2. Second admonitory discourse. Address of Wisdom personified, exhibing the folly of those who wilfully reject, and the security of those who hearken to, her counsels. The sacred writer, in this section, as also in Proverbs 8:1-36 ; uses the rhetorical figure of prosopopceia, or impersonation. Wisdom is represented as speaking and as addressing the simple, scorners, and fools. The address itself is one of the noblest specimens of sacred eloquence, expressing in rapid succession the strongest phases of feeling—pathetic solicitude with abundant promise, indignant scorn at the rejection of her appeal, the judicial severity of offended majesty upon offenders, and lastly the judicial complacency which delights in mercy towards the obedient. The imagery in part is taken from the forces of nature in their irresistible and overwhelming violence and destructive potency.
The phase which the address now enters upon continues to the thirty-first verse. The change in this verse from the second to the third person is striking. It implies that Wisdom thinks fools no longer worthy of being addressed personally—" Quasi stultos indignos censunt ulteriori alloquio " (Gejerus and Michaelis). The declaration is the embodiment of the laughter and scorn of Proverbs 1:26 . The three verbs, "they shall call," "they shall seek," "they shall find," occur in uncommon and emphatic forms in the original. They are some out of the few instances where the future terminations are inserted fully before the pronominal suffix. I will not answer . The distress and anguish consequent upon their calamity and fear lead them to pray, but there will be no answer nor heed given to their cry. They are not heard, because they do not cry rightly nor in the time of grace (Lapide). See the striking parallel to the tenor of this passage in Luke 13:24-28 . They shall seek me early; i.e. diligently. The verb שָׁחַר ( shakhar ) is the denominative from the substantive שַׁחַר ( shakar ) , "the dawn, morning," and signifies to go out and seek something in the obscurity of the morning twilight (Delitzsch, Zockler), and hence indicates diligence and earnestness in the search. Gesenius gives the same derivation, but connects it with the dawn in the sense of the light breaking forth, and thus, as it were, seeking (see also Proverbs 2:1-22 :27; Proverbs 7:15 ; Proverbs 8:17 ; Hosea 5:15 ).
Left to their doom
Broad and encouraging as are the promises of Divine grace, if we forget the darker facts of life we shall be deluded into a false security; for nothing could be more unreasonable than to suppose that the mercy of God takes no account of moral considerations. Legally our sovereign is vested with an unfettered right of pardoning every criminal, but principles of justice and public order put great restraints upon the exercise of such a right. Bald representations of prayer as a means for securing immediate deliverance from trouble, and especially as a sure door of escape from the consequences of sin, are as false as they are shallow. It is most important that we should know under what circumstances God will reject the prayer of his troubled children and leave them to their doom.
I. AN OBSTINATE REJECTION OF GOD 'S INVITATIONS AND COUNSELS . No word is here said of the great mass of the heathen world, who have never heard the full declaration of God's will. Clearly it is implied that such men do not come under the same condemnation as that of the persons immediately referred to. For the special accusation is based on the rejection of the overtures of grace, which must have been known to have been refused. The guilt of this rejection may be measured in two directions.
1 . By the character of the Divine voice.
2 . By the character of the rejection itself.
II. A CRY FOR DELIVERANCE FROM TROUBLE WITHOUT REPENTANCE OF SIN . The simple ingratitude of sin would be no barrier to the full exercise of God's pardon in Christ if it were hated and repented of, for "he is able to save to the uttermost," etc. But without repentance the smallest sin cannot be forgiven. And repentance is not the mere feeling of distress at the consequence of sin—every sane and sentient being would have that feeling; nor is it a mere regret that the wrong thing was done now its horrible fruits are ripening. It must be a hearty abhorrence of the wickedness itself, and a genuine desire to do nothing of the kind in the future. The dying sinner who is appalled at his future prospects, and shrieks for deliverance from the powers of hell, will not be heard, but will be left to his fate, and most reasonably so, if he has experienced no moral change, and feels no compunctions of conscience, but would do all his vile deeds over again if only he could ensure himself against the just penalties of them.
III. AN ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE FROM THE INEVITABLE . The earthly consequences of sin are many of them fixed immutably by laws of nature. Prayer will not heal the shattered constitution of the drunkard, nor restore the squandered fortune of the spendthrift, nor recover the lost reputation of the thief. No doubt many spiritual consequences of sin are also inevitable, and, though God may pardon the sinner, he will take vengeance on his devices. But when there is true penitence and trust in the mercy of God, the incidence of the calamity is shifted, though the calamity itself is not altered, so that it comes as wholesome chastisement, and is then not laughed at by the Divine wisdom, but graciously overruled for the discipline of the penitent.
Warning cry of Wisdom
In dramatic style, Wisdom is presentiated, personified, endued with visible and audible attributes. As contempt for religion has been animadverted upon, so now contempt for Wisdom calls for rebuke. The motto ( Proverbs 1:7 ) is still in the preacher's mind.
I. THE CRY OF WISDOM IS PUBLIC AND CLEAR . In the street, "where merchants most do congregate," and in all places of general resort, the cry is heard. Hers is no esoteric doctrine; it is popularly exoteric, it is for all. She has no concealments. She is not ashamed of her message. She seeks the weal of each and of all. Like her Divine embodiment, she is the Friend of the simple and the meek, yea, of the fools and the sinners ( Matthew 10:27 ; Luke 14:21 ). It is a voice to be heard above the mingled sounds of these thronged centres. The state of the markets and of the weather, passing events, the gossip of the hour, news of success and of failure, all have a moral meaning, run up into moral calculations, may be reduced to expressions of moral law.
II. HER TONE .
1 . It is commanding and superior. She appeals to different classes of the frivolous, the free-thinking, the scoffers of the time. The times of Solomon, as pointed out by Delitzsch, were times of widespread worldliness and religious indifference. The lezim, or "scorners," must have been a numerous class. They scoffed at sacred things, laid claim to superior sense ( Proverbs 14:6 ), were contentious and full of debate ( Proverbs 22:10 ). They avoided the chakanim, or "wise men," and hence received the name of scoffers or mockers. They were like our modern free-thinkers, and have left their clear traces on the biblical page. The "wise men" were a kind of practical philosophers, not a professional class, but belonging to different callings. Religion and worship have never been exempt from criticism, have in every age been exposed to that "ridicule which is the test of truth." In these conflicts the tone of truth is ever commanding, conscious of authority, calm; that of the scoffer irritable and wanting in weight. Wisdom is commanding, because she holds the conscience. She bandies no arguments with the scoffer, who will only find in them fuel for his contentious spirit; she aims directly at the conscience, accuses and judges the perverted heart. "Turn at my denunciation" from your evil ways] "I will cause my Spirit to stream forth upon you."
2 . Her tone is hortatory and promising. The Spirit of wisdom is compared to a mighty, forth-bubbling, never-exhausted fountain. So Christ cried in the last great day of the feast in Jerusalem, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink."
3 . Her tone is threatening and prophetic of retribution. The day of grace is now conceived as past, the hour gone that will not return. She has called, has stretched out the hand, in token of pleading for attention, has lavished both counsel and rebuke; but has been responded to by sullen refusal, averted looks, scornful depreciation, obstinate resistance. This relation of forbearance and good will has been strained to the last degree; in the law of things it must be succeeded by a reaction. The places will be reversed. The scoffer will be the scoffed; the mocker will afford material for mirth. And here the pictures accumulate their dread impression on the imagination; the tempest and the tempest whirlwind answer in nature to the calamity and the horror, the anguish and constraint, of the faithless soul. All moral teaching carries in it a twofold prophetic element; a prophecy of penal retribution and a prophecy of blessed recompense. Retribution is the logical consequence of certain acts; and it involves a correspondence. The relation which has been wrongly denied comes in the end to be affirmed; and that which was affirmed, to be in the end denied. The manner of the sin foretells the manner of the penalty. Those who turned from pleading Wisdom, plead in the end with her in vain; seeking her now with zeal ("early"), their search is vain, The attitude which the soul refused to assume in its pride, it is forced into by its distress. The wheel comes full circle; the sinner is smitten in the very place of his sin; and outraged conscience is avenged.
4 . Above all, the tone of Wisdom is reasonable. These are no arbitrary, cruel, capricious dealings with the sinner. They rest upon the law of things ( Proverbs 1:29-31 ). " Because they hated reasonable doctrine, and coveted not the fear of Jehovah, fared not on the way of my counsel, and despised all my rebuke; therefore they shall eat of the fruit of their way, and be satiated with their counsels!" It is the law of causality applied to moral things. "The curse causeless shall not come!" The most obvious example of the law of cause and effect in nature—the connection of seed and crop, sowing and reaping—best illustrates the process in the human spirit. We cannot deceive God, cannot evade law; whatsoever we sow, we must reap, and that according to quantity, to kind or quality. Again, the figure of a surfeit is forcible as applied to this experience of the consequences of guilt. We find it also in Isaiah 3:10 ; Psalms 88:4 ; Psalms 123:4 . It brings out the principle that all spurious pleasures, i.e. those which are rooted only in egotism, cloy, and so turn the man against himself. Self-loathling, self-contempt, is the deep revelation of an inner judgment. If any one asks with the anger of the atheistic poet, "Who made self-contempt?" let him turn to this passage for an answer.
5 . Wisdom is declarative of moral laws. The turning away, the resistance and recalcitrancy of the simple, murders them ( Jeremiah 8:5 ; Hosea 11:5 ), and the security (idle, easy, fleshly carelessness, Jeremiah 22:21 ) destroys them.
"More the treacherous calm I dread
Than tempests sailing overhead."
(See South's powerful sermon, with his usual splendid illustrations, on "Prosperity ever dangerous to Virtue," vol. 2, ser. 6.)
6 . She is prophetic of good to the obedient. In bright contrast to the spurious peace of the dulled conscience is the true peace of the wise and God-fearing, "He who listens to me shall dwell securely, and have rest. without terror of calamity." It is like that of ordered nature—"central peace abiding at the heart of endless agitation." In this profound union with God, the parables of life are but superficial and transient as the waves of ocean, while the depths are calm as eternity. The method of personified Wisdom is that of Christ, with which it may be compared at every point.
The Divine ultimatum
There is something which is fearful and appalling in these verses. We are ready to tremble as we read them. We are ready to exclaim, "How far may human perversity, and Divine retribution gel" With hushed voice, with subdued spirit, as those before whose eyes the lightnings of heaven are flashing, we consider the significance of the words. But first we see—
I. THAT GOD MAKES MANY APPEALS TO THE HUMAN SOUL . He calls, and we refuse; he stretches out his hands, and no man regards ( Proverbs 1:24 ). He multiplies his counsel and his reproof ( Proverbs 1:25 and Proverbs 1:30 ). Thus his statement is sustained by his dealings with us; he gives us the repeated and manifold admonitions of our own conscience, of the house, of the sanctuary, of friendship, of his Word, of his Spirit, etc.
II. THAT HUMAN PERVERSITY GOES AS FAR AS THE DIVINE PATIENCE . Man "refuses," "regards not" (turns away his eyes, closes his ears), "sets at nought," "will not have," "hates," does not choose (deliberately rejects), all the counsel of God. Perhaps the course of human perversity may be thus traced: first temporizing, with the idea of submitting; then postponing, without any such intention; then disregarding, hearing without heeding; then positively disliking and getting away from; then actually hating, cherishing a feeling of rebellious aversion, ending in mockery and scorn. So far may human perversity go. God's wonderful patience in seeking to win is extended far, but not further than human opposition and resistance. To every "Come" from Heaven there is an answer, "I will not," in the human spirit.
III. THAT GOD FINALLY ABANDONS SIN TO ITS DOOM . We must, of course, understand the language of Proverbs 1:26 , Proverbs 1:27 as highly figurative. No proverb is to be pressed to its fullest possible meaning. The author always assumes that it will be applied with intelligence and discrimination. This is the language of hyperbole. No one could for a moment believe that the eternal Father of our spirits would, literally and actually, laugh and mock at our calamity and alarm. The significance of the passage is that, after a certain point of perverse refusal has been past, God no longer pleads and strives with his wayward children. He interposes no further between a man and the consequences of his folly. He "leaves him alone" ( Hosea 4:17 ). He "gives him up" ( Acts 7:42 ; Romans 1:26 ). He permits sin to do its own sad work in the soul, and to produce its own natural results in the life; he removes his restraining hand, and suffers them "to eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices" ( Proverbs 1:31 ). This is the end of impenitence. We see it only too often illustrated before our eyes. Men act as if they might defy their Maker, as if they might draw indefinitely on the patience of their Divine Saviour, as if they might reckon on the unlimited striving of the Holy Spirit. They are wrong; they make a fatal mistake; they commit the one unpardonable sin! They try to go beyond the Divine ultimatum. God's marvellous patience reaches far, but it has its bounds. When these are passed his voice is still, his hand is taken down, his interposing influence is withdrawn. Sin must bear its penalty. But this awful passage closes with a word of hope. Let us turn to a brighter aspect, and see—
IV. THAT SO LONG AS MAN HONESTLY DESIRES GOD 'S SERVICE , HE MAY FIND PEACE AND REST . ( Proverbs 1:33 .) If at any time it is in our heart to obey the voice of the All-wise, to lend an attentive ear to the Divine counsel, we may reckon on his grace and favour. Happy the heart that heeds the voice of Wisdom! Others may be rocked and tossed on the heaving billows of care and anxiety, of alarm and dread; but he, "dwelling in the secret place of the Most High," hiding in the Rock of his salvation, shall "dwell safely, and be quiet from fear of evil." God will hide him in his pavilion; he will "rest in the Lord."—C.