Chapter 25

from
Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
by
Ralph Wardlaw


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Proverbs 25:2,3

"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."

The following truths may be considered as comprehended in this brief but striking statement, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter."

1. Taking it in contrast with the latter part of the verse, "but the honor of kings is to search out a matter," there is implied the idea that the divine knowledge is universal, perfect, and free from everything of the nature of inquiry, investigation, and effort in the acquisition. His acquaintance with all things is in the strictest sense intuitive, and in the strictest sense complete. He requires no "searching out" in order to discover anything; nor is it possible to make any addition to His knowledge. The past, the present, and the future are alike before His all-comprehensive mind. He sees all the present. He remembers all the past. He foresees all the future. His knowledge "is light without any darkness at all" (1 John 1:5), and it is light that is equally clear through the immensity of the universe and through all time and all eternity.

2. The language implies God's entire independence and supremacy as a part of His glory. He "does not give an accounting of any of his matters" (Job 33:13) further than, in sovereignty, He sees fitting to do. He conceals when He pleases; He discloses when He pleases. "Who has known the mind of Yahweh? Or who has become His counselor?" (Rom. 11:34). And who can demand the disclosure of any one of the secrets of the infinite and independent Mind?

3. The impenetrable depth of his counsels is a part of God's glory. His "judgments are a great deep" (Ps. 36:6). What line of created wisdom can fathom them? "Not angels that stand round his throne can search his secret will!" "Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than heaven--what can you do? Deeper than Sheol--what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea: (Job 11:7-9). "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33).

This is fitted to inspire us, His intelligent creatures, with reverence and godly fear. In the sovereign secrecy, the unapproachable reservation, the unfathomable mysteriousness of the divine counsels; in the very requirement that we humbly bow in adoring submission where we cannot comprehend, without asking a question or urging a further disclosure; in all this there is something that gives the Creator His proper place. There is in it a sacredness, an awfulness that makes us justly feel our infinite distance. This is God's glory.

4. In all God's most mysterious and incomprehensible ways, He is entitled to entire and undoubting confidence. His very secrecy is a test of principle, and thus one of the means of bringing glory to his name in the exercise of principle in our feelings and conduct towards him. Were there no concealment, there would be no trial of faith, no trust. And while God brings honor to himself by thus drawing forth the confiding filial love of his children, He lays up glory of his name against the day of future disclosure, when all shall be made plain, the day of the "revelation of the righteous judgments of God!" (Rom. 2:5).

After all the revelations of himself made to us both in his works and in his word, it is his glory that we yet are constrained to exclaim, "How little a portion is known of him!" (Job 26:14). The little is full of wonder; infinitude is still in concealment. And even of the vast and complicated plans of providence and of grace, how much is there (even after all we see and all He has told us) of which we are still left to say, "The day will declare it!" (1 Cor. 3:13).

"But the glory of kings is to search out a matter." The general meaning and spirit of these words appears to be that it belongs not to man, however elevated in authority and honor he may be, to assume airs of divinity and presume to think of imitating the peculiar prerogatives of the supreme Ruler. It is the province of earthly rulers to keep their own place, and instead of "thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to think," to "think soberly" (Rom. 12:3). In humbleness of mind let them endeavor with all their power to fulfill the ends for which they have been entrusted with their power.

In the administration of their government, it becomes kings to imitate the righteousness and mercy of the divine. But there are points in which all imitation would be presumption. They must not imitate Him in intuitive discernment and instantaneous decision. This would be the effect either of pride, vanity, hasty passion, or indolent remissness. And no one of these is an honor to a king; it is the very reverse. In every case of judgment that involves the rights, and affects the well-being of individuals, and in every measure that embraces more extensively the prosperity and happiness of the community, it is his incumbent duty and honor to search out the matter; to consider, to consult, to compare advice, to weigh all evidence on either side with scrupulous conscientiousness. Intuition belongs only to God; and instant decision can be warranted only in the case of him who possesses it.

Neither must a king imitate God in profound secrecy and impenetrability of counsel and procedure. The presumption of studious secrecy, of which their subjects beneath them must not pry, and the affectation of deciding and acting on grounds that must by no means be known but rather be wrapped in the mystery of sovereignty and the haughty reserve of false greatness, comes from nothing else but pride and self-sufficiency, the arrogance of royalty. The honor of a king in "searching out a matter" is to show, with openness and candor, the ground on which it is founded. He thus manifests confidence in his people and a desire to show and satisfy them of his true regard for them. At the same time he keeps his place, maintains his legitimate authority, and is unswayed to the right or to the left by any momentary clamor of popular threatening. This is his glory. This gives the most desirable and enviable of all honor to a ruler, namely, a place in their hearts and a throne in their affections.

There are times, we readily admit, when a government's plans are dependent on secrecy for their success. But I scarcely think this is the sentiment intended when we consider verse 3: "As the heavens for height and the earth for depth, so the heart of kings is unsearchable." The third verse seems to stand in opposition to the second. I am inclined to think that it is not to be understood as commendatory or as expressing what is right and ought to be, but rather as having reference to the generally prevailing character of the monarchs of those days and of those eastern countries. They were despots, their governments absolute and inimical to everything like popular freedom. Decisions were made and sentences pronounced, and both carried into instant execution. Persons were seized, property confiscated, liberty forfeited, life itself taken away without warning and for reasons of which nobody knew and dared not ask. Complaint was more than unavailing, it was unpardonable presumption. All was hidden, all mysterious, and no one could be sure for an hour what might be impending over him amid the dark intrigues of a despotic court. Wars were waged, treasures were lavished, blood flowed for causes which many a time had their origin in personal caprice, whim, or resentment. The secret depths of the despot's bosom were out of reach.

Should it, on the other hand, be thought unlikely that Solomon, himself a king, should speak in terms so strongly condemnatory of kings in general, and should it be thought more reasonable (and perhaps justly so) that the words are descriptive of the greatly superior difficulties and weighty interests and cares of royalty to those in all ordinary and more private occupations, I cannot illustrate this view better than in the language of another:

"The affairs of government are so various and complicated, they have so many designs to carry on, so many mischiefs to obviate, so many opposite tempers of men to consider, and so many difficulties to encounter, that persons in a lower station cannot possibly understand the reasons of a great part of their conduct, or the ends which they have in view. It is therefore presumptuous in subjects to be rash with their censures on the public management. Those who take a liberty to despise dominions, and speak evil of those things which they understand not."


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Proverbs 25:16

"Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need,
lest you be filled with it and vomit."

This language is evidently to be taken in its proverbial use, as significant of any worldly enjoyment. The language can hardly be applied to spiritual sweets. We do not meet with warnings against excess in these in the Bible. There is little risk of an extreme in that direction. But when the "honey" is, as in our verse, the emblem of earthly sweets, of mere temporal enjoyments, there is great need for the caution. It is a caution against excess in the desire, in the pursuit, and in the use of them. Pleasant they are in themselves; and God kindly gives them to us to be enjoyed, to be received and used with gratitude and cheerfulness. But they must be enjoyed with a united sense of obligation and dependence, and in the remembrance that all excess and abuse involve a violation of the spirit of both.


Proverbs 25:26

"A righteous man who falters before the wicked is like a murky spring and a polluted well."

The word in the original signifies to slip or stumble, so as to fall. And I am inclined to understand the verse with those interpreters by whom it is explained of the righteous falling in a moral sense--falling into sin in the presence of the wicked. This is emphatically "like a murky spring and a polluted well." It disappoints our pleasing expectations of clear, sweet, refreshing water, for it is from the righteous that we look for an example that shall recommend religion and draw others to its pure, wholesome and life-giving springs. When the conduct of professors, in the presence of the ungodly, is such as to have the opposite tendency--when its waters are turbid, foul and bitter, and instead of inducing others to come to the fountain serve rather to disgust and repel them--then how incongruous and how distressing!

Oh, how much evil flows from the sins of God's people! Look at the falls of David and Solomon themselves. From these "troubled fountains," from these "corrupt springs" have streams of tainted and bitter waters continued to flow to this day. The "man after God's own heart" and the "wisest of men" have been the byword of the ungodly and skeptical in every age. How should this put us and keep us on our guard!


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Proverbs 25:27

"It is not good to eat much honey;
so to seek one's own glory is not glory."

In the latter clause of this verse the words "is not" are supplementary. They are evidently indispensable to complete the designed antithesis. The supplement seems to proceed on an admitted idiom in Hebrew composition according to which the negative in the former part of a sentence is carried forward and understood in the latter.

Honey is good in moderation, but an excess of it is injurious (see vs. 16). In like manner, a regard to character and reputation--a desire after a virtuous and honorable distinction--is proper and right. It would be wrong for any man to be indifferent to what others think of him. It is not a matter connected with mere feeling. The usefulness of every man depends to a great degree upon the character he sustains. The only persons who may be entitled to have no reason for caring about character are those who have no character to lose.

But there is an extreme, and to that extreme Solomon here refers. There is such a thing as vain glory. There is such a thing as a person's indulging an insatiable appetite for applause and honor. There is such a thing as seeking it out, always looking for it, eagerly fixed upon getting it, and touchily jealous of every omission to bestow it or any deficiency in its amount. The man of vain glory explores for adulation in every direction, listening with an alert ear, fishing for praise, throwing out hints to draw it forth. He commends others in order to elicit a commendation in return, or says things disparaging of himself for the sake of having them contradicted. His frame of mind may assume a proud ambition or a humble vanity depending on the greatness or smallness of the matter. But in either case it may with truth be said that "it is not glory." A man's honor should come to him rather than eagerly be sought for. It should not be made his objective.

If we follow the example of Jesus, we shall seek God's glory as our first and constant aim, not our own.


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