Proverbs 25 – Hezekiah’s Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs
A. Wisdom before kings and judges.
1. (1) Hezekiah’s collection of Solomon’s proverbs.
These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied:
a. These are the proverbs of Solomon: This collection of proverbs is from 25:1 through 29:27, making up five chapters of the book of Proverbs. These also were written by Solomon yet collected under the supervision of Hezekiah king of Judah – some 270 years after Solomon’s death.
i. 1 Kings 4:32 tells us that Solomon spoke three thousand proverbs. Even with Hezekiah’s addition, not all of them are contained in the Book of Proverbs.
b. Which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied: King Hezekiah of Judah reigned over a time of national spiritual revival. He added these chapters to the previous collection of proverbs, having found these yet-to-be published proverbs of Solomon.
i. The men of Hezekiah: “Certain persons appointed by Hezekiah for that work, whether prophets, as Isaiah, Hosea, or Micah, who lived in his days, or some others, it is neither evident nor material.” (Poole)
2. (2-5) The wisdom of kings.
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
As the heavens for height and the earth for depth,
So the heart of kings is unsearchable.
Take away the dross from silver,
And it will go to the silversmith for jewelry.
Take away the wicked from before the king,
And his throne will be established in righteousness.
a. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter: There are many mysteries in the universe, both material and spiritual mysteries. There are many things God has concealed, and this is one expression of His glory. It is one of God’s ways to say, “You are amazed by what you see; yet what you don’t see, what I have concealed, is even greater.”
i. “Those unsearchable secrets of his – such as are the union of the three persons into one nature, and of two natures into one person, his wonderful decrees, and the no less wonderful execution thereof, &c. – these make exceeding much to the glory of his infinite wisdom and surpassing greatness.” (Trapp)
ii. “I know not, however, that there are not matters in the Book of God that will not be fully opened till mortality is swallowed up of life. For here we see through a glass darkly; but there, face to face: here we know in part; but there we shall know as we also are known.” (Clarke)
b. The glory of kings is to search out a matter: It is the glory of great men (kings) to search out what God has concealed. This speaks to our pursuit of God’s mysteries in the spiritual world, but perhaps even more so to God’s mysteries in the material world. When men and women seek out scientific knowledge, trying to understand the mystery and brilliance of what God has concealed in His creation, they express an aspect of the glory of humanity, even the glory of kings. We therefore say to the scientist, search on, and do so with all your strength.
i. In all their searching, the scientist should still keep this humble remembrance: It is the glory of God to conceal a matter. “What I see amazes me, but God has concealed even greater treasures of knowledge and wisdom in His creation (Romans 1:19-20). I must not arrogantly think that I can figure it all out.” As G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “That is the principle of all the triumphs of scientific investigations; and it is the deepest secret of all advance in spiritual strength.”
ii. “It is suggestive that those scribes put this Proverb first…had not all this resulted from the fact that they had been under the rule of a king whose supreme glory had been that of searching out the secrets of wisdom in the fear of Jehovah?” (Morgan)
iii. “Verse 2 appears to be an intentional tribute to Solomon and Hezekiah as scholar-kings. This proverb comes from a time when academic inquiry and governmental power were closely linked; in the modern world they are more separated.” (Garrett)
c. So the heart of kings is unsearchable: While it is part of the glory of kings to search out a matter, one thing every man has trouble searching is his own heart, and we have trouble searching the hearts of others. Such knowledge can be so far above us, like the heavens above the earth. Yet, God knows the heart (Romans 8:27, 1 Corinthians 2:10).
i. As the heavens for height and the earth for depth: “As the sky extends to apparently limitless heights above the surface of the earth, with reference to depth emphasizes the apparently limitless extent of the earth far below humankind’s feet.” (Waltke)
ii. The heart of kings is unsearchable: “The king’s decisions are beyond the knowledge of the people…many things cannot be made known, being ‘unsearchable’ because, perhaps, of his superior wisdom, his caprice, or the necessity of maintaining confidentiality.” (Ross)
d. Take away the wicked man from before the king: Like dross should be removed from silver, so wicked counselors and associates should be removed from the presence of kings and rulers. Then will their leadership (throne) be established in righteousness.
i. “You cannot have a pure silver vessel till you have purified the silver; and no nation can have a king a public blessing till the wicked-all bad counsellors, wicked and interested ministers, and sycophants-are banished from the court and cabinet.” (Clarke)
3. (6-7) Conduct before kings.
Do not exalt yourself in the presence of the king,
And do not stand in the place of the great;
For it is better that he say to you,
“Come up here,”
Than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince,
Whom your eyes have seen.
a. Do not exalt yourself in the presence of the king: We should always avoid self-exaltation. Even as we should humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord (James 4:10), we should also humble ourselves before others.
i. “Loving to be preeminent is the bane of godliness in the church. Let each of us set about the work of throwing down our high tower of conceit.” (Bridges)
b. Come up here: When a man or a woman properly humbles themselves before God and kings, they may be invited to a higher place. This is much better than arrogantly setting ourselves high and then being put lower in the presence of the prince. Jesus gave much the same lesson in Luke 14:8-11, concluding with the thought: For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:11).
i. In the presence of the prince: “Now, if before an earthly prince men should carry themselves thus modestly and humbly, how much more before the King of heaven! And if among guests at a feast, how much more among the saints and angels in the holy assemblies!” (Trapp)
4. (8-10) Wisdom in avoiding court.
Do not go hastily to court;
For what will you do in the end,
When your neighbor has put you to shame?
Debate your case with your neighbor,
And do not disclose the secret to another;
Lest he who hears it expose your shame,
And your reputation be ruined.
a. Do not go hastily to court: Sometimes the court of law is necessary, but we should never go hastily to court. If it is possible to resolve a dispute any other way, we should do it that other way. This was Paul’s later teaching to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
i. “After squandering your money away upon lawyers, both they and the judge will at last leave it to be settled by twelve of your fellow citizens! O the folly of going to law! O the blindness of men, and the rapacity of unprincipled lawyers!” (Clarke)
ii. “Jesus gave a similar teaching in Luke 12:57–59.” (Garrett)
b. When your neighbor has put you to shame: This is another strong reason why one should avoid court – you might lose and be putto shame. Many people who go to court have an unrealistic confidence that they will win.
c. Debate your case with your neighbor: Solomon’s wise advice is to settle it out of court. If you can debate your case outside the court, do it there. The debate may expose a secret that would be to your shame in open court and from that your reputation be ruined.
i. “To run to the law or to the neighbours is usually to run away from the duty of personal relationship—see Christ’s clinching comment in Matthew 18:15b.” (Kidner)
ii. “One should not smear another’s name to clear his own or a defendant’s.” (Waltke)
iii. Adam Clarke could not help but add this: “On this subject I cannot but give the following extract from Sir John Hawkins’s Life of Dr. Johnson, which he quotes from Mr. Selwin, of London: ‘A man who deliberates about going to law should have, 1. A good cause; 2. A good purse; 3. A good skilful attorney; 4. Good evidence; 5. Good able counsel; 6. A good upright judge; 7. A good intelligent jury; and with all these on his side, if he have not, 8. Good luck, it is odds but he miscarries in his suit.’”
The remaining of Proverbs 25 contains one or two verse proverbs that will be considered individually.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold
In settings of silver.
Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold
Is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear.
a. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold: There is something special and powerful about a word fitly spoken. The right word at the right time has power to heal and strengthen, to guide and rescue. It is like an apple made of gold set on a beautiful sliver platter.
i. A word fitly spoken: “Hebrew, Spoken upon his wheels – that is, rightly ordered and circumstantiated, spoken with a grace, and in due place. It is an excellent skill to be able to time a word, [Isaiah 50:4] to set it upon the wheels, as here. How ‘good’ are such words!” (Trapp)
b. Is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear: The word fitly spoken may also be a rebuke. When the one who is a wise rebuker meets an obedient ear, it is like beautiful jewelry (an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold).
Like the cold of snow in time of harvest
Is a faithful messenger to those who send him,
For he refreshes the soul of his masters.
a. Like the cold of snow in time of harvest: This speaks of a cold drink, cooled by the cold of snow, given to a hardworking man in time of harvest. The refreshing, invigorating nature of that cold drink illustrates the blessing of a faithful messenger to those who send him. The faithful messenger is beloved by the one who sends the message. God wants His people to be faithful messengers of His gospel and work.
i. In the Apocrypha there is a description of a man who died from heat stroke during time of harvest (Judith 8:2-3).
ii. “Probably the reference is to drink cooled with snow. During the hot summers, laborers brought snow and ice from the high mountains and stored them in snow houses or snow caves; they were transported, for example, insulated by jute.” (Waltke)
iii. “Verse 13 does not mean that it snows at harvest time—that would be an unmitigated disaster. It refers to bringing down snow from the mountains during the heat of harvest and the refreshment that gives to workers.” (Garrett)
b. He refreshes the soul of his masters: The sender of the message is refreshed and comforted knowing that the message is being faithfully delivered. So God is pleased with His faithful messengers today.
i. “The apostle Paul often acknowledged this refreshment to his anxious spirit when he was burdened with all the care of the churches (1 Corinthians 16:17–18; Philippians 2:25–30; 1 Thessalonians 3:1–7).” (Bridges)
Whoever falsely boasts of giving
Is like clouds and wind without rain.
a. Whoever falsely boasts of giving: There are some who give nothing but want to be known as people who gave; others give small gifts and want to be known as those who gave great gifts (such as Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11). They want the reputation of generosity without actually being generous.
i. “The lesson, of course, is not to make false promises.” (Ross)
b. Is like clouds and wind without rain: When the clouds and wind of a storm come, we expect life-giving rain. When the clouds and wind are without rain, it is a disappointment – just like he who falsely boasts of giving.
i. The short New Testament letter of Jude used this figure to describe dangerous, unproductive people (Jude 12).
By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded,
And a gentle tongue breaks a bone.
a. By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded: Our self-control and patience can persuade great men to our cause, even a ruler. William Wilberforce persuaded the leaders of the British Empire to outlaw slavery through long forbearance and dedication to his righteous cause.
b. A gentle tongue breaks a bone: The patient, gentle words of a wise man or woman can have a great impact over a long period of time. Such words can have bone-breaking power.
i. “The gentle tongue breaking a bone might seem to be a paradox. But it is a fine illustration of the power of gentleness above hardness and irritation.” (Bridges)
Have you found honey?
Eat only as much as you need,
Lest you be filled with it and vomit.
a. Eat only as much as you need: If someone has found honey – something good and wonderful to find – the honey should be enjoyed, but one should eat only as much as you need.
b. Lest you be filled with it and vomit: If something good (honey) is eaten beyond what one needs, if we fill ourselves with it, then it may cause an unpleasant reaction (vomit) and we lose the good thing we thought we gained. Overindulgence in good things is harmful and counter productive.
i. “Since Eden, man has wanted the last ounce out of life, as though beyond God’s ‘enough’ lay ecstasy, not nausea.” (Kidner)
ii. “By honey he understands, not only all delicious meats, but all present and worldly delights, which we are here taught to use with moderation. Honey excessively taken disposeth a man to vomiting.” (Poole)
Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house,
Lest he become weary of you and hate you.
a. Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house: It is expected that neighbors would visit neighbors, but such hospitality should not be abused.
i. “Blessed be God, there is no need of this caution and reserve in our approach to him. Once acquainted with the way of access, there is no wall of separation. Our earthly friend may be pressed too far; kindness may be worn out by frequent use. But never can we come to our heavenly Friend unseasonably.” (Bridges)
b. Lest he become weary of you and hate you: The wise man or woman will be sensitive to the sense that a neighbor may become weary of their presence. Since good neighborly relationships make life much better, this is an important principle of wisdom.
i. “Friendship ripens through discreet sensitivity not to intrude on privacy and to allow space to be a person in his own right, not through self-enjoyment, impetuosity, or imposition. Without that discretion, instead of enriching life, friendship takes away from it.” (Waltke)
ii. “At first thou mayest be Oreach, as the Hebrew proverb hath it, i.e., welcome as a traveller that stays for a day. At length thou wilt be Toveach, a charge, a burden. And lastly, by long tarrying, thou shalt be Boreach, an outcast, hunted out of the house that thou hast so immodestly haunted.” (Trapp)
A man who bears false witness against his neighbor
Is like a club, a sword, and a sharp arrow.
Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble
Is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint.
a. A man who bears false witness against his neighbor: Many proverbs speak against the man who bears false witness. This liar, whether in the court of law or common conversation, does great damage. He is like a club, a sword, and a sharp arrow. It is not a small sin to bear false witness against a neighbor.
i. The man who bears false witness “Is as cruel and pernicious to him as any instrument of death. The design of the proverb is to show the wickedness of slander, and that a false witness is in some respect as bad as a murderer.” (Poole)
ii. “For in-close battle he used the war club (or mace), for less close but still hand to hand fighting the sword (or dagger or scimitar, see Proverbs 5:4) and for long distance fighting the bow and arrow (see Proverbs 5:23).” (Waltke)
iii. “Lo, here the mischief of an evil tongue, thin, broad, and long, like a sword to let out the life blood of the poor innocent – nay, to destroy his soul too, as seducers do that bear false witness.” (Trapp)
iv. “The tongue wounds four people at one stroke. The person harms himself, the object of his attack, anyone who listens to his words, and the name of God. Flee from this deadly disease.” (Bridges)
b. Like a bad took and a foot out of joint: These two proverbs are connected because the man who bears false witness is often also the unfaithful man in time of trouble. In one aspect he brings pain, in the other aspect he is a pain. The unfaithful man is useless and like a persistent, debilitating pain.
Like one who takes away a garment in cold weather,
And like vinegar on soda,
Is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
a. Like one who takes away a garment in cold weather: Some people and their actions are especially troublesome. They bring discomfort (like leaving one without a garment in cold weather) and constant agitation (like vinegar on soda).
i. Like vinegar on soda: “To pour acid on this alkali is ‘first of all to make it effervesce, and, secondly, to destroy its specific qualities’.” (Martin, cited in Kidner)
b. Is one who sings songs to a heavy heart: The one who treats the heavy heart without sensitivity brings discomfort and the irritation of agitation. If songs are sung to a heavy heart, they should be sung in a minor key.
i. “The proverb indicates the impropriety of making merry in the presence of sorrow. It is wrong in method and serves to increase distress rather than to soothe it.” (Morgan)
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For so you will heap coals of fire on his head,
And the LORD will reward you.
a. If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat: The Bible commands us to have giving love and care even to our enemy. Human nature would tell us to hate our enemy, but the Bible tells us to love our enemies and to do it practically (Matthew 5:44-47).
i. “The implication that one should refrain from extracting vengeance is obvious. Paul quoted this proverb in his discussion of ‘love’ in Romans 12:9–21.” (Garrett)
b. For so you will heap coals of fire on his head: Commentators debate if this is a good thing or a harsh thing, if this is something good in the eyes of your enemy or not. Most likely refers to a burning conviction that our kindness places on our enemy. Or, some think it refers to the practice of lending coals from a fire to help a neighbor start his or her own – an appreciated act of kindness. Either way, we can destroy our enemy by making him our friend, and the LORD will reward you.
i. “Not to consume, but to melt him into kindness; a metaphor taken from smelting metallic ores.” (Clarke)
ii. “Most commentators agree with Augustine and Jerome that the ‘coals of fire’ refers to ‘burning pangs of shame’ which a man will feel when good is returned for evil, his shame producing remorse and contrition.” (Waltke)
iii. “By heaping courtesies upon him, thou shalt win him over to thyself…In doing some good to our enemies, we do most to ourselves.” (Trapp)
iv. “Do you think that others have wronged you? Pity them pray for them; seek them out; show them their fault, humbly and meekly; wash their feet; take the mote out of their eye; seek to restore them in a spirit of meekness, remembering that you may be tempted; heap coals of loving-kindness on their heads; bring them if possible into such a broken and tender frame of mind, that they may seek forgiveness at your hand and God’s. If you cannot act thus with all the emotion you would feel, do it because it is right, and the emotion will inevitably follow.” (Meyer)
The north wind brings forth rain,
And a backbiting tongue an angry countenance.
a. The north wind brings forth rain: Solomon mentioned this as an example of cause and effect. The north wind blows, and it brings forth rain.
b. A backbiting tongue an angry countenance: Those who speak ill of others with a backbiting tongue will provoke an angry countenance in others. This is a matter of cause and effect, just like the north wind bringing forth rain.
It is better to dwell in a corner of a housetop,
Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.
a. Better to dwell in the corner of a housetop: The corner of a housetop is not a great place to live. It is small, confined, and exposed to the elements because it is on the roof. Yet in some circumstances the corner of a housetop is a better place to live.
i. “Hostile speech from the wife is as unexpected and unwelcome as the rain from the north wind and as from a sly tongue. Moreover, there may be a figurative connection between the north wind and exposure on the corner of the roof.” (Waltke)
b. Than in a house shared with a contentious woman: To have the whole house but live in constant conflict with a contentious woman is misery. The same principle would be true of the contentious man. One would be better off in a humbler living situation and have peace in the home. For emphasis, this proverb is repeated from Proverbs 21:9.
i. “Christian woman, do not think these proverbs are unworthy of your attention. Be sure you do not fit the description of this dreadful picture. And surely the repeated exhibition strongly inculcates the cultivation of the opposite graces, the absence of which clouds the female character in painful deformity.” (Bridges)
As cold water to a weary soul,
So is good news from a far country.
a. As cold water to a weary soul: When a person is weary, a gift of cold water is greatly refreshing. Soul in this proverb is used in same sense as most other proverbs, as a reference to the whole person and life, not only the inner spiritual aspect of a person.
i. “Water could be cooled in porous containers made out of clay, for they were able to keep its content at a temperature at least five degrees below that of the storage place.” (Meinhold, cited in Waltke)
b. So is good news from a far country: When we receive good news, especially from a far country, it brings great and life-giving refreshment. This applies to good news of many types, not the least is the gospel, that good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ to rescue all who put their trust in Him.
i. The fact that someone travels from a far country to deliver good and important news makes the news all the more important. Many are willing to listen to the good news of Jesus Christ from someone who comes from a distance, just because the trouble they went to in bringing the message adds to its importance.
ii. “In the Biblical world news traveled agonizingly slow and was delivered with great difficult, so that extending the distance to a far off land heightens the refreshment.” (Waltke)
A righteous man who falters before the wicked
Is like a murky spring and a polluted well.
a. A righteous man who falters before the wicked: Sometimes it is true that a righteous man stumbles and falters. This is always sad, but even more so when it happens before the wicked, in the view of those who reject God and His wisdom.
i. “What a blemish was it for Abraham to fall under the reproof of Abimelech! for Samson to be taken by the Philistines in a whorehouse! for Josiah to be inminded of his duty by Pharaoh Necho! for Peter to be drawn by a silly wench to deny his master, &c.!” (Trapp)
ii. “The gross wickedness of the ungodly passes in silence. But Satan makes the neighborhood ring with the failings of those who profess to be Christians.” (Bridges)
b. Is like a murky spring and polluted well: Instead of the clarity and life-giving property of clean, clear water; a compromised life is like a dirty pool. It gives no life, no clarity, no refreshment, and no help. It only frustrates the purpose of water in that context.
i. “His despicable compromise disappoints, deprives and imperils the many who have learned to rely on him for their spiritual life.” (Waltke)
ii. “For a thirsty traveler expecting relief, the effect of coming upon a polluted well is disbelief and disappointment, and it serves as an apt metaphor for the profound disillusionment one feels when the righteous yield to evil.” (Garrett)
It is not good to eat much honey;
So to seek one’s own glory is not glory.
a. It is not good to each much honey: Honey is an example of one of God’s great gifts. In the world of Solomon’s day sweets were rare and nothing was sweeter than honey. Yet, overindulgence in even a good gift like honey is not good. Self-control must be practiced even with good things.
b. So to seek one’s own glory is not glory: Glory can be a good thing, and it is part of God’s promise to the believer (Romans 8:18). Yet to seek one’s own glory is not good; it is not glory at all. We should seek God’s glory and not worry about our own glory.
i. “Much honey produces nausea. So eventually does self-glorification.” (Morgan)
Whoever has no rule over his own spirit
Is like a city broken down, without walls.
a. Whoever has no rule over his own spirit: There are many who have so little self-control that it can be said that they have no rule over their own spirit. The world, the flesh, or the devil rule over such people, and not the spirit of self-control that is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
b. Is like a city broken down, without walls: A city broken down, a city without walls has no defense and is vulnerable to every attack. It has no security, stability, and can protect nothing really valuable. This shows some of the terrible cost of having no rule over one’s own spirit.
i. “Certainly the noblest conquests are gained or lost over ourselves. The first outbreak of anger resulted in murder. A king’s lack of watchfulness about lust resulted in adultery.” (Bridges)
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