Chapter 24: Commentary

Chapter 24 is a continuation of the second collection of Proverbs (10:1-24:34), consisting of mainly one-verse wise sayings of typical Hebrew poetry attributed to Solomon. This chapter continues and concludes this special section of typically two-verse wise sayings which began in 22:17.

24:1 Do not envy wicked men, do not desire their company;

24:2 for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble.

     It is not that difficult for many of us to be envious of people who don't do right, but seem to get away with it. In fact, it often appears they are having lots of fun and don't seem to be bothered by their behavior or suffer from their choices.
      So, it is not unreasonable that Solomon would remind us that it is a very bad idea to get too enamored with these people or their lifestyles –as inviting as they may appear. The reason is because their bad ideas and inappropriate words will eventually create unfortunate situations which will finally take them down.       Here at Helping Up Mission, many of the guys in my classes were the evil men of these verses. They were living large and others wanted to be with them and like them. These were the guys from whom momma said to stay away.
      And to no one's surprise (least of all, momma's), the high-flying fast times did not last for any of them. Their bad ideas and inappropriate words finally took them down and many are even fortunate to still be alive today. But, by God's grace, here they are– and now they are advising others to stay away from guys who act just like they used to do!

24:3 By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established;

24:4 through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.

     This is another place where the three qualities of wisdom, understanding and knowledge are seen together (see also 2:6; 3:19-20; 9:10; 24:3-4). Wisdom is one of the 26 character qualities we focus on weekly here at HUM. We define wisdom as "seeing life from God's point of view;" understanding as "realizing how right choices lead to a meaningful life;" and knowledge as "recognition of who God is and how He is working in my life."
      The three are discussed here in relation to a house and I suspect it had a nice ring to it for the average ancient Israelite. With multiple rooms, it sounded solid, secure and able to stand firm. The rooms were also full of very nice things.
      Of course, the real message of this very is not about stuff. The people who lived in this house chose to make wisdom, understanding and knowledge a significant part of their daily lives. These three qualities empowered their decisions which, in turn, made their home a solid, secure and pleasant place to live.
      Sound like a nice set up. The focus is not on a large, expensive or beautiful house but on a solid, safe and secure one. While the rooms are filled with "rare and beautiful" treasures, it's not about getting rich. These verses suggest that a nice life, with some nice things, is accessible to anyone willing to make wisdom, understanding and knowledge a big part of their lives.

24:5 A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength;

24:6 for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.

     Guys who have spent a lot of time on the streets understand the idea of "might makes right." But the two related wise sayings in these verses offer a slightly different slant on the subject.
      The first indicates that a mighty man – a man of "great power" and "strength" – is actually the guy who is "wise" and has "knowledge." Real power and strength is on the inside, not the outside, and comes from an ability to understand things and make good choices.

      Such people also recognize the importance of "guidance" and "advisors" to enhance their own "power" and "strength." That is particularly important when it comes to dealing with conflict – for "victory" when "waging war."
      Most of us guys think victory in life's battles comes from our ability to out-muscle the other guy. But these verses offer another way – by out-thinking the other guy.

24:7 Wisdom is too high for fools; in the assembly at the gate they must not open their mouths.

     We probably all agree with the general statement of this wise saying. But it also offers some interesting underlying truths.
      Our working definition of Wisdom for Proverbs is "seeing life from God's point of view." And the Biblical definition of a "fool" is one who says there is no God (Psalms 14:1).
      Consequently, "fools" really can't know "wisdom" and what they bring to the table is going to be limited. Without such a worldview, it would be better if, "in the assembly at the gate," fools "not open their mouths."
      Even if they are educated and intellectually brilliant, they're missing the key ingredient for making the best decisions. In fact, their words "in the assembly at the gate," on television or on the worldwide web can really get other people off track.
      But "wisdom" can help anyone sort that out!
      To be able to see life the way God looks at it would be a great thing. And Proverbs is clear that such a perspective is totally available to any and all who want to access it.
      So, it's a free country, we can listen to what we want to hear...but wisdom will help us see things as they really are. And that sets us up to make good choices - in this life and for the life to come!

24:8 Whoever plots evil will be known as a schemer.

24:9 The schemes of folly are sin, and people detest a mocker.

     These two verses are generally understood as being together in one composite wise saying. In actuality, it's three statements about negative behaviors and thoughts.
      The first discusses someone who "plots evil." Of course, that would not be good, and it is not surprising they would unflatteringly be "known as a schemer."
      The second statement continues the concept of "schemes" and relates it to both "folly" and "sin." Most of us agree that scheming, evil, folly and sin should be considered together; and that they are not good!
      The third statement isn't so clearly associated with the first two, except that it also speaks of a negative attitude and behavior - the "mocker" who "people detest."
      In these verses, plotting and scheming bad things is a major issue. Not the doing of things - actions - but planning them.
      As for the "mocker," while certainly related to words and actions, it also represents a negative attitude and way of thinking.
      Over and over the Bible focuses much more on our attitudes than on our actions. The key to human behavior is not what we do, but how we think!
      Change that and we'll change the world!

24:10 If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength!

     While life was not easy in the Biblical world, they were hearty folks. To "falter" or faint at any time in their world would seem to be a sign of weakness. It would be particularly bad to 'falter in times of trouble," when others really needed me to be there and be strong.
      But the particular word for "falter" here had a specific meaning – to relax, ignore or be complacent. This "faltering" was a conscious choice to not keep doing what I had been doing! And to "falter in times of trouble" - to get complacent at the point of a crisis - would seem to be almost crazy!
      But the second half of the verse helps explain why and how I could find myself "faltering in times of trouble." It's my "small strength" that does me in. Not criticism, just a fact.
      Actually, the word "trouble" has the same root as "small." We falter in "trouble" because we have "troubled" strength! The real problem here is not the "times," but the "strength" I had not developed. People, places, things or times are not my real problem. It's all about my and my willingness to do what I need to do day by day. That's the only way I will be prepared for those coming "times of trouble."

24:11 Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.

24:12 If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

     In the ancient world, people tended to live, work and die in the same place where they were born. Life was tenuous folks tended to look out for each other in their community. So when they would have seen someone in serious trouble or danger, there was a general sense of responsibility that I need to do something (:11). Initiative and bravery to help those in need or in serious trouble – those controlled by others and powerless to do anything about it – was expected and understood as the right thing to do. So to not try and do something would have been very wrong.
      To make the right choice, they needed to realize that God put them in that place at that time to see it and know about it (:12). He wanted/expected them to do something. To act as if we did not know about it would not suffice for Him. Consequently, He will deal with us accordingly.

24:13 Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.

24:14 Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.

     This is another couplet of verses composing a single wise saying. In the ancient world, people tended to live, work and die in the same place where they were born. Life was tenuous and folks tended to look out for each other in their community.
      So the first verse is a command that if they would see someone in serious trouble or danger ("being let away to death" or "staggering toward slaughter"), they must do something ("rescue" and "hold back") to help.
      There was supposed to be a general sense of responsibility that I need to step up and try to make a difference (:11). Initiative and bravery to help those in serious trouble and powerless to do anything about it, themselves, was expected and understood as the right thing to do. To do nothing would have been very wrong.
     While it would be great if we automatically think this way, the second verse tells us that God ("he who weights the heart" and "he who guards your life") is paying attention. So, even if it's not our first response, we need to think and then make some right decisions.
     We certainly shouldn't act as if "we knew nothing about this" (:12), because He knows the truth. The passage ends with a rhetorical question, "Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?" The correct answer is - yes, He will!
      After all, God cares about those people – and that's why He put us there to help them out! So, let's be available and step up to do what we can for someone who needs some help today.

24:15 Do not lie in wait like an outlaw against a righteous man's house, do not raid his dwelling place;

24:16 for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.

     This doublet is about the righteous and it is written as a warning to someone else. Trying to hurt the righteous won't work. Even if he falls, he will get up. The suggestion is not that the righteous is a superhero, but that the LORD will take care of him. That's the promise and benefit of being a righteous person – as we say in East Baltimore, "God's got your back!"
      While it isn't clear, is would seem that the one addressed in verse 15 may have been the wicked of verse 16. The wicked have no such promise or hope as the righteous. They are going down.

24:17 Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice,

24:18 or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.

     In the Bible, my enemy is someone who does not like me, someone who wants to do me harm, never someone I don't like or to whom I want to do harm. Jesus doesn't allow us to be that way. In fact, He said we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44).
      So my enemy who falls in this verse is not someone I don't like, but someone who doesn't like me – and I am not supposed to be happy when they fall. There are many reasons why I shouldn't, but this verse only mentions one. If I rejoice in his calamity, the LORD will know and He reserves the right to stop this process in my enemy's life.
      While this person is not right – or else they would not have an "enemy attitude" toward me – the LORD speaks to me about my attitude in this situation! If my attitude is not appropriate He says He will turn His wrath away from my enemy.
      It is not that my enemy is going to get away with anything, it's just that He is going to deal with them later in some other fashion, because my attitude got in the way during this process.

24:19 Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of the wicked,

24:20 for the evildoer has no future hope,and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.

     This wise saying reminds us there are people out there who are not very nice. It also tells us what is going to happen to them and what we should do about it.
      We shouldn't "fret because of evildoers." While "fret" doesn't sound like a big deal, the term comes from the root "to burn" with anger. We mustn't let those guys get us all fired up!
      We're also not to "be envious of the wicked" or strongly desirous of them or what they have. Admittedly, they might have some cool stuff or do things we think are exciting - but, in the end, they will have nothing we would really want.
      The reason this verse suggests we should not get fixated on them, or let them rent space in our heads, is because they have "no future hope" and they will actually "be snuffed out."
      The ability to see beyond the present is so important. One of the reasons we struggle with life is our inability to see anything except what is in front of us. We've all made bad choices in daily life - maybe even jobs and relationships - because we just couldn't see the bigger picture.
      This verse reminds us that - when the smoke all clears and the dust all settles - these guys won't be standing. And, if that's how it's going down, maybe I should rethink my own priorities and focus.
      There is a better way!
      "For I know the plans I have planned for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper, not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).
      My choice, my call, one day at a time!

24:23 These also are sayings of the wise: To show partiality in judging is not good:

     Verses 23-34 comprise a special section (24:23-34 - "Further Sayings of the Wise") and finish out the second collection of Solomon's Proverbs (see note at 10:1; see also "Sayings of the Wise" 22:17-24:22).
      Opening with the heading "these are also wise sayings," verse 23 then goes on to offers the first one – it is not a good idea to show partiality in making decisions. To make my own choices based on who I think someone else is can be a bad, even dangerous, proposition. I assume he is important and powerful (a "player" in East Baltimore!) and can do lots of good for me and it turns out he is scamming and I lose out.

      Or I assume he is insignificant and can't really offer me anything and I never even develop a relationship and thus never receive any of the benefits that person might be able to bring to my life. Just treat everybody the same way with the respect everyone deserves and just see who God will use in your life. As I see it, we are all just dirty rotten stinkin' sinners!

24:24 Whoever says to the guilty, "You are innocent," will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations

24:25 But it will go well with those who convict the guilty, and rich blessing will come on them.

     The theme of verse 23 "to show partiality in judging is not good" is continued in these two verses. Here the focus is on how we choose to deal with "the guilty."
      Verse 24 says anyone who "says to the guilty, 'You are innocent,'" is making a serious mistake. Anyone who does so "will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations."
      This doesn't seem to be a judgment from God, just the reality that others know what is right and wrong - and they will react to our decisions to excuse inappropriate actions. Especially in our day of social media, public reaction toward treating the guilty as innocent simply cannot be ignored!
      On the other hand, verse 25 says "it will go well with those who convict the guilty." People do appreciate those who take a stand for what is good.
      In fact, the verse adds, "and rich blessing will come on them" – on those who convict the guilty. This might also come from people or it may have a special God-aspect to it.
      Either way, we can set ourselves up for success by simply standing for what is right!

24:26 An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.

     While kisses may not always be appreciated - like Judas' betrayal kiss of Jesus - "a kiss on the lips" is rather special. Under normal circumstances, most of us will not accept a kiss on the lips if we don't want it!
      Of course, what makes such a kiss so meaningful is based on who's actually doing the kissing! So we'll consider the "kiss on the lips" in this wise saying as a very good thing!
      In our verse such a kiss is likened to "an honest answer" -- a response that is "honest," "upright" or "straight." While honest answers are appreciated in general, they are especially meaningful from those who matter to us - like the ones from whom we would receive a kiss!
      I guess the meaning of this wise saying for me is pretty straightforward. While everyone won't appreciate a kiss on the lips from me today, they would appreciate an honest answer!
      I'll work on that!

24:27 Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.

     This verse is another directive about how to prepare myself and my things to be able to get the most out of life. It talks about planning, order and priorities.
      The priorities here were critically important in the Old Testament world and these suggestions would have probably been "no-brainers" for the ancients.
      First, they should "put their outdoor work in order and get their fields ready." This would represent the family being certain they could grow sufficient food for themselves to survive in this place. There were no groceries stores in the neighborhood!
      They probably had to live like squatters at that location until this got worked out. But, as our modern wise saying goes, "You have to crawl before you can walk!"
      As they were getting their fields together, if they were smart, they were also identifying - even gathering - building materials. And, once they knew they could sustain themselves there, annually, it would be appropriate to "build their house" and live their permanently.
      To go to all the time, trouble and expense to build their house and then not be able to grow enough food to sustain themselves would have been the height of bad planning!
      I'm still guilty of getting "a great idea" and charging ahead with it before I "put my outdoor work in order and got my fields ready." That's why God gave me a wife and co-workers to show me just how wrong I really am!
      Focus! And remember: make the main thing...the main thing!

24:30 I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment;

24:31 thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.

24:32 I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw:

     The sluggard is compared to a man who lacks judgment. The field of one and the vineyard of the other (:30). In both cases, they are no longer being kept up and cared for. Thorns, weeds and broken down walls make them pretty useless for the agricultural source of revenue they would need to be for their owners in the ancient world.
      The writer noted this reality and said he learned from what he saw (:32). Letting things go and not taking care of our valuable and important stuff is a very bad decision – whether that be people, places and things.

24:33 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest

24:34 and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.

     This wise saying addresses a regular theme in Proverbs and is identical to 6:10-11. It actually starts off rather innocently - "a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest."
      That doesn't sound like a big deal...but, sadly, such a way of thinking and living can so quickly degenerate to an unwillingness - even an inability - to focus, follow through and get things done.
      And, quicker than we can imagine, it leads to "poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man." At some point our lack of inertia will end in "poverty...and scarcity."
      It will come on us quietly, even unexpectedly - "like a thief." And when that time comes, it will arrive with a vengeance "like an armed man." Poverty and scarcity will overtake us before we even realize it's happened!
      This wise saying sounds so tragic, but it doesn't have to be. That's why God offered us these insights. In fact, He thought it was such good advice - He decided to say it twice!