Chapter 6

Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Ralph Wardlaw

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Proverbs 6:6-11

"Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep--so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man."

The indolent and improvident are addressed, and they are sent to the inferior creation for a lesson; not to the greatest and the noblest of animals, but to the ant, one of the least and most insignificant of insects.

There are various species of ants. They differ in size, color, and in some aspects of their structure and instinctive habits, but all are remarkable for their industry. It is indeed astonishing; and the results of their united labors are no less so when one considers how tiny they are. Some species of ants build abodes of great size, constructed with surprising regularity and skill. They are in the form of a conical mound with roads winding through every part of the settlement. All their granaries for food and depositories for their young are arranged in suitable positions and in due order.

Their travels and exertions in procuring provisions are not less amazing than their habitations and the order of their community. These expeditions in quest of food are sometimes made solitarily and sometimes in bands. And when an object too bulky for their unaided efforts is found, they have methods of communicating the need to swarms of assistants, and therefore accomplish by numbers what could not be done by strength. They go very considerable distances in these troops and repeat their trips until they have got all secured. Ants may be seen pushing on before them grains of corn which they are unable to carry; and to prevent the grain in their deposits from growing, they instinctively gnaw off the germ from the extremity. But the lesson for which these little wonders of sensitive creation are here introduced is of a different kind. It is a lesson of reproof and shame to the slothful.

The language of the seventh verse, "which, having no captain, overseer or ruler," is far from being intended to convey the idea that these creatures have no regular subordination among themselves in their little settlements. As in the case of the bee and other insects, there is no reason to doubt that they have a government--a regular system of subdivision into castes, or peculiar occupations, and of rule and subjection and social operation. But the ants as a community are here spoken of; and the meaning is that they have no creature of superior intelligence to teach them what to do and how to do it, to inform them of their future necessities and direct them in what way to provide against them. It is in their nature, impressed there in a way that is full indeed of mystery yet full of the wisdom of Him, all whose works are perfect.

The lesson is, that INDUSTRY is the duty of man as it is the practice of the ant. Even in paradise man was not to be idle, though his occupation was to have nothing in it of toil, fatigue, or disappointment. He was placed in the garden "to dress it and to keep it." And on men now, numerous are the teachings of this duty in the Word of God: "Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (Rom. 12:11); "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim. 5:8).

We may mention three grounds of the duty as indicated in Scripture. The first is, that persons may not be a burden on society or on the church. On this point, indeed, the apostle's language is strong even to seeming harshness. But it is the language of God's Spirit, and shows the light of severe reprehension in which He regards the idle. He prohibits charity to them: "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). A second reason is, that they may be out of the way of temptation--temptations to dishonesty, pilfering, extorting by false pretexts, and living by lying. The third is, that they may have the means to assist others whose need, from unavoidable causes, may be greater than their own. This motive is strongly taught by the apostle: "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need" (Eph. 4:28).

It is a characteristic of sloth that it is ever growing. Give it any measure of indulgence and it demands more. It is said to have been the rule and practice of the Jews to teach all their children some handicraft employment, to which they might be able to have recourse in all circumstances. The principle of the rule was excellent. Idleness not only tends to "clothe a man with rags," but as before noticed, is the inlet to numberless temptations. It is one of the highways to vice. Young friends, if you would be virtuous, be busy.

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Proverbs 6:16-19

"These six things Yahweh hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren."

The language of the first part of these verses is strong. The added phrase, "yea, seven," is intended to impress the fearfulness of the evils. Let all lay the terms of reprobation to heart. There cannot but be unspeakable danger in indulging in anything that is "abomination to the Lord."

1. The first of the seven is pride--"a proud look." I have said pride. You must at once be sensible that it is not the look merely that is meant but the temper of mind which the look expresses; not the mere indication of the principle but the principle itself. There may be much pride in the heart that is not indicated by haughtiness in the look, but covered from observation by the assumed air of humility and lowliness of spirit. In this case the look is absent, but the thing is there--and is there in a doubly odious form.

The proud look is to be interpreted as including pride of all kinds. There is, first of all, if I may use an expression that is really in its terms contradictory, religious pride. I have called it contradictory because there never has been, never is, never can be any pride in religion. Its very essence is humility. The pride of religion is of all things the most irreligious. You know what I mean--the pride of the Pharisee when he stood in God's sanctuary, before the very "beauty of holiness" and prayed, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men" (Luke 18:11). That this pride of self-righteousness is an abomination in God's sight, his whole word tells us; and the verdict of Jesus in the parable just referred to testifies to it in the plainest terms.

There is the pride of high station and wealth, with its look of lofty supercilious disdain upon its inferiors. There is the pride of high spirit and false honor, that quick touchy resentment that cannot stand an injurious act, word, or even glance, however passing and slight; whose eye of kindling and impetuous fire flashes on the offender, and whose revenge sighs for his prostration, and even, it may be, thirsts for his blood.

2. We have next in order "a lying tongue." God is the God of truth. He "desires truth in the inward parts" (Ps. 51:6). As in the former case, so also here, a lying tongue must be understood as comprehensive of all the modes of willfully conveying a false impression. This is the essence of a lie, and it may be done in many ways. There are lying looks, lying motions, as well as lying words. The declarations of the divine displeasure against this sin are especially frequent and strong; and in the outset of the Christian church there was read to both believers and the world a solemn and awful lesson of God's opposition to all deception and lying--in His judicially visiting Ananias and Sapphira with death for their selfish pretense, in which they sought by feigned liberality the gratification of their covetousness and desire of adulation.

3. Then we have "hands that shed innocent blood." The first innocent blood shed on earth was the blood of a brother. At the second commencement of the human race, Jehovah [Yahweh], with obvious reference to this first murder, set a guard of threatened vengeance around the life of man: "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man" (Gen. 9:5,6).

Life may be taken, innocent blood shed, in other ways than directly by the armed hand. It is not the assassin alone with his murderous knife that is intended. The judge is guilty who gives sentence against the innocent. The promoters of persecution are guilty, whether acting with legal form or without it. He who by cruel treatment breaks another's heart is guilty. When the broken heart brings its victim by pining atrophy to the grave, there can be no question to whose account that "innocent blood" must be placed. Remember, the Lord is the righteous "avenger of blood" (Deut. 19:12). He "makes inquisition" (Ps. 9:12) for it. He will allow no blood-guiltiness to escape. The murderer was even to be dragged from His altar to death.

4. The fourth in order is one in which divine omniscience is implied for its detection--"a heart that devises wicked imaginations." The thought of wickedness is sin (Acts 8:22). You may form, and even cherish, desires which it is not in your power to execute; or of those in your power, so far as your ability is concerned, you may be prevented from executing by uncontrollable circumstances. But God knows them all, and He will judge and avenge them as if actually done.

5. The fifth is, "feet that are swift in running to evil." "Running to evil" may mean either running to do it or running to see it. In either case, it is implied that those running are enjoying it; and it is also implied that the "feet that are swift" in carrying us to do it are the agents of a heart that has a relish for it.

6. "A false witness that speaks lies" may be considered as having been already included in a former particular, the "lying tongue." But there is a peculiarity of guilt in falsehood when it assumes the form of perjury. The cause of others is injuriously affected, because it leads to a false decision and therefore adds injustice to untruth. The judges are deceived, troubled, and wronged by being frustrated in their solicitude to give a fair and equitable verdict. And when an oath has actually been taken, there is the superadded guilt of blasphemy--the "taking of God's name" (in the most heinous sense) "in vain." Oh, this is a fearful description of the false witness--setting the seal of the God of truth to a lie. It is at once the guilt of blood and the guilt of making God a liar.

7. The last in this enumeration is "he that sows discord among brethren." In proportion to the loveliness of any scene are we offended by the man who defaces it--despoils it of its chief attractions and spreads disorder and desolation where before was found rich and sweet gratification. So is it in the moral world. There is not on the face of the earth a scene of more engaging interest and delight than a family all united in the bonds of nature's love, making each other's joys and sorrows their own; every heart beating in unison, every eye and every hand eager to anticipate each other's wants and wishes.

And what is beautiful as a specimen of the affections of nature is no less beautiful when the bond of union is "the love of the Spirit," the spiritual love by which the children of God are bound together in the household of faith. The disturber of the harmony of a united family or a united church is incomparably worse than the man who desolates the face of any earthly paradise, for God is the God of love and peace, and He delights in the faithful; his eye rests on the scene with divine satisfaction. Hateful, then, and diabolical is the man who seeks to introduce discord into such a scene of harmony, to embitter its joy, to destroy its benefits!

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