Chapter 25: Commentary

Chapter 25 (Wise sayings) As stated here in verse 1, this begins the third and final section of Proverbs attributed to Solomon (25:-29:27; see 1:1 [note here], 10:1). Also stated here, these wise sayings were not officially recorded until the days of King Hezekiah of Judah (in Solomon's royal family line). Typically one-verse proverbs, sometimes addressed to "my son," they tend to be loosely grouped around themes and formatting.

25:1 These are more proverbs of Solomon, copied by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah:

     This is the heading for the third section of Proverbs (1:1; 10:1 – see note at 1:1). The wise sayings of this section (chapters 25-29) are also attributed to Solomon. But this heading also included a note that they were apparently not actually recorded (at least officially) until the days of Solomon's great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson (actually 13 generations), Hezekiah king of Judah. He enacted spiritual reforms throughout the country, starting at the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Chr 29), so it is no surprise that Hezekiah would also be interested in collecting and putting on paper a previously unrecorded collection of wise sayings by Solomon.
      The first seven verses of chapter 25 have a royal focus. There are four comparisons from life that are related to the king (:2; 3; 4-5; 6-7).

25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

     The glory of God to conceal – He knows what we don't know and that should comfort us. He knows, He cares and He can handle anything that comes along in our lives. The glory of kings to reveal – Hezekiah (25:1 mentions him) revealed some good things with his spiritual reforms in the kingdom of Judah. A good leader should know what is happening in his organization. One of the things people complain about politicians is that they are out of touch with everyone else ("the little people!").
      This verse does not say if it is a good thing or a bad thing that a king can/does reveal things. Often kings (the person in charge – the boss) think they know everything. They think it is their glory (their "birthright" as the boss) to know all – or at least to think they know it all! A similar concept – "the divine right of kings" – kept royal families of Europe in power for centuries, in spite of their incompetencies.

      So, for most of us, it's a good thing to remember that the boss often does know what is going on – both the good and the bad. And for the boss who thinks he/she needs to know everything, but knows they really don't - relax. God does know everything and, if you know Him, you will be just fine.

25:3 As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are unsearchable.

     Continuing the theme of a king's prerogative and ability to "search out a matter," this verse notes that the heart of a king is too high, deep or vast for others to know. The comparison is that the heavens are high and the earth is deep. These are truths that all of us would readily accept. Said in association to these is the practical truth that others can't possibly know what the king knows and is thinking. In the ancient world, this truth would be a given to the average citizen of any kingdom.
      In application to our world today, we are well aware that none of us can really know what others of us are thinking. But there is an additional application that we would all do well to also remember. While we may think we have greater insights into what is going on at work than our bosses (the "kings" of our work-a-day worlds), the reality is that the boss probably does have some information that we don't have and, for sure, has some understanding of issues of which we can't be aware. That is their job and the basis of why they feel they need to make the decisions they feel they need to make.

25:4 Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith;

25:5 remove the wicked from the king's presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness.

     These two verses begin the theme of being in the king's presence. The comparison here is with the impurities found in association with silver ore. Refining the ore in a furnace will remove these impurities ("dross") from the valuable metal which can, in turn, be fashioned into an even more valuable item. Silver is of much greater value when the dross has been separated. So, a king's rule is established when the wicked are removed from a place in influence with him.

25:6 Do not exalt yourself in the king's presence, and do not claim a place among great men;

25:7 it is better for him to say to you, "Come up here," than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman.

     These two verses continue the theme of kings (:1, 2, 5) as well as being in the king's presence (:4-5). The average guy in the ancient world may never have had the chance to be in the presence of the king, great men or nobles. But somebody living and working in the court of Solomon would have.
      The advice offered here is said twice, as typical Hebrew poetry. I should not act as if I belong at the head table or the front of the line ("in the king's presence" or "among great men") – even if I do!
      Then, in another of those "better-than" wise sayings, it suggests if I really do belong up there, it's best that the big guy to see me and say "come up here." That is especially good because others would also be watching!
      Certainly that is "better…than" having him come to me (or send one of his guys) to and say this seat is for someone else. I've been in that seat!
      After watching people vie for the chief seats at an event, Jesus recounted this wise saying as a lesson in humility to His disciples (Luke 14:6-10).

25:8 do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame?

     Our modern Bibles have chapters and verses that did not exist in the early handwritten copies of Scripture. So translators sometimes differ with how they see a verse.
      Admittedly, in each case, their thoughts do suggest a fresh way of looking at a passage, but it really doesn't change much. Here, while we're looking at the wise saying of verse 8, the NIV translators also used the last line of verse 7 (the KJV didn't).
      Either way, the issue is to not go "hastily to court." Ancient courts were rather informal and, in a temper fit, someone might decide to bring quick legal action against another. This wise saying suggests that's not a good idea.
      The reason is -- what happens "in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame?" This is one of those proverbs that simply reminds us to think before we act.
      That's a problem for someone like me. I tend to be a "get 'er done" kind of guy. I get a "good idea" and roll with it, only to realize later there were a bunch of variables I didn't consider. Just ask my wife!
      So, for me, the message of this verse is simple. If I insist on making a fool out of myself -- at least don't do it in public!

25:9 If you take your neighbor to court, do not betray another's confidence,

25:10 or the one who hears it may shame you and the charge against you will stand.

     These two verses continues the theme of verse 8 - dealings with my "neighbor." At issue here, is whether I decide to take him or her to court!
      Verse 9 doesn't address if it's right or wrong to take them to court. Instead, it's a discussion about how I build my case against them in the court.
      The singular thing I'm warned not to do here is "betray another's confidence." Choosing to share publicly what someone else has shared with me privately ("another's confidence") is just not a good idea.
      Verse 10 indicates the reason I shouldn't do this is because the "confidence" I share in public may well come back on me. "The one who hears it" could be the person who shared it with me.
      And that person - or someone else with inside knowledge of the situation - "may hear it and shame" me. Even worse, "the charge against you shall stand."
      The consequences of my inappropriate words apparently turns everything around. While this translation suggests I lose my court case, that's probably not the best understanding of the verse.
      Rather than addressing who won or lost, it suggests that what I did lose was my credibility among those who know me.
      The truth is, sometimes I can actually win the battle (my court case) but lose the war (my reputation) in the process!

25:11 A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

     As the modern proverbs says, "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder." Yet all of us can appreciate good artistry. A beautiful artistic creation made from expensive materials (silver and gold in this verse) was obviously of great value and worth in the ancient world. Just having access to these valuable raw materials was beyond the average person's experience. To have a skilled craftsman then turn it into a beautiful work of art gave it even greater value.

      Yet this verse suggests a good word at the right time is as beautiful as an artistic masterpiece. So often just a smile and pleasant word from someone else has made a difference in our day. Many of us have even had life-changing moments because of appropriate words at a critical time in our lives.
      Since this verse is true – let's consider making the effort to regularly say a good word to others, thus creating something special for them. Just no telling how far-reaching such "a word aptly spoken" might go!

25:12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear.

     Jewelry was a luxury item to the ancients and they did not have a bunch of knock-offs or cheap imitations available. From century to century, and kingdom to kingdom, gold was the most valuable commodity in their world. So the gold items mentioned in this verse were about as good as it gets!
      The purpose of gold earrings or other jewelry has always been to make us look good and more attractive. This verse says our willingness to receive a wise man's rebuke will have the same kind of effect on us - make us better and more attractive to people.
      There was no money or banks in the Old Testament world. People generally had their wealth in a portable state, like jewelry. Any item made of gold would have been like money in the bank for them.
      So the long lasting value and benefit of gold jewelry is an insightful comparison to the character developed by "a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear" in this verse. If we are willing to hear it and receive's like money in the bank!

25:13 Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters.

     The ancients seldom saw snow in the Holy Land, but they certainly knew "snow at harvest time" (March and April) hardly ever happened. Even then, the snow probably did little more than cover the ground - as it still does even occasionally today. This snow probably brought a bit of enjoyment to the "harvest time" workers in the field, "the coolness of snow" even refreshing them. I imagine they received it as a blessing, a gift, from God. This verse equates such an event with "a trustworthy messenger" in the service of others. This messenger would have already been known to be dependable, so the point is not be that this was an unusual event like the spring snow. Instead, the connection was the joy and "refreshing" that comes from being able to count on someone to take care of my business in the manner I desire. The lesson for me from this proverb is to remember the value of being a trustworthy person in serving others. It is also a good reminder for all of us to communicate and demonstrate our appreciation to all the trustworthy messengers in our lives.

25:14 Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give.

     In contrast to the trustworthy messenger who we can trust (:13) is the guy in this verse. Unlike most of America, when it can and does rain year round, there is a specific rainy season in Israel. It just doesn't rain there between April and October. Clouds and wind in ancient Israel were really appreciated because of the prospect of rain during the rainy season. At other times of the year, it may look like rain ("clouds and wind") but they learned to not expect it.
      This proverb compares that rain situation to a man who boasts that he can and will do some nice things but never actually does them. This is apparently not a guy who makes a promise and tries but is just not able to keep it. Instead, this verse seems to indicate someone who deliberately professes and announces something they will do but then never gets around to actually making it happen. They may be a hypocrite who never had any intentions to actually produce the gifts he has promised or they may just be guys who talk a lot but never finish anything they start. Both are huge disappointments. We need to be wise about whom we put our trust in and upon whom we are counting!

25:15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone

     This wise saying offers two rather parallel thoughts. The first is about "patience" and the second about "a gentle tongue."
      For what it's worth the single English word "patience" is an interesting phrase in Hebrew - literally "long of nostrils!" Think about someone getting mad and scrunching up their nose and face - they would not be "long of nostrils!"
      This wise saying says if I can just learn to be "long of nostrils," even my boss "can be persuaded." I probably should try that on Bob here at HUM!
      The second statement is about a "gentle tongue." Symbolic language for words, it suggests that "soft words" can even break through something really hard - like a "bone."
      Want to have real power with other people? Intimidation, threats and talking them to death are not the way to go!
      Instead, just give it some time. And soft words can do wonders!

25:16 If you find honey, eat just enough – too much of it, and you will vomit.

     Honey was the sweetener par excellence of the ancient world – like chocolate to our world today. It was considered a wonderful blessing to have honey and it was greatly appreciated. But to eat too much of it, especially when we are not used to eating that much of it, can/will make us really sick – too much of a good thing is not a good thing! (also see 25:27)

25:17 Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house—too much of you, and he will hate you.

     The Hebrew word for "friend" is also translated "neighbor." The concept was that your friend is your neighbor and your neighbor is your friend.
      Friends like to hang out together, but hanging out at your friend's house will eventually get old – to your friend and/or their family. What was and should be a good thing can become a bad thing and they can even get around to hating you for it.

25:18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.

     In Biblical Hebrew the same word was translated as both "friend" and "neighbor." In their world, where they didn't around very much their neighbors were pretty much the only people they knew. To use a club, sword or sharp arrow on your neighbor would be an unthinkable act of violence or betrayal. The community would not stand for it. Yet giving false testimony against your neighbor – whether in an official or unofficial setting – is equally unacceptable.

      The fact is that the false testimony may do even greater damage than the club, sword or sharp arrow. Understand what momma meant when she sued to say, "sticks and stone can break my bones, but words will never hurt me." She didn't want me to get caught up in things other kids said to me, but I now know that she knew how powerfully destructive those words were – and she was trying to shield me from their effect.
      James 3:1-9 references the problems that can be caused by the human tongue.

25:19 Like a broken tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in a time of trouble.

     Medicine offered minimal help for diseases or injuries in the ancient world. Consequently, they probably needed to apply one of our modern wise sayings quite regularly - "it is what it is!"
      So "a broken tooth" or "a lame foot" was something people just needed to learn to live with and do the best they could. But they did know that both situations would make their lives more difficult.
      In this proverb these two conditions were likened to "reliance on the unfaithful in a time of trouble." "A time of trouble," by definition, was hard enough, but when the best we have to rely on is "the unfaithful," we can be assured it's going to get ugly.
      In antiquity, they couldn't do much about that tooth or foot and, consequently, simply had to live with the consequences. On the other hand, in a time of trouble, they might have had the option to decide if they would rely on this guy or gal - or not.
      The message of our verse is simple. We know how it feels with a bad tooth or foot - and it'll feel the same way if we have to rely on that person in tough times! It will be painful - but, at least, we'll know we shouldn't expect much help or relief!
      Thankfully modern medical care can provide that relief, even healing, from such tooth or foot discomfort. But there's not much to do to stop these times of trouble.
      So, it's helpful to recognize with whom we're dealing. Then decide if we want to rely on them or not.
      But in the end, we do know Who we really can trust!

25:20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

     With the average person in the ancient world hardly having a complete change of clothes, to take someone's outer garment away on a cold day was obviously a very bad thing to do. Vinegar poured on soda would bubble up, make a mess, produce nothing of value and render both substances useless – a waste of two good materials. Both activities – one a bad thing to do to others and the other a stupid waste of two perfectly good substances – were equated with singing songs to a heavy heart (to someone who is struggling). At first thought, that might seem to be an inappropriate comparison. But this singing, which might seem like a good idea at the time, may not be helpful and might even be hurtful.
      In order to do appropriate things, we need to make good decisions. The wisdom of Proverbs helps us understand the importance of right timing as well as the sensitivity to provide the best help and support to others that we can offer.

25:21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink

25:22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

     Another enemy verse in Proverbs. Throughout the Bible, my enemy is not someone I hate - it's someone who chooses to hate me. Jesus doesn't allow us to hate our enemies (Mt 5:44), so if there is any hating going on, it's their choice, not mine!
      The first verse says if I see that someone who hates me, my enemy, "is hungry" or "thirsty" I am supposed to "give him food to eat" (and don't poison it!) and/or "given him water to drink." That is not generally my first response!
      But the second verse adds, when I do respond like this, I "will heap burning coals on his head." And, on top of that, "the LORD will reward me." Now, that's what I'm talking about!
     Of course, literally doing this burning coals thing would kill them. But our verses are using such an action as a metaphor to feeding that person and giving them drink.
     So, taken together, these verses suggest - when I see my enemy struggling with something (hungry, thirsty), I should do something to help (food, drink). In doing so, I can really destroy my enemy - destroy them by making them my friend. As the modern wise saying goes – "kill them with kindness!"
     The Apostle Paul restated this amazing truth in his list of attitudes and actions we are to practice in our dealings with others (Romans 12:9-21). Of course, sometimes we have to do this even when we don't feel like doing it. But the LORD honors such choices on our part.
     If I become this kind of guy or gal, two major things will happen. It will make an impact on my enemy! But, maybe even more important, it will also change me!

25:23 Like a north wind that brings unexpected rain is a sly tongue—which provokes a horrified look

     This ancient wise saying talks about "a north wind that brings unexpected rain." Such an event in the Holy Land would have been quite unusual.
      An "unexpected" situation like this is here compared to "a sly tongue which provokes a horrified look." "A sly tongue" is a "covered" or "hidden" tongue and suggests words which are not honest, open or clear.
      Such a secretive message, when really known, "provokes a horrified look" - especially when it's not expected (like that "unexpected rain"). This "look" is emotionally-charged, but the term doesn't necessarily suggest good or bad emotions.
      Admittedly, the original word order of this verse leads to other translations. That includes "a horrified look brings a sly tongue" - but that doesn't sound nearly as dramatic!
      Either way, this wise saying is about surprises that pop up in our lives. They may bring good or bad things with them but, when they show up, they do tend to elicit strong reactions.
      As we commit ourselves to being the person we should be, it's wise to be prepared, as much as possible, for the unexpected to show up in our lives - because it will come! Otherwise we'll find ourselves with uncomfortable feelings, and maybe even inappropriate words or actions, about things we can't control.
      I'm not in charge today and it's really okay. I don't need to be - because I know Who is!

25:24 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

     Rooftops of ancient houses were flat and it was a place of daily activity – but it was in open to the elements (sun, wind, rain, dew, blowing sand) and not the place where one would want to be staying all the time. Still, it can be more peace up there than down inside the house with a quarrelsome wife – remember the father-to-son focus of these Proverbs. But a good question to ask at this point is "how did she get that way?" Did the man say, "That is a nasty lady, I think I will marry her?" Probably not, there is a very good chance that she was not that kind of lady when he married her, but she got that way being married to him. This verse is as much a reminder to wives as it is to husbands – learn to love and appreciate each other.

25:25 Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.

     Any water was appreciated in the ancient world, but cold water was even better on a typical Palestinian day – whether to drink or just pour over oneself. So was any news from far away (such news didn't come that often and was greatly anticipated and appreciated). Especially appreciated was good news, that is, hearing a good report about what God is doing elsewhere.

25:26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked.

     A drinking water source – a spring or well – that can't be used for drinking is such a waste. While there is much good and greatly needed water there, it is not of any value for our greatest need – drinking water. A good person who is not able to have a positive influence on the wicked and just allows them to do inappropriate things is just as useless. We are supposed to be salt and light to those around us in the world (Matt 5:13-14) and a righteous person can, and is supposed to, make a difference.

25:27 It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one's own honor.

     Honey was probably the sweetest thing that the average ancient Israelite could think of eating – but we have already seen that too much of it is not a good thing (:16). This time Solomon equates too much honey with seeking one's own honor. While honey tastes good, but too much of a good thing is not good – to be honored is a good thing, too. But seeking one's own honor is not. We begin to look self-centered and self-seeking to others and we may begin to have a too-inflated view of ourselves, as well. Too much honey and seeking one's own honor are never good ideas.

25:28 Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.

     An ancient Biblical city was a fortified place with a wall and gate(s) designed to keep the good people in and the bad people out. Once the city wall is broken down, the city is now at the mercy of any-and-everybody. So is a man who has no control over his own spirit – he will spend all day, every day, simply reacting to what others do and don't do. He is not capable of making his own decisions and choices – a terrible way to live.