Chapter 30

from
Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
by
Ralph Wardlaw


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Proverbs 30:6

"Do not add to His words,
lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar."

We take the word of God as we have received it. What Paul says of the books of the Old Testament, which formed the Jewish canon in his day, may be applied to the whole Bible: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God." We have the surest ground for believing that all the books of both testaments have had their place assigned them in the sacred canon on sufficient authority. The very circumstance of some of them having been disputed only shows the minute detail with which the claims of each were scrutinized before they were admitted. And to the word of God in general, as well as to the book of prophecy in which they immediately occur, we may truly apply the warning: "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Rev. 22:18,19).

It was the sacred duty of inspired men to deliver the word of the Lord exactly as it was communicated to them--without addition, deduction, or alteration. The charge of God was, "'The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?' says Yahweh" (Jer. 23:28). The maxim of the true prophets under the old dispensation was, "As Yahweh lives, what Yahweh says unto me, that will I speak" (1 Kings 22:14). And what Micaiah and others exemplified faithfully under the old economy, Paul and his associates exemplified under the new: "For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ" (2 Cor. 2:17); ". . . not walking in craftiness nor handling the world of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. 4:2).

It is not merely when we claim to receive communications from the Spirit of God equal to his written word that we are chargeable with the guilt of "adding to his words," but it is also when we make any part of the written word itself express a sentiment different from, or even beyond, that which God by the Holy Spirit intended it to convey. Our exclusive question should be, "What did the divine Author of the Bible mean by this sentence, by this section, by this expression?" When we have ascertained and expounded the meaning, we may then enlarge upon it from other portions of scripture. But we must ever bear in mind that while we are doing so, each portion of the word that is adduced for illustration or evidence must be treated precisely on the same principle--never being used beyond its proper amount of meaning.

The same principle should make critics very cautious in applying the principle of conjectural emendation, that is, altering words so as to express what they think must have been the sense of the writer. This is extremely hazardous. There is a strong temptation to introduce this principle, when by some alteration the passage is made to say what accords with preconceived opinions.

Commentators and paraphrasts should guard against using phrases not synonymous with those of the Biblical writer. This applies also to the use of supplements for making a clearer expression of the sense. And in every case where it is clear that a word, phrase, or sentence has been foisted into the text in later times--that is, it formed no part of the original writing--then the same principle requires that we do not employ those as possessing the authority of God. If it be of doubtful authenticity, the doubt must in justice be carried forward to the inference drawn and the conclusion to which we are led by it.

We ought to regard nothing as more fearful and anxiously to be shunned than making the God of truth affirm what he did not mean to affirm, or deny what he did not mean to deny, In doing such we in effect put the seal of heaven to a forgery of our own. And on all points which are of a mysterious character, it behooves us to be very diffident and cautious. Where the simple fact is stated and no explanation given, we must beware of attaching the authority of the word of God to our own explanation.

My brethren, if ever there was a time when a more than ordinary strictness of attention to the principle in this verse was demanded, it is the time in which we live. Let us see that we not only assert and maintain it in words, but scrupulously and conscientiously exemplify it in all our practice. Let Christians seek more of a deep and humble sense of their own ignorance, of their natural perverseness, of their inaptitude and slowness to learn the lessons of divine wisdom, and of their proneness to spiritual pride. Let them beware of being dissatisfied with the allotment of divine communications and adding presumptuously to it by human speculations and inventions.

And let us be thankful for all that He gives us to know, never allowing what we do know to be unsettled in our minds by what we do not know. Let us neither make God a liar by disbelieving anything that He says, nor expose ourselves to His reproof by presuming to add to His words what He has not said. And let not anyone be startled at finding statements in the word of God which are above their apprehension. If there are mysteries in the works of God, should we not expect to find them in His word?--if in nature, why not in revelation?--and if in all that God has done, how much more in God himself? Should we be competent to search out God when we are unable to search out any one of His works‚Äč?--that we should be able to comprehend the mode of His subsistence when we are unable to understand our own?

The design of revelation is infinitely gracious. It is to show men the way of salvation. That is its own peculiar lesson. And if that is missed, then all is missed that is worth finding.


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Proverbs 30:18-20

"There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a virgin. This is the way of an adulterous woman: she eats and wipes her mouth, and says, 'I have done no wickedness."

In verses 15 and 16 Solomon had drawn a comparison between the leech and its two offspring with the four things that are never satisfied. The two offspring--"Give, give"--were a fit emblem for insatiable avarice or the insatiable love of pleasure; and this was compared to four other things that are never satisfied--the grave, the barren womb, the dry earth, and fire.

Verses 18 through 20 must, in like manner, be understood in the way of comparison; and so understood, they are full of force and practical instruction. "There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a virgin. This is the way of an adulterous woman: she eats and wipes her mouth, and says, 'I have done no wickedness.'"

What is the comparison? It is comparing the wiles of the infamous and practiced seducer of female honor and virtue, and the arts of the intriguing and accomplished adulteress both in laying wait for her prey and in concealing her guilt, to the "way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea." And a warning is thus conveyed, a practical and profitable warning.

The subject of wonder is not the philosophic or scientific principle by which the eagle flies. Neither is it the peculiar structure and laws of muscular motion by which the snake moves sideways and forward. Nor is it the mechanical principle by which a ship stays afloat and is propelled wherever the pilot desires. It is not to these--no, not at all--that Agur refers. His lesson is not one in natural or physical science or human art, but one in morals; one relative to vice and virtue, to the dangers from the one and the necessity of carefully guarding the other.

The spirit of the comparison in all three cases lies in the difficulty or the impossibility of tracing the path. The capricious winding, circling, darting, hovering, rising and falling of the eagle no one can follow. The bird itself could not trace the same course again. The path of the serpent is intricately tortuous, bending, twisting, and pushing itself in every possible direction, so that there is no tracing of its back-and-forth maneuvers. The ship's course is instantly lost as it tacks, retacks, and strains from point to point to attain its destination. It is impossible to follow the very same track again.

In addition to the impossibility of tracing the course, there is one other thing to be compared, namely, the end in view, the object to be effected. The eagle adapts its various movements so as to pounce upon its prey at last. The serpent has his aim and reaches it, tortuous as its path may be. The ship shifts and tacks about amid the waves, but still with a certain point to be gained. These three things are compared to two others: to the manifold wiles of the artful and vile seducer, and to the similar arts of the crafty adulteress in secretly luring her prey and hiding her infamy from detection.

Crafty villains, wretches for whom no term of infamy is too strong, insinuate themselves into the affections of young women by an endless diversity of schemes and stratagems that cannot be unraveled, such as pretensions, promises, flatteries, sophisticated arguments, protestations, and persuasions. And as there is no traceable path left in the case of the eagle, serpent, and ship, so too in the case which they illustrate. The great ingenuity is to leave no trace by which the progress and consummation of guilt can afterward be marked and substantiated.

The adulterous wife also is adept in the use of subterfuge, this being even more necessary in her case than in the other. When she has secured her end, she conceals it by assuming the air of perfect composure, of one completely at her ease. Her conscience, if not actually seared, is brought under sufficient control to cover all emotion. She sits down as usual to her meal with her husband and family, and with full self-possession and indifference of manner--just as if nothing had happened--"she eats and wipes her mouth, and says, 'I have done no wickedness,'" perhaps all the while telling tales of the guilt of others, shuddering at them, and comparing her own innocence with their shameful conduct.

I do not dwell on these monstrous evils. Read the early chapters of this book, you youthful and thoughtless especially, and weigh them well. You will find there an abundance of faithful and affectionate warning, drawn from both observation and woeful experience, of the criminality and the ruinous consequences to body, soul, and estate, for time and eternity, of the evils in question; evils against which faithfulness commands us to warn with all possible earnestness, while delicacy and propriety forbid enlargement.


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