Skip to main content

Full text of "Essays on the book of Proverbs"

See other formats



The Book of Proverbs. 


(a.) S. Sekles, 

(b.) Granville Ross Pike. 




ublisheci by tlie Young Men's Hebrew 
Association . 


2. 7^ o .^3 






The Book of Proverbs. 

^ BY 

(a.) S. Sekles, 

(b.) Granville Ross Pike. 


F*tablisheci by the Young IVIen's HebreA?v 



In the summer of 1886 the Board of Managers of the Young Men's 
• Hebrew Association of Philadelphia, desiring to encourage the study of 
Hebrew Literature, issued the following circular, which was widely dis- 
tributed in such quarters from which it was thought a response might 
be elicited : 

The Young Men's Hebrew Association of Philadelphia offers a 
Prize of Fifty (50) Dollars for the best Essay submitted on the following 
topic : 

The Principles of Ethics iji the Sayings Contained in the Book of 

Proverbs, with an Inquiry into the Social Conditions 

which They Reflect. 

The judges of the Essays will be : 

Dr. M. Jastrow, Philadelphia. 
Dr. G. Gottheil, New York. 
Dr. B. Felsenthal, Chicago. 

The Committee has adopted the following rules : 

1. The competition is open to all. 

2. Every Essay submitted must be written in English, and must be 
originally prepared for this competition. 

3. Essays must be written on one side of the paper only. 

4. Essays must be sent to Dr. M. Jastrow, 925 North Eighth 
Street, Philadelphia, on or before April i, 1887. 

5. Each Essay must be signed with an assumed name. A sealed 
envelope endorsed with the assumed name, and containing the true 
name of the writer, must accompany the Essay. 


6. The successful Essay shall become the property of the Associa- 
tion, which may, in its discretion and at its own expense, publish the 

A number of Essays were submitted to the judges, who, after a 
careful considf^ration, reported to the Board of Managers of the Associ- 
ation that in their judgment the Essay of Mr. S. Sekles, of New York, 
was entitled to the prize, and recommended that honorable mention be 
made of the E.ssay of the Rev. Granville Pike, of Clayville. New 
York. The report of the judges having been confirmed by the Board, 
the award was dulv made in accordance therewith. 

The Ethics of Mishle. 


A book highly praised but little read, greatly esteemed but 
little known, is Mishle, the Book of Proverbs, one of the Holy 
Scriptures. It is a collection of works of several writers, most, if 
not all, of whom lived during the First Hebrew Commonwealth, 
and has for its main purpose the manners and proprieties, the 
rules and requirements of social and practical life. The Book 
of Proverbs was always looked upon with great favor, and was 
highly esteemed by our ancient Rabbis. They saw in proverbs 
a main support of the precepts of the Torah. " Do not despise 
the Mashal (proverb), for it contributes to the understanding of 
the Torah' ' {Midrash Rabbahlo Shir Hashirwi). They illus- 
trated this assertion by numerous similes, among others, by com- 
paring the proverb to a candle, which, though of insignificant 
value, may be the means whereby a great treasure may be dis- 
covered. One of the greatest thinkers of the second century. 
Bar Kappora, even asserted, that one sentence oi Mishle, namely, 
"In all thy ways acknowledge God, and He shall direct thy 
paths'' (III. 6), comprises the very essence of the laws of the 

Torah {BWeshith Rabbah, section 63). The different authors 
seem to have written exclusively for that large body of the people 
who formed the middle classes, the farmer, the mechanic, and the 
small merchant, while they rarely addressed the judges, the 
wealthy, and never the priests or government officers. They 
occupied themselves more with the life of the individual than that 
of the community, so that it should become a family book, a 

Vade 7)iecuni for the house. This peculiar feature of Mishle 
manifests a prominent trait of the Jewish spirit in contradistinc- 
tion to the entire literature of the ancient world. Among other 
nations the individual received consideration only as a part of the 
political body. The totality alone was thought worthy of account 
and report ; the individual disappeared. The Hebrews, on the 
other hand, devoted careful consideration to the individual and 
the family life. 

We can only notice here that this characteristic contributed 
to the salvation of the people, when their state and their religious 
institutions were destroyed. 


The compilers of Mishle avoided all metaphysical investi- 
gations and sj)eculations, and did not indulge in abstract problems, 
but when they accidentally touched them, expressed their \'iews 
in short, concise sentences. 

They sought to deduce from the thoughts of other Biblical 
books, moral and religious principles which should be universal 
and applicable wherever man lived. Though sacrifice, for ex- 
ample, is alluded to once or twice, no importance is attached to 
the ritual system. The ideas around which prophecy revolves, 
such as the kingdom of God, of a chosen people, of a Messiah, 
and the like, are entirely absent. The distinction between " Israel " 
and the " nations " has no place. 

It would be, however, too hasty a conclusion to suppose any 
antagonism between the compilers of Mishle and either the priests 
or prophets. 

The proverbs are entirely within the circle of revealed reli- 
gion, as is evident from the fact that all the ethical rules contained 
therein are in conformity with the Law, and moreover repeatedly 
refer to the Law. To the sacrifices they referred as follows : 

Honor the Lord from thy earnings. 

And with the first fruit of all thine increase, (iii. 9.) 

A high appreciation of prophecy is expressed in the sentence, 

Without vision the people perish. 

And he that keepeth the Law, happy be he. (xxix. 18.) 

Virtues, however, like courage, patriotism, self-sacrifice, and 
public spirit, which form the military type, and overshadowed all 
other sentiments in other nations, are not touched upon ; only 
amiable traits, like benevolence, charity, love, reverence, which are 
closely connected with religion and a moral life, are prominently 
and impressively taught. 

It was not until a later period than the time of the composition 
o{ Mishle, when formidable empires sprang up around Palestine, and 
the danger of destruction grew imminent, that military virtues be- 
came a necessity. When courage, patriotism, and self-sacrifice were 
needed for the preservation of independence, the Hebrews assumed 
these virtues, as is fully proved by history. 

The leading idea oi Mishle is, that the divine wisdom, grace, 
and love are the fundamental causes of all being. This is no- 
where more strongly expressed than in the sublime speech 
which the ancient author puts in the mouth of eternal wisdom. 
(Ch. viii.) 

"The true wisdom is the knowledge of the will of God," 
that is the recognition of the divine wisdom revealed in Nature 
and in the events of life. True wisdom includes all the spiritual 


and moral accomplishments of men, piety and skill, justice and 

Of the attributes of God the proverbialists especially pro- 
nounce : 

1. His omnipresence : 

The eyes of the Lord are in every place. 
Beholding the evil and the good.* (xv. 3.) 

2. His omniscience : 

Sheol and destruction are before the Lord, 

How much more then the hearts of the children of men? (xv. 11.) 

3. His providence : 

A man's heart deviseth his way, 

But the Lord directeth his steps, (xvi. 9.) 

4. His infinite wisdom : 

The Lord has with wisdom formed the earth, 

And with understanding established the heavens, (iii. 19.) 

5. His infinite justice : 

Six things doth the Lord hate. 

Seven are an abomination unto him. 

A proud look, a lying tongue ; 

And hands that shed innocent blood ; 

A heart that deviseth wicked plans ; 

Feet that are swift in running to mischief; 

A false witness speaking lies. 

And he that soweth discord among brethren, (vi. 16-20.) 

6. His infinite goodness : 

That thy trust may be in the Lord, 

I have made known to thee this day. (xxii. 19.) 

The difficult problem how to reconcile the providence of God 
with the free will of man is not directly touched by our moralists. 
They accepted as an axiom that man is subject to the providence 
of God, but at the same time retains his free will. 

* Rabbi Isaac Aboab makes the interesting remark that the verb 
Tsaphah, to behold, to penetrate with one's eyes, gives to this sentence 
the meaning that God understands the hypocrisy of persons, who de- 
ceive men, but whose thoughts are known to Him alone. 


He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, 
And he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city. 
(xvi. 32.) 

Duties of Man. 

As the main purpose oiMishle was to gather the most precious 
ethical doctrines of Israel, which appeal to man's reason and 
heart, we find there only such duties referred to as contribute 
directly to his justice, love, and moral purity, and are pre-emi- 
nently a matter of conscience. 

The fear of God is repeatedly expressed as the highest prin- 
ciple of religion, in fact as religion itself. The Hebrew expression 
for fear of God, Yirath Adonai, does not mean as much apprehen- 
sion of incurring God's wrath as the respectful reverence for His 
will, and the eager desire to fulfill His commands. Only in that 
sense could they say. 

The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge (i. 7) ; it is the 
fountain of life. (xiv. 27.) 

Besides the fear of God our moralists pronounce trust in God 
as essential to a pure, moral life. 

Thy trust may be in the Lord (xxii. 19) ; 

He that putteth his trust in the Lord shall prosper, (xxviii. 25.) 

The chief duty of man towards himself is beautifully and con- 
cisely expressed : 

Keep thy heart with all diligence, 

For out of it are the issues of life. (iv. 23.) 

It is the heart with its emotions which requires rational con- 
trol, and by directing it towards all that is good, noble, and pure, 
man secures perfection of mind and body. 

In order to attain temporal happiness by perfecting and 
guarding a sound body, the following four virtues are urgently 
and repeatedly recommended : temperance, contcnttncnt, mdnstry, 
and chastity. 

The most beautiful admonitions against intemperance issued 
from one of our moralists : 

Who hath woe ? who hath sorrow ? 

Who hath contentions ? who hath complaints ? 

Who hath wounds without cause ? 

Who hath his eyes darkened ? 

They that tarry long at the wine. 

They that go to seek mixed wine. 


Be not tempted by the red wine, 
When it formeth pearls in the cup, 
And smoothly glideth down. 
At the last it biteth like a serpent, 
Andstingeth like a viper, (xxiii. 29-32.) 

Nevertheless our moralists did not oppose the moderate use 
of wine, and agreed with the Psalmists, ' ' That wine cheers the 
heart of man," and recommend the drinking of it to cheer those 
in distress. 

Give strong wine unto him who is ready to perish, 

And wine to those that be of heavy heart. 

Let him drink and forget his sufferings. 

And remember his misery no more. (xxxi. 6-7.) 

Our moralists fully appreciated that satisfaction of mind which 
is acquired by faith in God, and gives contentment to the soul. 

Better is little with the fear of the Lord, 

Than great treasure and troubles therewith, (xv. 16.) 

The ancient Hebrews were an industrious people ; labor 
was highly esteemed, and, therefore, repeatedly recommended : 

Go to the ant, thou sluggard. 

Consider her ways and be wise. 

She hath no guide, overseer, or ruler, 

Provideth her meat in summer, 

And gathereth her food in the harvest. 

How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard ? 

When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep ? 

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, 

A little folding of the hands to sleep. 

So shall thy poverty come as a traveler. 

And thy want as an armed man. (vi. 6-1 1.) 

The hand of the diligent shall bear rule, 

But the slothful shall be under tribute, (xii. 24.) 

Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty, 

Open thine eyes and thou shalt be satisfied with bread, (xx. 13.) 

The maxims in reference to the observance of chastity are 
among the most beautiful passages of the Holy Scriptures. 

When man is in distress, suffering from the adversities of 
life, when misfortune pursues him, can better consolation and en- 
couragement to patience and hope be found than in the following 
sayings ? 


My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, 

Neither be weary of his correction, 

For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth. 

Even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. (iii. 11-12.) 

The proverbialists recommend tridhfubiess, conientment. and 
a cheerful disposition. 

Lying Hps are abomination to the Lord, 

But they that deal truly are his delight, (xii. 22.) 

Better is little with the fear of the Lord, 

Than great treasure and trouble therewith, (xv. 16.) 

A merry heart giveih good health, 

But a broken spirit drieth the bones, (xvii. 22.) 

While among other ancient nations such military virtues as 
courage, self-sacrifice, and patriotism secured to a citizen a lofty 
reputation, among the Hebrews it was piety, benevolence, and 
charity, which gave a man a good name, and our proverbialists 
recommended : 

A good name rather is chosen than great riches, 

And loving favor rather than silver and gold. (xxii. i.) 

If the Torah mentions in praise of the greatest man that ever 
lived, Moses, that he was meek, we may expect that meekness 
and modesty were especially appreciated and inculcated in the 

Modesty was looked upon as the source of the fear of God, 
and the indirect cause of riches, honor, and happiness. 

In the wake of meekness are the fear of the Lord, 
Riches, honor and happiness, (xxii 4.) 

On the contrary, conceit was repeatedly condemned, as for 
instance : 

Pride goes before destruction. 

And a haughty spirit before the fall. (xvi. 18.) 

Duties towards our Fellow-Men. 

The chief duties of man to his fellow-men are concisely and 
emphatically expressed in the Scriptural precept. "Thou shalt 
love thy neighbor as thyself." This precept implies positive and 
negative duties. The latter comprise prohibitions to injure our 
neighbor in his property, in reputation, or in peace of mind, and 


may be expressed as the duty of justice. The positive duties are 
those that have for their foundations viercy, and impel us to those 
amiable duties, — benevolence, sympathy, and charity. 

These duties enjoined on us by the divine precept are beauti- 
fully expresssed by our moralists : 

He that pursueth righteousness and mercy, 

Findeth happiness, righteousness and honor, (xxi. 21.) 

While this maxim comprises all our duties to our fellow-men, 
there are numerous others which refer to particular duties and 
especially to truthfulness and charity, of which we select : 

Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, 

When it is in thy power to do it. 

Say not unto thy neighbor. Go, and come again, 

And to-morrow I will give, when thou hast it by thee. 

Devise not evil against thy neighbor, 

Seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. (iii. 27-29.) 

Strive not with a man without cause, 
If he have done thee no harm. (iii. 30.) 

Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, 

He also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard, (xxi. 13.) 

He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker : 

But he that honoreth him hath mercy on the poor. (xiv. 31.) 

A special characteristic of Mishle is shown in the recom- 
mendation concerning the treatment of enemies. This is another 
proof of the sublime ethical character prevailing among the 
Hebrews, inspired by their conceptions of God. Search the 
books of the ancient nations, decipher the inscriptions of the 
Assyrians and Babylonians for maxims like the following : 

If thine enemy be hungry give him bread to eat. 
And if he be thirsty, give him water to drink, 
For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, 
And the Lord shall reward thee. (xxv. 21.) 

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth. 

And let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth. (xxiv. 17.) 

In accordance with the general principles of morals are 
numerous maxims recommending prudence and discretion in 
social intercourse, all founded on the purest ethical basis. 

It must be noticed that neither mixed marriages nor gambling 
are touched upon, an evident proof that they were unknown in the 
times of the authors of Mishle. 


Social Conditions of the Hebrews. 

While the prophets of Israel inveighed against the oppres- 
sions practised by the ruling powers and the corruption of the 
judges, the moralists of Mishle addressed themselves to the 
middle classes, and in their maxims and sayings reflect the social 
conditions of that large portion of the nation better than does any 
other part of the Bible. 

Through the whole period of the first Commonwealth there 
existed a large class of farmers and tradesmen, who in the pursuit 
of their calling, although more or less affected by revolutions and 
wars, continued in the even tenor of their way, preserving the 
traditional ceremonies and customs, and keeping afar from the 
depraved influence of court life. 

Out of the midst of the farmers the first prophet, the rustic 
and eloquent Amos, arose, whose speeches contain some of the 
most perfect specimens of sublime thought that are found in any 
language. He was only a herdsman, and his prophecies abound 
in illustrations drawn from husbandry and the scenes of rural life. 

The people must have acquired a high degree of culture 
when such a man, a shepherd, could deliver such well set 
speeches, and could be understood and appreciated by his 

We may assume that these patriots and God-inspired men, 
who composed or collected the most precious fruits of the wisdom 
of Israel, who were recognized under the pious king /I'^'^'t^/t/a//, as 
the men of Hezekiah (xxv. i), and are mentioned by Isaiah 
as my disciples (Isaiah viii. i6), lived among the laboring 
classes, stood afar from the depraved influence of the ruling 
powers, and considered it their task to preserve the sacred spark 
of religion and pure morals among these classes, and to guard 
them from decline. Thanks to their efforts, the Hebrew farmer 
never sank down to the low grade of ignorant peasants of other 
countries, who, excluded from all education, were mere workers 
of the soil, standing not much higher than their domestic animals. 

The land offered them inexhaustible sources of wealth. No 
part of Judea was waste, very little was occupied by unprofitable 
wood ; the more fertile hills were cultivated in artificial terraces, 
others were adorned with orchards of fruit trees ; the more rocky 
and barren districts were covered with vineyards. The climate 
was healthy and the seasons regular. Grain of all kinds — wheat, 
barley, millet, and other sorts — grew in abundance ; the wheat 
commonly yielded thirty for one. Besides the wine and olive, 
the almond, the date, figs of many kinds, the orange, the pome- 
granate, and many other fruit trees flourished in the greatest 
luxuriance. Great quantities of honey were collected. Thus the 


farmer dwelt, according to the picturesque language of the 
country, each under his own vine or his own fig-tree, and could 
proudly say with the Shunammite, " I dwell among mine own 
people" (II. Kings iv. 1,3); I have no favors to ask from the 
king or his captains. 

Besides the farmers there were many skilled mechanics in the 
country. There were masons (Masger) especially engaged in the 
erection of forts (II. Kings, xiv. 14), sculptors (Hosea xiii. 2), 
workers of mosaics, and of other trades. There were separate 
villages and districts occupied by the families of Yokivi, of the 
tribe of Judah, engaged in manufacturing pottery, near Jerusalem 
(I. Chronicles iv. 22, 23). Not far from them lived the families 
of Ashbia, who wrought fine linen, a very fine tissue, hardly 
differing from our modern shirting.^ 

The wealth acquired by the diligence of the husbandman, 
by the industry of the skilled mechanic, and by the energy of the 
merchant, produced a certain opulence in all classes, that promoted 
a higher education and a general knowledge of reading and 
writing. The people were surrounded with a poetical, spiritual 
atmosphere. They listened to the fiery eloquence of the proph- 
ets, they sang the sublime poetry of the Psalmists, and recited the 
wise maxims of the moralists. Everything contributed towards 
raising them to a higher sphere. 

Among such a nation the industrious were respected, and 
the slothful appeared despicable : 

I went by the field of the slothful, 

And by the vineyard of the man lacking understanding ; 

And lo, it was all grown with thorns. 

And nettles covered the face thereof, 

The stone wall thereof was broken down, 

Then I saw and considered it well, 

I looked upon it and received instruction. 

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, 

A little folding of the hands to sleep. 

So shall thy poverty come as a wayfarer, 

And thy want as an armed man. (xxiv. 30,34.) 

Be thou diligent to know the condition of thy flocks, 

And look well to thy herds. 

The lambs are for thy clothing, 

The young goats pay for the work on the field, 

* According to an obscure passage in I. Kings x. 28, as translated 
by the Revised Version and explained by Kimchi, Solomon introduced 
the linen yarn from Egypt into Palestine. 


Goats' milk will supply thy food and the food of thy household, 
And maintenance for thy maidens, (xxvii. 23, 26, 27.) 

Mechanics also were encouraged to diligence : 

Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished, 

But he that gathereth by labor shall increase, (xiii. 11.) 

He that is slothful in his work 

Is brother to him that is a great waster, (xviii. 9.) 

There can be no doubt that the people not only listened to 
the wise sayings, but also lived in accordance with the ethical 
principles communicated to them. 

The Hebrew nation were of a cheerful, merry disposition, 
indulging in singing, playing, music, and dances. For " to sing " 
they had four different expressions, while "to dance" could be 
expressed in four or five different ways. An evident proof that 
these amusements were appreciated in Judea. Playing was even 
ascribed to Wisdom, which exclaims : 

I was by him, his favorite. 

Playing always before him, 

Playing in his dominion, 

My delights were with the sons of men. (viii. 30, 31.") 

The concourse of both sexes was not restricted. Young men 
and girls joined in merry dances directed by a timbrel, especially 
at weddings, harvest feasts, and vintage. The young men assem- 
bled in wine rooms and sang there to the sound of the tabrets. 
It even seems that they had regular clubs. 

Family Life. 

The happy family life, which, through all generations of which 
we possess a more exact account, was the glory and the pride of 
the Jews, undoubtedlv also prevailed among the ancient Hebrews, 
when in possession of their own land. This family life was rooted 
in their traditions and in their religion, and we may even assert 
was one of the chief pillars for the preservation of the Jewish re- 
ligion from entire destruction. This view appears to be expressed 
in the Tahuiid, where it is asserted, " Through the piety of the 
women Israel was redeemed from Egypt." {So/a, 11.) While in 
the outside world men were enticed to follow idols, assume 
strange manners and to imitate foreign costumes, in the home, 
at the family hearth, the good time-honored customs of the patri- 
archal times were retained, and the Hebrew women watched over 
the observance of the accustomed ceremonies. The position 


assigned to women was a highly honorable one, and to a certain 
degree independent, as appears by the entire Jewish literature 
and most prominently by Proverbs. 

If nothing else would appear concerning the mothers of Israel 
in the whole Bible but the passage. 

My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake 

not the law of thy mother, 
For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, 
And chains about thy neck (i. 8, 9). 

it would speak volumes for the exalted position they occu- 
pied in the family. The moralist does not speak of an excep- 
tional case, but in general of the mother, who had a large share in 
the education of the children and would only exercise that great 
influence upon them, which is so highly recommended by the 
quoted passage, when she possessed the moral and ethical knowl- 
edge necessary in the education of children. 

We can, therefore, not be surprised when, to prove the high 
position of mothers in Israel, such women as Deborah and Abigail 
appear even as leaders of men, and the daughters of Zelophchad 
plead in person in defence of their rights before Moses. We may 
even recommend the witty Achsa to the attention of our readers, 
whose history is very little known, although twice related in the 
Bible. (Joshua xv. 16 ; Judges i. 15.) 

Achsa, the daughter of the rich Caleb, prince of the tribe ot 
Judah, had to marry her cousin Othniel, who, according to tradi- 
tion, was a scholar, hence a poor man. Othniel, the younger son 
of Caleb's brother, displayed his valor in seizing Kirjath Sepher, 
a fortified city, and was rewarded for his exploit by the hand of 
Achsa. He was brave, when the hand of his fair cousin was to be 
won, but lost his courage when his betrothed requested him to 
ask for a dowry. There she herself interfered. She addressed 
her father in an ambiguous way, ' ' Give me Beracha (both ' ' bless- 
ijigs " and " springs'' in Hebrew), for thou hast given me a South 
(barreti) country " (referring to the poverty of her betrothed). The 
father granted his witty daughter a very liberal gift. 

The Biblical history has very litlle to say about Hebrew girls, 
for in ancient Palestine they married at an early age, and there 
was very little time left for courtship with its difficulties, intrigues 
and romantic events, that fill modern novels, and alas ! actual 
life. Marriage was looked upon as a holy institution ordered by 
divine precept. 

The happy marriage of young people is beautifully con- 
ceived by our moralists : 

Rejoice with the wife of thy youth. 
Lovely as a hind, pleasant as a roe ; 


Let her embraces satisfy thee continually, 

Let her love delight thee for all time to come. (v. i8.) 

Her very j)resence was a blessing to the household, when 
she fulfilled her duties: 

A woman of worth is a crown to her husband, 

A corrupt one is a rottenness in the bones, (xii. 4.) 

The liberty and independence enjoyed by the women were 
however often misused, and quarrels in the house were the conse- 

A contentious wife is a dripping roof (xxvii. 15.) 

It is better to dwell in a corner of a house-top 

Than with a brawling wife in a wide house, (xxi. 9.) 

It is better to dwell in the wilderness, 

Than with a contentious, fretful woman, (xxi. 19.) 

The thirty-first chapter of Proverbs (from 10-31), contains 
the praise and describes the properties of a good wife. This de- 
scription of an ideal matron evinces the practical sense of the 
Israelite, which decidedly difiers from the romantic, exaggerated 
adoration of woman, viewing her from a sentimental aspect. 
Herein Israelites differed from the Greeks, who in the woman 
only admired plastic beauty and sensuous graces. 

Not that the Hebrew had no perception of the graces of 
woman, but in a moral code he appreciates a capable, diligent 
housewife, who cares for the comforts of her husband, and who 
watches over her household. 


Among a people where marriage was regarded as a holy in- 
stitution, the family hearth became a temple, with father and 
mother as priests ; every child formed another link in the chain of 
love that connected them. They rejoiced in the prosperity of 
their children : 

My son, if thy heart be wise, 

My heart shall rejoice, even mine, (xxiii. 15.) 

Both parents co-operated in the important duty of educating 
their children, and especially the mother laid the foundation for 
their future development. They were left under the care of their 
mothers and received from them their first instruction. Common 
schools were unknown. As they advanced in age, the father had 
to exercise his paternal authority and care. The authors of 


Mishle were believers in corporal punishment, a view still main- 
tained by some prominent modern educators. 

Chasten thy son while there is hope, 

Let not thy soul have pity for his crying, (xix. 18.) 

Folly is bound in the heart of the child. 

But the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (xxii. 15.) 

He that spareth his rod hateth his son. 

But he tha* loveth him chasteneth him betimes, (xiii. 24.) 

The rod and reproof give wisdom, 

A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame, (xxix. 15.) 

Higher schools were established under the supervision of the 
prophets, to train young men to become expounders of the law, 
and to preserve the religion of the fathers. Such schools already 
existed under Samuel (I. Sam. xix. 20), and also in the time of 
Elijah (II. Kings ii. 5). It is also probable, that Huldah, the 
prophetess, dwelt in a college, as J\fish?ia is translated in the R. 
V. and explained by some commentators. (II. Ch. xxxiv. 22. ) 

An important principle for education is laid down in the 
sentence : 

Train up the child according to his*abiHties, 

And when he is old he will not go astray, (xxii. 6.) 

This principle is of the highest importance, and only when 
he regards the abilities and inclinations of the pupil can the edu- 
cator expect full success to attend his efforts. 

Luxury and Toilets of the Hebrew Women, 

The republican simplicity which existed during the time be- 
fore there were kings in Israel made room for increasing wealth, 
and all its advantages and defects, with the formation of the king- 
dom, and especially during the reigns of David and Solomon. 
Then arose two distinct classes, the rich and the poor, and the 
state of society was thereby considerably modified. During the 
reigns of David and Solomon the Hebrews engaged in commer- 
cial undertakings, and the products of Egypt, Arabia, and India 
were brought to Palestine. With the growth in wealth, luxury 
also increased. Not only the royal palace, but also the houses of 
the wealthy were built of brown cedar decorated in gold, silver, 
and bronze. The women rested on beds decked with coverings 

*We take here Derech in the same sense as in Gen. vi. 12, "the 
natural inclinations." 


of tapestry, surrounded by an enormous quantity of perfumes 
(vi. i6, 17). The frag^rance of Aral)ia had to be imported in 
bulk. What abundance of boxes, vases, and bottles ! 

To mention some of the toilet requirements of the Hebrew- 
ladies, we would speak of the neat cases filled with dry henna 
leaves, and will remark, that bunches of henna blossoms, on ac- 
count of their beauty of form and their scent, were worn on the 
breast. ( Solomon's Song i. 13. ) 

We also meet with Stibium, nothing else thai^ antimony, 
which had to be transported a great distance to reach Palestine. 
In the Proverbs we meet with myrrh, aloe and cinnamon (vii. i"] ) 
as perfumes, all three brought from distant lands. 

Did those ladies of antiquity wear many ornaments? 

The moralists of Afishle, who wrote mostly for the middle 
classes, made no comi)laint about too much lu.xury of our ances- 
tors, a decisive proof that the former republican simplicity had yet 
great hold among the agricultural people. Of chains, crowns, and 
other ornaments, our moralists only speak in connection with wis- 
dom and teachings of parents. 

The prophet Isaiah has so much the more to censure, and 
enumerates the following parts of dresses and garnishes : Anklets, 
worn as feet or ankle decorations, wherewith women made a tink- 
ling sound in walking ; little suns and moons as medals, for 
necklaces; ear-drops, bracelets, veils, turbans; stepchains, 
attached to the ankle of each foot, to compel the bearer to 
take short, mincing steps ; girdles, smelling bottles, amulets ; 
finger, ear, and nose rings ; cloaks, money purses, mirrors of 
polished metal, and a few more articles about whose character 
we are in the dark (Is. lii. 19). We even doubt whether the 
eloquent i)rophet knew all the names of the female toilet. A 
moralist of Mishle takes occasion to speak of golden nose rings, 
but only in the nose of the swine. 

As a nose-ring of gold in a swine's snout. 

So is a fair woman without discernment, (xi. 22.) 


The Hebrews, during the reign of the judges, were a poor, 
agricultural people. They received their first impulse to com- 
mercial enteri)rises from King Solomon. That wise king intro- 
duced commerce with the neighboring nations, and joined 
the PlKt-nicians in navigation. At that j)eriod the Baby- 
lonians and Assyrians carrietl on a large inland commerce, in 
which Palestine was included. Well constructed highroads 
through the desert joined Syria and Palestine with Babylon, forti- 
fied stations protected the merchants against the nomadic tribes of 


Arabia, cities surrounded by walls served as resting places and 
magazines, and in properly situated places wells were built that 
provided abundant water for travelers and their beasts. These 
roads of the caravans may even be traced to this day. The 
great commercial road which crossed Galilee, from the Jacob's 
bridge to Capernaum, joined Ptolemais with Damascus, while 
another through Sebaste, the capital of Samaria, near Dothain 
(where Joseph was sold), passed by Beth-El to Egypt. The 
great caravan road to the east of the Dead Sea, along the moun- 
tains of Seir, touched Jericho, and that city became an important 
place for the Arabian and Egyptian trade. 

Palestine, situated between Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt, 
became a connecting link for these highly developed countries, 
and necessarily participated in the lively commerce then carried 
on between them and Phoenicia and Arabia. Such a commerce 
brought many strangers to the country, and as stated in Chronicles 
(ii. 2, 17), at the time of Solorfton 153, 600 Gentiles resided in 
Jerusalem. Riches poured into the country from the mines, from 
taxes and tributes. 

The Hebrews in the time of Solomon also joined the Phceni- 
cians in navigation, and brought from Arabia gold and silver, 
ivory, apes, and peacocks. 

From that time the Hebrews did not withdraw from the com- 
merce of the world, but more or less partook in it. Our moralists 
in speaking of the industrious matron say : 

She is like the merchant's ships. 

She brings her food from afar (xxxi. 14) ; 

a simile which could only suggest itself in connection with a 
people engaged in commerce. 

Uzziah, King of Judah, an excellent, prosperous monarch, 
attempted to imitate Solomon, and had also great ships on the 
sea. (Is. ii. 16.) The wealth of the country increased to such 
dimensions that Uzziah developed an expenditure not 
even known in the time of Solomon. He had a winter palace 
and a summer palace, and houses of ivory. (Amos iii. 15.) 
Luxury was exorbitant among the ruling classes. Our moralists, 
however, left the admonitions of these wealthy people and the 
merchant princes, with their vices, to the eloquent prophets, and 
directed their teachings merely to the petty dealers. 

It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer, 

When he is gone his way, then he boasteth. (xx. 14.) 

A false balance is abomination unto the Lord, 
But a just weight is his delight, (xi. i.) 


The Principlks of Ethics in the Sayings Contained in 

THE Book of Proverbs, with an Inquiry into the 

Social Conditions which they Reflect. 


A people's proverbs reveal its inmost thought. They give 
insight into both processes and principles. This is the form 
naturally assumed by early and unconventional expression, before 
literature grows self-conscious and the spontaneous utterance of 
general conviction hardens into prescribed formulas. Every 
nation, therefore, hoary Egypt, ice-bound Finland, or China by 
her Yellow Sea, boasts a wealth of this minted wisdom peculiar 
to itself. Each holding much in common with all, the gnomic 
literature of every land still reveals the specific ethnic features of 
its birthplace, whether the aesthetic intellectualism of Greece, the 
military and legal bias of Rome, the vivacity of Gallic, the gravity 
of Teutonic, or the energy of Anglo-Saxon character. 

This elliptical, sententious method of speech flourishes best, 
however, in the fertile fancy and contemplative habit of the Orient. 
Arabia, India, Persia, Judea, display their mental history and 
criteria of conduct in a mass of proverbial lore commensurate 
with the length and grandeur of their national life. Least among 
these ancient peoples in many ways, it is apparent from a com- 
parison of the practical ethics abbreviated and current in these 
sayings that in moral elevation, — the final test of greatness, — 
Israel excels them all. Among her sacred writings this "wis- 
dom " literature holds a conspicuous place. It is the subjective 
side of the Theocracy. The historical and prophetic portions are, 
in the main, objective. They set forth what God did in the pro- 
cess of training his people and their outward response. But these 
" wisdom " books show the effect of such training upon Jewish 
intellect and heart and conscience. 

Especially does this divine influence reappear in the language 
(jnd daily life and human relations in the Book of Proverbs. Its 
ethical principles, therefore, are grounded on God himself. This 
differentiates them at once, not in tlegree only, but in kind, from 
all systems based upon statute,-!^ spiritual sovereignty of ances- 

Plato, I^e I.eglbuS^ lib. A'. Kiipia tKaoTa elrai yiyrd/ifi'n TtKir) icai Toi? 
^6^01^, aAA' ov» hi} Tti'i ^vxjti. 


tors,* or that no-morality of expediency against which all Hebrew 
literature is a protest. 

In seeking the Hebrew method of determining man's com- 
plex duty, there emerge three mighty key-words as pillars which 
bear up the whole moral fabric. They occur grouped together 
as early as the third verse of the prologue, in the common version, 
righteousness, jtidgmeJit, equity. piv looks God-ward, and 
means a righteousness that is such by reason of its harmony with 
the divine character, or absolute right. £3i3iyo, resting upon 
the idea of judging, comes to mean the judgment reached, or the 
act of rendering justice, hence statute, law, that which is lawful, 
just. While necessarily involving social relations, it goes beyond 
what is simply equitable between man and man, and must con- 
form also to the stricter demands of supreme justice. Dntyo, 
on the contrary, is a word reflexive in its very nature. With the 
root-idea of straightforwai-dness, it signifies that which is right, 
rectus, hence undeviating rectitude of purpose, integrity. What- 
ever is intrinsically right, lawful in operation, and upright in mo- 
tive is comprehended under these three nouns, and by them all 
human transactions are brought directly to the bar of God. The 
extent to which this conception was woven into Jewish thought 
is shown by the occurrence of the first of these words no less than 
seventy times within the small compass of this book, and each 
of the others appears more than a third as often. About these 
principles, accountability to God, mutual obligation, and personal 
probity, a large portion of the sayings crystallize. In them, there- 
fore, without tedious examination of their specific applications, 
we find the cardinal points from which, as astronomers determine 
an orbit, we mav trace the entire circumference where duty touches 

Every action under an ethical system is inevitably afiected by 
the character of its sanction. Intelligent estimate of conduct be- 
comes possible only in response to the inquiry, to what is the 
ultimate appeal ? Over the Delphic portals, as their profoundest 
precept, the Greeks inscribed know thyself. At the opening 
of this collection of maxims, professedly relating mainly to worldly 
prudence, intellectual keenness, and business morality, the He- 
brews, with deeper insight, wrote fear of jehovah, beginning 
OF knowledge. When it is remembered that by " Fear " they 
meant not terror, but intelligent, reverential awe, and how com-* 
prehensive also was their notion of a knowledge or wisdom 

*Chinese Classics, Pan-King, "I think Of my ancestors, who are 
now the spiritual sovereigns. * * * * Were I to err in my government, 
my high sovereign would send down on me a great punishment for my 
crime." Legge's Trans. 


based upon this pious attitude of mind and heart, including within 
it practically the whole rule of personal duty, it will readily be 
seen how far-reaching is the principle here announced. 

It embraces alike the most ordinary and the most exalted 
callings and occasions. It lays a restraining hand upon the laborer, 
demanding that he regard the life of his beasi {12: 10), and incites 
the student to the utmost strife after wisdom, that he may tinder- 
stand righleonsness, and judgment, and equity, yea, every good 
path (2 : 9). 

Over this wide space between prosaic practice and highest 
soaring theory, consciousness of a sovereign's eye, watchful and 
supreme, casts a dignity for which we search other literatures in 

Although thou sayest, Behold, 7ue knciv 7iot this : 
Doth not he that iveighcth hearts eoiisider it ? 
Yea he that guardelh thy sotil doth know ; 
And he will render to every vian according to his work. (24 : 12.) 

And again with even stronger emphasis. 

The Under-ivorld and Destructio7i are before fehovah, 

Ho2v much 7nore then the hearts of the children of meyt. (15: 11.) 

With so vivid a sense of the divine omniscience, a recogni- 
tion of the duty of sincere worship was inevitable. Hence such 
sentiments as 

The sacrifice of the wicked is the abomination oj fehovah ; 
But the prayer of the upright is his delight. (15: 8.) . 
fehovah is far frotn the wicked; 
Bui he heareth the prayers of the righteotis. (15: 29.) 

In the face of such stern discrimination between the 
true and the false, there is little wonder that the code of Israel 
found no place for that class whose breed is yet far from extinct, 
who would confound all moral distinctions. 

He that saith unto the 'wicked. Thou art righteous ; 

Peoples shall curse him, nations shall abhor him. (24 : 24.) 

Not only will he bring down upon himself the execrations of 
Jiumanity, whose moral sense is outraged, but 

He that jusiifieth the wicked, a?id he that co7idemneth the righteous. 
Both of them alike are an abonmiaiion of fehovah. (17 : 15.) 

They did not, however, overlook the supplementary truth 
that mere lip-service or decorous performance of devotional rites 
was but a part, and the lesser part, of fitting worship. We seem 


to hear the echo of Samuel's indignant answer to Saul. ( i Sam. 
15: 22), and an anticipation of Isaiah's burden (Is. i : 11-17), i" 

To do justice and judgment 

Is more acceptable to Jehovah tha7i sacrifice. (21 13.) 

With such impressions of God's oversight and of the sincere 
life which alone received his favor, it was natural that the posses- 
sion of this should be reckoned chief among treasures. Conse- 
quently we are told. 

Better is little with the fear of Jehovah, 

Than great treasure and trouble thereivith. (15 : 16.) 

Still more apparent is the spring of honest dealing in. 

Better is a little with righteousness, 

Than large revenues with injustice. (16: 8.) 

What better antidote to the avarice which besets most hearts 
and all commercial peoples, and is a chief canker in our body 
politic to-day, than this knowledge that it is the Eternal God 
who strikes the final balance in the ledger ! 

The Israelite, conscious of his integrity, has, moreover, in 
this ever-present Judge a refuge from the destruction which over- 
takes the wicked, since whatever storms beat about him 

The name of Jehovah is a strong to7ver : 

The righteous runneth into it and is safe. (18 : 10.) 

Hence it is that 

He that walketh uprightly, zvalketh surely, 
and The root of the righteous shall never be moved. 

It were easy to follow the ramifications of this sense of per- 
sonal accountability which underlay all Hebrew life, striking its 
roots deep into every department of activity, demanding that 
body, intellect, will, and heart render homage to Jehovah. But 
we address ourselves instead to tracing the influence of the na- 
tion's creed upon its social relations. 

For deeds, after all, express genuine convictions. The same 
principles, as we soon discover, run through all this range of 
duties. It is still Jehovah who guards the paths of judgment. 
(2 : 8.) 

In the field of general ethics, worthy to stand at the head of 
all precepts, is this : Say not, I zvill do so to him as he hath done 
tome: I will render to the man according to his %vork. (24: 29.) 
This surpasses that ancient maxim of Confucius, What ye would 
not that men should do to you, that do ye not to them, inasmuch 


as the Chinese injunction is merely negative, forbidding only the 
initiative in evil, while the Jew is enjoined tosuffer injury in patience 
and trust in him who saith. Vengeance is mine, I will repay. If 
revenge is so strongly prohibited, much more the more obvious 
sins against life and liberty. The reason urged for not joining 
the robber bands, described i: 10-19, is that they viake haste to 
shed blood. Among the six things hated of Jehovah (6: 16-19) 
are hands that shed iiuiocent blood, and a malicious person who 
causeth the upright to err, shall fall into his own pit. Property 
rights are guarded by warnings against theft, robbery, monopoly, 
cheating. Especially is stress laid upon fair dealing between 
man and man, and the strictest honesty required : 

A just balance and scales are Jehovah's, 

All the weights of the bag are his work. (16 : 11.) 

What a revolution must be wrought in the commercial 
morality of any modern people, in order to render universally 
acceptable such a sentiment as, 

Balances of deceit are the abominatioji of fehovah ; 
But a just weight is his delight ! 

Because lying lips are the abomination of fehovah, the 
Hebrew theory of right tolerated no slander ; and a false witness 
was a maul, and a sword, and a shafp arrow. On the other hand 
the cultivation of a charitable disposition was regarded as of prime 
importance. If thine enemy be hungry, give hivi bread to eat; 
a?id if he be thirsty, give him, water to drink. 

* * ^ * fehovah shall reward thee. (25:21.) Particu- 
larly, there was required kindness to the poor, who were counted 
wards of the Almighty ; He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth 
his Maker; But he that hath vicrcy on the needy honoreth Jmn. 
(14 : 31.) The righteous taketh knoivledge of the cause of the 
poor. (29 : 7.) 

It is obvious that these and many similar passages teach a 
philanthropy as genuine and, because founded directly upon God, 
more enduring than the boasted Altruism at present so fashion- 
able in certain circles. Perhaps, however, no better gauge of a 
])C()ple's morals can be found than the relative position of the 
family. When lax views concerning that prevail, the w^iole social 
fabric is unsound. Israel is conspicuous in history for the sacred- 
ness with which she invested the marriage relation : Whoso fnd- 
eth a 7vife, findcth a good thing, and obtaiyieth favor of fehovah. 
(18: 22.) No warnings are more frequent or solemn than those 
against matrimonial inhdelity. Parental responsibilities, and the 
reciprocal duties of children are emphasized repeatedly, and 


we need not stop to illustrate them, for the sufficient reason that 
these maxims are already in everybody's mouth. 

Exploring the still subtler sources of conduct as manifested 
by the individual, we trace these also to this common fountain of 
all the rest. He who ivalketh in his integrity, feareth the Lord. 

(H: 2.) . . , 

How thoroughly the conviction that, to those on God's side, 
all things work together for good, was imbedded in Jewish 
thought, may be seen in such profound conceptions as, the wicked 
is a ransom for the righteotis ; 

And the treacherous cornet h in the room of the upright (21 : 
18), or, The wealth of the siyiner is laid np for the righteous. 
(13: 22). That the prevalence of such sentiments was not a 
substitute for personal exertion, but an incentive to it, even a 
cursory examination makes abundantly evident. Feeling them- 
selves God-kept, they felt more than selfish interest in keeping 
themselves. It was a religious duty as well. 

Since the primal command, " In the sweat of thy face shalt 
thou eat bread," a fundamental element of this self-conservation 
is industry. It emulates, in Proverbs, the God-given instinct of 
the ant, which Provideth her food in the siimmer. (6 : 8.) It 
preserves from the fate of the slothful, who shall come under 
tribute. (12 : 24.) It is a defence against the strong 77ian armed 
of Poverty (24 : 34), and raises the diligent to the fellowship of 
kings (22 : 29). Closely allied, too, with zeal in getting, is 
economy in use, and frugality in spending ; He that loveth wine 
and oil shall not be rich. (21: 17.) 

The educational scheme of the Hebrews contemplated culti- 
vation of the intellect, but not alone nor as an end in itself The 
spiritual was to be cultivated through the intellect. This thought 
sounds like the ever-recurring keynote of a symphony through- 
out Proverbs. Consequently, wherever we find a suggestion of 
mental culture, almost invariably it is mentioned as simply the 
gateway to moral enlightenment. Thus the outcome of seeking 
knowledge as silver (2: 4), is that thou shalt tender stand the fear 
of the Lord, and firid the knowledge of God. As might be ex- 
pected from such fundamental principles, we find great emphasis 
put upon development of the moral nature: Keep thy heart with 
all diligence ; For otit of it are the issues of life. (16 : 19.) The 
impossibility of such keeping, without practicing the elementary 
virtue of self-restraint, is acknowledged in such sentiments as : 
Whosoever is deceived by wine is not wise (20: i) ; He that 
curbs his own spirit excels the military conqueror (16: 32) ; and 
he that is beguiled by the blandishments of the courtesan is void 
of understanding (7 : 7). Guided by such principles, and watch- 
ful in their application. 


The path of the righteous is as the dawning light, 

That shiJicth vwrc ayid more unto the perfect day. (4 : 18.) 

As the traveler, pausing on a country's border, lingers a little 
to call before him its varied features and diverse scenes, and 
blend thcin all into a single characteristic picture which he may 
carry with him while hastening on to other lands, so may we 
profitably turn now a short backward glance upon the territory 
thus rapidly traversed, while we inquire what are the social condi- 
tions of the region of our sojourn. It is no easy life to portray 
upon a single canvass. There have passed before us the hunter 
and the husbandman ; the soldier and the statesman ; the man of 
high estate and the brother of low degree. We have passed among 
the lowing herds, the ripening vintage, and the busy mart, through 
mirthful and through serious hours. But through them all the 
Hebrew has been grave and earnest, like Isaac in the fields at even- 
tide. Life, with him, is a reality, with an impartial Judge to mark 
his good or ill. Consequently these Proverbs which show us the 
innermost thought, the feelings, reasonings, and moral impulses of 
Hebrew society, show us at the same time a people whom it is 
impossible not to respect. Their close communion with Jehovah and 
constant lifein his sight elevated the mind and disciplined the judg- 
ment of the whole people. Hence the phenomenon, without a 
parallel, of a nation in which such sentiments and sayings could 
become current coin. To speak, in a single word, the volume to 
which this exhibit of Israel's social condition through her Prov- 
erbs invites, the social condition of the originators may fairly be 
assumed to be in many points akin to that of a nation largely 
moulded by these sayings — Scotland. 

3 1198 04999 6809 



' . 31:' 

r:^craXH^_ S;o^^ 


"- ' " r > -I 

x . , * ' 

V' ■-' 

.>^v ■"'•"' -'-^ >rf' ----*■ 


\ %^^-' 



^ ^ .^^ 

: ^-^^ ^' '