On Suretyship—The "Naughty Persons-Seven Things Hateful to God
There is no necessary reference here to modern commercial usages. The passage may be easily misunderstood and misapplied. The case is well put in Bishop Ellicott"s Bible: "When the Mosaic law was instituted, commerce had not been taken up by the Israelites, and the lending of money on interest for its employment in trade was a thing unknown. The only occasion for loans would be to supply the immediate necessities of the borrower, and the exaction of interest under such circumstances would be productive of great hardship, involving the loss of land, and even of personal freedom, as the insolvent debtor and his family became the slaves of the creditor ( Nehemiah 5:1-5). To prevent those evils, the lending of money on interest to any poor Israelite was strictly forbidden ( Leviticus 25); the people were enjoined to be liberal, and to lend for nothing in such cases. But at the time of Song of Solomon, when the commerce of the Israelites had enormously developed, and communications were opened with Spain and Egypt, and possibly with India and Ceylon, while caravans penetrated beyond the Euphrates, then the lending of money on interest for employment in trade most probably became frequent, and suretyship also, the pledging of a man"s own credit to enable his friend to procure a loan." The rest is easily imaginable. The text may be accepted as a distinct exhortation to ourselves. Have nothing to do with suretyship. If you can afford to give anything, give it, and there let the matter end. You have no right to pledge what you do not possess. There are cases in which the temptation is very strong to help, but there must be no yielding. Give: give liberally if you can; give heartily and promptly, but never come under enslaving conditions. The old man needs no caution; the young man must be warned, and even besought with much importunity.
"A naughty person, a wicked Prayer of Manasseh, walketh with a froward mouth. He winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers; frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord" ( Proverbs 6:12-14).
The "naughty person" has no public friends. When his portrait is painted it is always in hideous colours. The aim of the artist is to reveal the villain"s ghastliness. Eyes and feet and fingers are all delineated as servants of evil,—each a hired slave, each an instrument of shame. The matter, however, is not confined to the eyes and feet and fingers: the true reason is given in ver14: "frowardness is in his heart." Thus again and again we come upon the seat and spring of mischief. We must (especially as public teachers) be on our guard lest we content ourselves with merely painting the portrait of evil. We are not to be religious artists, but religious examples. How easy to depict sin! How pleasant to be merely a moral rhetorician! How delightful to denounce sin in hexameters, and to curse the devil in blank verse! Not thus will the Lord of righteousness judge it, for he will send sudden calamity upon the wicked, and suddenly break him as upon a wheel without remedy. Indignation and wrath are reserved for those who do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness. "Thinkest thou this, O Prayer of Manasseh, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?" All heaven is turned into a storm of wrath when God looks upon the policy and scheme of wickedness: "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter"s vessel, that cannot be made whole again: and they shall bury them in Tophet, till there be no place to bury." Fools are they, on a boundless scale, who try to shout down the thunder of God, and to turn away his judgments by the impotent uplifting of their palsied hands. They are buried in the cemeteries of ancient history and in the new-cut graves of this very day, and their epitaphs may be discerned afar: "They mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy." The day of the wicked is short. In his pleasure there is no joy. He can only be happy so long as he is self-forgetful. My Song of Solomon, lay this to heart and shun the ways of evildoers. Their purpose can only be to destroy thee. They cannot restrain their falsehood, nor can they curb their cruelty. Put thou thy confidence in God.
"Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken "without remedy" ( Proverbs 6:15).
The most detestable of all characters was described in the former verses; we must remember this in order to see the justice of the sudden calamity with which he is threatened. The suddenness is rather in the consciousness of the sufferer than in any change in the judgment and righteousness of God. From the beginning the penalty has always been fixed, but its realisation, come when it may, always affects the soul with a sense of suddenness. Notice that this detestable character is to be "broken;" that is to say, he is to be shattered as a potter"s vessel, and reconstruction is to be simply impossible. The words, "without remedy," sound like a knell of despair. In almost every other case there is some possibility of amendment and recall; but in the case of the malicious mischief-maker destruction is absolutely without promise of hope. In the sixty-fourth Psalm, David describes the action of the mischief-maker in energetic terms: "Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words: that they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not." The suddenness of the action of the bad man is met by equal suddenness on the part of the divine Judge. "They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them? They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search [a search searched]: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep." The character of the malicious mischief-maker never changes. He is full of invention, he accomplishes "the planned plan"—terms by which "a diligent search" may be rendered. The portraiture is one of conspirators, who calculate how they may lay snares privily and work out all the malign purposes of a secret league.
David clearly saw as the portion of the mischief-maker the very judgment that is declared in this verse. He even makes use of the same word "suddenly." "But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded. So shall they make their own tongue to fall upon themselves: all that see them shall flee away."
"These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren" ( Proverbs 6:16-19).
The first expression may be rendered "Six are the things which he hateth." Probably the enumeration is only used to enable the writer to indicate the supreme thing which is hateful to God. In six troubles God hath been with thee, and in seven he will not forsake thee. The eye of the consoler is upon the seventh trouble as the climacteric distress. We are not to look upon the six as merely an arithmetical number, but as the whole process preceding the crucial trial of life. So when God says there are six things which he hates, he simply means that while he hates all things evil there is a seventh which gathers up into itself all that is most hateful to him. This seventh or supreme offence may be regarded as the Unpardonable Sin of the Old Testament The Lord hates a proud look, because it disqualifies men from receiving favour and grace from heaven; he hates a lying tongue, because it is stained through and through with falsehood; he hates hands that shed innocent blood, because of their cruelty; he hates a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, because it lives in a false world, in which the standard is wickedness, and the reward is increase of presumption; he hates feet that be swift in running to mischief, as if they expressed great delight in their unholy work; he hates a false witness that speaketh lies, because society is no longer secure when truth is not its chief ornament; and God hates the man that sows discord among brethren, for whatsoever foils or diminishes the spirit of love is not of a godly nature. If God hates all these things, on what pretence can we love them? Whilst the Lord hates all things that are evil, and might include them in one generic designation, it is a needful condescension to our infirmities that he should stoop to details, and such specific enumerations as may enable the sinner to follow the track of the divine displeasure. Besides, whilst a merely general condemnation of evil should be sufficient on the divine side, the human heart: would take refuge in this generality, and be perfectly content to sentimentalise about it. It is when God charges sins directly and specifically upon men that they are driven from vague generality into minute and critical self-examination. It is evident that these "six things" are separable one from the other in many particulars. No one man may concentrate in himself all the six hateful offences; for example, a man may have a proud look, yet he may not be a false witness that speaketh lies; or a man may have a lying tongue, but his hands may never have shed innocent blood; or a man may have a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, but he may not have energy enough to run swiftly in the way of mischief. On the other hand, a truer analysis would find that all the six sins spring in reality from one source, and constitute, indeed, substantially an identical offence. It could be shown that a man could not have a proud look without sowing discord among brethren; and it could be shown that a man who has a lying tongue spends his whole life in shedding innocent blood. These are not things that are to be judged in the letter but in the spirit. Whoever has a heart gifted with the genius of devising wicked imaginations could not be slow to speak lies, or to sow discord among brethren. So we are caught alike in the general, and in the particular. There can be no escape from the judgment of God.
"My Song of Solomon, keep thy father"s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother: bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck. When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life" ( Proverbs 6:20-23).
The father will now have the child return to "the commandment" and "law," and regard them not as burdens but as ornaments. "Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck." We are familiar with this figure, because we find it in the third chapter, "Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart." Long before this we have become accustomed to the same species of ornamentation. See, for example, Exodus 13:9, and Deuteronomy 6:8. The literal interpretation of these orders led to the use of prayer fillets and phylacteries among the Jews. It appears that particular texts of Scripture were cut out, put in a leather case and tied at the time of prayer on the left arm and forehead. We are to distinguish between the application of moral truth and the mere idolatry of moral maxims. If our morality were to be written upon our forehead, it would be but a public spectacle; but when it is wrought into the very substance of the heart it expresses spirituality of character. The heart must be interested in all our religious studies, or those studies will degenerate into pedantry and hypocrisy. A very beautiful picture is given in Proverbs 6:22. The young man is led by the divine commandments; in sleep he is kept by the law of wisdom; and when he awakes he communes with the Spirit of God. The commandment and the law as Scriptural terms are always associated with images of light and glory: "the commandment is a lamp;" "the law is a light." Other passages bear out the appropriateness of these symbols ( Psalm 19:8, Psalm 119:98-100). There are indeed details of life in the consideration of which not a little perplexity may arise, yet there is always a "commandment," a vivid "law," a specific "instruction," which may be consulted, and obedience to which will readjust all details. We are not to be eccentric moralists, looking for recondite points on which we may set up a special piety; we are to look to the broad ways and currents of life, and to see that they originate in a spirit of righteousness, and tend towards human utility. If we are faithful to these easily ascertained realities and demands, all that is recondite and peculiar in moral development will be revealed to us. The path of the just is as the shining light, shining more and more unto the perfect day.
A Secular Sermon on Foresight
Creation is full of teachers. There are indeed "sermons in stones, and books in the running brooks." It is a mistake to imagine that men can learn only from the highest; there is learning in the lowest as well. "Praise" may be found even in the mouth of the "suckling." God has written a lesson upon the minutest works of his hands. Everything represents thought. The infinite variety of his creations is but the expression of the infinite aspects of his mind. The facets of the diamond throw back differing flashes to the sun; and all God"s works are facets, which burn, each with a singular glory. All is eloquent. All is music—music in form, or music in motion. All light teaches; all beauty persuades; all life inspires. We are now to gather around an insect. The busy ant is to be our minister. Instead of looking upward we are to look downward. We who could listen to an angel are to incline our ear to an ant.
The great lesson which the ant teaches is foresight; the duty of rightly improving the passing hour, the wisdom of making the best of our opportunities. Some people appear to be utterly destitute of foresight. They cannot see the very next gate that is to be opened. They have no grasp of the day, the week, the month. They enjoy breakfast, and trust for dinner. They get the vicious notion that other people should work for them; and that, somehow, things will turn out all right. Now all wise people anxiously study the doctrine of inferences. They look upon one action as bearing upon another. Their lives are practically logical. Their behaviour is a chain of reasoning.
The faculty of foresight, the power of doing something for the future, is a faculty most divine. Rightly educated and developed, it gives man peculiar elevation, and invests him with commanding influence. He who sees farthest will rule best Foresight is not to be confounded with distrust There is a loose and light-headed theology which says: "Let to-morrow mind its own business, God will make all right." That is not faith, it is presumption; it is not philosophy, it is nonsense; it is not repose, it is the laziest indolence.
The wise exercise of foresight makes life pleasant. The man who cannot see through two moments is always in a hurry, is never calm, is always jostled and pushed by an invisible crowd; he sees a spectre where he might hail a friend; he cringes as a serf where he might dictate as a baron.
This foresight makes life pleasant by economising time. Time is golden. Moments cannot be weighed by carats. Hours glitter with a light purer than the ray of rubies. One man finds no hours in the day; another finds twenty-four, and makes them forty-eight: and while midnight flings its solemn message over a sleeping town the wise man says to his God: "Thou deliveredst unto me a day, behold I have doubled its breadth of gold!"
This we find in our intercourse with men—that the man who has least to do takes most time to do it in, and that he who has most to accomplish is up hill long before the sluggard has saddled his lazy ass. Our greatest men have ever been the severest economists of time. The coxcomb spends time at the looking-glass which the philosopher spends over the inkhorn. While the pedant has no time to teach a child, great statesmen are teaching Homer to talk English. The ill-trained girl whose impoverished intellect is a lineal descendant of Pharaoh"s leanest kine cannot find time to go to the Sunday-school, while one of our Lord Chancellors was never late at his Sunday class through eight-and-twenty years! Men grow very poetical about sunset who have never a single word to say about sunrise! Men have cruelly rejected the Esau of morning, and flattered the Jacob of evening. Poor slighted sunrise! The West has many laureates, the East remains unsung. And yet not unsung. Work is its poetry; labour is the harp on which its praise is harped; and the moral monuments which industry has piled shall live when the palaces of the Cæsars have crumbled, and even the pyramids of the Pharaohs are the shadows of an unremembered past.
Foresight renders life pleasant by systematising duties. System is success. Some persons have no power of systematising. They are clumsy; their fingers are all thumbs, and all their thumbs are upon their left hands. This is true among men and women alike. A slatternly woman is tormentor enough for any man who loves order. She has many clocks, but no time. She rocks her duties to sleep, and then imagines she has discharged them. She puts off every engagement, and discounts all her purposes at a ruinous percentage. So also with the man of no system. He frets himself to death, and perishes not alone. Procrastination binds him hand and foot, and takes him out to be maddened by the laugh of triumphant enemies. He keeps books, but they are all waste-books. He has ledgers, but they are blank. He is always going to do something, but never does it. He moves, seconds, and carries resolutions every day; that Isaiah, he moves them off to one side, and carries them into oblivion! The men in the Church who do least are generally the men of leisure. They have only time to cross their legs beside a pleasant fire and criticise other people. They sleep long, that they may have vigour to grumble long. Half poisoned with wine, and half melted with fire, they have no apprehension of the possibilities of life. They dread noise because it is unfavourable to dreams, and their only objection to sleeping is that they have to waken again! Every Church is more or less cumbered with such men,—men of rapid tongues but leaden feet.
Foresight renders life pleasant by diminishing difficulties. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The man who sleeps on fine days is sure to complain most loudly in wet weather. Foresight numbers and weighs contingencies. Logical thinking leads to logical acting. The person who is destitute of foresight multiplies the difficulties of other people. He never carries an umbrella, but is willing to share that of his thoughtful companion; seldom has any change, so must have a beggar"s stomach without a beggar"s name; was going to bring something but forgot it, and therefore must share the oil of the wise virgins!
Solomon sends all such men to the ant, an insect which has "no guide, overseer, or ruler." Some spiritless people require guides, overseers, and rulers. They will not do anything except under the whip. Such people are never to be trusted. If men will not work without being watched, they will watch the watcher and sleep when they can. A true worker needs no watching. The darkness and the light are both alike unto him. He works because it is right. He is his own critic. His spirit is in harmony with the divine and absolute, and in his conscience is the tribunal before which his life is constantly arraigned. The man who requires watching is a thief. He may not have stolen money, but he has a thief"s heart, and may one day have a thief"s hand.
What is the action of the ant which is to be suggestive to men of the sluggard"s mould? She "provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest." That is to say, she makes the best of her opportunities. Opportunity! Let the young think of that word; it is full of meaning. The bridge gives a traveller an opportunity of crossing the river; the ladder gives a man an opportunity of descending or climbing; the spring gives the farmer an opportunity of sowing seed. Now write it on the youngest memory; stamp it on the opening brain; set it before you as a lesson never to be forgotten,—every life has opportunities; every life has a summer! A summer! The ant provideth her meat in the summer; how wise, how well! No year has two Juries. May never comes twice in the same year. Only once! Once the summer binds the million-tinted coronal around her blushing temples; once she charms the landscape into beauty, and the forest into Song of Solomon, and the orchard into fruitfulness; once she waves her wand, and angels of celestial loveliness beautify the garden and shed the fragrance of heaven through the tainted air of earth! Only once! The ant, without "guide, overseer, or ruler," knows this, and makes the most of it Go to her, ye sons of folly, "consider her ways, and be wise."
The child has opportunities. Make of them opportunities to accumulate information; to lay the basis of pure and exalted habitudes; to take on the outlines of the only beauty that is immortal!
The young man has opportunities. His employers mark his conduct, calculate his capabilities, and adjudge him accordingly. Always be qualifying yourselves for something higher. "Aim high; he who aimeth at the sky shoots higher far than he who means a tree." Wait He who waits often wins. Impatience is a sign of weakness. The weak twig trembles, the strong root is unmoved.
As every life has a summer, so every life has a winter. The ant, without "guide, overseer, or ruler," knew this, and consequently provided accordingly. Many men endeavour to remember this fact in secular life, and they do well. There is a money-making period in human life, and men should avail themselves of its privileges. No man of health who possesses reasonable opportunities for laying by a provision for what has been well termed a "rainy day" should spend all he makes, and throw himself upon society as a pauper. Remember that you will not always be so strong as you are now. The sun shines, make your hay! If you have only twenty shillings per week, save a few of them. Believe that debt is disgrace, and avoid it as you would flee from a serpent You are to take a broad view of human life; to strike averages; to calculate contingencies; to institute inquiries, and balance antagonisms. This will afford a substantial basis of action. The summer and the winter will be looked at together; the morning and the evening will interpenetrate. If you fail to operate upon this plan; if you think the whole year will be summer, and that one day will be as advantageous as another; and that you are master of all circumstances,—then "shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man." See what comes of setting natural law aside! Poverty and want are sent of God to chastise neglect of life"s summer! Beware how you treat that sunny messenger of God! She comes laden in order that you may unburden her for your own advantage; she comes with a warmth which you may so use as to cause it to penetrate the whole year. But neglect it, and you perish! Poverty is behind her, and if you refuse riches you shall have want.
In thus recommending preparation for life"s winter we are far from advocating penuriousness. Covetousness is an affront to God! The penurious man turns summer itself into winter, and if he had all the wealth of Golconda he would be as poor as the barren rock. Let there be no mistake then. "The liberal soul shall be made fat." "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; there is that withholdeth more than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty." Aye! covetousness tends to poverty as well as neglect. Strike the golden mean. Be prudent, yet be generous; be zealous for thine own interests, and then love thy neighbour as thyself!
Are we, then, fully at one upon this subject of foresight? Do we agree as to its desirableness, its value, its expediency? Does the mother turn to her daughter, and say: "Child, remember these things, and do them"? Does any father turn to his Song of Solomon, and say: "He that doeth these sayings shall build his house upon a rock"? If Song of Solomon, it is well! But I add to all this: if we are agreed up to this point, there is a point beyond to which we are irresistibly driven! If foresight is good in one department, it is good in another; and those who have tested its value should be the most eager to extend its application. Let us go from the less to the greater. Here is a person who prides himself on his foresight. He bears a high repute for range and intensity of vision in all secular concerns. Yet by the very sweep and clearness of his foresight I brand him as a fool! He never missed a train, yet he was never in time for public worship; he never failed to keep an appointment with Prayer of Manasseh, yet he never made an appointment with God; he was never too late for the post, yet he is in danger of being too late for heaven; he never failed to see gold in any bargain, yet he has turned away the fine gold of the gospel! He has foreseen everything but the chief thing: he has seen the shadow, not the substance; he has made a covenant with the servant and let the king pass by! Here is folly in the very midst of wisdom; and if the very wisdom be folly how great is that folly,—if the light be darkness how terrible is the gloom!
Here is a woman who also prides herself on her foresight, yet the mark of folly is on her forehead! "She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands," yet her soul is naked; "she riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household," yet her heart pineth with hunger; "she layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff," yet she rejects the robe woven by the atoning Saviour; "she eateth no-the bread of idleness," yet she does not work out her own salt vation! Wise in the little, but foolish in the great! She saves the copper, but gives up the gold to the burglar. Is this a foresight to be proud of? Is it not in very deed a fool"s sagacity? Christ simply requires of us what we willingly yield to others and ourselves. He says, Prepare, watch, be ready, trim your lamps; this is exactly what men do in the affairs of daily life, yet, while they deem themselves sagacious, they regard God as unjust! "I speak as unto wise men, judge ye what I say." "O that men were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!" Remember that to have foreseen everything but the day of death is to have lived a life which shall, in the words of Holy Writ, be "buried with the burial of an ass."
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 6". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34