Proverbs 24

We continue with more pointed advice to the royal heir in longer proverbial texts.

1-2. Do not be jealous of evil men, nor desire to be with them. For their heart studies ruin, and their lips talk of mischief. This repeats the warning about choosing carefully your heroes. There’s a bit of color with the Hebrew word for “jealous” that is taken from the idea of zeal and excitement for something. This is followed by the word for “desire” which is more than mere lust, but coveting. These are paralleled with the word translated “studies,” which is based on the idea of murmuring with pleasure over something — all synonyms in this context.

3-6. Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms shall be filled with all precious and pleasant riches. A wise man is strong; yes, a man of knowledge increases strength. For by wise counsel you shall make your war; and in a multitude of wise men there is safety. The context specifically points toward establishing a dynasty with figures of speech for founding and erecting a palace. Filling it with a king’s treasures naturally means sooner or later taking plunder from some enemy who challenges you. Ruling well is a particular talent and calling. But the emphasis is not so much on having your own wisdom, as if you can trust your own talents alone, but the utter necessity of gathering and using the advice of people with even more talent in other areas of expertise. This comes from the hand of Solomon, reputedly the wisest of humans.

7-9. Wisdom is too high for a fool; he does not open his mouth in the gate. He who plots to do evil shall be called a master of wicked thoughts. The thought of foolishness is sin; and the scorner is hateful to men. The point here is not obvious from translation. Solomon advises his son to make it so. Draw out the best in your subjects. Encourage an atmosphere that keeps frauds from having any hope of influencing things; make them a laughingstock in the civil courts that gather at every village and city gate. Make predatory plotting expensive and difficult.

10. If you faint in the day of trial, your strength is small. The image here is risqué: If you aren’t thrilled with a tight place, your manhood must be too small to fill it. Real men are adventurous and thrive in adversity. There’s a pun in the Hebrew words translated “trial” (tsarah — a tight spot) and “small” (tsar — to be tight).

11-12. Deliver those being taken to death, and those stumbling to be killed, unless you hold back. If you say, “Behold, we did not know;” does not He who searches the heart consider it? And the Keeper of your soul, does He know? And He repays to a man according to his works? Our translation here is a bit rough. The idea is that a wise king will insist on reviewing every death sentence in his domain, because the stakes are too high. Not in the perverted Western sense of value on human life as property, but the issue is clinging to the moral character of Jehovah, ensuring that executions meet a genuine moral need (shalom — social stability). A king can’t pretend he didn’t know because God holds him accountable for keeping enough loyal servants to have eyes throughout his domain, because you can be sure God is watching.

13-14. My son, eat honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, is sweet to your palate; so shall the knowledge of wisdom be to your soul; when you have found it, then there shall be a reward, and your hope shall not be cut off. This highly lyrical image tells us that moral wisdom is its own reward. Sure, you’ll reap God’s promised blessings under the Covenant, but see through those more obvious rewards to the sweetness of moral purity in itself.

15-16. Wicked one, do not lie in ambush at the dwelling of the righteous; do not spoil his resting place; for a just one falls seven times, and rises up again; but the wicked shall fall into evil. This repeats the previous proverb from a different angle: Moral purity is power. The driving conviction of God’s moral truth will push you through all kinds of predatory human evil. People who do evil can’t possibly have that kind of drive; they’ll give up when the fleshly costs outweigh the gains. The deepest, most vile hatred will die with the flesh, but moral wisdom is eternal.

17-18. Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the LORD see, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him. Moral discernment cannot give birth to childish spite. If you embrace God’s moral character, you will most certainly have enemies. That same moral wisdom teaches you sadness, not hatred. You’ll still have all the power you need to defeat them, but don’t let yourself slip into enjoying the grisly task of destroying threats to your shalom. Implied is that you rejoice instead when your enemy repents.

19-20. Do not fret yourself because of evil ones, nor be jealous of the wicked; for there shall be not be a hereafter to the evil; the lamp of the wicked shall be put out. This is a statement flatly supporting the concept of afterlife. Such may not have been universal among Hebrew people at large, but those whose hearts actively ruled their thinking could not avoid an awareness of the Spirit Realm. The mere fact that you can discern moral evil in this life is blessing enough, should it come down to that. People lacking such discernment are also blind to their awful fate.

21-22. My son, fear the LORD and the king; and do not fellowship with those who are given to change; for their trouble shall rise suddenly, and who knows the ruin of them both? This includes a figure of speech difficult to translate. Fear in the sense of reverence is fairly obvious, but it always included the idea of firm moral consistency. Thus, the implication of “change” here is someone who lacks character and moral substance, someone likely to shift with the wind. It’s one thing to keep your mouth shut when there’s no point in talking, but that’s not the same as just going along with the every variation in the context. Find solid ground and take a stand.

23-26. These also are for the wise: To have respect of persons in judgment is not good. He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous;” the people shall curse him and nations shall abhor him. But to those who rebuke him, it shall be a delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them. He shall kiss the lips that return right words. We easily forget that “respect of persons” is an ancient phrase referring to partiality for public figures. It undermines all your moral authority when you suck up to someone just because they are famous. That fame may be a false cover over all kinds of evil. Don’t fool yourself; whoever among your subjects bears their own strong moral perception will see through you. This is consistent with the declaration, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” God will carry you through any political fallout for His his glory.

27. Prepare your work outside, and make it fit for yourself in the field; and afterwards build your house. Secure your borders before you worry about comfort. This represents a whole range of things a royal heir must undertake, because he can’t be his father. He needs to have seen with his own eyes and established alliances or identified enemies personally as his first priority for as long as he holds the throne, not simply in the sense of doing it and forgetting about it. A king will never lack for challenge to his authority.

28-29. Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause, nor deceive with your lips. Do not say, “I will do so to him as he has done to me; I will give to the man according to his work.” This is the other half of, “Vengeance is Mine says the Lord.” Specifically, don’t manufacture a pretext for getting even with those unjust with you. Rather, pursue justice itself as the glory of God and let Him take care of things that don’t fall directly into your hand.

30-34. I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man without understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face of it, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw; I set my heart on it; I looked and I received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to lie down; then your poverty comes stalking, and your want like an a man armed with a shield. In this context of instruction for a future king, this is a picturesque warning about letting your guard down. If the man owning a vineyard is lazy, the vineyard suffers and he has no fruit. If a king is lazy he soon has no realm. Don’t rest on your title.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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2 Responses to Proverbs 24

  1. Iain says:

    I like how you explain Proverbs.


  2. Ed Hurst says:

    Thanks; I’m just trying to make it vivid for us today.


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