Even in a day when Israel was under probation and the earthly government of Jehovah with present results for good or ill, there could not but be the working of great moral principles in those that feared His name, far beyond what the natural man covets.
"A name [is] rather to be chosen than great riches, loving favour rather than silver and gold.
"Rich and poor meet together: Jehovah [is] the maker of them all.
"A prudent one seeth the evil and hideth himself; but the simple pass on and are punished.
"The reward of humility, the fear of Jehovah, [is] riches and honour, and life.
"Thorns, snares, are in the way of a perverse one; he that guardeth his soul keepeth far from them.
"Train up the child in accordance with his course, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
"The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower [is] servant of the lender." vv. 1-7.
It is usual to supply the word "good" in the version of the opening clause of the 22nd chapter. But this is so necessarily implied as to seem needless. For who could suppose that a false pretension is of any value? One's name in Scripture is the manifestation of what one is; the object of the heart determines the character; and here it is supposed to be what is excellent in God's eyes as well as man's. Hence, loving favour accompanies it, which is far from due to silver and gold, often the portion of the worthless.
In the essentials, how little is the difference! Alike they come into the world, and alike they stand when the world passes away. "Rich and poor meet together; Jehovah is the maker of them all." This the poor man is entitled to remember, and the rich man ought not to forget. Job had it distinctly before him: "If I despised the cause of my bondman or of my bondmaid, when they contended with me, what then should I do when God riseth up? and if he visited, what should I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb?"
The value of prudence in a world like this is next urged. The circumspect sees the evil and seeks timely shelter; the heedless goes boldly forward and suffers the consequence.
Humility of a true sort, the fear of Jehovah, has its reward in riches and honour and life, which greater ability misses for the lack of it.
The crooked or perverse man finds painful experience on his way, thorns, snares; whereas he that guards his soul keeps aloof from all such trials.
Early training, whatever the exceptions, has its good result. Train up the lad according to his course; and when he is old, he will not depart from it. So it was with Isaac thus trained by his father. Solomon's course was a much more chequered one, though we may hope there was repentance.
It is a difficult thing for a man of money to avoid airs with him that has none, and particularly if the latter puts himself under obligation to him. But faith delivers from this snare, and still more when there is a real living Christ.
In verses 8-14 we have an alternating series of characteristics to strive against or to cherish, with only evils following, which call for our attention.
"He that soweth unrighteousness shall reap vanity; and the rod of his wrath shall have an end.
"He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed, for he giveth of his bread to the poor.
"Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out, and strife and ignominy shall cease.
"He that loveth pureness of heart [with I grace of his lips, the king [shall be] his friend.
"The eyes of Jehovah preserve knowledge, but he overthroweth the words of the treacherous.
"The sluggard saith, A lion without, I shall be killed in the streets!
"The mouth of strange women [is] a deep ditch; he with whom Jehovah is indignant shall fall therein."
To begin with here, injustice is to end with mischief and disappointment; yet if this sours the temper and leads to wrath, its effect is neither great nor long. It is the Old Testament analogue to Gal_6:7-8: "Be not deceived. God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life eternal."
The bountiful eye, on the contrary, does not wait for the appeals of want, but looks out for it in this world of disorder and distress; and his hand and heart go with the good will of his eye, for he giveth of his bread to the poor. And such a one is and shall be blessed.
The scorner is not only ungodly and a sinner, but a source of mischief where he enters. Would you have contention to disappear, you must get rid of his presence; for it surely brings strife and shame along with it.
How different with a man who joins love of a pure heart to grace on his lips! He is a treasure, not only in private but for public complications. The king seeks such a one for his friend. It is the combination that is so rare.
Even in a world of deception, before the king shall reign in righteousness, when eyes are dim and ears dull, where the vile is called liberal and the churl bountiful, the eyes of Jehovah preserve knowledge, which otherwise would perish from the earth; and He overthrows the words of the treacherous, were they as high as Haman in the eyes of Ahasuerus.
Again, the sluggard who likes to lie abed says in his foolish fancy, A lion is without. I shall be killed in the streets! He is blind to the worst enemy that besets his chamber and enchains his soul.
But the mouth of strange women is yet more dangerous to the unwary, "a deep ditch" for such as yield to her snares. He who falls therein is apt to sink indeed to utter ruin; or, in the energetic phrase of this book, he is one against whom Jehovah hath indignation.
These brief moral axioms here (vv. 15-21) close with the following pair - the thoughtless child, and the calculating adult - which we do well to lay to heart.
"Folly [is] bound in the heart of a child: the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
"He that oppresseth the poor to increase his [wealth], he that giveth to the rich, surely [cometh] only to want.
"Incline thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thy heart unto my knowledge.
"For [it is] a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee: they shall be together fitted to thy lips.
"That thy trust may be in Jehovah, I have made [them] known to thee this day, even to thee.
"Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge
"That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest report words of truth to them that send thee?" vv. 15-21.
It is a sure and solemn thing that folly is no calamity from without, but bound in the heart, and this not only when in the conflicts of busy life, but from our early days, departed as all now are from God by nature. "Folly is bound in the heart of a child"; exemption there is none from the most tender age. Nor does the utmost love or care adequately restrain folly. There is the rod of correction to drive it far away by Jehovah's prescription and with His blessing. It is the folly of a father or mother to think their way better than God's.
With the grownup another snare is too common: to oppress the poor in any form of increasing one's means - very especially to commend oneself to the rich by gifts they do not need. God's eye is on this folly too; and such "come to want" as such selfishness deserves.
To give heed to the words of the wise is itself a wise thing - to apply the heart as well as the ear to such as know better than ourselves. How sad the self-sufficiency that doubts it!
These words, if kept within, give satisfaction and pleasure; whereas all else palls and becomes distasteful, if not a shame. Nor is this all. They contribute to our own growth and the help of others by the help they render and the confidence they inspire. Thus do they become "together fitted to thy lips."
But there is a better effect still, "that thy trust may be in Jehovah." Therefore are such words made known, for who otherwise is sufficient for them? and what good is there that we have not received? Surely we do well to mark precisely the debt of each of us, "this day, even to thee."
Further, let us not overlook the enhanced value of "excellent things in counsels and knowledge" by their being "written" to us. However good oral instruction, there is no small danger of mistake in the hearer, and still more of letting slip even what we understand. But we can read again and again what is written, and make it our own more fully. Hence the signal profit of Scripture as the permanent Word of God to our souls, as nothing else can be.
A similar advantage. here noted next. Scripture possesses, is "that I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth." Pure science has nothing moral in it, still less an affection, and least of all makes God known to the soul, and in His true relationship to me. This is just what His Word does communicate in all certainty, for His Word is truth of that spiritual kind. Unbelief makes the truth of God the most uncertain of all things, like heathenism with its gods many and lords many, but the one true and living God unknown.
How good too is the fruit resulting to others! "That thou mightest report words of truth, to them that send thee" as a trusty representative, or that "send to thee" for advice in difficulty. Does not God give songs in the night, who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the birds of heaven?
The apothegms in verses 22-29 all have a prohibitory character, save the last, which is a positive example to be followed and honoured.
"Rob not the poor, because he [is] poor, neither oppress the afflicted in the gate; for Jehovah will plead their cause, and despoil the soul of those that despoil them.
"Make no friendship with an angry man, and go not with a furious man; lest thou learn his paths, and get a snare to thy soul.
"Be not of those that strike hands, of those that are sureties for debts; if thou hast nothing to pay, why should he take away thy bed from under thee?
"Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set."
"Hast thou seen a man diligent in his work? He shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before the obscure." vv. 22-29.
It may seem singular to say, "Rob not the poor," and in particular "because he is poor"; but it is a warning especially, so base, selfish, and cruel as human nature is now. The rich who might appear the more inviting prey to the unscrupulous are able to take care of themselves in ways that the poor would or could not essay. Hence, bad men flatter the rich for gain, while they also rob or oppress those who ought to be objects of pity. But Jehovah has His eye on such villainy, at the very gate whence justice should flow, pleads the cause of the poor and the afflicted, and repays heavily those who despoil them.
With one given to anger, it is hard to keep friends, and unsafe to make a friend; and to go with a furious soul is to run the risk of learning his ways, and thus to get a snare instead of a deterrent. Let not the sun go down upon your wrath, says the Apostle; not to hear him in this is to give place to the devil. Even if we have grave reason, the only right Christian feeling is to forgive; and if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses. You who are slow to forget your wrongs, perhaps imaginary, do you believe Christ's words?
If one realized the duty of having to pay, in any bargain that is made, or suretyship which one agrees to, there would be a serious consideration whether God approves and leads the way. But as drowning men catch at a straw for life, so the imprudent lose their own means, and then seek to draw to their help their trusting friends, even if these have little or nothing to spare. It is a trifle, say they, or a mere form without risk; for it is sure to answer. The sanguine and the improvident thus ensnare themselves into their own ruin. How homely and pungent the hint! If thou hast nothing to pay, why should he take away the bed from under thee?
Another dishonesty is then held up to censure, in which men are apt to cheat craftily rather than with open violence. The ancient landmark set by thy fathers is to be kept contentedly, and without allowing a covetous desire.
Last, it is well to regard a man diligent in his work in a world where so many begrudge their time, care, and labour. No wonder that one who does his business with conscience despatch, and skill, makes himself at length an object for the king's honour if not need, leaving behind the obscure with whose company he began. Those who rule value industrial integrity.