The Pulpit Commentary

Proverbs 14:17 (Proverbs 14:17)

He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly. The contrast to the irascible, passionate man is seen in the man slow to anger ( Proverbs 14:29 ; Proverbs 15:18 ). Such a one, in his haste and passion, does things which in calmer moments he must see are foolish and ridiculous. Says Euripides ('Hyp.,' Fragm.)—

ἔξω γὰρ ὀργῆς πᾶς ἀνὴρ σοφώτερος

"Wiser is every man from passion freed."

"Be not angry," says the Talmud, "and you will not sin." Cato, 'Dist.,' 1:37—

" Ipse tibi moderare tuis ut parcere possis ."

And a man of wicked devices is hated. The contrast is not between the different ways in which the two characters are regarded, as that one is despised and ridiculed, and the other hated; but two kinds of evil are set forth in contradistinction, viz. hasty anger and deliberate plotting against others. Septuagint, "The irascible man ( ὀξύθυμος ) acts without deliberation. but the prudent man endureth much." The Hebrew term, "man of devices," being ambiguous, the LXX . takes it in a favourable sense, φρόνιμος ; and they have a different reading of the verb.

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Proverbs 14:8-19 (Proverbs 14:8-19)

The understanding of one's way

I. THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE . ( Proverbs 14:8 .) To note, to observe, to take heed to one's way, is the characteristic of the man who is prudent for time and wise for eternity. And, on the contrary, the very principle of folly is self-deception—to be followed in turn by a terrible awakening to sobriety and recognition of the truth (comp. Psalms 7:15 ; Job 4:8 ). The right way is illustrated both positively and negatively.

II. SOME PARTICULAR ILLUSTRATIONS . ( Proverbs 14:9 , sqq. )

1 . The vanity of mere ritualism. ( Proverbs 14:9 .) According to the probably correct translation, "the guilt offering scorns the fools;" in other words, his worship is useless, missing its aim, failing of God's favour, while the righteous who has washed and made himself clean, and put away iniquity (see Isaiah 1:1-31 ), comes with acceptance before Jehovah.

2 . Respect for others ' sorrows. ( Proverbs 14:10 .) Acute distress isolates a man; he cannot communicate what he feels. And it is an unkind thing to force counsel on others at a time when they know they cannot be understood, when the sympathy of silence is best. To sit by our friend, to clasp his hand with loving pressure, to mingle our tears with his, will be far more delicate and soothing than to attempt to "charm ache with airs, and agony with words."

3 . Consideration of the end. ( Proverbs 14:11-13 .) The old reminder recurs, Respice finem. Perhaps a contrast is intended between the "house of the wicked" as seeming firmer, nevertheless doomed to overthrow, and the "tent of the righteous," seeming more frail, yet destined to "sprout," to flourish, and extend. Again, resuming the image of the way, the seeming right way is not ever the right nor the safe way. It may be broad at first and well travelled, but may narrow by and by, and end in the pathless forest, or the desert waste, or the fatal precipice, To be safe we must still consider the end ; and the beginning, which predicts and virtually contains the end. Various are the illusions to which we are subject. One example of this is that the smiling face may hide the aching heart, and the opposite ( Ecclesiastes 7:4 ) may also obtain. Boisterous and immoderate mirth is no good symptom; it foretells a sad reaction, or conceals a deep-seated gloom. Human faces and appearances are masks, which hide the real countenance of things from us.

4 . Consideration of the sources of enjoyment. ( Proverbs 14:14 .) First the vicious source. The man who has fallen away from God seeks satisfaction out of God, in something practically atheistic, in the fruit of godless, sinful deeds ( Proverbs 12:14 ; Proverbs 13:2 ; Proverbs 28:19 ). But in the matters of the spirit that which is out of God is nothing, emptiness and vanity. He is feasting upon wind. The genuine source of enjoyment is in the spirit itself, in the consciousness, where God is known and realized and loved; in the sense of union and reconciliation of thought and affection with the Divine Object thought of and believed. The kingdom of God is within us, and is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."

5 . Credulity and caution. ( Proverbs 14:15 .) Credulity is a weakness, and certainly, like every weakness, may become a sin. It is the opposite of genuine faith: it is confidence placed where we have no right to place it. God, who has set up and kindled a light in each breast, requires us to use it, each for himself. To forsake it for any other is a desertion of our trust. Would that we might ever take heed to the light that is within us, and so steer our way! There is no true faith possible which does not begin with this. Again ( Proverbs 14:16 ), wisdom is seen in a certain self-distrust in presence of evil. To use an expressive phrase, we should know when to "fight shy" of certain persons or associations, So powerful a passion as fear was not given us for nothing, nor should we be ashamed of a timidity which leads us to give a wide berth to danger, to keep out of the lion's path. Over-confidence springs from the want of a true estimate of our proper strength and weakness, and the security it begets is false.

6 . Passionateness and trickiness. ( Proverbs 14:17 .) The former precipitates men into all follies. Seneca saith well that "anger is like rain, which breaks itself upon that whereon it falls." Anger is certainly a kind of baseness; as it appears well in the weakness of those subjects in whom it reigns—children, women, old folks, sick folks. Bitter, unforgivable words, the revelation of secrets, the breaking off of business,—such are among the follies which anger constantly perpetrates. But the tricky intriguing man is both foolish and odious. Listen to one of the greatest of Englishmen, when he bears testimony that "the ablest men that ever were born all had an openness and frankness of dealing, and a name of certainty and veracity." There is a fine line between the wisdom of reserve and the vicious cunning of concealment; nothing but the loving and true purpose of the heart can redeem any habit of secrecy from odium.

7 . Life a progress in folly or wisdom. ( Proverbs 14:18 .) We are ever gaining, according to the image of the text. The mind has its accretions like those of the tree, A man becomes a greater fool the older he grows, or becomes of deeper sagacity, richer and wider views. All depends on how we start. Admit an error into thought, keep it there after it is proved an error, close the mind in any quarter to the light and keep it closed, and ensure a bigoted and foolish age. Let God into the mind from the first, open daily every window of the soul to the light, and grow old "learning something fresh every day."

8 . The ascendancy of goodness. ( Proverbs 14:19 .) The picture is presented of the envoy of a conquered people who kneels at the palace gate of the conqueror and waits on his commands (compare on the thought, Proverbs 13:9 , Proverbs 13:22 ; Psalms 37:25 ). There is a might in goodness; may we not say the only true might is that of goodness, for it has omnipotence at its back? It is victorious, irresistible, in the end. It is content to be acknowledged in the end by all, the evil as well as the good. Hypocrisy is the homage paid by vice to goodness.—J.

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Proverbs 14:17-29 (Proverbs 14:17-29)

(See homily on Proverbs 16:32 .)—C.

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