None are so cowardly as those who are carrying about a guilty conscience. They are terrified by their own thoughts and frightened by a shadow. The first verse contrasts them with the righteous.
Some men live in the continual dread of the consequences of their sin. But those who live to please God and walk rightly before men, are inspired with holy confidence and almost superhuman courage. When naturally weak and timid men and women were martyred for Christ’s sake they were bolder than a lion facing its foes. Contrast the army of the Syrians with Elisha the prophet (2 Kings 7:6-7; 6:8-17).
The word transgression (kjv) in this verse bears the sense of rebellion against lawful authority. When a people refuse to acknowledge the powers that be as ordained of God, they are likely to be exposed to the evil schemes of various leaders, especially during a period of anarchy. Each ruler is jealous of the other, resulting in a period of lawless confusion.
In contrast to so unsettled a state, it is a happy land that is ruled by a wise and understanding governor who long occupies his seat of authority.
Among the Arabs, a dreadful malediction is implied in the words, “May God multiply your sheiks.” No people or country can prosper when exposed to frequent alterations in the executive power. The state of Judah, after the carrying away of Zedekiah, is an apt illustration of this, as is much of the history of the Judges.
Obscure men, when suddenly elevated to positions of trust and confidence, are likely to be far harder on those of their own former class than one born in a different station of life. They seem to have no pity or compassion, and may be compared to a sweeping rain, which instead of helping the crop to mature, washes away all the seed and leaves no food. The publicans of our Lord’s day exhibited this lack of feeling for the lower classes and were detested by the populace. They were members of the chosen race themselves and therefore hated and despised by the Roman power. Yet they served that very authority and used their positions as a means of oppressing their poor countrymen. See the protestation of Zaccheus, who declares he had not acted according to the ordinary custom (Luke 19:8).
It is natural that men who have themselves forsaken the law should praise those who follow in the same crooked path. When a man is always ready to excuse unrighteousness in others it generally reveals his own uneasy conscience. They who walk uprightly are able to convict those who do not because those with moral convictions are able to discern matters correctly.
Evil men are blind to true justice because of the iniquity of their own lives. Those who always put the Lord before them and live for His glory are enabled to understand everything—not in an unlimited sense, but everything pertaining to integrity of life and just judgment. See the Spirit-anointed ones of 1 John 2:20, 27.
The honest poor may take comfort in God’s estimate of them. In His sight they are preferred far more than the perverse rich. Poverty is indeed a difficult trial and often involves much sorrow; but it is not to be compared to the unhappiness of the godless wealthy man who sows the wind to reap the whirlwind. Contrast Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
A father finds great joy when blessed with a careful, faithful son who seeks to keep the commandments of God and the laws of men for the Lord’s sake. Through his obedience he exhibits true intelligence. The father of a wild, reckless son who finds his companions among riotous men is put to shame by his son’s evil behavior. How rich the grace that led the father in Luke 15 to go out to meet such a son “while he was yet a great way off.” It is a precious picture of the joy that fills the heavenly Father’s heart when one poor wanderer returns, whose wretched, sinful life has long shamed the God who created him.
Extortion and covetousness are alike detestable in the sight of God. Lending money out to get high interest may seem to be good business in the eyes of unprincipled men; but treasure so earned will not profit the owners. When taken away in the prime of their lives they will leave their riches to those who are concerned about the poor. See God’s word to the rich men of the last days (James 5:1-6). Note also Jeremiah 17:11.
God has never promised to hear prayer if the heart is not upright before Him. The psalmist says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). The verse we are now considering attests this solemn fact. It is useless to look for answers to prayer when we refuse to obey what God has written for our instruction. He has revealed His holy will in His Word. Everything necessary for the believer’s instruction in righteousness is made known there. Where God is truly feared, His Word will have its due weight, and the obedient soul will order his life accordingly. When this is the case, prayer will be acceptable and will obtain a ready answer; but when the Word is refused or despised, what passes for prayer is but an abomination to the Lord. See Ezekiel’s message to the self-willed elders of Israel who came to inquire of Jehovah (Ezekiel 20:1-3).
See note on Proverbs 26:27. To deliberately turn the steps of the righteous from the path of moral uprightness is to incur God’s displeasure in a most solemn and awful form. The Lord Jesus has said, “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). How dreadful must be the iniquity in the heart of one who would willfully plot to turn any away from obeying the voice of the Lord! Yet many have so offended and been made to know the indignation of a holy God. He gives good things to the upright, but judgment to him who would lead them astray. Balaam was guilty of this heinous offense and his doom was swift and sure (Revelation 2:14; Numbers 31:16).
Pride and conceit often accompany great wealth. Riches give the wealthy a certain sense of security and independence of God, an environment that is ruinous to the prideful soul. But understanding is of far more value than great possessions. The poor one who has discernment is superior to his well-to-do neighbor. It is not the great, the rich, the mighty, or the noble that God has chosen, but “the poor of this world rich in faith” (James 2:5). See 1 Corinthians 1:26-28 and the first clause of Proverbs 10:16.
See notes on Proverbs 11:10; 29:2; and verse 28 of this chapter. The triumph of the righteous inspires joy and confidence in those who are concerned about the stability and welfare of a state. But when the evildoers rule, there is fear and anxiety, which leads even trustworthy men to conceal themselves lest they become the objects of political hatred.
Long have men waited and groaned in pain for the coming triumph of the righteous One. His kingdom will be ushered in with great glory, when all the earth will come into blessing. Until then, the kingdoms of this world must be subject to uncertainties and overturnings because of the rejection of the true King. Saul’s wretched reign is a figure of the present time; the reigns of David and Solomon picture the coming glorious reign of Christ.
The greatest mistake a soul can be guilty of is to attempt to cover sin and transgression. Yet men invariably avoid speaking out frankly with a confession of their true state and actions. It seems to be natural to fallen man (ever since the day that our first parents sought to hide their nakedness by fig-leaf aprons) to endeavor to cover his shame, hoping to avoid the just consequences of his sin. But God’s Word clearly reveals the fact that he who justifies himself will finally be condemned. It is the one who sides with God and condemns himself who is justified from all things.
Confession is the divinely-appointed method of securing a clear conscience, not confession to some human mediator, but to God Himself. “It we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The basis of our forgiveness is the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because in rich grace, He bore the sinner’s judgment on Calvary and shed His precious blood to put away sin, God can “be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
Of course, confession does not mean a general acknowledgment of sinfulness and wickedness of life, uttered to ease the soul. True confession involves genuine repentance and self-judgment. Therefore we are told here that he who “confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” The repentant man no longer hugs the chains that bind him but longs for full deliverance from them. He comes to God with real concern about his unholy ways, thoughts, and words, earnestly seeking grace to cease from them and to walk uprightly before the Lord. But he cannot do this in himself. Only when he rests in simple faith in the finished work of Christ and yields himself to God as one now alive from the dead is he able to rise above the sins that have blighted his life and almost damned his soul.
David most preciously portrays the change that comes over a man when he stops hiding his iniquities and comes out into the light of God’s presence confessing them before Him. Only then can one know the blessedness of transgressions forgiven and sins covered. See Psalm 32.
When a man attempts to cover his own sin, he adds to the dreadful list, for he is refusing to obey the command that goes out to all men everywhere calling on them to repent. But when God covers sin, it is done effectually and perfectly and will never be interfered with for eternity.
See note on Proverbs 23:17. This verse most appropriately follows the previous one. He who is forgiven and rejoices in that knowledge is now responsible to live in the fear of God. He who grows careless and prayerless, neglecting the Word of God and hardening his heart against discipline, will fall into grievous trouble and sorrow; for “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:6).
He who always fears the Lord will be delivered from conceit and self-confidence. He will walk in obedience to God’s revealed will. Fearing no longer to be judged for his sins, he will fear lest he grieve the Holy Spirit of God within him and dishonor the name of His Savior and Lord. It was this healthy fear that protected Joseph when he was exposed to a temptation that would have overcome any who trusted in their own strength (Genesis 39:9).
A wicked ruler does not acknowledge the higher Power that has permitted him to occupy his honored position. He only cares to gratify his personal inclinations, as Ahab when he unfairly took possession of the vineyard of Naboth (1 Kings 21). Oppressing the poor and failing to rule justly, such a prince is like a wild beast let loose among the populace.
Lacking true intelligence, he fails to see that the security of his throne is dependent on the welfare of his subjects; therefore he rules with a heavy hand until all hearts are alienated from him. Such conduct springs from covetousness and a desire for self-aggrandizement. He who hates this evil passion and refuses to be controlled by it ensures the stability of his house and prolongs his days. Contrast Saul and David. Also see notes on Proverbs 28:12.
The guilt of having willfully murdered or helped in the murder of an innocent man burdens the conscience with a fearful load that may drive one to suicide. This would be especially so in Israel. Unable to find a sheltering city of refuge, the guilty assassin would rather die by his own hand than meet the avenger. The traitor Judas fully exemplified this proverb.
It is not the salvation of the soul that is contemplated in this verse. None can blot out past sin and be justified before God by walking uprightly. We have already noticed this in our comments on 28:13. This verse refers to the practical day by day living in the grace of our salvation. The one who clings to the Lord with determination, walking uprightly before Him, will be saved from much failure and sorrow that he would otherwise have to endure if following his own desires. He who refuses the correction of the Word of God and independently pursues his own course, walking in the pride and self-sufficiency of his heart, will have a sudden fall. His perverseness will result in unexpected disaster. How many a saint has proven this to his sorrow! Unfortunately we are slow to learn from what God Himself has revealed or from the failures of others! Among the prophets, Daniel and Jonah stand out in vivid contrast as illustrations of the two statements in this couplet.
See notes on 28:7 and 12:11. In the original Hebrew there is a striking parallelism in the two parts of this proverb. Muenscher translates this verse as, “He who tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread; but he who followeth vain persons shall be satisfied with poverty.” The one, by diligence, will be filled with what is necessary for his growth; the other, because of his folly and neglect, will be filled with sorrow and be as needy as his neighbor is wealthy. It is not chance that makes one prosper, while the other fails. It is simply the difference between patient, faithful adherence to duty and the abandoning of self-control to follow after what is worthless. The two classes are everywhere around us.
They also are found in the spiritual realm. Two young men confess Christ. From the day of his conversion, one conscientiously separates himself from the world in its various forms and devotes himself to faithful cultivation of the fields of Scripture. As a result he grows in grace and in knowledge. His soul, fed and satisfied with bread, has that which he can share with the needy souls around him. The other, having the same opportunities, compromises with the world, follows after its vain company, neglects his Bible, and becomes spiritually starved. At last he breaks down entirely in his discipleship and never amounts to anything for God. It is a serious question if he ever was saved at all. People wonder at the difference between the two; but there is nothing perplexing to the man of God who notices their respective lifestyles. A semi-worldly person never develops into a Timothy. It is the faithful, uncompromising young man who becomes a power for God and is satisfied with good things.
A faithful man is not likely to accumulate vast wealth in a this world. He will be rich in heavenly treasure and will abound with blessings even in a worldly sense; for he who acts for God can count on God to act for him. However, if the getting of riches is made his life’s goal he will not be acquitted when called to account for his methods and thorny practices. Fraudulent schemes may seem to triumph over diligent perseverance, but the end result will prove the value of diligence and the worthlessness of deception. To become rich quickly is almost certain evidence of injustice somewhere. The Christian should avoid such a course. It is far better to be comparatively poor, but to maintain a good conscience, than to make haste to be wealthy and lose the sense of communion with God. See Isaiah’s message to the conscienceless capitalists of his day. They seemed to know as much as money-lovers today about the advantages to themselves of monopolizing business (Isaiah 5:8-10). See notes on Proverbs 23:4; 22:1,16; 27:24; 28:22.
See notes on Proverbs 18:5. Dishonest and thoroughly unprincipled, he who displays prejudice in his judgment, looks only to his own gain. He will defeat the purposes of justice for the merest trifle if it is for his apparent advantage. The false prophetesses of the scattered Israelites were showing bias in their messages for “pieces of bread” when Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy against them (Ezekiel 13:17-19).
See notes on 20:21 and verse 20 of this chapter. An evil eye (kjv) is a covetous eye and shows the condition of the heart. A covetous man, eager to be rich, forgets the sure calamities that are certain to overtake him in God’s righteous government. Ponder Micah 6:12 and Matthew 19:23-24.
See notes on Proverbs 19:25; 20:19; 26:28; 27:6. For the moment, the flatterer may please the object of his praise; but one who faithfully reproves a wrongdoer will be more valued when there has been time for reflection. No kindness is done for a person when his faults are glossed over, and he is made to feel comfortable in his sin. He who goes to a wrongdoer, meekly and in the fear of the Lord, desiring him to consider his unholy ways, may arouse anger and indignation at first; but time and conscience are on his side. The end result will be that he will be appreciated more than the flatterer. Peter could write of “our beloved brother Paul” after the searching ordeal he underwent in Antioch (2 Peter 3:15).
See notes on Proverbs 19:13, 26. This proverb speaks of the youth who, feeling he is entitled to his parents’ possessions, spends all on himself. He has no sense of responsibility for their well-being and when questioned as to his duty he boldly declares his innocence. This youth is acting like a criminal who destroys what belongs to others. The Pharisees, with all their religiousness, were violating the letter and spirit of this word by their Corban law (Mark 7:11).
See notes on Proverbs 13:10 and 18:12. A proud man readily stirs up conflict. Haughty and self-confident, he boldly antagonizes more dependable people, giving them no rest until he has his own way. He has never learned the lesson of no confidence in the flesh. By his unbending spirit and questionable behavior, he causes an indescribable amount of damage among the people of God. He is sharply contrasted with the one who has learned from Jesus, who is meek and lowly in heart. The spiritually-minded man can be trusted with prosperity and exemplifies in his life the fact that he is devoted to the Lord. God alone knows the human heart and rewards “a man according to his conduct” (Jeremiah 17:9-10, niv). A man who walks humbly will walk wisely and will be delivered from many snares. See the Lord’s estimate of the heart as portrayed in John 2:23,25.
See notes on Proverbs 14:21; 21:13; and verse 8 above. One of the evidences of the intervention of God in the affairs of men, is that he who has pity on the needy never loses by doing so. But he who refuses to notice their sad condition and hoards all his possessions for himself, finds grief and anguish in the end. God makes Himself responsible to repay with interest all that is given to the poor. They are left in this world to test the hearts of those in more fortunate circumstances. A blessing is on the philanthropic; a curse is on the man who has no heart for the poor and thinks only of his own enjoyment while allowing others to suffer. See the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-27). Compare with 11:25.
See 28:12. When evil men are in power, nothing is secure, and men of peace and quietness hide, dreading to be noticed publicly. But when the unrighteous are overthrown, the upright are everywhere visibly increased, having confidence in the safety of their households and goods. See the condition of the Israelites in the days of the Philistine domination, and their altered estate when Jonathan overthrew their wicked oppressors (1 Samuel 13:6; 14:22).