Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryProverbs 18
on the Whole Bible
1 Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and
intermeddleth with all wisdom.
The original here is difficult, and differently understood.
1. Some take it as a rebuke to an affected singularity. When men take a
pride in separating themselves from the sentiments and society
of others, in contradicting all that has been said before them and
advancing new notions of their own, which, though ever so absurd, they
are wedded to, it is to gratify a desire or lust of vain-glory, and
they are seekers and meddlers with that which does not belong to them.
He seeks according to his desire, and intermeddles with every
business, pretends to pass a judgment upon every man's matter. He
is morose and supercilious. Those generally are so that are
opinionative and conceited, and they thus make themselves ridiculous,
and are vexatious to others.
2. Our translation seems to take it as an excitement to diligence in
the pursuit of wisdom. If we would get knowledge or grace, we must
desire it, as that which we need and which will be of great advantage
1 Corinthians 12:31.
We must separate ourselves from all those things which would
divert us from or retard us in the pursuit, retire out of the noise of
this world's vanities, and then seek and intermeddle with all
the means and instructions of wisdom, be willing to take pains
and try all the methods of improving ourselves, be acquainted with a
variety of opinions, that we may prove all things and hold fast that
which is good.
2 A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart
may discover itself.
A fool may pretend to understanding, and to seek and intermeddle with
the means of it, but,
1. He has no true delight in it; it is only to please his friends or
save his credit; he does not love his book, nor his business, nor his
Bible, nor his prayers; he would rather be playing the fool with his
sports. Those who take no pleasure in learning or religion will make
nothing to purpose of either. No progress is made in them if they are a
task and a drudgery.
2. He has no good design in it, only that his heart may discover
itself, that he may have something to make a show with, something
wherewith to varnish his folly, that that may pass off the better,
because he loves to hear himself talk.
3 When the wicked cometh, then cometh also contempt, and with
This may include a double sense:--
1. That wicked people are scornful people, and put contempt upon
others. When the wicked comes into any company, comes into the
schools of wisdom or into the assemblies for religious worship, then
comes contempt of God, of his people and ministers, and of every
thing that is said and done. You can expect no other from those that
are profane than that they will be scoffers; they will be an
ignominy and reproach; they will flout and jeer every
thing that is serious and grave. But let not wise and good men regard
it, for the proverb of the ancients says, such wickedness proceeds
from the wicked.
2. That wicked people are shameful people, and bring contempt
upon themselves, for God has said that those who despise him shall
be lightly esteemed. As soon as ever sin entered shame followed it,
and sinners make themselves despicable. Nor do they only draw contempt
upon themselves, but they bring ignominy and reproach
upon their families, their friends, their ministers, and all that are
in any way related to them. Those therefore who would secure their
honour must retain their virtue.
4 The words of a man's mouth are as deep waters, and the
wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.
The similitudes here seem to be elegantly transposed.
1. The well-spring of wisdom is as deep waters. An
intelligent knowing man has in him a good treasure of useful things,
which furnishes him with something to say upon all occasions that is
pertinent and profitable. This is as deep waters, which make no
noise, but never run dry.
2. The words of such a man's mouth are as a flowing brook. What
he sees cause to speak flows naturally from him and with a great deal
of ease, and freedom, and natural fluency; it is clean and fresh, it is
cleansing and refreshing; from his deep waters there flows what
there is occasion for, to water those about him, as the brooks do the
5 It is not good to accept the person of the wicked, to
overthrow the righteous in judgment.
This justly condemns those who, being employed in the administration of
justice, pervert judgment,
1. By conniving at men's crimes, and protecting and countenancing them
in oppression and violence, because of their dignity, or wealth, or
some personal kindness they have for them. Whatever excuses men may
make for it, certainly it is not good thus to accept the
person of the wicked; it is an offence to God, an affront to
justice, a wrong to mankind, and a real service done to the kingdom of
sin and Satan. The merits of the cause must be regarded, not the
2. By giving a cause against justice and equity, because the person is
poor and low in the world, or not of the same party or persuasion, or a
stranger of another country. This is overthrowing the righteous in
judgment, who ought to be supported, and whom God will make to
6 A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth
7 A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the
snare of his soul.
Solomon has often shown what mischief bad men do to others with their
ungoverned tongues; here he shows what mischief they do to themselves.
1. They embroil themselves in quarrels: A fool's lips, without
any cause or call, enter into contention, by advancing foolish
notions which others find themselves obliged to oppose, and so a
quarrel is begun, or by giving provoking language, which will be
resented, and satisfaction demanded, or by setting men at defiance, and
bidding them do if they dare. Proud, and passionate men, and
drunkards, are fools, whose lips enter into contention. A wise
man may, against his will, be drawn into a quarrel, but he is a fool
that of choice enters into it when he might avoid it, and he will
repent it when it is too late.
2. They expose themselves to correction: The fool's mouth does,
in effect, call for strokes; he has said that which deserves to
be punished with strokes, and is still saying that which needs to be
checked, and restrained with strokes, as Ananias unjustly commanded
that Paul should be smitten on the mouth.
3. They involve themselves in ruin: A fool's mouth, which has
been, or would have been, the destruction of others, proves at length
his own destruction, perhaps from men. Shimei's mouth was his
own destruction, and Adonijah's, who spoke against his own head. And
when a fool, by his foolish speaking, has run himself into a premunire,
and thinks to bring himself off by justifying or excusing what he has
said, his defence proves his offence, and his lips are still the snare
of his soul, entangling him yet more and more. However, when men by
their evil words shall be condemned at God's bar their mouths will be
their destruction, and it will be such an aggravation of their ruin as
will not admit one drop of water, one drop of comfort, to cool their
tongue, which is their snare and will be their tormentor.
8 The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down
into the innermost parts of the belly.
Tale-bearers are those who secretly carry stories from house to house,
which perhaps have some truth in them, but are secrets not fit to be
told, or are basely misrepresented, and false colours put upon them,
and are all told with design to blast men's reputation, to break their
friendship, to make mischief between relations and neighbours, and set
them at variance. Now the words of such are here said to be,
1. Like as when men are wounded (so the margin reads it); they
pretend to be very much affected with the miscarriages of such and
such, and to be in pain for them, and pretend that it is with the
greatest grief and reluctance imaginable that they speak of them. They
look as if they themselves were wounded by it, whereas really they
rejoice in iniquity, are fond of the story, and tell it with
pride and pleasure. Thus their words seem; but they go down as
poison into the innermost parts of the belly, the pill being thus
gilded, thus sugared.
2. As wounds (so the text reads it), as deep wounds, deadly
wounds, wounds in the innermost parts of the belly; the
venter medius vel infimus--the middle or lower belly, the
thorax or the abdomen, in either of which wounds are
mortal. The words of the tale-bearer wound him of whom they are spoken,
his credit and interest, and him to whom they are spoken, his love and
charity. They occasion sin to him, which is a wound to the conscience.
Perhaps he seems to slight them, but they would insensibly, by
alienating his affections from one he ought to love.
9 He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that
is a great waster.
1. Prodigality is very bad husbandry. Those are not only justly branded
as fools among men, but will give an uncomfortable account to God of
the talents they are entrusted with, who are wasters of their estates,
who live above what they have, spend and give more than they can
afford, and so, in effect, throw away what they have, and suffer it to
run to waste.
2. Idleness is no better. He that is remiss in his work, whose hands
hang down (so the word signifies), that stands, as we may, with his
thumbs in his mouth, that neglects his business, does it not at all, or
as if he did it not, he is own brother to him that is a prodigal, that
is, he is as much a fool and in as sure and ready a way to poverty; one
scatters what he has, the other lets it run through his fingers. The
observation is too true in the affairs of religion; he that is trifling
and careless in praying and hearing is brother to him that does not
pray or hear at all; and omissions of duty and in duty are as fatal to
the soul as commissions of sin.
10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous
runneth into it, and is safe.
1. God's sufficiency for the saints: His name is a strong tower
for them, in which they may take rest when they are weary and take
sanctuary when they are pursued, where they may be lifted up above
their enemies and fortified against them. There is enough in God, and
in the discoveries which he has made of himself to us, to make us easy
at all times. The wealth laid up in this tower is enough to enrich
them, to be a continual feast and a continuing treasure to them. The
strength of this tower is enough to protect them; the name of the
Lord is all that whereby he has made himself known as God, and our
God, not only his titles and attributes, but his covenant and all the
promises of it; these make up a tower, a strong tower, impenetrable,
impregnable, for all God's people.
2. The saints' security in God. It is a strong tower to those who know
how to make use of it as such. The righteous, by faith and
prayer, devotion towards God and dependence on him, run into it,
as their city of refuge. Having made sure their interest in God's name,
they take the comfort and benefit of it; they go out of themselves,
retire from the world, live above, dwell in God and God in them, and so
they are safe, they think themselves so, and they shall find themselves
11 The rich man's wealth is his strong city, and as an high
wall in his own conceit.
Having described the firm and faithful defence of the righteous man
Solomon here shows what is the false and deceitful defence of the rich
man, that has his portion and treasure in the things of this world, and
sets his heart upon them. His wealth is as much his confidence, and he
expects as much from it, as a godly man from his God. See,
1. How he supports himself. He makes his wealth his city, where
he dwells, where he rules, with a great deal of self-complacency, as if
he had a whole city under his command. It is his strong city, in
which he intrenches himself, and then sets danger at defiance, as if
nothing could hurt him. His scales are his pride; his wealth is
his wall in which he encloses himself, and he thinks it a high
wall, which cannot be scaled or got over,
2. How herein he cheats himself. It is a strong city, and a
high wall, but it is so only in his own conceit; it will
not prove to be really so, but like the house built on the sand, which
will fail the builder when he most needs it.
12 Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before
honour is humility.
1. Pride is the presage of ruin, and ruin will at last be the
punishment of pride; for before destruction men are commonly so
infatuated by the just judgment of God that they are more haughty than
ever, that their ruin may be the sorer and the more surprising. Of, if
that do not always hold, yet after the heart has been lifted up with
pride, a fall comes,
2. Humility is the presage of honour and prepares men for it, and
honour shall at length be the reward of humility, as he had said
That has need to be often said which men are so loth to believe.
13 He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is
folly and shame unto him.
See here how men often expose themselves by that very thing by which
they hope to gain applause.
1. Some take a pride in being quick. They answer a matter before
they hear it, hear it out, nay, as soon as they but hear of it.
They think it is their honour to take up a cause suddenly; and, when
they have heard one side, they think the matter so plain that they need
not trouble themselves to hear the other; they are already apprized of
it, and masters of all the merits of the cause. Whereas, though a ready
wit is an agreeable thing to play with, it is solid judgment and sound
wisdom that do business.
2. Those that take a pride in being quick commonly fall under the just
reproach of being impertinent. It is folly for a man to go about to
speak to a thing which he does not understand, or to pass sentence upon
a matter which he is not truly and fully informed of, and has not
patience to make a strict enquiry into; and, if it be folly, it is and
will be shame.
14 The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a
wounded spirit who can bear?
1. Outward grievances are tolerable as long as the mind enjoys itself
and is at ease. Many infirmities, many calamities, we are liable to in
this world, in body, name, and estate, which a man may bear, and bear
up under, if he have but good conduct and courage, and be able to act
with reason and resolution, especially if he have a good conscience,
and the testimony of that be for him; and, if the spirit of a
man will sustain the infirmity, much more will the spirit of
a Christian, or rather the Spirit of God witnessing and working with
our spirits in a day of trouble.
2. The grievances of the spirit are of all others most heavy, and
hardly to be borne; these make sore the shoulders which should sustain
the other infirmities. If the spirit be wounded by the disturbance of
the reason, dejection under the trouble, whatever it is, and despair of
relief, if the spirit be wounded by the amazing apprehensions of God's
wrath for sin, and the fearful expectations of judgment and fiery
indignation, who can bear this? Wounded spirits cannot help
themselves, nor do others know how to help them. It is therefore wisdom
to keep conscience void of offence.
15 The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of
the wise seeketh knowledge.
1. Those that are prudent will seek knowledge, and apply their ear and
heart to the pursuit of it, their ear to attend to the means of
knowledge and their heart to mix faith with what they hear and make a
good improvement of it. Those that are prudent do not think they have
prudence enough, but still see they have need of more; and the more
prudent a man is the more inquisitive will he be after knowledge, the
knowledge of God and his duty, and the way to heaven, for that is the
2. Those that prudently seek knowledge shall certainly get knowledge,
for God never said to such, Seek in vain, but, Seek and you
shall find. If the ear seeks it, the heart gets it, and keeps it,
and is enriched by it. We must get knowledge, not only into our heads,
but into our hearts, get the savour and relish of it, apply what we
know to ourselves and experience the power and influence of it.
16 A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before
Of what great force gifts (that is, bribes) are he had intimated
Here he shows the power of gifts, that is, presents made even by
inferiors to those that are above them and have much more than they
have. A good present will go far,
1. Towards a man's liberty: A man's gift, if he be in prison,
may procure his enlargement; there are courtiers, who, if they use
their interest even for oppressed innocency, expect to receive a
gratuity for it. Or, if a mean man know not how to get access to a
great man, he may do it by a fee to his servants or a present to
himself; those will make room for him.
2. Towards his preferment. It will bring him to sit among great
men, in honour and power. See how corrupt the world is when men's
gifts will not do, though ever so great; nay, will gain that for them
which they are unworthy of and unfit for; and no wonder that those take
bribes in their offices who gave bribes for them. Vendere jura
potest, emerat ille prius--He that bought law can sell it.
17 He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his
neighbour cometh and searcheth him.
This shows that one tale is good till another is told.
1. He that speaks first will be sure to tell a straight story, and
relate that only which makes for him, and put the best colour he can
upon it, so that his cause shall appear good, whether it really be so
2. The plaintiff having done his evidence, it is fit that the defendant
should be heard, should have leave to confront the witnesses and
cross-examine them, and show the falsehood and fallacy of what has been
alleged, which perhaps may make the matter appear quite otherwise than
it did. We must therefore remember that we have two ears, to hear both
sides before we give judgment.
18 The lot causeth contentions to cease, and parteth between
1. Contentions commonly happen among the mighty, that are jealous for
their honour and right and stand upon the punctilios of both, that are
confident of their being able to make their part good and therefore
will hardly condescend to the necessary terms of an accommodation;
whereas those that are poor are forced to be peaceable, and sit down
2. Even the contentions of the mighty may be ended by lot if they
cannot otherwise be compromised, and sometimes better so than by
arguments which are endless, or concessions which they are loth to
stoop to, whereas it is no disparagement to a man to acquiesce in the
determination of the lot when once it is referred to that. To prevent
quarrels Canaan was divided by lot; and, if lusory lots had not
profaned this way of appeal to Providence, perhaps it might be very
well used now for the deciding of many controversies, both to the
honour of God and the satisfaction of the parties, provided it were
done with prayer and due solemnity, this and some other scriptures
seeming to direct to it, especially
If the law be a lottery (as some have called it), it were as well that
a lottery were the law.
19 A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city:
and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.
1. Great care must be taken to prevent quarrels among relations, and
those that are under special obligation to each other, not only because
they are most unnatural and unbecoming, but because between such things
are commonly taken most unkindly, and resentments are apt to be carried
too far. Wisdom and grace would indeed make it most easy to us to
forgive our relations and friends if they offend us, but corruption
makes it most difficult to forgive them; let us therefore take heed of
disobliging a brother, or one that has been as a brother; ingratitude
is very provoking.
2. Great pains must be taken to compromise matters in variance between
relations, with all speed, because it is a work of so much difficulty,
and consequently the more honourable if it be done. Esau was a
brother offended, and seemed harder to be won than a strong
city, yet by a work of God upon his heart, in answer to Jacob's
prayer, he was won.
20 A man's belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his
mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled.
1. Our comfort depends very much upon the testimony of our own
consciences, for us or against us. The belly is here put for the
Now it is of great consequence to us whether that be satisfied, and
what that is filled with, for, accordingly, will our satisfaction be
and our inward peace.
2. The testimony of our consciences will be for us, or against us,
according as we have or have not governed our tongues well. According
as the fruit of the mouth is good or bad, unto iniquity or unto
righteousness, so the character of the man is, and consequently the
testimony of his conscience concerning him. "We ought to take as great
care about the words we speak as we do about the fruit of our trees or
the increase of the earth, which we are to eat; for, according as they
are wholesome or unwholesome, so will the pleasure or the pain be
wherewith we shall be filled." So bishop Patrick.
21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they
that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
1. A man may do a great deal of good, or a great deal of hurt, both to
others and to himself, according to the use he makes of his tongue.
Many a one has been his own death by a foul tongue, or the death of
others by a false tongue; and, on the contrary, many a one has saved
his own life, or procured the comfort of it, by a prudent gentle
tongue, and saved the lives of others by a seasonable testimony or
intercession for them. And, if by our words we must be justified or
condemned, death and life are, no doubt, in the power of the
tongue. Tongues were Æsop's best meat, and his worst.
2. Men's words will be judged of by the affections with which they
speak; he that not only speaks aright (which a bad man may do to save
his credit or please his company), but loves to speak so, speaks well
of choice, and with delight, to him it will be life; and he that not
only speaks amiss (which a good man may do through inadvertency), but
loves to speak so
to him it will be death. As men love it they shall eat the
fruit of it.
22 Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth
favour of the LORD.
1. A good wife is a great blessing to a man. He that finds a
wife (that is, a wife indeed; a bad wife does not deserve to be
called by a name of so much honour), that finds a help meet for him
(that is a wife in the original acceptation of the word), that sought
such a one with care and prayer and has found what he sought, he has
found a good thing, a jewel of great value, a rare jewel; he has
found that which will not only contribute more than any thing to his
comfort in this life, but will forward him in the way to heaven.
2. God is to be acknowledged in it with thankfulness; it is a token of
his favour, and a happy pledge of further favours; it is a sign that
God delights in a man to do him good and has mercy in store for him;
for this, therefore, God must be sought unto.
23 The poor useth intreaties; but the rich answereth roughly.
1. Poverty, though many inconveniences to the body attend it, has often
a good effect upon the spirit, for it makes men humble and submissive,
and mortifies their pride. It teaches them to use entreaties.
When necessity forces men to beg it tells them they must not prescribe
or demand, but take what is given them and be thankful. At the throne
of God's grace we are all poor, and must use entreaties, not answer,
but make application, must sue sub forma pauperis--as a pauper.
2. A prosperous condition, though it has many advantages, has often
this mischief attending it, that it makes men proud, haughty, and
imperious: The rich answers the entreaties of the poor roughly,
as Nabal answered David's messengers with railing. It is a very foolish
humour of some rich men, especially those who have risen from little,
that they think their riches will warrant them to give hard words, and,
even where they not design any rough dealing, that it becomes them to
answer roughly, whereas gentlemen ought to be gentle,
24 A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and
there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
Solomon here recommends friendship to us, and shows,
1. What we must do that we may contract and cultivate friendship; we
must show ourselves friendly. Would we have friends and keep
them, we must not only not affront them, or quarrel with them, but we
must love them, and make it appear that we do so by all expressions
that are endearing, by being free with them, pleasing to them, visiting
them and bidding them welcome, and especially by doing all the good
offices we can and serving them in every thing that lies in our power;
that is showing ourselves friendly.
|Si vis amari, ama--
If you wish to gain affection, bestow it.--Sen.
Ut ameris, amabilis esto--
The way to be beloved is to be lovely.--Ovid.
2. That it is worth while to do so, for we may promise ourselves a
great deal of comfort in a true friend. A brother indeed is
born for adversity, as he had said,
In our troubles we expect comfort and relief from our relations, but
sometimes there is a friend, that is nothing akin to us, the
bonds of whose esteem and love prove stronger than those of nature,
and, when it comes to the trial, will do more for us than a brother
will. Christ is a friend to all believers that sticks closer than a
brother; to him therefore let them show themselves friendly.