The Thought Behind the Proverb
THE book of Proverbs is a rich mine of practical counsel. Every phase of human relationship seems to be covered. There is counsel on how to treat friends, the rearing of children, the snares that lurk in the path of young and old, and the perils of overconfidence. To benefit from this mine of truth requires digging on our part. “If you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it, in that case you will understand the fear of Jehovah, and you will find the very knowledge of God.” (Prov. 2:4, 5) Examining the thought behind the inspired proverb is a most profitable way of digging for the treasures of divine wisdom.
“Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother. For they are a wreath of attractiveness to your head and a fine necklace to your throat.”
A child ought to get its first ideas of God from his parents, and his father’s and mother’s love ought to be the stepping-stones by which he rises to understand the love of God, his Father in heaven. So the proverb teaches. Instruction and discipline of wisdom may at first seem difficult and hard, like fetters of iron restraining the corruption and rebellion that is inborn, but in time they become like chains of gold, worn like ornaments and no burden at all.
“For the net is spread simply for nothing before the eyes of anything owning wings.”
The Revised Standard Version explains the verse to mean that, unlike birds that do not allow themselves to be caught when nets are spread before their very eyes, wicked men go to their own destruction blindly. In this chapter the wicked are represented as scheming privately to ensnare the innocent. If their designs were known, the innocent would evade the snare, “for the net is spread simply for nothing before the eyes of anything owning wings.” The wise counsel is to attend to Jehovah’s instructions and you will see the designs of the wicked and so be able to avoid their snares, as does the bird that sees the net before its eyes.
“The one holding back grain—the populace will execrate him, but there is a blessing for the head of the one letting it be bought.”
It seems that the fast way to make money in olden times was to buy up grain when prices were low and then wait till famine pressed heavily and then sell the grain at famine prices. It was sort of an ancient version of the black market. Even though some good was done by the individual’s practice, by his limiting consumption and maintaining a reserve, yet the people despised him for his selfishness and blessed him who refrained from making high profits out of an emergency. Such a one will receive his reward from God.
“Plowed ground of persons of little means yields a great deal of food, but there exists the one that is swept away for lack of judgment.”
The sense here is that a little is made much by work and God’s blessing, and that much can be made little by wickedness and carelessness.
“Counsel in the heart of a man is as deep waters, but the man of discernment is one that will draw it up.”
Counsel sometimes has the thought of purpose. Jehovah says: “My own counsel will stand.” (Isa. 46:10) The purpose of a man, his real heart-deep intention, often lies like the waters of a well, deep down. It is hard to get at this counsel. It requires patience and skill to draw it up from the very center of him. When this proverb was written, water was not available easily; it was deep down in wells. This meant work. It took real work for Rebekah to draw up water for the camels of Abraham’s servant. (Gen. 24:19, 20) So it is with the counsel deep in the heart of a man. To get at this purpose one has to let down his bucket and haul it up. The man of discernment, wanting to know what is in another person’s heart, must do some probing. He may approach from one avenue and then another. His persistence finally brings up the purpose of the other person. Then the man of discernment will know whether that person is hostile or a good person to associate with. Likewise the purposes of God are not on the surface. Many persons read the Bible but do not get an understanding of the divine will. Why? They do not let down their buckets; they do not put forth the necessary effort. By going to congregational meetings of God’s people, one shows he is willing to let down his bucket, thereby drawing up the refreshing truths of God’s Word.
“By iron, iron itself is sharpened. So one man sharpens the face of another.”
A blade that has seen much hard service must come in touch with another hard instrument to restore its edge. So the intellectual and spiritual state of man becomes, at times, in need of sharpening. Contact with uncongenial persons and things and disappointments have a tendency to exhaust our energies and depress our spirits. When we are in such a condition a look of sympathy and a word of encouragement from one who understands us is very uplifting indeed. When such encouragement is based on an accurate knowledge of God’s Word, it has tremendous power to bring to life in us fresh hope for renewed action.
“The wicked do flee when there is no pursuer, but the righteous are like a young lion that is confident.”
The man who flees when no one is pursuing is in a sense running away from himself, his own conscience; therefore, his efforts are fruitless. The righteous man has true courage, being conscious of his own innocence and of the approval of Jehovah God.