terrible the result, if it be exercised apart from that fear of Jehovah which is the supreme thing in wisdom. Men die for lack of instruction, which means here more than ignorance, referring rather to conduct which is not according to instruction. Such refusal to obey is, indeed, greatness of folly, and the issue is always that going astray which leads to destruction.

Chapter 6

There be six things which the Lord hateth, yea, seven which are an abomination unto Him.
Proverbs 6:16

Still in the realm of exhortation to the life of wisdom, four ways of folly are dealt with in the four addresses found in this chapter. They are those of suretyship, sloth, mischief-making, and impurity. In dealing with the third of these, the way of mischief-making, that is the way of the worthless person, the father makes this declaration, and follows it by naming the six, yea, the seven. This method is poetic and figurative, and intended to emphasize the complete worthlessness of the person who is guilty of mischief-making; and also to dissect or analyse the character of such a person. Perowne points out that in the Hebrew we have the enumeration of the parts of the body - eyes, tongue, hands, heart, and feet; then the person is named, and his action and influence are declared. The six hated things are the prostituted powers, and the pernicious person; and the seventh is that of the poisonous and destructive influence exerted. In his dealing with this, the writer passed from the abstract to the personal. It is not that this evil of mischief-making is contrary to wisdom, merely; it is something which Jehovah hateth; it is a veritable abomination to Him. None love a mischief-maker, and yet we are apt to think of the sin with something less than the Divine intolerance for it. We may take it as an unqualified certainty, that no man in whose heart the fear of Jehovah prevails and rules, can ever sow discord among brethren.

Chapter 7

Say unto wisdom, Thou art my sister, and call understanding thy kinswoman.
Proverbs 7. 4

The reference to the way of impurity in the previous address (verses 20-35) leads on to this dramatic and powerful message. Here once more, as in Chapter 5, the subject is that of the folly of the prostitution of the highest function of personality. The method is that of a most graphic description of the ways of the evil woman, and the weakness and stupidity of the one who is enticed and victimized by her. This description is prefaced by words of appeal in which the way of wisdom, which is the way of strength in the presence of such temptation, is revealed. In these particular words wisdom is personified as a woman, the necessary implicate being that she is a woman of strength and of purity. Let the man who has to meet this kind of temptation, make wisdom his sister, and understanding his kinswoman, that is, his close personal friend. It is when the figure is allowed its full force that its value is discovered. Thousands of men are kept from evil courses by the love and friendship of sisters, and women friends. Recognizing this, the father counsels his son to find strength against the seductions of evil, by cultivating that kind of defensive and defending familiarity with wisdom, which is typified by this love of a sister and of pure women.

Chapter 8

Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice?
Proverbs 8:1

These great messages are correlated, and one emerges from the other in a beautiful sequence. In the previous address wisdom was personified as a woman, a sister, a kinswoman; and the son addressed was counselled to treat her as such. Here the figure is taken up and elaborated. Wisdom is allowed to speak for itself, and does so as a woman; and it is impossible to escape the sense of designed contrast to the figure so graphically portrayed in the last address. Than this chapter, there is nothing greater or grander in all the Biblical literature, as setting forth the beauty and grace of that wisdom which has the fear of Jehovah as its chief part. Wisdom cries, and understanding puts forth her voice; and in this inspired self-delineation we have a truly wonderful unveiling. Our summary of content may be helpful even though it is necessarily rough. Let this movement be noticed. The openness of her appeal (verses 1-3); the simplicity thereof (4, 5); its inherent rightness (6-9); its values (10, 11); its sphere (12-21); its eternity (22-31); its urgency (32-36). So great is this passage, that it refuses to be exhausted in its setting, and rises, to a height from which we are constrained to some clearer apprehension of the glory of that wholeness of Truth, which is in God, and in none other. I think I may say with perfect accuracy, that I never read this chapter without wanting to turn again to the prologue to the Gospel according to John, as it deals with the Logos, the Word of God, full of Truth and Grace; and with that as resident in, and expressed through, the Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, in that profound mystery and manifestation of His becoming flesh. Christ is made .unto us "wisdom of God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption."

Chapter 9

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Proverbs 9:10

This is the last of the addresses of this father to his son. Once more he employs the method of contrast. In the first part Wisdom is personified; in the second, Folly, in the guise of an evil woman. They are both revealed as appealing to men. The contrast is vivid and full of literary balance, as an examination will show. The words we have emphasized occur in the course of the call of Wisdom. We referred to them in our first note (see 1:7). In this case the Hebrew word is accurately represented by the word "beginning." Whereas at first the declaration was wider (namely, that the chief part, the principal element in wisdom, is the fear of Jehovah), here the whole subject is brought down to the startingpoint, as it declares that the first matter, in reference to time and order, in wisdom, is the fear of Jehovah. To remember this, and to act in accordance with it, is to be enabled to live in right relationship with that fear perpetually. We are ever beginning; every morning we start afresh; every task we take up is a new start; every venture in joy or in effort, must have its commencement. Then let every beginning be in the fear of Jehovah. That is Wisdom, and it leads in the way of Wisdom. There is an old saying which runs, "Well begun is half done." This is true indeed when the beginning is inspired and conditioned by the fear of Jehovah. That is to walk in the Light; that is to abound in Life; that is to be upheld by Love.

Chapter 10

A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.
Proverbs 10:1

With this chapter we begin the second division of this book, which division ends with chapter 24. The first section, ending with verse 16 of chapter 22, is a collection of Proverbs simply; the second section (22:17-29) consists of a series of proverbial discourses. While we are dealing with the chapters containing these Proverbs, we can do no more than fasten upon some one of them, the light from which has specially searched our own soul. They are not connected as a sequence in any sense. They flash in every direction and upon all sorts of circumstances and conditions. Indeed, they are all searchlights; and they are unified by the conception of Wisdom set forth in the earlier discourses. They are the result of looking out upon life in the fear of Jehovah. It is fitting that the first Proverb should crystallize the teaching of the previous discourses in a conclusive application. A great Proverb this, as a statement of truth, and as an inspiration to youth. True parenthood knows no gladness so great as that of seeing children walking in the fear of Jehovah. Better that, by infinite measure, than to see them successful, materially, intellectually, socially, if they lack the highest things. It is equally true that there can be no sorrow greater than that of seeing children of our love departing from the highways of the Divine Wisdom. How often the consciousness of this fact has proved the inspiration of wisdom in the life of children! Countless numbers have been delivered in hours of subtle temptation by the fact that they have said: "No, I cannot do this; it would break mother's heart; it would bring down the grey hairs of my father with sorrow to the grave." The light of this word searches the soul of all those of us who are parents, as it leads us to inquire whether by our teaching and life we are making that attitude a necessity for our children.

Chapter 11

As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.
Proverbs 11:22

A first reading of this Proverb would seem to suggest that the figure of speech is almost brutal. A closer consideration will show that it is really characterized by a fine delicacy. Let us be careful to keep our terms in right relationship. There are two couplets. The first is that of "a ring of gold" and "a fair woman." There is nothing incongruous in that juxtaposition. The second is that of "a swine's snout," and the condition described as "without discretion." Does that seem violent? Let us look at it. There is no question that the expression "a swine's snout", represents the uttermost of contempt and disgust when employed by a Hebrew. What, then, is this condition of being "without discretion"? Perowne says that the Hebrew word literally means taste. It stands, therefore, for that mystic intuitive quality in woman which is the result of her purity and love, and which makes her understanding, discreet; and capable of influencing others to finest issues, in a way which is rarely if ever possible to a man. Now consider the statement of the Proverb. A ring of gold is a beautiful and a valuable thing; but in the snout of a swine it is out of place, and therefore degraded and vulgarized. A fair woman is a precious and glorious creation of God; but if her life is set in a character which lacks that mystic quality of intuitive understanding and influence, it also is out of place, vulgarized and degraded. Beauty which is physical is a gift of God, but if a woman possessing it lack those spiritual qualities which are of her highest glory, that beauty is a peril, to herself and to all others.

Chapter 12

The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
Proverbs 12:59

That is a pre-eminently superlative way of stating a fact, and there are some facts which can only be adequately stated so. They do not admit of the comparative. They are positive, but in a superlative sense. Taking the second part first - "A lying tongue is but for a moment" - we are inclined to question its accuracy. A lie lives longer than that. Some have seemed to persist for centuries and millenniums. The Hebrew here literally is: "A lying tongue is but while I wink." How is it possible to believe that? The solution of the apparent problem is found in a consideration of the earlier phrase referring to duration - "for ever". That is a phrase of which we often make use, but how seldom do we consider it? We employ it in the sense of time. As a matter of fact it is timeless, because it includes all time. In its presence all mathematical measurements break down. The lying tongue may continue to utter its falsehood for long years by the calendars of men, but when you place those years by the side of the ages of God, they are as a moment, as the winking of the eye, as nothing. Here, then, is comfort. It is truth which abides. A lie must perish. In a world still largely mastered by lies, it is difficult at times to believe this. Yet to review the history of the race is to have evidence of it. Lies are always perishing. Through the ages we see them shrivel and die, however strong their power seemed to be. Truth, oft-time insulted, battered, wronged, never perishes. It has age-abiding life, for it is of God. Let individuals and statesmen observe this, and they will discover the secrets of strength and permanence.

Chapter 13

There is that maketh himself rich, yet bath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great wealth.
Proverbs 13:7

How self-evident a truth this is on the most ordinary level of experience and observation; and yet how slow men are to act upon it! Our own age abounds with men who have made themselves rich, and yet have nothing. They have amassed great wealth, and yet it has no purchasing power in the true things of life. It cannot insure health, it brings no happiness, it often destroys peace. On the other hand, there are those who have impoverished themselves, and have by so doing become wealthy in all the highest senses of the word. How is this to be explained? Is not the solution found by laying the emphasis in each of the contrastive declarations, upon the word self? To make self rich, is to destroy the capacity for life. To make self poor, by enriching others, is to live. It is impossible to consider this saying of Hebrew wisdom, without thinking of the One Who was incarnate Wisdom. He for our sakes became poor, and thereby He gains the ultimate wealth, more dear to His heart and the heart of God than all beside, that of redeemed humanity. Thus the ancient word becomes for us living, powerful, prevailing in and through Him. To follow Him is to empty self, to make ourselves poor by the outpouring of all for the sake of others; and that is to have great wealth. Let this word be kept in the realm of the material, and then its final interpretation or appeal is contained in the words of Jesus: "Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of tin-righteousness, that when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles."

Chapter 14

The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.
Proverbs 14:14

Which simply means that whatever may be within a man, in the deepest region of his personality, will sooner or later be wrought out into actual experience and visibility. The backslider in heart is the man who, knowing the way of wisdom, does not desire to conform to it, but rather desires the ways of folly. The good man is the man who, whatever his consciousness of weakness may be, does in the deepest of him desire the ways of wisdom. In either case, that underlying desire is the most potent factor, and sooner or later will gain its victory, and produce its result in the life. It is possible for a man for a long time to conform to the rules and regulations of wisdom and the fear of Jehovah, while yet in secret he is desiring the forbidden things. Such a man is backsliding in heart, and at last that backsliding will become patent. It is equally true that a man may falter and blunder, and fail, again and again, while all the time he hates his own shortcomings, and earnestly aspires after the highest things. Such a man is a good man, and ultimately that quest after the highest will be successful; he will be satisfied from himself. The revelation of Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, is constantly urging this truth. We do well to take heed to it. To do so is to be brought to a realization of our personal helplessness, and our need of a Saviour. We may say with a great deal of reason that we cannot control our desires. Hence the need for the surrender of ourselves to Him Who can create the clean heart, and renew the right spirit within us.

Chapter 15

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch upon the evil and the good.
Proverbs 15:3

Let us never forget this, or fail to derive from the fact its comfort and its saving strength. The word employed describes a very active and purposeful seeing. The statement is far more than that God sees; it is that He is investigating, observing, or, in the most satisfactory rendering of the Revised, "keeping watch." He is keeping watch upon the evil. It is never out of His sight. It loves the darkness rather than the light, but He sees as well in the darkness as in the light. The endeavour of evil is to accomplish its purpose secretly, before it can be discovered at its work. It is often successful, so far as men are concerned. It is never so, so far as God is concerned. He keepeth watch, knows the hour, the place, the method, the intention. He is keeping watch upon the good. He never fails to see it. Men often do. It struggles behind appearances, and of ten behind actions which are denials of itself. Human eyes fail to detect it. Not so the eyes of Jehovah. They discern it, approve it, and reckon with it. The comfort of this truth is created by the character of God. He is the God of unsullied purity; His watching of evil is ever with the intention of limiting it, and ultimately destroying it. He is the God of unfathomable grace; His watching of good is in order to develop it, and make it finally victorious. To remember this truth is to be halted whenever we are tempted to evil. It is to find new courage in all our efforts after the high and noble. He is never deceived as to our badness or our goodness. Therefore to live in His fear is wisdom.

Chapter 16

A man's heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his steps.
Proverbs 16:9

This is a very profound word. The more carefully it is considered, the more challenging does it become. It recognizes the freedom of the human will; and then sharply defines the limitations of that freedom. "A man's heart deviseth his way." That is a recognition of the truth of which we are constantly reminded in these sacred writings, namely that the heart, the realm of desire, is the most potent factor in personality. It is also a clear declaration that conduct is directed by the heart, by desire. That is the measure of human freedom. A man can and does devise his own way under the direction of his heart. If desire be evil, the way devised is evil. If desire be good, the way devised is good. But that is not all the truth about life. This also is true: "Jehovah directeth his steps." Every action of a man, whether in answer to the inward desire of good or evil, is an action in a realm of law from which there is no escape. The steps of evil and the steps of good are directed by Jehovah. That is to say that no man can step outside the government of God, no man can devise a way that enables him to escape from God. The warmth of the fire which blesses, is God's action. The heat of the fire which blasts, is God's action. I can devise my way with regard to the fire, but the steps I take are directed, governed, by God. I can, if I will, answer the lusts of the flesh, devising my way accordingly; but God will direct my steps, and the destruction which comes is the result. I can, if I will, yield myself to the lure of the spirit, devising my way accordingly; but still God directs my steps, and the realization of life which follows is the effect of that directing.

Chapter 17

A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Proverbs 17:17

This is the one full and final definition of friendship. Personally, I have not the slightest doubt that the marginal reading here should be adopted: "A friend loveth at all times, and is born as a brother for adversity." There is no attempt here to define a brother. The statement, "a brother is born for adversity," would be inadequate and indeed inaccurate, as a definition of a brother; but the statement that "a friend ... is born as a brother for adversity" is a graphic illustration and application of the inclusive truth: "A friend loveth at all times." This statement is easily read, and is accepted theoretically, quite generally. Let it be applied. Then two startling questions will arise. First, a question as to whether I am really a friend to anyone; and second, a question as to how many real friends I have. As to the second, yes, I have a few. Their love never falters, never wavers, in spite of my meanness, my stupidity, my sin. For them, with tears and laughter, I thank God. As to the first, I can only say, God help me to be a friend in that full way to those about me. All consideration of this great definition leads us at last to one place, to One Person. He is the Friend of sinners. There comment ceases. Let the heart wonder and worship.

Chapter 18

He also that is slack in his work is brother to him that is a destroyer.
Proverbs 18:9

In this Proverb a principle is involved which has more superlative statement in other well-known words of Holy Writ. It was in the mind of Deborah when she cursed Meroz for not coming to the help of Jehovah against the mighty. It found explicit statement when our Lord said: "He that gathereth not with Me scattereth." James recognized it when he wrote: "To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." It means that in life there can be no neutrality. Every man lives in the midst of a conflict between good and evil. He must and does take part therein. If he is not helping Jehovah against the mighty, he is helping the mighty against Jehovah. His abstention is a gain to the foe. Every man lives in a world where two forces are at work; one is gathering, the other is scattering. If he is not with the One Whose work it is to gather, he is exerting an influence which scatters. Every man is confronted with the possibility of doing good, or of doing evil. If he does not do the good when he knows it, he is strengthening the cause of evil against which all goodness is ever working. This proverb applies this principle to work. Constructive work is the law of human life and progress. There is an active principle of destruction operating in the history of man; and he who is a slacker at his work, who does not put into it all his strength, is a brother to the man who in wickedness sets himself to the activity of destruction. No living being can be merely a spectator. Each works or wastes. Not to work well, is to aid the process of waste.

Chapter 19

Cease, my son, to hear instruction, only to err from the words of knowledge.
Proverbs 19:27

This is a proverbial appeal. The voice is that of a father deliberately counselling his son not to listen to instruction unless he intends to obey. The truth involved is, that it is better not to know, than, knowing, to fail to do. This cuts at the root of that most pernicious heresy, which yet is so largely held, that knowledge is in itself power. It is not so in any realm of life - scientific, economic, artistic, or moral. Knowledge is only powerful when it is the inspiration of activity in harmony with itself. The application of the truth in this proverb is in the realm of wisdom, and so of things moral and spiritual. The advice is good, because it is not only true that to know is of no avail apart from the doing which it demands - it is also true that unless knowledge is obeyed, in process of time it ceases to appeal. This means that a knowledge of the way of right, which is merely intellectual, exerts a hardening effect upon the finer things of the soul. In that sense familiarity breeds contempt, or indifference, which is, after all, the subtlest form of contempt. There is an old phrase, which some of us heard our fathers use. They spoke of some people as being "Gospel-hardened." A human being may become so accustomed to the Gospel message, that it ceases to make any appeal to mind or heart or will. It is this grave peril which gives warrant to this appeal. If we are purposed to err from the words of knowledge, it is better to cease to hear instruction.

Chapter 20

The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts.
Proverbs 20:27

In this great word of Hebrew Wisdom, we have incidentally what we may reverently describe as a revelation of Biblical psychology. The Hebrew word, here rendered spirit, is the word rendered breath in the passage in Genesis, which says that "God ... breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." The rendering spirit, therefore, is unquestionably accurate, and refers to that in man which constitutes him man, and differentiates between him and all animals. By that breath or Spirit he is separated from the animal world, as surely as the sentient life of the animal is separated from the vegetable life beneath it - and to greater distance. Man is not an animal. That breath or spirit - says this word of Wisdom - is the lamp of Jehovah, searching all the deepest things in the personality of man. Here is the Biblical conception of conscience. Within the mystery of the spirit-nature of every man there is light. It is the instrument of God. It illuminates life. It is that by which man is constantly kept face to face with truth. Let us make no mistake about it: the most evil men know that their works are evil. No specious arguments can prove to the spirit-life of a man that wrong is right, that impurity is pure. The day may come when a man becomes content with wrong, satisfied with impurity. Perhaps the day comes to some when they are unable to make the distinction. I doubt it. But if so, then it is because that lamp of Jehovah is put out, that deep essential spirit-life is atrophied - perished. But that is not the end. That spirit-life cannot cease to be. There is a resurrection to condemnation. There will be a new lighting of that lamp, and therein is the awful mystery of retribution. "In Hades, he lifted tip his eyes, being in torments."

Chapter 21

There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.
Proverbs 21:30

This is the teaching of Wisdom. Persistently in human history hours come in which all appearances seem to contradict it. There is a wisdom which is "earthly, sensual, devilish," and it is active against Jehovah. There is an understanding which is acquaintance with the methods of iniquity, and it operates against Jehovah. There is a taking of counsel among men full of this wisdom and understanding, and it plots against Jehovah. Oftentimes as we have watched, we have trembled; so subtle, so clever, so cunning are the ways of this underworld of antagonism to Jehovah. Yet look again. Just as persistently in human history, the futility, the feebleness, the failure of this antagonism has been manifested. The evil wisdom is proved folly; the dark understanding is found to be ignorance; the malicious counsel is demonstrated futile. The warrant for the superlativeness of this proverb is found in the fact that all these very thoughts and devices and plots against Jehovah are compelled at last in their outworking to contribute to the purposes of His holy and gracious Will. He makes the wrath of man to praise Him. He makes the buffeting messenger of Satan the means of grace to His troubled, but trusting servant. Therefore it is true, full and finally, that "There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against Jehovah." And thus it becomes true that, "To them that love God all things work together for good." Here, then, is the place of our rest; here the secret of our confidence; here the inspiration of songs in the darkest night.

Chapter 22

Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

Perhaps there is no Proverb in all the collection which has been more frequently quoted than this; and perhaps also none has been more persistently misunderstood and misrepresented. It is a brief and complete revelation of the true method with a child. In order to a correct apprehension, everything depends upon the real meaning of the words "in the way he should go." That is by no means an inaccurate rendering, but the question arising is: What is the way in which a child should go? A more literal rendering of the Hebrew at once answers this question. Such translation would be: "Train up a child according to his way." In every child there are special and peculiar powers. The true business of training a child, therefore, is that of discovering what those powers are, and developing them. It is a disaster to prepare a programme for a child without consulting the particular and peculiar life of that child, and then to endeavour to compel the child to conform to that ideal, to live by that programme. In all training of children the first business of those responsible must be that of considering the children themselves. Herein is revealed the need for individual work. No two children are alike. They cannot be trained in groups, in standards, in grades, in classes. They may thus be dealt with for the impartation of general information, but when the real work of training them according to their ways is undertaken, they must be taken one by one. This is one reason why the school which approximates to the family ideal is most successful. Our methods of training children have hardly begun to reach the Divine ideal.

Chapter 23

When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently him that is before thee.
Proverbs 23:1

The first collection of Proverbs ended with the sixteenth verse of the previous chapter. Beginning with the seventeenth verse of that chapter, and running through chapter 24, we have a brief series of proverbial discourses. The division of this section into chapters has ignored this fact. The first of these discourses, commencing at chapter 22, verse 17, ends at the fourteenth verse of this chapter. It consists of a social admonition, and reveals the way of wisdom in certain human interrelationships. These particular words commence instruction as to how the man, walking in the ways of wisdom, that is in the fear of Jehovah, is to deport himself when he is the guest of a ruler. In such case the wise man will consider his host, rather than his. hospitality. He is to keep his eye on the ruler. The reasons for such watching are revealed in all that follows. The things to be guarded against are: The desire for wealth; and any methods which are unjust to others. All this is suggestive. Think in the realm of this Old Testament word in another way. How many a young man has been robbed of the finest things of his manhood, those of truth, justice, honour, because he has been bribed by the hospitality of men of influence whose lives were impure, and who in their hospitality had ulterior motives of the basest. There is an old adage which says, "Never look a gift horse in the mouth." That may be used, and acted upon, in a disastrous fashion. Let every young man desirous of walking in the ways of wisdom, keep his eye, illuminated by the fear of Jehovah, upon all who put before him their material dainties, lest they rob him of his spiritual excellencies.

Chapter 24

For a righteous man falleth seven times, and riseth up again; but the wicked are overthrown by calamity.
Proverbs 24:16

This statement occurs in the second of these proverbial discourses, which commences in chapter 23 at verse 15, and ends at the twenty-second verse of this chapter. The section ends with a third discourse (verses 23 to 34), again concerned with the practice of wisdom in social relationships. This particular discourse consists of parental counsels. It first speaks again of a father's joy in the wisdom of his son; then urges the pursuit of wisdom; then warns against the sins of lust and strong drink. Finally, it sets forth the truth that the way of wisdom is the way of strength in the days of adversity and of calamity. That is the meaning of these particular words. The word "falleth" here has no reference to sin, but to trouble. This is a matter proven true in all human experience. Wisdom, the fear of Jehovah, the way of truth and honour, give a man that quality of strength which enables him to stand up against adversity until he overcome it. We may go further and say that adversity never overcomes the man who is righteous. It is not only true that ultimately he will overcome. It is also true that in the midst of it he will bear himself with invincible fortitude, and out of it will extract something of good, something which will make for his deeper enrichment. The good man is not callous. He suffers, but suffering does not embitter him. On the contrary it sweetens and beautifies his spirit. The real power to stand up against life, to profit by its buffetings, to make capital out of its disadvantages, to collect tribute from its tribulations, is that of the righteousness of conduct which results from walking in the ways of wisdom, by yielding to the inspiration and authority of the fear of Jehovah.

Chapter 25

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. – Prov. 25:2

This is the first Proverb of a new collection. Here begins the third section of the book. It ends with chapter 29. It is a collection of the Proverbs of Solomon made in the days of Hezekiah. It is suggestive that those scribes put this Proverb first. It is at least probable that the times in which they lived had given them an interpretation of its meaning. They were wonderful times in their revelation of the wisdom of the Divine government. Out of strange perplexities and trials, the God Whose glory was that He had concealed things and yet had Himself been the All-Wise, had led them into better ways of life. Yet had not all this resulted from the fact that they had been under the rule of a king whose supreme glory had been that of searching out the secrets of wisdom, in the fear of Jehovah? The words, however, have the widest application. They cover all life. When Solomon wrote this Proverb, it is possible that he was remembering a great word of Moses (Deut. 29:29). The philosophy is the same. The idea here is not that God maintains His glory by hiding things from man. It is rather that all the things so hidden, the things concealed; the secret things, are known to Him. He is the Ultimate in wisdom. That is His glory. That being so, man's true kingliness consists in his ability to search out these hidden things. That is the principle of all the triumphs of scientific investigations; and it is the deepest secret of all advance in spiritual strength. If a man would reign in life, he must begin with the fear of Jehovah which recognizes the glory of His knowledge of hidden things; and he must continue in that fear which maintains the attitude of such right relationship with God as will make it possible for Him to reveal to him His secrets. "The friendship of Jehovah is with them that fear Him."

Chapter 26

Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope of a fool than of him.
Proverbs 26:22

A man, wise in his own conceit, is a man who is perfectly satisfied with his own judgment, his own opinion, He seeks no light or counsel from without. He holds the views of other men in contempt. No one can teach him anything. In this Proverb, which is one of wisdom as defined, the thought is principally that of a man who does not fear God, who does not seek to be guided by the Divine Will. A fool here is simply an ignorant person who knows his own ignorance. Such a one may be helped. However naturally dull of apprehension, he is willing to be taught. His natural folly makes it difficult to instruct him, but it is not impossible. This other man, starting with the conviction of his own wisdom, makes it impossible to help him, because he will have no help. The Proverb is not one that needs to be defended when we are looking at others. We see it exemplified so constantly, and however mistaken we know this man to be, we leave him to himself, for we know the hopelessness of trying to show him his ignorance. But the Proverb is one which we may safely use as a searchlight for ourselves. The peril is a very subtle one. We are prone to be wise in our own conceits, without knowing that we are so. A simple test may be employed. When we fail to seek Divine guidance in any undertaking, it is because we do not feel our need of it. In other words, we are wise in our own conceit. There is no safer condition of soul, than that self-distrust, that knowledge of ignorance, which drives us persistently to seek for the wisdom which cometh from above.

Chapter 27

Better is open rebuke, than love that is hidden.
Proverbs 27:5

This is a Proverb which gives us pause, as it produces conflicting emotions. We do not really like rebuke. We are inherently inclined to resent it. The fact that we really deserve it, or need it, does not make it pleasant. On the other hand, we do desire to be loved, even though love does not express itself. Moreover, our dislike of rebuke leads us to think that those who love us serve us well when they are silent in the presence of our shortcomings. The word of true wisdom cuts clean across all such wrong and foolish thinking. Begin with the second part. Love that is hidden is not perfect love in either sense. The highest love must and does express itself. It does so in praise of the loved one. An approbation of a person which finds no expression to that person is selfish, and therefore much less than love at its highest. But it is equally true that the highest love will express itself in rebuke, when the object upon which it is set is acting unworthily. The motive of love's rebuke is always that of the highest good of the loved one. Love is never blind, in spite of the foolish adage which declares that it is. It has clearest vision, and sees soonest the thing which threatens to mar the beauty of the loved one. Then love is never dumb; it speaks truthfully and plainly; it rebukes openly. Such open rebuke is proof of love at its highest. Love that hides itself, professes not to see, perhaps does not see, and so remains silent, is love on a very low level. It lacks the elements which inspire the loved one to strive for highest excellence.

Chapter 28

Happy is the man that feareth alway; but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.
Proverbs 28:14

There is a caution which is of the soul of courage. There is a courage which is of the essence of foolhardiness. The man who is always mastered by wholesome fear, moves not slowly, but with persistent caution. Such a man is delivered from many calamities, and does not involve his friends in trouble. The man who lacks caution may have all the appearance of courage, his refusal to consider may appear heroic; but he inevitably falls into mischief, and brings other people into calamity. Necessarily, fear must be of the right nature. This, as we have to keep on reminding ourselves, is the literature of that Wisdom which is conditioned in the fear of Jehovah, and finally that is what the proverb means. The fear of Jehovah is the true caution. When it perpetually and persistently masters the life, that life is ever watchful of ways and means, as well as of issues. That fear, moreover, cancels all other fear. To fear God is to cease to fear for myself; it is no longer to bargain with consequences; it is never to act without His command; it is to act at all costs when His Will is revealed. When that fear is absent, courage is mere hardening of the heart, recklessness, fool-hardiness. The man who shuts his eyes to God, gathers himself up, and desperately plunges forward, is no hero; he is a fool, and without exception sooner or later lands himself in circumstances which break him; and brings those about him into suffering and catastrophe. Safety first is the devil's own suggestion to the soul, if it means take care of yourself. It is the highest principle of life, if it takes in the larger facts of life, and is conditioned in the fear of God.

Chapter 29

Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
Proverbs 29:18

The Revisers have helped us by changing the word "perish" to "cast off restraint." Quite literally the Hebrew word means to "break loose." The condition is that of anarchy. Anarchy is lawlessness, not being without law, but refusing to be bound by law. That is the one fundamental trouble with man. John declared that, when he wrote: "Sin is lawlessness." We have been living in days when lawlessness has been rampant. Men have been breaking through covenants, regulations, agreements; refusing to abide by any decisions, even those of their appointed leaders, or those to which they themselves have agreed. In this word of wisdom the reason for this casting off of restraint is given. It is that of lack of vision. That is true, on lowest levels of consideration. Men who so act have no true vision of what they are actually doing, no true vision of the consequences of their action. They have no true vision of society as a whole, and of the necessary obligations of all those individuals who constitute society. They do not see that lawlessness in personal life destroys the possibility of true social conditions; and that false social conditions in turn destroy the individual. But the deeper note is that the lack of the vision of God issues in lack of vision in all these regards. To see God, is, as in the case of Jacob, to bring healing to the individual; and that is to create a healthy community. To lose that vision, is to have no vision which is adequate to meet the needs of man; to have no authority to which man can be submitted. The vision of God is given to man in the law of God, and today in that law as it has been interpreted in Christ and made possible of realization through Him. "He that keepeth that law, happy is he."

Chapter 30

Every word of God is tried; He is a shield unto them that trust in Him. Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.
Proverbs 30:5, 6

The last division of this book of Proverbs is of the nature of an appendix, and consists of (1) "The Words of Agur;" and (2) "The Words of King Lemuel." These are unknown men. Their utterances are characterized by the true note of Wisdom which has been maintained throughout. Whoever Agur was, he had the true outlook on life. His message opens with a confession of his own ignorance. He then declares that, while compelled to recognize the Holy One by what he sees in Nature, he has not there been brought to a knowledge of Him. This double confession leads up to these words, which thus consist of a declaration that God can only be known through direct revelation, through His Word. This conviction leads to the note of faith, and of warning: "Every word of God is tried," and "Add thou not unto His words." We live in clearer light, and have fuller understanding. For us, the Word of God has been made flesh; and thus the Father has been declared to us. This only emphasizes the truth of this word of Wisdom uttered long ago by this unknown philosopher. The Word of God is indeed tried - that is, purified, which means demonstrated as pure. It is the one final law of life, interpreting, guiding, perfecting. Let us, then, heed the warning, and be careful that we do not in any fancied wisdom of our own, add anything to His words. To do so is to be found liars, those in whom the truth is not.

Chapter 31

Her children rise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Proverbs 31:28

There are those who distinguish between the two parts of this chapter by treating the first nine verses as "The Words of King Lemuel"; and the rest as being quite separate. Personally, I believe the whole are "The Words of King Lemuel"; in the first part he records the words of counsel his mother addressed to him; and in the second he gives us the picture of that mother. This picture of a virtuous woman is full of Eastern colouring, but it is also full of beauty, and, in its deeper notes, is of universal application. It is important that we recognize the true connotations of the word here rendered worthy. The thought is really that of strength. The woman celebrated is the one who realizes in all fullness and richness the capacities and glories of her woman-hood, as wife and mother in the home. The description of her reaches its climax in these words. This is the chaplet of rarest beauty upon the head of woman-hood, that her children rise up and call her blessed, and her husband thinks and speaks of her as excelling all others. The secret of this blessedness is revealed later in the words: "A woman that feareth Jehovah, she shall be praised." Wisdom blossoms into beauty in that woman who by love and diligence, by knowledge and devotion, so trains her children that when they pass out from her roof into life, and through all the coming days, bless her and her memory with glad and grateful hearts. There are those of us who will do that through all our days and for ever.