Avowedly here (chap. 25: 1-7) is a supplement of "proverbs of Solomon" not contained in the preceding collection. What is there in this to demur to? Those we have had abide in their excellence. If more be added of no less divine excellence, why be ungrateful to God? Is our eye evil because He is good? Let us not be faithless, but believing.
"There also [are] proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out.
"[It is] the glory of God to conceal a thing; but the glory of kings [is] to search out a matter.
"The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings [is] unsearchable.
"Take away dross from the silver, and there cometh forth a vessel for the finer.
"Take away the wicked [from] before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness.
"Put not thyself forward in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great [men].
"For better [is it] that it be said to thee, Come up hither, than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen."
What an illustration of God's glory in concealing is that which the Apostle Paul has unveiled at last by the Spirit when the fit moment arrived for its revelation! A great mystery, truly, for it concerned Christ, and with Him the Church as His body. It was hid in God from the ages and generations when God was dealing first with individuals, then with His ancient people, while the great experiment was made in every way whether man by himself could be- brought to God or worthily represent Him. The end of such dispensations was the rejection of Christ on the cross, which His grace made the ground of salvation by the gospel. Nor this only, but setting the risen and glorified Christ in the new and unparalleled glory of Head over all things heavenly and earthly, and uniting with Him those who now believe, in the closest union of His body, would show His love in the Father's house, and His glory at His appearing. It is a most wonderful proof that it is His glory to conceal a thing; but the principle applies widely, that we may be exercised in all dependence on what He alone can impart in His ways with us.
With kings it is the other side of sifting out, on behalf of their subjects, good or evil to reward or punish it. They are ordained by God and alike are the fountain of earthly honour, and bear the sword not in vain to punish evildoers. Hence the need of searching out a matter.
No sovereign better than Solomon exemplifies that the heart of kings is unsearchable. See his decision of the dispute between the mothers, whose was the dead child, and whose the living one. Was there one soul that penetrated his heart when he asked for a sword and said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other? The false mother was as willing as the true was not, but who could have anticipated it but the king? What sounded cruel, turned out wise and kind. "The heaven for height and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable."
All the more important, if there be precious metal, that the base alloy be taken away. Then only comes forth a thing of beauty and for use.
So is it that the wicked should not enjoy court favours. Righteous repudiation of evil ones establishes a throne in men's consciences.
But there is another moral element of great moment there and everywhere else - not self-seeking, but a truly humble mind. As our Lord said, If it were but about a place at a feast, go and take the last, that when the host comes he may say, Friend, go up higher. So here, "Put not thyself forward in the presence of the king nor in the place of great [men]." What a reproof of vanity to be thrust lower, and in the prince's presence too! Let us not forget Him who lived what He said, and said for our edification, "everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that abaseth himself shall be exalted."
Nor is it only the self-conceit which pushes forward among the great that is reproved, lest a greater humiliation befall one. A contentious spirit is also to be shunned.
"Go not forth hastily to strive, lest [thou know not] what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.
"Debate thy cause with thy neighbour, but reveal not the secret of another;
"Lest he that heareth disgrace thee, and thine ill report turn not away.
"Apples of gold in baskets (or, pictures) of silver [is] a word spoken in season (or, fitly).
"An earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold [is] a wise reprover on an attentive ear.
"As the cold of snow in the time of harvest [is] a faithful messenger to those that send him; for he refresheth the soul of his masters.
"Clouds and wind without rain is whoso boasteth of a false gift." vv. 8-14.
Haste exposes to all sorts of mistakes, especially when it takes the form of strife with another, who can soon convict of error where it was least suspected, to the shame of the too confident censor, when he looks in vain for a retreat and hiding place.
One may discuss with a neighbour what concerns us deeply, but must beware of betraying what is somehow learned to his injury.
Otherwise its disclosure will disgrace him that spreads it, so that the ill effect will long abide.
On the other hand, a word spoken to the point, or in season, is here compared to apples of gold in baskets of silver - fruit of divine righteousness served up with befitting grace.
Nor is it so with so blessed a display of what is precious; for a wise reprover on an attentive ear is a prized object and an ornament of great value.
Again, a faithful messenger in a world of unfaithfulness is an exceeding comfort to those that send him, here compared to the cold of snow in the time of harvest. He does indeed refresh the soul of his masters.
Whereas he who boasts of a false gift, or falsely giving, convicts himself as a sham, like clouds and wind without rain.
These painful, mischievous, and disappointing qualities are among the still more numerous evil ways of the first man. Whatever the good things set in contrast, they are seen in full perfection in the Lord Jesus, the second Man. And they are the exercises and manifestations of the new life in the believer, which our Father would have us diligently to cultivate.
In verses 15-20 we are reminded of the great profit in a patient spirit and a gentle tongue, even with men of high authority.
"By long forbearing is a ruler persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.
"Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be surfeited therewith, and vomit it.
"Let thy foot be seldom in thy neighbour's house, lest he be full of thee and hate thee.
"A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour [is] a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.
"Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is a broken tooth and a foot out of joint.
"One that taketh off a garment in cold weather, vinegar on nitre, so is he that singeth songs to a sad heart."
That a ruler should be hard to move from his resolve, one easily understands. Yet by long forbearing he is persuaded, where opposition would only fix his will. More generally still a soft tongue breaks the bone. Though proverbially, as men say, Hard words break no bone, gentle ones bend and break the strongest.
Sweetness is not all; one may have too much of it. A little honey is excellent; but if you have found it, eat enough and no more, lest you prove it an untoward feast, and sickness ensues, disagreeable to others no less than to yourself. But honey, or natural sweetness, must not enter an offering to the Lord. In divine things, seasoning with salt is essential, not sweetening to suit the natural palate.
Neighbourly kindness becomes us, and promotes good will. But here again danger lurks, if one overdo. It is apt to degenerate into a thoughtless or a meddlesome habit; and instead of love, hatred ensues. We must not give occasion, especially to those that seek it.
But false witness against a neighbour is quite another thing, and extremely heinous. He that bears it is here said to be mischievous in ever so many different ways - a maul to crush, a sword to pierce when the object is at hand, and an arrow to wound at a distance.
Confidence in an unfaithful man is a fault altogether opposed, especially if it be in time of trouble, when you reckon on the support you had vainly expected. It fails your spirit as a broken tooth does the mouth, or a foot out of joint the body.
Then, again, what is it to remove a wrap in cold weather? Does it not aggravate the chill? as vinegar acts on nitre, not to soothe but to irritate. So are both like him "that singeth songs to a sad heart." Prayer is seasonable for the afflicted, sympathy is suited; but singing songs is for the merry, not the sad. Mirth and its outflow must jar, as being wholly incongruous.
In verses 21-28, is a miscellaneous group of weighty counsel or observation.
"If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink;
"For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head; and Jehovah shall reward thee.
"The north wind bringeth forth rain; and an angry countenance a secret (or, backbiting) tongue.
"Better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a contentious woman and a house in common.
"Cold waters to a thirsty soul - so good news from a far country.
"A troubled fountain and a defiled well [is] a righteous one that tottereth before the wicked.
"To eat much honey [is] not good; and to search weighty things [is] a weight.
"He that [hath] no rule over his own spirit [is] a city broken down, without wall."
The first of these maxims must have startled an Israelite ordinarily; it rises above nature and law which deals with the evil feeling and ways as they deserve. Here it is "the kindness of God," and His call to act on a goodness which is seen in Him and can only flow from Him. We see it literally acted and on a large scale when divine power drew a Syrian host, sent to apprehend Elisha, blindfolded into the capital city of Israel, and the king asked the prophet, Shall I smite? shall I smite? But the mouthpiece of God said, No; "set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master." No wonder that the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel. What was strange then, and always must have been to man's mind, is now so congenial to the Christian that the Apostle was led to cite the words as a rule for any and every day. "Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." Rom_12:20. It was God in Christ, it is God in the Christian. Is it obsolete in Christendom? May it not be in Christians? It is too precious to lose.
Verse 23 has elicited very different senses from translators, as we may see in the text and the margin of the A.V. Even here the converse of the last clause seems preferable - that as the north wind brings forth rain, so an angry countenance provokes a secret or backbiting tongue. If this be right, it is a call to gentleness even in the look, and a warning of the consequence of failure in that respect.
The next verse expresses the wretchedness of having to share a house with a contentious woman, which made a corner of the housetop an agreeable escape from such a din.
On the other hand, good news from a far country is no less refreshing than cold waters to a thirsty soul. One looks for pleasant sounds at home, instead of noisy strife or murmurs. But if one receives good news from a far land, it is all the sweeter.
There is a report or a fact, however, that is calculated to give pain and to stumble - when a righteous one totters before the wicked. Thence one hoped for a fountain springing up, and a clear river flowing out perhaps. How sad that one can find only a troubled fountain, and a defiled well!
To eat too freely of what is sweet to the palate is not good, as we may have proved to our cost through lack of subjection to the Word; but there is the opposite danger of excessive search after weighty things, which is a weight instead of a pleasure or profit. The Hebrew word translated glory, as is well known, means also weight. As the retention of the sense "glory" does not yield any result of a satisfactory nature, and requires even a negative strangely forced to give any good meaning, the other rendering is here adopted which seems to supply easily what seemingly is wanted.
There remains the last warning of wisdom, to beware of an ungoverned spirit. He that has no control over his own spirit exposes himself to all sorts of surprise, inroad, and ruin. Is he not like a city broken down and without a wall?