is like a city that broken down and without walls; into which the may go with pleasure, and which is exposed to the rapine and violence of everyone; and so a man that has no command of himself and passions, but gives the reins to them, is exposed to the enemy of souls, Satan and is liable to every sin, snare and temptation.
so honour is not seemly for a fool: for a wicked man; such should not be favoured by kings, and set in high places of honour and trust; "folly set in great dignity", or foolish and bad men set in honourable places, are as unsuitable and inconvenient as snow and rain in summer and harvest, and should be as rare as they; and they are as hurtful and pernicious, since they discourage virtue and encourage vice, and hinder the prosperity of the commonwealth; such vile persons are contemned in the eyes of good men, and are disregarded of God; he will not give, theft, glory here nor hereafter; the wise shall inherit it, but shame shall be the promotion of fools, Proverbs 3:35; see Ecclesiastes 10:6.
so the curse causeless shall not come; the mouths of fools or wicked men are full of cursing and bitterness, and especially such who are advanced above others, and are set in high places; who think they have a right to swear at and curse those below them, and by this means to support their authority and power; but what signify their curses which are without a cause? they are vain and fruitless, like Shimei's cursing David; they fly away, as the above birds are said to do, and fly over the heads of those on whom they are designed to light; yea, return and fall upon the heads of those that curse, as the swallow goes to the place from whence it came; it being a bird of passage, Jeremiah 8:7; in the winter it flies away and betakes itself to some islands on rocks called from thence "chelidonian" (k). According to the "Keri", or marginal reading, for here is a double reading, it may be rendered, "so the curse causeless shall come to him" (l); that gives it without any reason. The Septuagint takes in both,
"so a vain curse shall not come upon any;''
what are all the anathemas of the church of Rome? who can curse whom God has not cursed? yea, such shall be cursed themselves; see Psalm 109:17.
(h) "sicat passeris", Mercerus, Gejerus; "ut passer", Piscator; Schultens. (i) Bochart. Hierozoic. par. 2. l. 1. c. 8. (k) Vid. Strabo. Geograph. l. 14. p. 458. Dionys. Perieg. v. 506, 507. (l) "in quempiam", V. L.
a bridle for the ass; not to curb and restrain it from going too fist, asses being generally dull; but to direct its way and turn it when necessary, it being stiffnecked and obstinate; though the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions, render it a "spear" or "goad", something to prick with, and excite it to motion; and so the Targum; or otherwise one would have thought the whip was fitter for the ass and the bridle for the horse;
and a rod for the fool's back; suggesting that the fool, or wicked man, is like the horse or the mule; though not without understanding of things natural, yet of things divine and moral; and as stupid as the ass, however wise he may conceit himself to be, being born like a wild ass's colt; and instead of honour being given him, stripes should be laid upon him; he should be reproved sharply, and corrected for his wickedness, especially the causeless curser, Proverbs 19:29.
lest thou also be like unto him; lest thou also, who art a man of understanding and sense, and hast passed for one among men, come under the same imputation, and be reckoned a fool like him.
"but speak with a fool in thy wisdom;''
and the Syriac version,
"yea, speak with a fool according to thy wisdom;''
which would at once remove the seeming contradiction in these words to the former, but then they are not a true version; indeed it is right, and must be the sense, that when a fool is answered, as it is sometimes necessary he should, that it be done in wisdom, and so as to expose his folly; he is to be answered and not answered according to different times, places, and circumstances, and manner of answering; he is to be answered when there is any hope of doing him good, or of doing good to others; or of preventing ill impressions being made upon others by what he has said; when the glory of God, the good of the church, and the cause of truth, require it; and when he would otherwise glory and triumph, as if his words or works were unanswerable, as follow;
lest he be wise in his own conceit; which fools are apt to be, and the rather when no answer is given them; imagining it arises from the strength of their arguments, and their nervous way of reasoning, when it is rather from a neglect and contempt of them.
cutteth off the feet; he may as well cut off his feet before he sends him, or send a man without feet, as such an one; for prudence, diligence, and faithfulness in doing a message, and bringing back the answer, are as necessary to a messenger as his feet are;
and drinketh damage; to himself; his message not being rightly performed, and business not done well; which is a loss to the sender, as well as to his credit and reputation with the person to whom he sends him; he hereby concluding that he must be a man of no great judgment and sense to send such a fool on his errand. Such are the unskilful ambassadors of princes; and such are unfaithful ministers, the messengers of the churches; see Proverbs 10:26. The words in the original are three sentences, without a copulative, and stand in this order, "he that cutteth off feet; he that drinketh damage; he that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool"; that is, they are alike.
so is a parable in the mouth of fools; an apophthegm, or sententious expression of his own, which he delivers out as a wise saying, but is lame and halts; it is not consistent with itself, but like the legs of a lame man, one higher than the other: or one of the proverbs of this book, or rather any passage of Scripture, in the mouth of a wicked man; or any religious discourse of his is very unsuitable, since his life and conversation do not agree with it; it is as disagreeable to hear such a man talk of religious affairs as it is to see a lame man dance; or whose legs imitate buckets at a well, where one goes up and another down, as Gussetius (n) interprets the word.
(m) "elevatio crurum a claudo facta", Gejerus, Michaelis. (n) "Femora claudi imitantur situlas", Gussetius, p. 188. "situlas agunt crura ex claudio", Schultens; "instar binarum sitularum in puteo alternatium adscendentium ac descendentium", Gejerus.
"as he that casts a stone to Mercury's heap;''
a Heathen deity, called by the eastern people Mertholin and Margenah (p), which last is near the same with the Hebrew word here used; whose statue was set up where two or more ways met, to direct travellers; and who therefore out of respect to the deity, and to show gratitude to him, used to cast a stone to the heap for the support of it; and which stones, set up in such doubtful places, were dedicated to him, and were called after his name (q); and not only travellers did this in honour of the deity, and to make his statue more manifest (r), but also for profit, to clear the way from stones; and this custom obtained with the Indians, Arabs, Saracens, and now does with the Mahometans (s): and such heaps of stones were also placed in cities, and at the doors of houses, in honour of Mercury, and were called from him Hermae (t); these stones were also erected for borders of countries (u). But it is not probable that this custom obtained in Solomon's time; and yet some Jewish writers interpret it to this sense, as if he that gives honour to a fool is like him that casts a stone to Mercury; and Jarchi in the text observes it as the sense of some of their Rabbins,
"that he that teacheth the law to a disciple that is not fit, is as he that casts a stone to Mercury;''
and to cast a stone to Mercury is with them the same as to commit idolatry (w); but either of the former senses is best;
so is he that giveth honour to a fool; it is all thrown away and lost, as a stone out of a sling; or as unseemly as to put a precious stone among a heap of stones, or a common stone in purple; See Gill on Proverbs 26:1.
(o) Ebr. Comment. p. 777. (p) D. Herbert de Chefbury d. Relig Gent. c. 7. p. 58. (q) Suidas in voce (r) Phurnutus de Natura Deorum, p. 33. (s) Vid. D. Herbert de Cherbury, ut supra, p. 59. (t) Cornel. Nepot. Vit. Alcibiad. l. 7. c. 3.((u) Pausan. Corinth. sive, l. 2. p. 157. (w) Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 7. s. 6. & Maimon. in ib.
so is a parable in the mouth of fools, a proverbial sentence respecting religious matters; or a passage of holy Scripture which either he understands not, and has no spiritual perception of, any more than the drunkard has of the thorn in his hand; or which being used as a pun, or by way of jest, as it is the manner of some to pun upon or jest with the Scripture, hurts himself and others, wounds his own conscience, and ruins the souls of others; for it is dangerous meddling with edge tools, and hard to kick against the pricks; so to do is like a drunken man's handling thorns, which he does without judgment, and to his own prejudice and others. Gussetius (x) understands this of a fish hook coming up into the hand of a drunkard empty, without taking any thing by it, and so alike useless is what is said by a fool.
(x) Ebr. Comment. p. 244.
both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors; according to their works; every transgression of the law receiving its just recompence of reward, whether a man transgresses it ignorantly or wilfully; as his transgressions are, whether through error or presumption, so shall his punishment be; though some understand this, as Kimchi, of the Lord's doing good in a providential way, to the wise and unwise, the righteous and the wicked: the words are by some rendered to another sense, "a great one grieveth all, and he hireth the fool, and he hireth the transgressors" (y); that is, a great man, a tyrannical prince, grieves all his good subjects; or, as Hottinger (z), from the use of the word in the Arabic tongue, changes all things, inverts their order, or administers all at his will, that is, wrongly; when he hires fools and wicked men to do those bad things for him which others would not, to the great detriment of the commonwealth; and rewards them for it, putting them into posts of honour and trust, to the great grief and trouble of all his best subjects.
(y) So Mercerus, Piscator. (z) Smegm. Oriental. l. 1. c. 2. p. 171.
so a fool returneth to his folly, or "repeats" (a) it, time after time, many times, as Ben Melech; or a wicked man turns to his wickedness, who, having had some qualms upon his conscience for sin, for a while forsakes it; but that fit being over, and he forgetting all his former horror and uneasiness, returns to his old course of life: a wicked man is here compared to a dog, as he is elsewhere for his impudence and voraciousness in sinning; and the filthiness of sin is expressed by the vomit of a dog, than which nothing is more nauseous and loathsome; and the apostasy of the sinner, from an external course of righteousness into open profaneness is signified by the return of this creature to it. This is said to be a "true proverb", 2 Peter 2:22, where it is quoted and applied.
(a) "qui iterat", Tigurine version, Michaelis; "iterans", Montanus, Mercerus, Cocceius, Gejerus; "duplicans", Schultens.
there is more hope of a fool than of him; of a profane sinner than of a self-righteous person; for Christ came to save sinners, to call them to repentance, and he receives them as such; but not self-righteous persons; and, humanly speaking, there is a greater likelihood and greater hopes of convincing sinners, and bringing them to repentance and to forsake their sins, than there is of convincing a self-righteous man of the insufficiency of his righteousness, and the folly of trusting to it, and of bringing him to repent of such a confidence, and to forsake it; for it is most natural to him; it is his own, and the effect of great labour and pains; and encourages vanity and boasting, which would be excluded should he part with it; see Matthew 21:31.
(b) "in oculis suis", Pagninus, Montanus, Junius & Tremellius, &c.
there is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets; in the way to his field or vineyard, and in the streets, where his business lies or leads unto it: a very idle excuse this; since lions are usually in woods, forests, and desert places, and not in public roads, and much less in streets of cities; see Proverbs 22:13. This may be applied to a man slothful in the duties of religion; the "way" and "streets" may denote public ordinances, which are the ways of God's appointing, prescribing, and directing to; and in which good men walk, and find pleasure and profit; and are the streets where Wisdom cries, or Christ is preached, and where he is sought for and found: but many are the excuses some men make not to attend them; see Luke 14:17; though they are vain, frivolous, and foolish, as this here; for in these ways and streets may true seen the feet of the messengers of peace; here the turtle's voice, the joyful sound of salvation by Christ, may be heard; here the Lamb of God is directed to, to be looked at, as taking away the sins of men, having been slain, and having shed his blood for the redemption of them: and though the terrible voice of the law may be sometimes heard, which is necessary to arouse and awaken sleepy sinners, and unhinge self-righteous persons from a dependence on the works of the law; yet, afterwards comes the still small voice of the Gospel, proclaiming freedom from the curse and condemnation of the law by Christ. Indeed, in some ages, there have been violent persecutors, comparable to lions; and informers have been in the way and in the streets, to terrify saints from their duty; but none of these could move them from it, nor separate fully gracious souls from their love to Christ: though carnal slothful professors are offended, when tribulation or persecution arise because of the word, these are lions to them; and, in times of peace and liberty, they can paint lions, very terrible to themselves, and raise such difficulties as are insuperable to them; a slight disorder of body, a small inclemency of the weather, little danger of catching cold, and the like, shall be a lion to them: not considering they have a devouring lion nearer them in their houses, chambers, and on their beds with them; even Satan, in whose clutches they are, who keeps their goods in peace, by whom they are led captive, and to whom they fall a prey: nor fearing the wrath of the King of kings, which is as the roaring of a lion: the wrath of God and of the Lamb, who is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and whose day of wrath will be such as none will be able to bear.
so doth the slothful upon his bed; he turns himself from side to side, but is still on his bed, and does not move out of it, and go about his business. Aben Ezra makes mention of another reading and sense, "the door turneth upon his hinges", and is opened to let men out, one and another, to his work; "but yet the slothful man is upon his bed"; though one and another rise and go about business, and he hears the door open again and again, he stirs not, but keeps his, bed. So profane sinners lie on the bed of sinful lusts and sensual pleasures, indulge themselves in chambering and wantonness, and do not care to rise from hence, and walk honestly as in the daytime; and though their consciences are sometimes jogged by inward pricks, and they are moved a little by the reproofs of their friends, or awakened by the judgments of God; yet these are quickly over, and they give themselves a turn and go to sleep again: sometimes there are some motions in them, some thoughts and resolutions of amendment, some purposes to do good works; but, alas! their slothfulness is so great, and the habits and customs of sin so strong, that they cannot break through them, shake off their sloth, and come out, but remain as they were: and so it is with carnal professors, resting in their own works, and in a round of duties; and after ten, twenty, thirty years' profession, or more, they are just where they were; have no spiritual knowledge, judgment, and experience.
"he puts his hand in a hot basin, because of the cold.''
The word (c) for "bosom" does sometimes signify a "pot" or basin. Or he hides it under his "arm holes", as some render it, not caring to make use of it for labour; or covers it out of sight in his bosom, pretending some weakness or ailment in it, which hinders him from working; see Proverbs 19:24;
it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth; from under his arm holes, or out of his bosom, or even out of the platter, where his food is; an hyperbolical expression, setting forth his excessive sloth; and such an one ought not to eat, but starve indeed. It may be rendered, "he is weary"; it is a "weariness" (d) to him; it is even a labour too much for him to feed himself, so great is his sloth: and such is the sloth of carnal men; it is a weariness to them to hear the word, and attend on ordinances, and to lift up their hands in prayer to God; or to make use of any means, that they may have food for their souls; praying, hearing, and reading, are a burden to them; and therefore it is but just with God to send them a famine of the word, and take away the whole stay and staff of bread and water.
(c) "in patina vel olla", Vatablus; "in patinam", Tigurine version; "lebete", Mercerus; "in paropside", Cocceius; "in paropsidem", Schultens. (d) "fatigatur", Mercerus, Gejerus; "defessus fit", Michaelis; "defetiscitur", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Schultens.
than seven men that can render a reason; not alluding to the number of a king's counsellors, who return him an answer to what he inquires of them, as Aben Ezra thinks; such as were the "seven" princes of the king of Persia, Esther 1:14. Since to have such an exact number might not obtain in Solomon's time, either in Persia, or in his own court, or elsewhere: but it signifies a large number, many wise men, as Gersom observes, that render a reason to everyone that asks it of them; who, having been diligent and industrious, have got such a competency of knowledge, that they are able to give a proper reason of what they say, believe, or do: and such are they, who, by the blessing of grace in the use of means, are wise in a spiritual sense; know themselves, and Christ Jesus, and the way of salvation by him; have an understanding of the Scriptures, and of the doctrines of the Gospel; have their spiritual senses exercised, to discern between truth and error; are of established judgments, and capable of teaching others good judgment and knowledge; and of giving a reason of their faith, hope, and practice; see 1 Peter 3:15. Now such is the conceit of an ignorant sluggard, that he is wiser than ten thousand or ever so many of these; he thinks himself the wisest man, inasmuch as he enjoys ease and quiet in his stupid sottish way, while they are toiling and labouring, and taking a great deal of pains to get knowledge; and that he sleeps in a whole skin, and escapes the censure and reproaches of men, which they endure for being precise in religious duties, and constant in the performance of them; and fancies he can get to heaven in an easier way, without all this care and toil and trouble, only by saying, Lord, have mercy on me, at last.
is like one that taketh a dog by the ears; which are short, and difficult to be held, and tender; and therefore cannot bear to be held by them, especially to be pulled and lugged by them, and which is very provoking; and as such a man has work enough to do to hold him, so he is in danger of being bitten by him, at least when he is forced to let go his hold: and so it is with a man that interferes in a quarrel in a furious manner; it is much if one or other of the contending parties do not fall upon him and abuse him. The Septuagint and Arabic versions render it, "as he that holdeth the tail of a dog."
(e) "ut se habet qui iunsanum ne simulat", Piscator; "ut qui se insanire fingit", Cocceius. (f) "Sicut abscondit se", Pagninus, Mercerus, Gejerus. (g) "Ut sese fatigat", Tigurine version.
and saith, Am not I in sport? do not be angry, I designed no hurt; it is all in jest, a mere joke: but, had he not been apprehended, it would have been in earnest, as he was. This is only an excuse, and as absurd an one as if a man should set fire to his neighbour's house and barns, or throw arrows at him, or strike him with any instrument of death, as the sword, &c. and then say he was only in jest, or pretend madness.
So where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth; or is silent (i): men cease to quarrel one with another; they hold their peace and are silent, when there are none to bring tales from one to another, or any whisperer or backbiter to suggest evil things of each other; or when such are discouraged on both sides, and their tales are not listened to; or when they are detected and thrust out of doors, as they deserve, then strife subsides, and peace ensues. Contention is like a fire, the flame of which is blown up by talebearers and whisperers, who are as incendiaries, and as such are to be treated.
(h) "deficientibus lignis", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "in deficientia lignorum", Michaelis; "quum expirarunt ligna", Schultens. (i) "silebit", Pagninus, Montanus, Mercerus, Gejerus; "silet", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "consilescit", Cocceius, Schultens.
so is a contentious man to kindle strife; or "a man of contentions" (k); who is given to it, is full of it; it is agreeable to his natural temper and disposition; he is in his element when at it; such a man is as fuel to the fire, as a dead coal to a living one, which increases the heat of it; so does he, he kindles and spreads the flame of contention and strife.
(k) "vir contentionum", Montanus, Baynus, Piscator, Gejerus.
are like a potsherd covered with silver dross: which at a distance, or to less discerning persons, looks like silver, and is taken for it; when the covering is only dross, and what is within is only a potsherd, Or a piece of an earthen vessel, good for nothing: such are the specious professions and deceitful words, which flow from a wicked heart.
and layeth up deceit within him; or, "though (m) he layeth up", &c. hides it as much as he can, yet it will show itself in some way or another.
(l) "agnoscetur", Montanus, Vatablus; "cognoscetur", Tigurine version; "cognoscitur", Amama, so Luther. (m) "quamvis", Luther. apud Gejerus, Baynus.
for there are seven abominations in his heart; a multitude of wicked purposes, schemes, and designs, which he has formed there against you, and which he only waits a proper time to put in execution; things abominable to God and men. Aben Ezra thinks reference is had to the seven abominations in Proverbs 6:16.
his wickedness shall be showed before the whole congregation; in an open court of judicature, where he shall be brought, arraigned, and tried for his wickedness; which, though covertly done, shall be exposed and proved upon him: or before the church of God, where he shall be convicted by the word, and be obliged to acknowledge his sin; and, in a member, be reproved before all, and rejected: or however, at the great day of judgment, before angels and men, when all will be convened together; and where every secret work will be brought, and will be brought to light, and receive its just reward.
(n) "in desolatione", Montanus; "in solitudine", Baynus, Vatablus; "in vastatione", Tigurine version; "in vastitate", Mercerus, Piscator, so Ben Melech.
and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him; that rolls a stone up hill, if he does not take care, it will return back, and fall with great force upon himself; so the mischief which a wicked man labours hard at, as men do in digging a pit, or rolling a stone, in time rolls back upon themselves; the measure they mete out to others is measured to them. Jarchi makes mention of an "hagadah", or exposition, which illustrates this passage, by the case of Abimelech; who slew threescore and ten persons on one stone, and was himself killed with a piece of a millstone cast upon him, Judges 9:18; this may put in mind of the fable of Sisyphus (o), feigned in hell to roll a great stone to the top of a mountain, which presently falling down on his head, made his labour fruitless.
(o) "Aut petis aut urges ruitum, Sisyphe, saxum", Ovid. Metamorph. l. 4. v. 460.