Irrevocable and crushing judgment will be the reward of one who despises wise counsel and plunges on in his sin until the patience of the Lord is exhausted.
Hardening the neck is a figure taken from the manner in which a stubborn bullock turns away from and avoids the yoke. This illustration aptly pictures obstinate men who persistently refuse to heed reproof. They set their wills stubbornly against what would be for their own best interests, thus ensuring their destruction.
God is gracious and long-suffering, slow to anger, and does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. Yet even His patience with the unrepentant will one day come to an end. He will plead, and strive, and warn until it is clear that the heart is fully set on having its own way. Then He leaves the hardened soul to its doom, giving it up to sudden destruction. There are many scriptural examples of this, such as Korah, Dathan, Abiram, Belshazzar, and Jezebel.
See notes on Proverbs 28:12,28. However much individual men prefer sin to holiness, collectively they rejoice when the righteous are in authority and mourn when evil men rule. Even the vilest people enjoy the comfort and protection of themselves and their property when the upright flourish. The unbeliever who hates Christianity and makes it the butt of his cheap ridicule, nevertheless prefers to live in a land where the teachings of the Bible are generally held and where the Christian faith is respected. To the degree that principles of the New Testament control the minds of the men who administer civil government, peace and prosperity prevail; none know this better than the openly skeptical. The same was true in Israel in regard to the Law and the Prophets. The reign of a Josiah or a Hezekiah was much to be preferred to that of an Ahab or a Manasseh.
See note on Proverbs 28:7. Loose living is a snare to which young men are particularly exposed. He who is wise will avoid it as he would a viper about to strike. Immorality will ruin body and soul. Its awful consequences are beyond description. “Flee also youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22) is a very beneficial warning. See 1 Corinthians 6:15-20.
When David sang that “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God,” he had to admit “my house be not so” (2 Samuel 23:3, 5). It is Christ who is seen as the King who will one day establish the land by judgment. A scepter of righteousness will be the scepter of His kingdom. Meantime it is the privilege of every earthly sovereign to endeavor to be a fitting type of God’s anointed Ruler. The receiver of gifts or bribes is not a godly model. His evil example results in the corruption of the entire government. See this in Samuel’s sons (1 Samuel 8:3).
True praise, the honest recognition of merit in another, is right and proper in its place. It may be the means of cheering and encouraging a deserving person, who is perhaps depressed. But flattery— saying what the heart does not mean in order to mislead or to curry favor—is a net and a snare for the feet of the one who listens. Insincere compliments are most dangerous. The humble man will turn away in fear from any who approach him in this way. The heart is too prone to think well of itself as it is without listening to the flattering words which only fuel the fire of pride. The doom of Absalom should sound a solemn warning in our ears! None were so praised as he, and few princes have failed more terribly (2 Samuel 14:25). See also notes on Proverbs 28:23 and connected passages.
The evil man is overthrown by his own transgressions. The very sins in which he delighted prove to be his undoing. When the upright shouts and sings for joy, the wicked is pierced through with many sorrows. The latter lives only for himself and does not consider the cry of the needy. The former, recognizing his own indebtedness to God’s sustaining and preserving grace, is quick to show compassion to the indigent who cry for help. In his benevolence he becomes an imitator of Christ who always “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Contrast the spirit of Peter and John with that of the unscrupulous Pharisees (Acts 3:1-8; Matthew 23:23-28).
The first part of the couplet in this verse is rendered by J. N. Darby, “Scornful men set the city in a flame.” When a crisis arises and the populace are stirred, the ruler who meets them with cold sarcasm or stinging scorn only adds to their anger and causes their passions to burn more fiercely than ever. Rehoboam’s answer to the men of Israel is an exemplification of this (1 Kings 12:13-14). If he had followed the counsel of the wise men he would have appeased the people and averted their indignation.
It is futile to endeavor to convince a fool of his errors. He is proud in heart and admires himself and his opinions above all else. To strive with him will yield no good result. Whether he becomes heated and wrathful or whether he seems for the moment to accept advice cheerfully, it all comes to the same thing: there will be no happy resolution because the fool will refuse to accept correction. Nehemiah’s controversy with the sometimes affable but generally openly angry Sanballat illustrates well what is meant by this proverb (Nehemiah 2:10,19; 4:1-10; 6:1-9).
Because of the differences in their lives, bloodthirsty men hate those who are upright. This is seen in “Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother.. .because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12). Holiness and godliness invariably provoke the hatred of wicked men who see condemnation of their own vile ways in what is right and good.
The just, on the other hand, are glad to be their brother’s keeper— seeking to preserve his life and care for his soul. This concern for the blessing of others is one of the first and strongest evidences that a man has been born of God.
Mind and spirit are used synonymously for the seat of intelligence. A fool readily pours out all he knows, regardless of the effect it may have for good or evil. A wise man discreetly guards his tongue, knowing the impropriety of hasty speech. It is not that the fool is more frank and open than the wise; but mere frankness, without a consideration of what one says, is not at all to be commended. This quickness to speak is what characterizes that pest of society, the gossip and the talebearer.
On the road to Emmaus our Lord Himself, who knew all things, did not immediately reveal His full knowledge of the solemn events in which He had been the central figure. He asked the disciples, “What things?” when they expressed their wonder at His apparent ignorance. He wished to test their hearts; and all was for their blessing, as was proven afterward (Luke 24:13-32). Joseph, in his dealings with his brothers, maintained the same reserve until the moment arrived when the revelation, “I am Joseph!” had its full effect (Genesis 42-45).
In the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus there is a passage which seems to explain this proverb. “As the judge of the people is himself, so are his officers; and what manner of man the ruler of the city is, such are all that dwell therein.” A corrupt ruler will surround himself with corrupt men, his own evil example acting powerfully on the formation of the characters of those around him. Therefore it is important that those who occupy positions of authority possess integrity and uprightness. It was a sad period in the history of Judah when their pastors, or rulers, were their examples in disobedience to God (Jeremiah 2:8; 10:21).
See notes on Proverbs 22:2. It is unfortunate that there are those who oppress the needy; both are totally dependent on the same common Benefactor who “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). His eye is over all His works, and He notes the need as well as the behavior of all His creatures. He makes the eyes of both the poor and those who lord it over them to alike sparkle with life and intelligence.
A faithful king will be thoughtful of the weak and will judge the poor fairly, thus patterning his actions after the Most High who rules over all in righteousness. Therefore his throne will be established in peace. The word forever (kjv) is often used in what might be called a limited sense, as when in law we speak of transferring property “to him and his heirs forever,” that is, to perpetuity. See what is said concerning the throne of Solomon, a type of the reign of Christ (Psalm 89:19-29).
See notes on Proverbs 19:18 and 23:13-14. An undisciplined child will bring shame on his mother and ruin on himself. Refusing to discipline him because of a personal dislike of causing temporary pain, demonstrates hatred instead of love. Correction and reproof, properly administered, are for the child’s best interests and open his heart to wisdom. Let the over-indulgent parent be warned by the fate of Adonijah. It was for good reason that God recorded the unhappy fact that “his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so?” No wonder Adonijah became a rebel! (1 Kings 1; 2:13-25).
See verse 2 of this chapter and the connected passages. It is a principle in God’s moral government that although the wicked may seem to prevail over the righteous, they will surely retreat and righteousness will hold sway at last. When the wicked are in power, lawlessness flourishes and uprightness is crushed; but this can only be for a time. “The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment,” as Zophar rightly observed, though he was wrong in applying it to Job when he was looking for the cause of his affliction (Job 20:5).
Throughout the past and the present dispensations, in large measure the wicked have been in power. At times God has permitted them to test most severely the patience of the righteous. But their overthrow is near, when God’s King will appropriate His rightful power and reign, and the world-kingdom of our God and His Christ will come. Then the upright will “have dominion in the morning”— a morning without clouds, when righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14).
See verse 15 of this chapter. What wisdom a parent needs for correction to be properly administered and his household brought up in the fear of God! Perhaps nothing so causes one to realize his own failures and shortcomings as to see them duplicated in his children; and nothing, therefore, makes one feel more keenly the need of divine grace and wisdom in dealing with their children. But God’s Word is sure. Let the father and mother exercise a firm but kindly discipline, and God has promised that their efforts will bear good fruit. The corrected son will give rest to the heart and delight to the soul. This was seen in Isaac, whose lovely obedience did not flinch even when it meant to permit himself to be bound on the altar. And it is noteworthy that God had foreseen in Abraham the ability to control his household before he made him the recipient of the promises (Genesis 18:19).
By the word vision (kjv) is meant spiritual enlightenment and insight into divine things. A reference to 1 Samuel 3:1 will make this clear: “The word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” To meet the need of communicating with His people God raised up Samuel, who was appropriately called “the Seer”—the man with opened eyes—as Balaam described himself.
It is important that the people of God in all ages have this open vision. “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets,” (Numbers 11:29) having the eyes of their hearts enlightened that they might discern clearly what is of God and what is opposed to His mind. The apostle Paul in writing to the carnal Corinthians urged them to earnestly seek the best gifts, “especially the gift of prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1, niv). The prophet is one who enters into the knowledge of the Lord and disseminates it in freshness and power, meeting the actual need of the time. He does not necessarily foretell future events, but he declares the message that reaches the conscience and activates the affections.
When ministry of this nature is lacking among the people of God and the assemblies of His saints, they soon become lawless. Substituting natural enthusiasm for the Spirit’s energy, they open the door to what is simply carnal knowledge.
But we should not forget the second part of the couplet. Even if ministry of an edifying character is rarely known, where the Word of God controls the ministry there will be blessing. He who obeys God’s Word will be happy amidst the existing confusion, enjoying fellowship with Him. When leaving the Ephesian elders at Miletus, Paul did not commend them to gifted ministers, in view of evil teachers soon to arise. Instead he commended them to God and the Word of His grace, which was able to build them up. This Word abides today and remains to comfort and direct the saints in all circumstances. But the enlightened eye is needed to discern what has been revealed therein. Lack of vision will be revealed in a cold, dry, theological, or philosophical, treatment of the Scriptures, as though presented to exercise the intellect, rather than the heart and the conscience. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is applicable for all Christians while in this world of trial and testing (Ephesians 1:15-23).
The Septuagint reads, “a stubborn servant,” which seems to convey the right thought. Correction by words alone would avail little with such an unprincipled and self-willed person. Therefore strict discipline would be required to make him render proper service, which is implied in the phrase “he will not answer” (kjv). Is this not true with those of us who have been made servants of our Lord Jesus Christ? Have we not often failed to heed His Word, refusing its correction, therefore having to know the pains of chastisement? Obedience is a lesson slowly learned. Most of us are more or less patterned on the order of Jonah, who only became obedient after serious grief and trouble.
In 26:12 this statement is made concerning a man who is wise in his own eyes. The two attributes are likely to be found in the same person. He who is filled with self-conceit is very liable to be hasty in his words. Of God it is said, He “will not call back his words” (Isaiah 31:2); He need not do so, for “the words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6). But the self-confident man is continually speaking words that he has to recall because of his reckless impatience and his ready exaggeration. There is little hope of changing such a man, unless there be true self-judgment and repentance. This serious sin is often treated as a mere infirmity in which the person who commits the sin is to be pitied rather than blamed. Hasty speech is evidence of a disobedient spirit. It was characteristic of King Saul and on one occasion would have caused the death of Jonathan had the people not interfered and rescued him (1 Samuel 14). Jephthah too is a solemn warning as to hasty speech (Judges 11).
In a note, J. N. Darby states that “son” is literally, “son of the house.” He explains it as meaning that the servant inherits his master’s goods. It was this that pained Abraham; for, much as he valued the service of Eliezer of Damascus, he could not bear the thought of a servant inheriting in the place of a son. God’s servants are His sons and so will be His heirs and joint heirs with the Lord Jesus Christ in glory.
See note on Proverbs 28:25. A man of unbridled temper provokes continual contention and had best be avoided. His fury can only spring from an unchecked evil nature, and therefore he constantly violates all law, human or divine. None can walk in communion with the Lord Jesus Christ and display a wrathful and passionate spirit. The two things do not go together. See the elder son in the parable, whose unreasonable anger was the only jarring note in the merriment occasioned by his brother’s return (Luke 15:28).
Pride precedes destruction. It is a sure precursor of coming judgment. But he who is of a meek and humble spirit will obtain honor. Seeking it not, it will be thrust on him; while he who purposely seeks after his own glory, will fail miserably to obtain what he desires. Contrast Haman and Mordecai throughout the deeply interesting book of Esther.
To share the plunder a robber has stolen is to make oneself a participant in his evil deeds and draw down on one’s head the same sentence. This action is against a person’s own best interests, even viewed from a worldly standpoint. Put under oath, he is afraid to testify the full truth, and therefore brings himself under condemnation for abetting and concealing a theft. See Leviticus 5:1.
It is a serious thing indeed to join in with other men’s sins. The Holy Ghost warns the believer against it, showing that association with evil, or acceptance of it, necessarily defiles him who acts in this way. See 2 John 10-11; and 1 Timothy 5:22. This is a principle often forgotten in our day, but one of vital importance for all who desire to maintain the holiness of God’s house on earth.
In the 14th verse of the preceding chapter we were told, “happy is the man that feareth alway.” However in this verse we learn that there is a fear to be avoided as dangerous and soul ensnaring. The fear of God is most attractive in a saint. The fear of man is destructive of his spiritual life and testimony. How many people have been ruined by this fear!
Safety and security are the reward of the one who trusts the Lord alone. He who fears God will not fear man. He who fears man does not fear God as he should. See Paul in Galatians 1:10; and compare Luke 12:4-5, and John 12:43.
This proverb adds to what the previous verse had brought to our notice. They who seek the ruler’s favor are those who fear man and will have to learn by sad experience the futility of putting their trust in princes.
The Lord’s judgment is ever righteous. When Wolsey cried, “Had I but served my God as faithfully as I served my king, He would not have cast me off in my old age,” he uttered a great truth.
While the man of God will be obedient to rulers, he will never fawn on them. He sees in earthly rulers the representatives and servants of the Most High, who is the supreme Ruler in the kingdoms of men. Elijah was a splendid example of the man of God, when he confronted the ungodly Ahab, as narrated in 1 Kings 18.
The two families of people described in this proverb are forever opposed. The just detest what the wicked love and vice versa. So it always has been since Cain strove with Abel and killed him. So it will be until the devil and all who do his bidding are cast into the lake of fire. There can be no truce or treaty of peace between the hosts of good and evil. Incessant warfare must be waged until righteousness dwells undisturbed in the new heavens and the new earth, and God is all in all in the universe of bliss.
Until then, let those who know their God shrink not from the conflict. Grasping the sword of the Spirit, covered with the armor of God, they should go forth valiantly to meet the foe. They must depend on the strength of the One who says, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth…And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20).
This chapter concludes the collection of proverbs copied out, or collected, by the men of Hezekiah and marks the end of the sayings distinctly attributed to Solomon. The next two chapters, which close the book, are credited to Agur the son of Jakeh, and to King Lemuel. The latter, I judge, is a pseudonym for the wise king Solomon; but Agur, as we will see, is evidently a different person.
The question of inspiration is not disputed, whoever these men may be, for the very simple reason that in the times of our Lord Jesus Christ the book of Proverbs was composed of the various parts which are now included in it. when He said, “the Scripture cannot be broken,” He necessarily included each portion of the Proverbs.
Whether Solomon himself, or a later editor, collected them into one volume, we have no means of knowing. Though we do know that Proverbs 25-29 never formed part of the book until the reign of the great reformer Hezekiah.