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STUDIES ON PROVERBS

Proverbs 24:1-34

 


Proverbs 24:1 “Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them.” How easy it is to envy the prosperity of the wicked, when only a moment’s reflection will convince us that though they may have much worldly prosperity, they are soon to be cut off, and then they will be eternally separated from God and all good, while God’s people, though poor in this world, shall be eternally rich and happy in the hereafter, (Ps. 37:1-2, 9-17). Only through short-sightedness and lack of discernment could a Christian ever envy the wicked, but greed often moves us to thoughtlessly wish to be as prosperous as the wicked, yet none of us would wish for their state of condemnation to be on us, and often the two things must go together.

Proverbs 24:2 “For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.” Here is the reason for not envying the wicked: they are evil in heart and lips, and so manifest their character as anti-God. He who continually thinks and talks evil, is evil, and no profession or pretense otherwise can make any difference. The true child of God who fellowships with such is going to find that it works out for his detriment; he will never profit any in such a situation. Though the wicked study the destruction of others, it always falls back upon their own heads, (Prov. 11:3, 5-6; Job 5:2). This is one of God’s basic laws—the law of retribution.

Proverbs 24:3 “Through wisdom is an house builded: and by understanding it is established.” The word “house” often refers to household, or family, and while a man may thoughtlessly beget many children, yet they will never become an house of honor to him, nor a blessing to their community, nor faithful servants to God, unless they are taught wisdom and understanding. We have already noted several times in Proverbs God’s solemn threats to cut off the “house” of the wicked, and His promise to build and establish the house of the righteous. “Men may by unrighteous practices build their house, but they cannot establish them, for the foundation is rotten (Hab. 2:9, 10),” [M. Henry].

Proverbs 24:4 “And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” “Knowledge” of the Lord and from the Lord, of course, which is always profitable in the long run, and shall ultimately enrich the home spiritually, and oftentimes materially as well. Riches, just for the sake of being rich, should never be sought. One should continually trust in the Lord who never fails, (1 Tim. 6:17), and if He gives one riches, which He does to many, then those things ought to be used wisely and for His glory. Note the inclusiveness of this promise: “all precious and pleasant riches.” Too often, however, we try to restrict “riches” to gold, silver, jewels, money, etc., but there are many other, more valuable things which may be so designated, such as the riches of God’s: (1) Goodness, (Rom. 2:4). (2) Glory, (Rom. 9:23). (3) Wisdom, (Rom. 10:33). (4) Grace, (Eph. 1:7). (5) Mercy, (Eph. 2:4). (6) Good works, (1 Tim. 6:18). (7) Reproach of Christ, (Heb. 11:26).

Proverbs 24:5 “A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.” Wisdom, because it is from the Lord, strengthens people with a mental and spiritual strength which is far more valuable than mere physical strength. Physical strength is of use only in this world, but mental and spiritual strength are of use now, and more especially in the world to come. Wisdom avails where strength cannot, for a wise man can make the strength of the mighty to work against him, (Prov. 21:22; Eccl. 9:14-16). The saying that “The pen is mightier than the sword” is based upon the fact that wisdom is mightier than strength. Someone has well said that “Knowledge is power,” and so the more knowledge and wisdom that we get, the more power we will have at our disposal. Nowhere do we see this exemplified so well as in the case of David and Goliath, (1 Sam. 17).

Proverbs 24:6 “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counselors there is safety.” Similar to Proverbs 20:18, 11:14; 15:22. This is not a command to make war, but, as the second part of the proverb suggests, “thou shalt make thy war victorious to thee by wise counsel.” Nations generally do not go to war in order to be defeated, but they desire victory, and so they need the wisest counselors that can be found. “Wisdom will erect a college, or a council of state. Wisdom will be of use, to make an advantageous peace,” [M. Henry]. The more wise counselors there are, the less likelihood of some important factor being overlooked to the defeat of the nation in war.

Proverbs 24:7 “Wisdom is too high for a fool: he openeth not his mouth in the gate.” “The difficulty lies not in wisdom, which is easy to the sincere, but in the fool’s own unwillingness and sloth (Prov. 14:6),” [Faussett]. Remembering that “fool” in the Bible refers generally to the unsaved person, and that wisdom is from God alone, we can easily see why the fool does not attain it: he rejects the one source of wisdom, because of his proud belief in his own self-sufficiency. “The gate” was the place of judgment, and also was the place of teaching by the wise men. The fool, because of his rebellion against God’s wisdom, is not qualified to speak in the gate, and though he might, in his pride, desire this position, he would not likely attain it in the eyes of the people.

Proverbs 24:8 “He that deviseth to do evil shall be called a mischievous person.” “Mischievous” has a deeper meaning in the Hebrew than our English word, which we generally associate with harmless pranks. The Hebrew word means “a wicked device” (so rendered in Ps. 37:7; Prov. 12:2; 14:17), and “lewdness,” (Jer. 11;15). So far from devising evil being a matter of no consequence, as some seem to think, God denominates it wickedness, for to devise evil in the mind is almost equivalent to the deed, and sometimes is, if he is only withheld from it by circumstances. “It is bad to do evil, but it is worse to devise it; for that has in it the subtlety and poison of the old serpent,” [M. Henry].

Proverbs 24:9 “The thought of foolishness is sin: and the scorner is an abomination

to men.” This verse explains the preceding verse. “Thought” is derived from the same Hebrew root as “mischievous” in verse 8. This verse refutes the idea held so commonly that sin consists only in doing wrong. To even think evil is sin in God’s eyes, for thoughts are nearest to the heart—the fountainhead—and manifests its condition. Foolish thoughts therefore reveal a fool’s heart. The second half of this verse shows that even among men of the world, scornfulness is a hated thing.

Proverbs 24:10 “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.”

“Adversity” and “small” in the Hebrew are derived from a common root, meaning “narrow.” Adversity is the test of a person’s character and endurance. Any kind of a sinner can put on a pretty good show of being a Christian when things are going well, but when adversity comes, it shows where the real strength lies, and who is a genuine, strong, grounded Christian. If one faints in the day of adversity, he reveals that he has not received as much wisdom and knowledge, (v. 5), as he should have, else he would have endured the adversity. “Even Job (4:3-5) fainted in the day of adversity. If thy strength be small, go to Him who ‘giveth power to the faint,’ and who ‘increaseth strength to them that have no might’ (Isa. 40:29),” [Faussett].

Proverbs 24:11 “If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain.”

This cannot refer to the justly condemned, for God has ordained that such are to be immediately put to death, (Num. 35:31-33; Deut. 17:6-7). “A great duty required of us is to appear for the relief of oppressed innocence. Though the persons be not such as we are under any particular obligation to, we must help them, out of a general zeal for justice,” [M. Henry]. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 expresses a similar thought. He who stands by and does nothing to deliver those who are mistreated in their innocency, will one day find himself being mistreated with none to help him.

Proverbs 24:12 “If thou savest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his

works?” Excuses are easy to find when one does not want to do his duty, but God knows our innermost thoughts, (Prov. 16:2; 21:2), and He judges in truth, not just according to outward appearances. He sees and knows when our excuses are lying subterfuges. Alas, how often we deceive ourselves with our excuses, but we do not deceive Him Who is the keeper of the soul, and who, consequently, knows it better than anyone else. The last phrase is taken from Psalms 62:12, and is quoted in Revelation 20:12; 22:12, and is variously referred to elsewhere. God deals with people on the basis of their works, not that their works have anything to do with their justification, but because they manifest the ruling disposition of the heart. In judgment, God always deals in perfect justice, which is “according to every man’s works.”

Proverbs 24:13 “My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste.” Honey was the most common form of sweetness in ancient times and the land of Canaan was especially adapted for the production of honey, (Ex. 3:8, 17; 13:15; Matthew 3:4). It was a food that almost everyone enjoyed, and science has since found that it is one of the most healthful foods, having already been digested in its production by bees. Solomon is not, however, here teaching on wise dietary practices, but rather uses the honey as a symbol of the sweetness of the Word, as the following verse shows.

Proverbs 24:14 “So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou has found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off.”

This likeness of the Word of God to the sweetness of honey is a common metaphor, (Ps. 19:9-10; 119:103). Thus we have here a gracious invitation to partake of a sweetness of divine wisdom; it is, like honey, both sweet to the taste, and also good for one, resulting in blessings to the soul and rewards to the life. “Thus should we feed upon wisdom, and relish the good instructions of it. Those that have experienced the power of truth and godliness are abundantly satisfied of the pleasure of both,” [M. Henry]. But this metaphor also suggests something practical: just as no one can enjoy the sweetness of honey without eating it, so none can enjoy wisdom without study of, and submission to, it.

Proverbs 24:15 “Lay not wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous; spoil not his resting place.”

“Dwelling” is more commonly rendered “fold,” which suggests a humble dwelling place, but however humble it may be, the wicked had better not lay wait to do evil to the Lord’s people for He is the avenger of all such, (Luke 18:7-8; 1 Thess. 4:6-8). “Assail him not either by secret fraud or open violence. Scripture here assures the righteous that God will defend him securely from both,” [Faussett]. It is often the case, that in his contempt of God, the wicked man assaults the Christian, since he can not assault God personally. He may even do evil to Christians in an attempt to thereby convince himself that God either does not exist, or that he takes no interest in the affairs of earth. But there is a judgment to come for all who misuse God’s people.

Proverbs 24:16 “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.” This expresses the security of the saint: though he may fall many times, yet no fall is ever permanent, for God raises him up each time, (Job 5:19; Ps. 37:23-24). The saint is not secure because of anything within himself; rather he is secure because of God’s faithfulness to His promise to keep the believer, (John 10:28-30; 1 Pet. 1:3-5). But conversely, the wicked fall into evil with no promised rescue from even one fall, so that his fall is a permanent calamity. Seven, being the number of completeness, suggests a continual rescue from every fall that comes upon the righteous. What a wonderful and encouraging promise to the saints. In salvation we lose what we cannot keep in order to gain what we cannot lose. Grace is the basis of the saint’s security.

Proverbs 24:17

“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, And let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth.” This deals with our attitudes toward enemies: we are not to take delight in any evil that befalls any, for it is only the grace of God that prevents it from coming upon us. “Not only are we not to exult in a more severe calamity, but not even in a lighter one of an enemy. The notion is false that the Old Testament does not prescribe love of enemies,” [Faussett]. The Christian is to overcome evil with good, (Rom. 12:18-21). Exulting over the problems of an enemy generally stems from a self-righteous spirit. David set a good example in this when he mourned over Saul’s death, though Saul had often mistreated him, (2 Sam. 1:17ff). By contrast, See Obadiah 12.

Proverbs 24:18 “Lest the Lord see it, and it displeased him, and he turn away his wrath from him.” It is not so expressed, but one wonders if the thought is not of turning away the wrath from one’s enemy and letting it fall upon the one rejoicing in the calamity. None of us can perfectly discern the reasons why calamities fall, and so it ill behooves us to think that they always indicate God’s displeasure. He sometimes allows them to come for His glory, sometimes for discipline’s sake, sometimes to test one’s faith, sometimes to develop patience, etc. The Lord sees our attitudes, however deeply they may be hidden in the heart, and He deals with us accordingly. Hence the need to always maintain a right attitude does matter whether any man knows it or not.

Proverbs 24:19 “Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the wicked.” (Prov. 23:17; Ps. 37:1,7). “Even that which grieves us must not fret us; nor must our eye be evil against any because God is good. If wicked people prosper, we must not therefore incline to do as they do. Envy not their prosperity. There is no true happiness in it,” [M. Henry]. No Christian envies the judgment that awaits the unsaved, so neither should one envy the little earthly prosperity which comes to him, which is so very little at best compared with the torment that he must endure when he dies. If one gained the entire world, what would be in comparison to the spiritual loss if he went to hell? (Mark 8:34-37). Often envy is based upon the egotistical idea that we deserve more than others because we are better than they are; it is a form of self-righteousness.

Proverbs 24:20 “For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.” (Prov. 13:9). However much a wicked man may seem to be accumulating in life, and however care-free he may seem, the discerning Christian knows that he is but a step from death and eternity when he shall be separated from all good, for his feeble, flickering light of physical life shall go out, leaving him eternally in the blackness of darkness. How foolish and futile our envy of sinners will then appear, for Christians not only have eternal life, but are also promised rewards for every thing they suffer for the Lord’s sake. Divine wisdom assures us of this, (v. 14; Rom. 8:16-18).

Proverbs 24:21 “My son, fear thou the Lord and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change.” “The Lord first, then the king, in so far as he is representative of God, and bears the delegated authority of God (Eccl. 8:2),” [Faussett]. The civil authority is instituted of God for the protection of the good and the punishment of the evil, ( Rom. 13:1-10; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). Christianity never is an excuse for anyone to be lawless, and anyone who thinks that God’s grace excuses them from obedience to civil authority or from doing right, is an antinomian (from anti, against, and nomos, law = an outlaw) and shows that he doesn’t really understand grace at all. Here is also a warning to beware of those who are unstable. Many are like weather vanes, blown about by every wind of doctrine, circumstance and emotion. They love innovation for innovation’s sake and can never be depended upon since they are, like the ancient Athenians, always looking for something new, (Acts 17:21). To run with such is almost as bad as running with those who rebel against God and government, for the results are often the same.

Proverbs 24:22 “For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both.”

Rebels, whether against God or civil government, are on dangerous ground. Anciently, civil rulers were much quicker to destroy rebels than today, but even in some quarters today it is not healthy to speak against rulers. The question here suggests the awfulness of the ruin of such. Because of God’s long-suffering, many assume erroneously that He takes no interest in the rebellion of men against His will, but judgment day is coming in due time, and then all men will bear witness to the folly of resisting God’s will and purpose, part of which is good order in human governments. Only when human government clearly clashes with God’s will are we justified in refusing to obey it, and then we must not actively seek to overthrow the government, but only passive resist it, (Acts 4:18-20; 5:29).

Proverbs 24:23 “These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment.” Here are more wise maxims, these showing the other side of the matter. “As subjects must do their duty, and be obedient to magistrates, so magistrates must do their duty in administering justice to their subjects. They must always weigh the merits of a cause, and not be swayed by any regard, one way or the other, to the parties concerned,” [M. Henry]. Note carefully the application that is made of having respect of persons: it is not good in matters of judgment, and this is consistently the application that is made in the Bible when God is said to be no respecter of persons. We all have the right, and exercise it, to respect persons in the choice of friends, mates, etc., and God does also. In redemption He always has respect of persons, (Gen. 4:4; Ex. 2:25). Election is the sovereign choice of some persons and the leaving of others in their self-chosen state of sin.

Proverbs 24:24 “He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him.”

(Prov. 17:15). No one can really respect him who perverts justice, for he shows that he esteems personal gain (which is generally the cause of his perversion of justice) more than he esteems the truth or people.

Just as it is wrong for us to set ourselves up as judges over the wrong that people do so also it is wrong for us to set ourselves up to justify the evil that men do; we have neither the right to condemn right actions, nor to justify wrong actions, for both of them are the perversions of truth. Often people will justify wrong doing in great men in order to find acceptance with them. This is as wrong as if one did it for a monetary bribe. Even unsaved people can see the evil of such perversion of justice, and will scorn such in their hearts.

Proverbs 24:25 “But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.” “Righteous judges, and others in authority of any kind, who check the bad, have the internal ‘delight’ of their own approving conscience, as also the blessing from without of the public approval,” [Faussett]. The “blessing” is in obvious contrast with the “curse” in verse 24. It is the failure to rebuke and punish evil that encourages others to practice it as well. There is always a deterency value to punishment, but only if it is consistently and immediately exercised upon the offender. Two things are needful to maintain good order in society: Proper laws, including courts that use them rightly, and good law enforcement of those laws. In our land, good law enforcement has been discouraged for several years now by lenient courts which too often turned the criminals loose on technicalities.

Proverbs 24:26 “Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer.” Judging from the context, this apparently has reference to giving the right answer in matters of judgment. A kiss has always been a sign of affection, and was anciently employed as much between men as between men and women, (Gen. 27:26-27; 29:11). It was sometimes employed hypocritically to make a show of affection where none really existed, (2 Sam. 15:5; Matthew 26:47-49; Luke 22:48). In our lesson, the kiss given for right answers suggests that one will be loved for rendering proper judgment.

Proverbs 24:27 “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.”

“Necessary things are to take precedency of those which are for ornament and elegance. Be content with a cottage, and labor strenuously in the field at agriculture, until you have made the necessary money for building a more commodious and elegant house,” [Faussett]. Solomon’s temple was built of stones already hewn and shaped and ready to be set in place, (1 Kings 5:18; 6:7). Also “to build a house” is used in the sense of to marry and beget children. If it is intended in this sense, then the meaning is, labor to become sufficiently solvent to support a family before you take on the responsibilities of being a husband and father. “Build a house” is used in this sense in Exodus 1:21; Ruth 4:11; 2 Samuel 7:27. Too many young folks today rush into marriage without any thought of how they will support themselves and their children, and so they often experience many financial problems which often cause the marriage to break up.

Proverbs 24:28: “Be not a witness against thy neighbor without cause; and deceive not with thy lips.” This is related to what was set forth in verses 23-26. There it had to do with the magistrates’ duty: here it has to do with the individual’s duty in court. No one is to bear false witness against another, (Ex. 20:16). We are to speak only the truth, and if truth does not require us to bear witness against another, we must keep silent. Sometimes people are irrevocably harmed just by suspicions and insinuations. A half-truth is almost always a whole lie, for what is left unsaid generally is misused so as to give what is said a wrong meaning or a wrong application. Jesus’ golden rule of love is “Whatsoever ye would have men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets,” (Matthew 7:12). If this were always applied, how much evil and sorrow it would eliminate.

Proverbs 24:29 “Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.” This is the golden rule in reverse. It is revenge’s law of malice and hate. Revenge does not belong to us, but to the Lord, (Prov. 20:22; Lev. 19:18; Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19). “If there be occasion to bring an action or information against thy neighbor, let it not be from a spirit of revenge. Even a righteous cause becomes unrighteous when it is prosecuted with malice,” [M. Henry]. It is common for men to want “to get even” when someone has done them wrong, or when they believe someone has. But even if there truly has been a wrong done, to get even by doing evil to them would require one’s stepping down to his level. To return good for evil, which God requires, is to keep on a much higher level, and is to be like God.

Proverbs 24:30 “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding.” Almost every community has its “Peter Tumbledown” farm, which bears witness to the slothfulness of its owner. It is in the nature of all created things to degenerate if not constantly repaired and revived. This is part of the curse brought on by sin. The person who is too lazy to do this work will soon find that his place has practically reverted back to the wild, and is of little practical value.

Proverbs 24:31 “And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.” Anciently, boundary lines were often marked by walls made of piled up stones, but because these were not cemented together, they easily fell down and so had to be constantly rebuilt or the boundary in time would become indistinct. The overgrowth of weeds would add to the poor appearance of the place. “He did not break out into any passionate censures of the owner, but he endeavored himself to get good by the observation. Plutarch relates a saying of Cato Major, ‘that wise men profit more by fools than fools by wise men; for wise men will avoid the faults of fools, but fools will not imitate the virtues of wise men,’” [M. Henry].

Proverbs 24:32 “Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction.” There is much to be learned from observation, for, as someone has well said, “There is a sermon in every blade of grass.” If we were more observant of the mistakes of men, we might not have to continually repeat the same mistakes over and over again in every generation. Even when we do observe the mistakes of others, instead of humbly learning from them and being warned by them, we often self-righteously assume that we could never make such a mistake, and in our pride, we are not profited by others’ mistakes. We must remember that, but for the restraining grace of God, we could be and would be, as bad as the worst.

Proverbs 24:33 “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep.” Note the repetition of the words for rest: three distinct Hebrew words are used, each of which is only “a little”. The temptation is never to sleep several hours more, but always only a “little,” but it results often in much more than little. Almost all temptation is to do little evil, but when it is set in motion it becomes much. We are afraid of “great” sins, but little sins are tolerated, and they become great. The slothful man becomes poor a moment at a time and a cent at a time.

Proverbs 24:34 “So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.”

Poverty comes gradually, little by little, like a traveler who, even on a great journey, moves only one step at a time, until that poverty becomes as strong and as oppressive as a robber or a soldier (anciently soldiers were allowed to compel citizens to feed and house them). As one gets into the habit of taking life easy, and catering to the body, he becomes more and more caught up in the meshes of practices that lead inexorably to poverty and want. Let us observe the negligence of the slothful and be warned by it. The spiritually slothful man will come to eternal poverty through his failure to awaken to righteousness.



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