As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honour is not
seemly for a fool.
1. It is too common a thing for honour to be given to fools, who are
utterly unworthy of it and unfit for it. Bad men, who have neither wit
nor grace, are sometimes preferred by princes, and applauded and cried
up by the people. Folly is set in great dignity, as Solomon
2. It is very absurd and unbecoming when it is so. It is an incongruous
as snow in summer, and as great a disorder in the commonwealth
as that is in the course of nature and in the seasons of the year; nay,
it is as injurious as rain in harvest, which hinders the
labourers and spoils the fruits of the earth when they are ready to be
gathered. When bad men are in power they commonly abuse their power, in
discouraging virtue, and giving countenance to wickedness, for want of
wisdom to discern it and grace to detest it.
2 As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the
curse causeless shall not come.
1. The folly of passion. It makes men scatter causeless curses,
wishing ill to others upon presumption that they are bad and have done
ill, when either they mistake the person or misunderstand the fact, or
they call evil good and good evil. Give honour to a fool, and he
thunders out his anathemas against all that he is disgusted with, right
or wrong. Great men, when wicked, think they have a privilege to keep
those about them in awe, by cursing them, and swearing at them, which
yet is an expression of the most impotent malice and shows their
weakness as much as their wickedness.
2. The safety of innocency. He that is cursed without cause, whether by
furious imprecations or solemn anathemas, the curse shall do him no
more harm than the bird that flies over his head, than Goliath's curses
did to David,
1 Samuel 17:43.
It will fly away like the sparrow or the wild dove, which go nobody
knows where, till they return to their proper place, as the curse will
at length return upon the head of him that uttered it.
3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the
1. Wicked men are compared to the horse and the ass, so
brutish are they, so unreasonable, so unruly, and not to be governed
but by force or fear, so low has sin sunk men, so much below
themselves. Man indeed is born like the wild ass's colt, but as
some by the grace of God are changed, and become rational, so others by
custom in sin are hardened, and become more and more sottish, as the
horse and the mule,
2. Direction is given to use them accordingly. Princes, instead of
giving honour to a fool
must put disgrace upon him--instead of putting power into his hand,
must exercise power over him. A horse unbroken needs a
whip for correction, and an ass a bridle for direction and
to check him when he would turn out of the way; so a vicious man, who
will not be under the guidance and restraint of religion and reason,
ought to be whipped and bridled, to be rebuked severely, and made to
smart for what he has done amiss, and to be restrained from offending
4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be
like unto him.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his
See here the noble security of the scripture-style, which seems to
contradict itself, but really does not. Wise men have need to be
directed how to deal with fools; and they have never more need of
wisdom than in dealing with such, to know when to keep silence and when
to speak, for there may be a time for both.
1. In some cases a wise man will not set his wit to that of a fool so
far as to answer him according to his folly "If he boast of
himself, do not answer him by boasting of thyself. If he rail and talk
passionately, do not thou rail and talk passionately too. If he tell
one great lie, do not thou tell another to match it. If he calumniate
thy friends, do not thou calumniate his. If he banter, do not answer
him in his own language, lest thou be like him, even thou, who
knowest better things, who hast more sense, and hast been better
2. Yet, in other cases, a wise man will use his wisdom for the
conviction of a fool, when, by taking notice of what he says, there may
be hopes of doing good, or at least preventing further, mischief,
either to himself or others. "If thou have reason to think that thy
silence will be deemed an evidence of the weakness of thy cause, or of
thy own weakness, in such a case answer him, and let it be an
answer ad hominem--to the man, beat him at his own weapons, and
that will be an answer ad rem--to the point, or as good as one.
If he offer any thing that looks like an argument, an answer that, and
suit thy answer to his case. If he think, because thou dost not answer
him, that what he says is unanswerable, then give him an answer,
lest he be wise in his own conceit and boast of a victory." For
Wisdom's children must justify her.
6 He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool cutteth off
the feet, and drinketh damage.
7 The legs of the lame are not equal: so is a parable in the
mouth of fools.
8 As he that bindeth a stone in a sling, so is he that giveth
honour to a fool.
9 As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a
parable in the mouth of fools.
To recommend wisdom to us, and to quicken us to the diligent use of all
the means for the getting of wisdom, Solomon here shows that fools are
fit for nothing; they are either sottish men, who will never think and
design at all, or vicious men, who will never think and design well.
1. They are not fit to be entrusted with any business, not fit to go
on an errand
He that does but send a message by the hand of a fool, of
a careless heedless person, one who is so full of his jests and so
given to his pleasures that he cannot apply his mind to any thing that
is serious, will find his message misunderstood, the one half of it
forgotten, the rest awkwardly delivered, and so many blunders made
about it that he might as well have cut off his legs, that is,
never have sent him. Nay, he will drink damage; it will be very
much to his prejudice to have employed such a one, who, instead of
bringing him a good account of his affairs, will abuse him and put a
trick upon him; for, in Solomon's language, a knave and a fool are of
the same signification. It will turn much to a man's disgrace to make
use of the service of a fool, for people will be apt to judge of the
master by his messenger.
2. They are not fit to have any honour put upon them. He had said
Honour is not seemly for a fool; here he shows that it is lost
and thrown away upon him, as if a man should throw a precious stone, or
a stone fit to be used in weighing, into a heap of common stones, where
it would be buried and of no use; it is as absurd as if a man should
dress up a stone in purple (so others); nay, it is dangerous, it
is like a stone bound in a sling, with which a man will be
likely to do hurt. To give honour to a fool is to put a sword in
a madman's hand, with which we know not what mischief he may do, even
to those that put it into his hand.
3. They are not fit to deliver wise sayings, nor should they undertake
to handle any matter of weight, though they should be instructed
concerning it, and be able to say something to it. Wise sayings, as a
foolish man delivers them and applies them (in such a manner that one
may know he does not rightly understand them), lose their excellency
and usefulness: A parable in the mouth of fools ceases to be a
parable, and becomes a jest. If a man who lives a wicked life, yet
speaks religiously and takes God's covenant into his mouth,
(1.) He does but shame himself and his profession: As the legs of
the lame are not equal, by reason of which their going is unseemly,
so unseemly is it for a fool to pretend to speak apophthegms, and give
advice, and for a man to talk devoutly whose conversation is a constant
contradiction to his talk and gives him the lie. His good words raise
him up, but then his bad life takes him down, and so his legs are
not equal. "A wise saying," (says bishop Patrick) "doth as ill
become a fool as dancing doth a cripple; for, as his lameness never so
much appears as when he would seem nimble, so the other's folly is
never so ridiculous as when he would seem wise." As therefore it is
best for a lame man to keep his seat, so it is best for a silly man, or
a bad man, to hold his tongue.
(2.) He does but do mischief with it to himself and others, as a
drunkard does with a thorn, or any other sharp thing which he takes in
his hand, with which he tears himself and those about him, because he
knows not how to manage it. Those that talk well and do not live well,
their good words will aggravate their own condemnation and others will
be hardened by their inconsistency with themselves. Some give this
sense of it: The sharpest saying, by which a sinner, one would think,
should be pricked to the heart, makes no more impression upon a fool,
no, though it come out of his own mouth, than the scratch of a thorn
does upon the hand of a man when he is drunk, who then feels it not nor
complains of it,
The Conduct of Fools.
10 The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the
fool, and rewardeth transgressors.
Our translation gives this verse a different reading in the text and in
the margin; and accordingly it expresses either,
1. The equity of a good God. The Master, or Lord (so
Rab signifies), or, as we read it, The great God that formed
all things at first, and still governs them in infinite wisdom,
renders to every man according to his work. He rewards the fool,
who sinned through ignorance, who knew not his Lord's will, with few
stripes; and he rewards the transgressor, who sinned
presumptuously and with a high hand, who knew his Lord's will and
would not do it, with many stripes. Some understand it of the
goodness of God's common providence even to fools and transgressors, on
whom he causes his sun to shine and his rain to fall. Or,
2. The iniquity of a bad prince (so the margin reads it): A great
man grieves all, and he hires the fool; he hires also the
transgressors. When a wicked man gets power in his hand, by
himself, and by the fools and knaves whom he employs under him, whom he
hires and chooses to make use of, he grieves all who are under him and
is vexatious to them. We should therefore pray for kings and all in
authority, that, under them, our lives may be quiet and
11 As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to
1. What an abominable thing sin is, and how hateful sometimes it is
made to appear, even to the sinner himself. When his conscience is
convinced, or he feels smart from his sin, he is sick of it, and vomits
it up; he seems then to detest it and to be willing to part with it. It
is in itself, and, first or last, will be to the sinner, more loathsome
than the vomit of a dog,
2. How apt sinners are to relapse into it notwithstanding. As the dog,
after he has gained ease by vomiting that which burdened his stomach,
yet goes and licks it up again, so sinners, who have been convinced
only and not converted, return to sin again, forgetting how sick it
made them. The apostle
(2 Peter 2:22)
applies this proverb to those that have known the way of
righteousness but are turned from it; but God will spue
them out of his mouth,
12 Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more
hope of a fool than of him.
1. A spiritual disease supposed, and that is self-conceit: Seest
thou a man? Yes, we see many a one, wise in his own conceit,
who has some little sense, but is proud of it, thinks it much more than
it is, more than any of his neighbours, have, and enough, so that he
needs no more, has such a conceit of his own abilities as makes him
opinionative, dogmatical, and censorious; and all the use he makes of
his knowledge is that it puffs him up. Or, if by a wise man we
understand a religious man, it describes the character of those who,
making some show of religion, conclude their spiritual state to be good
when really it is very bad, like Laodicea,
2. The danger of this disease. It is in a manner desperate: There is
more hope of a fool, that knows and owns himself to be such,
than of such a one. Solomon was not only a wise man himself, but
a teacher of wisdom; and this observation he made upon his pupils, that
he found his work most difficult and least successful with those that
had a good opinion of themselves and were not sensible that they needed
instruction. Therefore he that seems to himself to be
wise must become a fool, that he may be wise,
1 Corinthians 3:18.
There is more hope of a publican than of a proud Pharisee,
Many are hindered from being truly wise and religious by a false and
groundless conceit that they are so,
The Disgrace of Slothfulness.
13 The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a
lion is in the streets.
When a man talks foolishly we say, He talks idly; for none betray their
folly more than those who are idle and go about to excuse themselves in
their idleness. As men's folly makes them slothful, so their
slothfulness makes them foolish. Observe,
1. What the slothful man really dreads. He dreads the way,
the streets, the place where work is to be done and a journey to be
gone; he hates business, hates every thing that requires care and
2. What he dreams of, and pretends to dread--a lion in the way.
When he is pressed to be diligent, either in his worldly affairs or in
the business of religion, this is his excuse (and a sorry excuse it is,
as bad as none), There is a lion in the way, some insuperable
difficulty or danger which he cannot pretend to grapple with. Lions
frequent woods and deserts; and, in the day-time, when man has business
to do, they are in their dens,
But the sluggard fancies, or rather pretends to fancy, a lion in the
streets, whereas the lion is only in his own fancy, nor is he so
fierce as he is painted. Note, It is a foolish thing to frighten
ourselves from real duties by fancied difficulties,
14 As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the
slothful upon his bed.
Having seen the slothful man in fear of his work, here we find him in
love with his ease; he lies in his bed on one side till he is weary of
that, and then turns to the other, but still in his bed, when it is far
in the day and work is to be done, as the door is moved, but not
removed; and so his business is neglected and his opportunities are let
slip. See the sluggard's character.
1. He is one that does not care to get out of his bed, but seems to be
hung upon it, as the door upon the hinges. Bodily ease, too much
consulted, is the sad occasion of many a spiritual disease. Those that
love sleep will prove in the end to have loved death.
2. He does not care to get forward with his business; in that he stirs
to and fro a little, but to no purpose; he is where he was. Slothful
professors turn, in profession, like the door upon the hinges.
The world and the flesh are the two hinges on which they are hung, and
though they move in a course of external services, have got into road
of duties, and tread around in them like the horse in the mill, yet
they get no good, they get no ground, they are never the nearer
heaven--sinners unchanged, saints unimproved.
15 The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him
to bring it again to his mouth.
The sluggard has now, with much ado, got out of his bed, but he might
as well have lain there still for any thing he is likely to bring to
pass in his work, so awkwardly does he go about it. Observe,
1. The pretence he makes for his slothfulness: He hides his hand in
his bosom for fear of cold; next to his warm bed in his warm bosom.
Or he pretends that he is lame, as some do that make a trade of
begging; something ails his hand; he would have it thought that it is
blistered with yesterday's hard work. Or it intimates, in general, his
aversion to business; he has tried, and his hands are not used to
labour, and therefore he hugs himself in his own ease and cares for
nobody. Note, It is common for those that will not do their duty to
pretend they cannot. I cannot dig,
2. The prejudice he sustains by his slothfulness. He himself is the
loser by it, for he starves himself: It grieves him to bring his
hand to his mouth, that is, he cannot find in his heart to feed
himself, but dreads, as if it were a mighty toil, to lift his hand to
his head. It is an elegant hyperbole, aggravating his sin, that he
cannot endure to take the least pains, no, not for the greatest profit,
and showing how his sin is his punishment. Those that are slothful in
the business of religion will not be at the pains to feed their own
souls with the word of God, the bread of life, nor to fetch in promised
blessings by prayer, though they might have them for the fetching.
16 The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men
that can render a reason.
1. The high opinion which the sluggard has of himself, notwithstanding
the gross absurdity and folly of his slothfulness: He thinks himself
wiser than seven men, than seven wise men, for they are such as
can render a reason. It is the wisdom of a man to be able to
render a reason, of a good man to be able to give a reason of
the hope that is in him,
1 Peter 3:15.
What we do we should be able to render a reason for, though
perhaps we may not have wit enough to show the fallacy of every
objection against it. He that takes pains in religion can render a good
reason for it; he knows that he is working for a good Master and that
his labour shall not be in vain. But the sluggard thinks
himself wiser than seven such; for let seven such persuade him
to be diligent, with all the reasons they can render for it, it is to
no purpose; his own determination, he thinks, answer enough to them and
all their reasons.
2. The reference that this has to his slothfulness. It is the
sluggard, above all men, that is thus self-conceited; for,
(1.) His good opinion of himself is the cause of his slothfulness; he
will not take pains to get wisdom because he thinks he is wise enough
already. A conceit of the sufficiency of our attainments is a great
enemy to our improvement.
(2.) His slothfulness is the cause of his good opinion of himself. If
he would but take pains to examine himself, and compare himself with
the laws of wisdom, he would have other thoughts of himself. Indulged
slothfulness is at the bottom of prevailing self-conceitedness. Nay,
(3.) So wretchedly besotted is he that he takes his slothfulness to be
his wisdom; he thinks it is his wisdom to make much of himself, and
take all the ease he can get, and do no more in religion than he needs
must, to avoid suffering, to sit still and see what other people do,
that he may have the pleasure of finding fault with them. Of such
sluggards, who are proud of that which is their shame, their is little
Hatred and Strife.
17 He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging
not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.
1. That which is here condemned is meddling with strife that belongs
not to us. If we must not be hasty to strive in our own cause
much less in other people's, especially theirs that we are no way
related to or concerned in, but light on accidentally as we pass by. If
we can be instrumental to make peace between those that are at variance
we must do it, though we should thereby get the ill-will of both sides,
at least while they are in their heat; but to make ourselves busy in
other men's matters, and parties in other men's quarrels, is not only
to court our own trouble, but to thrust ourselves into temptation.
Who made me a judge? Let them end it, as they began it,
2. We are cautioned against it because of the danger it exposes us to;
it is like taking a snarling cur by the ears, that will snap at
you and bite you; you had better have let him alone, for you cannot get
clear of him when you would, and must thank yourselves if you come off
with a wound and dishonour. He that has got a dog by the ears,
if he lets him go he flies at him, if he keeps his hold, he has his
hands full, and can do nothing else. Let every one with quietness
work and mind his own business, and not with unquietness quarrel
and meddle with other people's business.
18 As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death,
19 So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith,
Am not I in sport?
1. How mischievous those are that make no scruple of deceiving their
neighbours; they are as madmen that cast firebrands, arrows, and
death, so much hurt may they do by their deceits. They value
themselves upon it as polite cunning men, but really they are as
madmen. There is not a greater madness in the world than a wilful
sin. It is not only the passionate furious man, but the malicious
deceitful man, that is a madman; he does in effect cast
fire-brands, arrows, and death; he does more mischief than he can
imagine. Fraud and falsehood burn like fire-brands, kill, even at a
distance, like arrows.
2. See how frivolous the excuse is which men commonly make for the
mischief they do, that they did it in a jest; with this they think to
turn it off when they are reproved for it, Am not I in sport?
But it will prove dangerous playing with fire and jesting with
edge-tools. Not that those are to be commended who are captious, and
can take no jest (those that themselves are wise must suffer
2 Corinthians 11:19,20),
but those are certainly to be condemned who are any way abusive to
their neighbours, impose upon their credulity, cheat them in their
bargains with them, tell lies to them or tell lies of them, give them
ill language, or sully their reputation, and then think to excuse it by
saying that they did but jest. Am not I in sport? He that sins
in just must repent in earnest, or his sin will be his ruin. Truth is
too valuable a thing to be sold for a jest, and so is the reputation of
our neighbour. By lying and slandering in jest men learn themselves,
and teach others, to lie and slander in earnest; and a false report,
raised in mirth, may be spread in malice; besides, if a man may tell a
lie to make himself merry, why not to make himself rich, and so
truth quite perishes, and men teach their tongues to tell
If men would consider that a lie comes from the devil, and brings to
hell-fire, surely that would spoil the sport of it; it is casting
arrows and death to themselves.
20 Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where
there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.
21 As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is
a contentious man to kindle strife.
22 The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down
into the innermost parts of the belly.
Contention is as a fire; it heats the spirit, burns up all that is
good, and puts families and societies into a flame. Now here we are
told how that fire is commonly kindled and kept burning, that we may
avoid the occasions of strife and so prevent the mischievous
consequences of it. If then we would keep the peace,
1. We must not give ear to talebearers, for they feed the fire
of contention with fuel; nay, they spread it with combustible matter;
the tales they carry are fireballs. Those who by insinuating base
characters, revealing secrets, and misrepresenting words and actions,
do what they can to make relations, friends, and neighbours, jealous
one of another, to alienate them one from another, and sow discord
among them, are to be banished out of families and all societies, and
then strife will as surely cease as the fire will go out when it has no
fuel; the contenders will better understand one another and come to a
better temper; old stories will soon be forgotten when there are no new
ones told to keep up the remembrance of them, and both sides will see
how they have been imposed upon by a common enemy. Whisperers and
backbiters are incendiaries not to be suffered. To illustrate this, he
what he had said before
that the words of a tale-bearer are as wounds, deep and
dangerous wounds, wounds in the vitals. They wound the reputation of
him who is belied, and perhaps the wound proves incurable, and even the
plaster of a recantation (which yet can seldom be obtained) may not
prove wide enough for it. They wound the love and charity which he to
whom they are spoken ought to have for his neighbour and give a fatal
stab to friendship and Christian fellowship. We must therefore not only
not be tale-bearers ourselves at any time, nor ever do any ill offices,
but we should not give the least countenance to those that are.
2. We must not associate with peevish passionate people, that are
exceptions, and apt to put the worst constructions upon everything,
that pick quarrels upon the least occasion, and are quick, and high,
and hot, in resenting affronts. These are contentious men, that
The less we have to do with such the better, for it will be very
difficult to avoid quarrelling with those that are quarrelsome.
23 Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd
covered with silver dross.
This may be meant either,
1. Of a wicked heart showing itself in burning lips,
furious, passionate, outrageous words, burning in malice, and
persecuting those to whom, or of whom, they are spoken; ill words and
ill-will agree as well together as a potsherd and the dross
of silver, which, now that the pot is broken and the dross
separated from the silver, are fit to be thrown together to the
2. Or of a wicked heart disguising itself with burning
lips, burning with the professions of love and friendship, and even
persecuting a man with flatteries; this is like a potsherd covered
with the scum or dross of silver, with which one that is
weak may be imposed upon, as if it were of some value, but a wise man
is soon aware of the cheat. This sense agrees with the following
24 He that hateth dissembleth with his lips, and layeth up
deceit within him;
25 When he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are
seven abominations in his heart.
26 Whose hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness shall be
shewed before the whole congregation.
There is cause to complain, not only of the want of sincerity in men's
profession of friendship, and that they do not love so well as they
pretend nor will serve their friends so much as they promise, but,
which is much worse, of wicked designs in the profession of friendship,
and the making of it subservient to the most malicious intentions. This
is here spoken of as a common thing
He that hates his neighbour, and is contriving to do him a
mischief, yet dissembles with his lips, professes to have a
respect for him and to be ready to serve him, talks kindly with him, as
Cain with Abel, asks, Art thou in health, my brother? as Joab to
Amasa, that his malice may not be suspected and guarded against, and so
he may have the fairer opportunity to execute the purposes of it, this
man lays up deceit within him, that is, he keeps in his mind the
mischief he intends to do his neighbour till he catches him at an
advantage. This is malice which has no less of the subtlety than it has
of the venom of the old serpent in it. Now, as to this matter, we are
1. Not to be so foolish as to suffer ourselves to be imposed upon by
the pretensions of friendship. Remember to distrust when a man
speaks fair; be not too forward to believe him unless you
know him well, for it is possible there may be seven abominations in
his heart, a great many projects of mischief against you, which he
is labouring so industriously to conceal with his fair speech. Satan is
an enemy that hates us, and yet in his temptations speaks fair, as he
did to Eve, but it is madness to give credit to him, for there are
seven abominations in his heart; seven other spirits does one
unclean spirit bring more wicked than himself.
2. Not to be so wicked as to impose upon any with a profession of
friendship; for, though the fraud may be carried on plausibly awhile,
it will be brought to light,
He whose hatred is covered by deceit will one time or other be
discovered, and his wickedness shown, to his shame and
confusion, before the whole congregation; and nothing will do
more to make a man odious to all companies. Love (says one) is the best
armour, but the worst cloak, and will serve dissemblers as the disguise
which Ahab put on and perished in.
27 Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth
a stone, it will return upon him.
1. What pains men take to do mischief to others. As they put a force
upon themselves by concealing their design with a profession of
friendship, so they put themselves to a great deal of labour to bring
it about; it is digging a pit, it is rolling a stone,
hard work, and yet men will not stick at it to gratify their passion
2. What preparation they hereby make of mischief to themselves. Their
violent dealing will return upon their own heads; they shall themselves
fall into the pit they digged, and the stone they rolled will
return upon them,
The righteous God will take the wise, not only in their own
craftiness, but in their own cruelty. It is the plotter's doom.
Haman is hanged on a gallows of his own preparing.
----------nec lex est justior ulla
Quam necis artifices arte perire sua--
Nor is there any law more just than that the contrivers
of destruction should perish by their own arts.
28 A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and
a flattering mouth worketh ruin.
There are two sorts of lies equally detestable:--
1. A slandering lie, which avowedly hates those it is spoken of: A
lying tongue hates those that are afflicted by it; it afflicts them
by calumnies and reproaches because it hates them, and can thus smite
them secretly where they are without defence; and it hates them because
it has afflicted them and made them its enemies. The mischief of this
is open and obvious; it afflicts, it hates, and owns it, and every body
2. A flattering lie, which secretly works the ruin of those it is
spoken to. In the former the mischief is plain, and men guard against
it as well as they can, but in this it is little suspected, and men
betray themselves by being credulous of their own praises and the
compliments that are passed upon them. A wise man therefore will be
more afraid of a flatterer that kisses and kills than of a slanderer
that proclaims war.
Matthew Henry "Verse by Verse Commentary for 'Proverbs' Matthew Henry Bible Commentary".