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Title: Studies in Life from Jewish Proverbs
Author: Elmslie, W. A. L. (William Alexander Leslie)
Language: English
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                            STUDIES IN LIFE
                         FROM JEWISH PROVERBS

                            STUDIES IN LIFE


                            JEWISH PROVERBS


                        W. A. L. ELMSLIE, M.A.,

                 Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge


            JAMES CLARKE & CO., 13 & 14 FLEET STREET, E.C.


                                MY WIFE

                “Forsan et hæc olim meminisse juvabit”


A writer of many books once said to me that he regretted every preface
he had written. Seeing that I have the highest respect for his talents,
I am constrained to take to heart the moral, which (particularly in a
book on proverbs) would seem to be “least said, soonest mended.” But
whatever else he may choose to leave unsaid, an author is expected to
give away his secret in the preface, making known his intentions as
discreetly as he can but still explicitly. That duty accomplished, he is
at liberty to give thanks, and so conclude.

The greater part of this volume (Chapters V. to XII.) is occupied with a
study of the teaching of “Wisdom” among the Jews in Palestine during the
Hellenistic Age, so far as the subject is represented in the two great
collections of Jewish sayings, the _Book of Proverbs_ and
_Ecclesiasticus_. It would be too much to claim that in these chapters
the book breaks new ground, for the importance of the Hellenistic period
is recognised by students of history, and there have been many
commentaries on the _Book of Proverbs_, nor has _Ecclesiasticus_ been
without its expositors. But the historian devotes himself to the
relation of events, and the commentator is busy with the thoughts of the
several proverbs or with the textual difficulties they present, rather
than with their precise historical setting. Here an endeavour has been
made to bring the proverbs into close connection with the history, and
it is hoped that not only do the proverbs thereby acquire fresh
interest, but also that there emerges a picture of the men who made them
and used them in the furtherance of morality and faith. Even to
professed students of Jewish history the makers of the “Wisdom” proverbs
are apt to remain distant and shadowy figures; but we cannot afford to
neglect any of the makers of the Bible, and I venture to think that the
method followed in this volume makes it possible to appreciate the
outlook of these men, to realise their difficulties, and if not to
sympathise wholly with their views, at least to feel that they were very
human. Whether this brief sketch is successful in attaining its object
or not, it is certain that the subject deserves more attention than it
has hitherto received.

Besides the numerous maxims in _Proverbs_ and _Ecclesiasticus_, there
are some interesting popular proverbs in the historical and prophetical
books of the Old Testament. To these a part of Chapter IV. will be
devoted. Occasional references will also be made, especially in the
second half of the book, to proverbial sayings taken from the Rabbinical
literature of the Jews. The titles of Chapters XIII. to XX. sufficiently
indicate the nature of their contents, and require no further comment

In translating the proverbs the Revised Version has been used as a
basis, but liberty has been exercised in making any alterations that
seemed desirable on textual or literary grounds. Most of the changes
thus introduced will readily explain themselves to those who are
acquainted with the original texts or may care to consult modern
commentaries, such as that of Professor Toy on _Proverbs_
(International Critical Commentary) and of Dr. Oesterley on
_Ecclesiasticus_ (Cambridge Bible Series).

Any volume, such as this, that touches a wide range of subjects must
have correspondingly many obligations. I welcome this opportunity of
recording my gratitude to the authors whose writings are referred to in
the following pages, and in particular I desire to acknowledge my
indebtedness to the Right Rev. E. L. Bevan’s illuminating work on the
Hellenistic period, to the writings of Professor Toy and Dr. Oesterley
mentioned above, and to Professor C. F. Kent’s short study and analysis
of _Proverbs_ in his book _The Wise Men of Ancient Israel_.

                                                              W. A. L. E.

Christ’s College, Cambridge.


CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

I THE CHARACTERISTICS OF PROVERBS                                     13

II THE PROVERBS OF THE JEWS                                           28

III FORGOTTEN YEARS                                                   43

IV THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS                                            60

V IRON SHARPENETH IRON                                                75

VI A SOWER WENT FORTH TO SOW                                         100

VII MEN AND MANNERS                                                  108

VIII THE IDEAL                                                       136

IX THE EXALTATION OF WISDOM                                          166

X THE HILL “DIFFICULTY”                                              178

XI HARVEST                                                           194

XII VALUES                                                           214

XIII NATURE IN THE PROVERBS                                          229

XIV HUMOUR IN THE PROVERBS                                           237

XV FROM WISDOM’S TREASURY                                            245

XVI THE BODY POLITIC                                                 248

XVII A CHAPTER OF GOOD ADVICE                                        261

XVIII CONDUCT                                                        265

XIX FAITH                                                            273

XX THE GIFT OF GOD                                                   280


The Characteristics of Proverbs

Most writers on proverbs have thought it necessary to attempt a
definition of their subject, but the task is difficult, and the phrase
that will silence criticism has yet to be produced. Lord Russell’s
epigram describing a proverb as “The wisdom of many and the wit of one”
is as good as any, but it leaves so much unsaid that as a definition it
is certainly inadequate. On the other hand, it is a true remark, and the
facts it emphasises may conveniently be taken as the point from which to
begin this study.

No saying is a proverb until it has commended itself to a number of men;
the wisdom of one is not a proverb, but the wisdom of many. Countless
fine expressions well suited to become proverbial have perished in the
speaking, or lie forgotten in our books. To win wide acceptance and then
to keep pace with the jealous years and remain a living word on the lips
of the people is an achievement few human thoughts have compassed; for
thousands that pass unheeded only one here or there, helped by some
happy quality, or perhaps some freak of fortune, is caught from mouth to
mouth, approved, repeated and transmitted. Every accepted proverb has
therefore survived a searching test, all the more severe because
judgment is not always passed upon the merits of the case. Popular
favour is at the best capricious, and often an admirable saying has died
out of use and a worse become famous. But of one thing we can be
certain: general recognition is never won except by that which expresses
the beliefs, or appeals to the conscience, or touches the affections of
average men. However many the defects of any given proverb may happen to
be, it is sure to possess some quality of human interest.

In the second place, it is generally true that, although proverbs have a
sovereign right to utter commonplace, there is no such thing as a dull
proverb. No matter how pedestrian may be its doctrine, somewhere in its
expression will be manifest the “wit of one”--a flash of insight or
imagination, a note of pathos or power. Of course, many sayings through
age and the changes of fashion have lost their savour for us, but--the
point is important--even these are not inevitably dull. _All_ were once
piquant. If we could but recapture the attitude of the men who made the
phrase proverbial, its interest would be felt again. But although it
thus appears that proverbs are essentially human and generally witty,
the study of them is attended by certain difficulties. It is wise,
therefore, to acknowledge at the outset the obstacles that will beset
our path; to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Many proverbs have achieved popularity, not on account of what they say,
but of the way they say it; the secret of their success has been some
spice of originality or of humour in their composition. Originality,
however, is a tender plant, and nothing fades more quickly than humour.
A graphic or unexpected metaphor will delight the imagination for a
little while, but how swiftly and inexorably “familiarity breeds
contempt”; a phrase which is itself a case in point. Whenever therefore,
in studying the Jewish proverbs, we come upon famous and familiar words,
we must endeavour to let the saying for a moment renew its youth, by
deliberately quickening our sympathy and attention, by counting it
certain that words which have not failed through so many centuries to
touch the hearts and minds of men deserve from us more than a passing
glance of recognition.

Many proverbs speak truth, but a true word can be spoken too often.
Every preacher in Christendom knows how little, through much iteration,
the words “Hope” and “Love” may convey to his hearers, although most men
are conscious that of the realities of Hope and Love they cannot possess
too much. So also with the truths expressed in proverbs. For example,
many excellent men have lacked only promptitude to win success, and we
have need to be warned thereby; but when the fact is put before us in
the words “Procrastination is the thief of time,” what copybook boredom
rises in our indignant soul! We will not learn the lesson from so stale
a teacher. Every effort to indicate the genius of proverbs is attended
by this disadvantage of verbal familiarity; and, of course, it is the
finest sayings that suffer most. But just here the tragedy of the great
European War lends unwelcome aid. The intensity of human experience has
been raised to a degree not known for centuries; and, as a recent writer
in the _Spectator_ admirably puts it, “In all times of distress dead
truisms come to life. They confront the mind at every turn. We are
amazed at the vividness of our thoughts, and confounded at the banality
of their expression. We imagined that only fools helped themselves out
with the musty wisdom of copybooks, but now it seems that even a fool
may speak to the purpose. There is nothing so new as trouble, nothing so
threadbare as its expression. ‘All is fair in love and war’.... How
vividly that falsehood has been impressed upon us by our enemies. Yet
how dull and indisputable it seemed such a little while ago. Even those
of us who have least personal stake in the war grow terribly impatient
at its slow movement. Almost every man who buys an afternoon paper
thinks of the ‘watched pot.’ How many people have lately known the
heart-sickness of ‘hope deferred’? ‘Dying is as natural as living’: that
is a dull enough expression of fact, when death is far off: but, when it
is near, it cuts like a two-edged sword.”[1] Life for the present
generation has verily been transformed; it is both more terrible and
more inspiring, more poignant in its sorrows, more thrilling in its
achievements and its joys: all things are become new. Once we could say
glibly, “The heart knoweth its own bitterness,” using the phrase to
point a trivial trouble, but not now; and perhaps never again in our
life-time. Thank God, it is not only the sorrowful sayings which rise in
our heart with new meaning, but also those which speak of courage and
strength, of loyalty and faith.

There is a third danger against which we require to be on guard.
Proverbs cannot be absorbed in quantity. Like pictures in a gallery,
they stand on their rights, each demanding a measure of individual
attention and a due period for reflection. Many chapters in the _Book of
Proverbs_ are unpalatable reading, not because they are prosy, but
because they are composed of independent maxims connected by no link of
logical sequence or even of kindred meaning. To read consecutively
through a series of these self-contained units is to impose an
intolerable strain on the mind. The imagination becomes jaded, the
memory dazed by the march of too swiftly changing images. The
disconnected thoughts efface one another, leaving behind them only a
blurred confusion. This will appear the more inevitable the more clearly
we realise what a proverb is. For consider: not one nor two but
countless observations of men and things have gone to the making of a
single proverb; it is the conclusion to which a thousand premisses
pointed the way; it is compressed experience. And further, a proverb
usually gives not just the bare inference from experience, but the
inference made memorable by some touch of fancy in the phrasing. Hence
the meaning of a proverb is not always obvious, that it may seem the
sharper when perceived. Some curious comparison, some pleasing
illustration, is put forward to catch and hold attention until, from the
train of thought thus raised, a truth leaps out upon us or a fact of
life confronts us, familiar perhaps but now invested with fresh dignity.
A proverb is not, as it were, a single sentence out of the book of human
life, but is rather the epitome of a page or chapter; or, if you please,
call it a summary, now of some drama of life, now of an epic or lyric
poem, now again of a moral treatise. From a literary point of view
proverbs are rich, over-rich feeding. They cloy. There is in the _Book
of Proverbs_ a remark that adroitly puts the point:

    _Hast thou found honey?
    Eat so much as is convenient for thee_ (Pr. 25^{16}).

It follows that frequent quotation of proverbs will be apt to fatigue
the reader, yet the danger is one which cannot wholly be avoided in this
volume. Something, however, can be done by setting limitations on the
scope of our subject, and in the following pages no attempt will be made
to present any systematic survey of the whole immense field of Jewish
proverbs, ancient, mediæval, and modern. Attention will be given chiefly
to two pre-Christian collections--the _Book of Proverbs_ and
_Ecclesiasticus_--and, even so, many good sayings in those books will be
left unnoticed. Moreover, proverbs are not quite chaotic, for all their
natural independence. They are like a forest through which many paths
conduct; by following now one, now another topic it is possible to
penetrate in various directions, as inclination prompts. But, even so,
the peril of wearying the reader by over-many proverbs will only be
lessened not removed; wherefore again--’tis a word of high
wisdom--_Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is convenient for thee._

Enough of difficulties and dangers! Woe to him who goes “supping sorrows
with a long spoon”! A happier task, however, does remain, before we set
sail upon our quest: we have still to count our blessings. What are the
virtues of proverbs? What the interests we may hope to find in our

The proverb does for human life something that science does for the
world of Nature: it rouses the unseeing eye and the unheeding ear to the
marvel of what seems ordinary. As for Nature, most of us who are not
scientists are still deplorably blind to her perfections, but popular
text-books have so far succeeded that we confess our ignorance with
shame, and some are even penitent enough to desire that they might grow
wiser. We are at least aware that there is nothing in the world not
wonderful. We used to pass the spider’s web in our gardens with never a
thought, but now--is not Le Fabre whispering to us of “rays equidistant
and forming a beautifully regular orb,” of “polygonal lines drawn in a
curve as geometry understands it.” “Which of us,” says he, pricking our
human vanity, “would undertake, off-hand, without much preliminary
experiment and without measuring instruments to divide a circle into a
given quantity of sectors of equal width. The spider, though weighted
with a wallet and tottering on threads shaken by the wind, effects the
delicate division without stopping to think.”[2] The astronomer does not
guard his secrets like the jealous astrologer of old; so that now-a-days
many a man who possesses neither the higher mathematics nor a telescope
knows more than his eyes can show him of the marvels of the stars and
the mystery of space. Professor J. A. Thompson writes of _The Wonder of
Life_, and behold! even he that hath no skill in biology may learn that
the barren seashore is a teeming world, more strange than fairyland.
Science does not make Nature marvellous; she lifts the veil of ignorance
from our mind. Proverbs perform the same service for the life of man.
Taking the common incidents of experience, they point out their meaning.
Perceiving the principles in the recurrent facts of life, they discover
and declare that the commonplace is more than merely common. That is a
task greater and more difficult than at first sight may appear: as has
been well said, “There is no literary function higher than that of
giving point to what is ordinary and rescuing a truth from the obscurity
of obviousness.”[3] Most men are slow, desperately slow, to perceive the
significance of the experiences they encounter daily; yet from the iron
discipline of these things none of us can escape. They are our life-long
schoolmaster, and woe betide the man who from that stern teacher learns
nothing or learns amiss. Nor is it sufficient that the facts should be
brought before us. As a rule, the truth requires to be pushed home. Ask
us not to observe that the reasoning faculties of the human being are
seriously and sometimes disastrously perturbed by the impulses of
affection; but tell us “Love is blind,” and--perhaps--we shall not

Proverbs are superlatively human. Suffer the point to have a curious
introduction. In certain ancient colleges it is the custom on one Sunday
in each year to hold in the chapel a service of Commemoration, when the
names of all those who were benefactors of the college are read aloud.
Few ceremonies can convey more impressively the continuity of the
generations, the actual unity between the shadowy past and the vivid
present which seems to us the only _real_ world. The roll may begin far
back in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, commencing with the
names of the Founder and a few mediæval Benefactors (some of them famous
men), but steadily and swiftly the years move onwards as the roll is
read, until, listening, we realise that in another moment what is called
the past will merge into the present. Somehow the magical change takes
place; the past is finished, and the record is telling now “the things
whereof we too were part,” ending perhaps with the name of one whom we
called “friend,” who sat beside us in the chapel--was it only a year ago
to-day? On these occasions the lesson is usually taken from a chapter in
_Ecclesiasticus_ known as _The Praise of Famous Men_:--_Let us now
praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. The Lord manifested in
them great glory, even his mighty power from the beginning. Such as did
bear rule in their kingdoms and were men renowned for their power,
giving counsel by their understanding; such as have brought tidings in
prophecies; leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their
understanding men of learning for the people--wise were their words in
their instruction; such as sought out musical tunes, and set forth
verses in writing; rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in
their habitations: all these were honoured in their generations, and
were a glory in their days. There be of them that have left a name
behind them, to declare their praises. And some there be which have no
memorial; who are perished as though they had not been and are become as
though they had not been born._ What! even of those who were _famous_
men?... _perished as though they had not been and become as though they
had not been born_. The verdict is too hard. Granting that they missed
genius, did they not live nobly, speak wisely, make many beautiful
things, do generous deeds, giving of themselves the best they had to
give? But ... _as though they had not been_. Surely they merited some
kinder fate than that? And what of the multitudes of the unrenowned? If
the famous are nothing, then the rest of men are less than nothing and
vanity, and, dying, they certainly can leave no trace behind them, no
word to carry the tale of how once they laboured, loved, hoped, endured.
All their exquisite human longings, all their pleasant thinking, must be
for ever lost? No! for proverbs are the memorial of ordinary men; their
very accents; record of their intimate thoughts and judgments, their
jests and sorrowings, their aspirations, their philosophy. And this even
from distant ages! There are proverbs old as the Iliad. Men of genius
have not a monopoly of immortal words. Perhaps at the start one man of
keen wit was needed to invent the happy phrase or the smart saying, but
before it became a proverb countless ordinary folk had to give it their
approval. We know that every popular proverb has seemed good to a
multitude of men. Essentially therefore it has become their utterance,
and is filled with their personality. And, of course, proverbs are not
only a memorial of the unknown dead; they are equally a language of the
unknown and unlearned living. The humblest of men experience deep
emotions which, however, they cannot articulate for themselves.
Proverbs, we repeat, come to the rescue of the unlettered, supplying
words to fit their thoughts, unstopping the tongue of the dumb. Just
what effects this simple treasury of speech has had in history who can
calculate, but that it has not been slight is dexterously suggested by
these words of anger and chagrin which Shakespeare makes Coriolanus

                            “Hang ’em,
    They said they were an hungry, sighed forth proverbs;
    That _hunger broke stone walls_, that _dogs must eat_,
    That _meat was made for mouths_, that _the gods sent not
    Corn for the rich men only_; with these shreds
    They vented their complainings.”

Poor wretches! with their “meat was made for mouths.” Doubtless they
should have prepared for the most noble Coriolanus a treatise setting
forth their preposterous economics, and humbly praying that in due
course their petition might be brought before the Senate. But--“dogs
must eat.” Faugh! “No gentleman,” said Lord Chesterfield, “ever uses a
proverb.” Perhaps not, in an age of false gentility. But men of genius
in many a century have taken note of their rich humanism and their value
as a real, though undeveloped, science of life. Aristotle, Bacon,
Shakespeare, Montaigne, Cervantes, Hazlitt, Goethe, thought fit to use
them. Despite my Lord Chesterfield, let us continue the subject.

In the third place, proverbs are like a mirror in which the facts and
ideals of society may be discerned. This is so obvious a truth that its
importance may be under-estimated until it is realised how clear and
detailed the reflection is. Proverbs prefer the concrete to the
abstract. They contain many allusions[4] that are like windows opening
on to the land of their birth and offering glimpses of its life and
scenery--the rain and the sunshine ripening its fields and vineyards;
the valleys and mountains, the open country, the villages, and towns.
The activities and interests of the inhabitants are still more clearly
disclosed. Manners and morals are laid bare, all the more faithfully
because the witness is often unintentional. “Proverbs,” said Bacon,
“reveal the genius, wit, and character of a nation.” In them Humanity,
all reticence forgotten, seems to have cried its thoughts from the
housetops and proclaimed its hidden motives in the market-place. Suppose
that almost all other evidence for the history of Italy or Spain were
blotted out but the national sayings were left us, there would still be
rich material for reconstructing an outline of the characteristics and
not a little of the fortunes of those peoples. In respect of national
disposition how terribly would the lust for vengeance appear as the
besetting sin of Italy: _Revenge is a morsel fit for God_--_Revenge
being an hundred years old has still its sucking teeth_. From the
copious store of Spanish proverbs could be substantiated such facts as
the Moorish occupation of Spain, the power and pride of her mediæval
chivalry, and the immense influence for good and evil which the Church
of Rome has wielded in the length and breadth of the country.

Archbishop Trench lays stress upon this quality of proverbs. Speaking of
Burchardt’s _Arabic Proverbs of the Modern Egyptians_, he remarks,[5]
“In other books others describe the modern Egyptians, but here they
unconsciously describe themselves. The selfishness, the utter extinction
of all public spirit, the servility, which no longer as with an inward
shame creeps into men’s lives but utters itself as the avowed law of
their lives, the sense of the oppression of the strong, of the
insecurity of the weak, and generally the whole character of life, alike
outward and inward, as poor, mean, sordid, and ignoble ... all this, as
we study these documents, rises up before us in truest, though in
painfullest, outline. Thus, only in a land where rulers, being evil
themselves, feel all goodness to be their instinctive foe, where they
punish but never reward, could a proverb like the following, _Do no good
and thou shalt find no evil_, ever have come to the birth”: altogether a
black picture of Mohammedan society. It is a healthier, happier scene
that the Jewish proverbs will unfold to us.

The last general characteristic of proverbs, to which we need pay
attention, is their inexhaustible variety. The world is their province.
Religion and ethics, politics, commerce, agriculture, handicrafts,
riches and poverty, diligence and idleness, hope and contentment, unrest
and despair, laughter and tears, pride and humility, love and hatred:
what is there you can name that we cannot set you a proverb to match it?
Proverbs enter the palace unsummoned, take stock of his Majesty, and
then inform the world what they think of his doings. They sit with my
Lord Justice on the bench, and he shall hear further of the matter if he
judge with respect of persons. But lo and behold! they also keep company
with highwaymen and thieves, and the tricks of most trades are to them
no secret. Proverbs are at home with men of every degree: they dine at
the rich man’s table, they beg with Lazarus by the gate; and shrewdly do
they analyse the world from both points of view. Chiefly, however, they
have dwelt in a myriad normal homes, where neither riches nor poverty is
given, but where a hard day’s work, a sufficient meal, and a warm fire
in the evening have loosened tongues and opened hearts. Whereupon these
unconscionable guests proceed to criticise the family. They interfere
between husband and wife, parents and children, and teach all of them
manners with an unsparing frankness. They play with the children,
counsel their parents, and dream dreams with the old. Again, proverbs
are both country-dwellers and town-dwellers. Have they not observed the
ways of wind and water, sunshine and silvery starlight, seen the trees
grow green and the seeds spring into life, the flowers bloom and the
harvest ingathered? Yet also they have spent the whole year in the city,
walking its streets early and late, strolling through the markets and
bargaining in the shops. Ubiquitous proverbs! There is nothing beyond
their reach, nothing hid from their eyes.

The advantages of this abundant variety are clear. Almost any topic of
human interest will find sufficient illustration in proverbs. Frequently
a saying will be found useful from more than one standpoint: vary the
topic and the same material may appear in new and unexpected guise. On
the other hand, whatever subject be chosen, a serious difficulty will be
encountered. As soon as the proverbs bearing upon it have been gathered
together, an extreme confusion of opinion will be apparent. The trumpet
gives a most uncertain sound! Thus, let ethics be our starting-point.
Many, no doubt, will be the maxims that breathe an easy, practical
morality, and these, being careful not to be righteous overmuch, may
seem tolerably compatible one with another; but then in violent contrast
will be some that soar to the very heavens, and some also that surely
emanate from hell. These will suffice from the devil’s forge: _Dead men
tell no tales_--_Every man has his price_--or this Italian proverb,
_Wait time and place for thy revenge, for swift revenge is poor
revenge_. For the heavenly, here are two from ancient Greece, _The best
is always arduous_[6]--_Friends have their all in common_[7]; or this
tender English one, _The way to heaven is by Weeping-Cross_, or this
strong Scottish phrase, _The grace of God is gear enough_[8]. Verily,
proverbs do battle one against another. Trench quotes the following:
_The noblest vengeance is to forgive_ compared with the infamous _He who
cannot avenge himself is weak, he who will not is vile_. _Penny wise
pound foolish_ is cried in our one ear; _Take care of the pence, and the
pounds will take care of themselves_ in the other. Could anything be
more disconcerting to our hope of investigating the ethical system of
proverbs? But in like manner their social teaching at first sight seems
a wilderness of contradiction, their theology a babel of conflicting
tongues. The natural perplexity thus occasioned can, however, be
resolved very simply. Two points must be kept in mind. First, that when
with rough and ready justice men are classified as pious or wicked,
clever or stupid, generous or miserly, hopeful or despondent, rich or
poor, young or old, wise or ignorant, and so forth, these terms do
represent real distinctions between persons, although perhaps no one
category suffices fully to describe any given individual; and second,
that a proverb necessarily expresses a sentiment shared by a number of
people. It follows that what we ought to seek in proverbs is not one
point of view but many. We shall find the attitude of various classes
and types of men. We shall see life as it appears now in the eyes of the
just and the merciful, now of the evil and the cunning. Here in one
group of sayings will be the way the world looks to a lazy man, here
again are the convictions of the unscrupulously shrewd. Here is some
complacent merchant’s view of social questions, here the exhortations of
an idealistic soul. When once this fact about proverbs is recognised,
the difficulty of their contradictoriness instantly is removed. Instead
of feeling that they speak in hesitating accents, we discover that they
are answering our questions, not with _one_, but with many voices, far
from uncertain in their tone. The confusion vanishes. We find ourselves
listening to the speech of men who, differing sometimes profoundly one
from another, have sharply defined ideas, and can utter their thoughts
with brevity, force, and wit.

It will be seen that our object is wide and deep, and that there are
many avenues of approach to it. One road, however, would seem to be
impossible--proverbs as literature. That an occasional popular saying
would have some touch of literary value, is, of course, to be expected.
But a winged word now and then, a lovely image flitting once in a while
across the plains, will not justify the topic, “Proverbs as literature.”
The individual proverb failing, what hope is there that a collection of
them will come nearer the mark? Suppose the very best of our English
proverbs were gathered together, there might be much to interest, amuse,
or edify our minds, but literature such an assemblage would assuredly
not be. The vital element of unity would be lacking. As well string the
interjections and conjunctions of our language into verse, and call the
result a poem! And yet the incredible has happened. Once a collection of
proverbs was so made as to be literature--but where and when must be
left for the next chapter to relate.


The Proverbs of the Jews

Of the facts we have been considering one is specially relevant to the
subject, not only of this volume but of the series in which it forms a
part--namely, the intimately human quality of proverbs. Mr. Morley has
called them “The guiding oracles which man has found out for himself in
that great business of ours, of learning how to be, to do, to do without
and to depart.[9]” The Humanism of the Bible ought therefore to be
visible nowhere more clearly than in Israel’s proverbs, _if_ these are
to be found within its pages. But stay! What right have we to expect
their presence? Surely little or none, if the Bible is what many persons
conceive it to be--only a book of religious teachings. For consider the
reasonable expectation, and contrast the extraordinary facts. In such a
book we might reasonably expect to find a few proverbs: that a king
should quote a saying to suit his purpose, a counsellor press home his
wisdom with some well-known maxim, or a prophet edge his appeal by the
use of a popular phrase--that would be quite natural, and indeed occurs.
But actually (and here is the astonishing matter) there are proverbs by
tens and by hundreds, gathered together in one Book of the Bible,
following verse by verse, chapter by chapter, till they choke one
another through sheer profusion, like flowers in an unkept garden. Thus
in five chapters of the _Book of Proverbs_ (13-17) there are 154
separate adages. So strange a phenomenon challenges attention. It might
be supposed that the Hebrew language had been ransacked for proverbs,
but that suggestion will not stand scrutiny. On investigation, the Book
proves to be no deliberate, systematic, attempt to collect the Hebrew
proverbs. Thus, when we look for the few, but famous, popular sayings
that occur in the historical and prophetic writings of the Old
Testament, we find that _not one_ of them is included. As for system, a
casual glance will demonstrate its absence. In most chapters of
_Proverbs_ not even an effort is made to classify the material. The Book
cannot be explained as an anthology of Hebrew sayings--the most witty or
worldly-wise, the most moral or religious. Whatever the explanation,
here assuredly is something less artificial than an anthology. Good,
bad, and indifferent proverbs alike are present. Many of the sayings
unmistakably reflect a conception of morality more practical than
exalted, and some appear grossly utilitarian. Time and again the
consequences of sin are naïvely presented as the reasons for avoiding
it, whilst the rewards of virtue are emphasised unduly. Later on we
shall find reasons for holding that the utilitarian attitude is not
fundamental, and therefore not so destructive of the ethical value of
these proverbs as it might seem. But until both the circumstances which
gave rise to the proverbs and the ends they were meant to serve are
understood, until (as it were) we have seen the men who spoke the maxims
and the people who repeated them, that more generous judgment is
scarcely possible; and meantime, be it freely admitted, there are many
things in the Book not agreeable to modern ethical taste. Religiously,
too, the _Book of Proverbs_ is on the surface disappointing. Neither the
fire of the Prophets’ faith is visible, nor the deep passion of the
Psalmists’ longing after God. Who amongst us, seeking spiritual help,
would choose a chapter in _Proverbs_ when the Gospels or the Letters of
St. Paul are open to him? So then on literary, ethical, and religious
grounds there are plain reasons why this Book has lost something of its
former favour. Contrast the estimation in which it was held only two
generations ago. Ruskin records that four chapters of _Proverbs_, the
third, fourth, eighth and twelfth, were amongst those portions of the
Bible which his mother made him learn by heart and “so established my
soul in life”; they were, he declares, “the most precious and on the
whole essential part of all my education.” Not so long ago, _Proverbs_
was a text-book in many schools; probably it is nowhere so used

Even if neglect of this part of the Scripture is partly chargeable to
heightened standards of ethics or theology, the loss incurred is great.
As a matter of fact, depreciation of its ethical temper is often based
on inaccurate notions, often is exaggerated. In comparison with our
fathers, who without commentaries read through their Bibles from cover
to cover, we have not gained as we should; for, whilst we pride
ourselves (with what measure of justice is uncertain) on being more
sensitive to religious values, they were far better acquainted with the
religious facts. They at least knew the contents of Scripture; we, who
have at our disposal abundance of interpretative help whereby to learn
the nature of the Bible and with instructed minds consider its spiritual
worth, too often are ignorant both of text and commentary. Doubtless the
fault is due to certain characteristics of our time. This is a feverish
impatient age; if our mental fare is not served us like our daily
information, put up into easy paragraphs, so that he who runs may read,
we will not stay to seek it; and the Old Testament is not an easy book,
though it answers patience with astonishing rewards. Candidly, how does
it stand with knowledge of the Bible at the present time? In charity let
the question be addressed only to those who have a genuine interest in
the Christian religion, desiring to rule their lives by its ideals and
cherishing its promises. Even to such persons what is the Bible? A few
there are who have found or made opportunity for serious consideration
of its Books, and these have certainly felt the fascination of the vast
and varied interests that have won and retained for biblical study the
life-long service of many brilliant scholars. But to the others, and
obviously they are thousands of thousands, the Bible is essentially the
book of religion. As such, the New Testament means the Gospel
narratives, some immortal chapters from St. Paul, a few verses in
_Hebrews_, and St. John’s vision of that City where _death shall be no
more_. And what--religiously--in similar fashion is the Old Testament,
except a few, comforting, beautiful Psalms; some childhood memories of
Abraham, Joseph, Moses, generous David and brave Daniel; a tale or two
of Elijah; a procession of Kings, and an uncharted sea of grand but most
perplexing Prophets? Asked for a more general account, some would
describe the Old Testament as a record of the laws, history, and
religious ideas of the Hebrew people; others would answer that it is
“part of the Word of God,” but they might all be at a loss to say what
is the religious value of _Leviticus_, what the spiritual relation
between _Genesis_ and the _Gospel_, between _Kings_ and _Chronicles_,
between _Job_ and _Revelation_. Probably the great majority of men at
the present time would be quite willing to confess that their knowledge
of the Bible is vague and insufficient, but few, we believe, would
suspect that there is anything wrong with the basis from which their
thinking proceeds: so firmly is it fixed in men’s minds that the Bible
is merely the book of religion. The Bible is that, but more also, more
and yet again more. And how easily we might have realised the fact!
Ought not the presence of these surprisingly heterogeneous proverbs
alone to have stirred our curiosity, and so compelled the enlargement of
our thoughts about the Old Testament? Without needing to be urged, men
should, of their own accord, have perceived the astonishing range of
interest and the wealth of literature the Bible contains, and should
have seen in this variety a clue that would lead them by pleasant paths
to treasures artistic and intellectual as well as religious. Thereby no
loss could ensue religiously, but on the contrary gain. The greater our
recognition of the artistic qualities of the sacred literature, the more
exact and full our understanding of the history of the Jews and of their
beliefs and interpretation of life, so much the more wonderful will the
actual development of religion in Israel be seen to be. This is the
point to which the above remarks are meant to lead. If the Biblical
proverbs compel as a first conclusion the recognition of how much more
the Old Testament is than a text-book for theology, that is a minimum
and an initial discovery; our appreciation of its meaning will assuredly
not end there. The growth, in Israel, of the knowledge of God into a
high and holy faith is an indisputable fact. Increase your comprehension
of the circumstances attending this development, and your faith in the
reality of a self-revealing God should increase also.

So much for the presence of these proverbs in the Bible. Now consider
the affirmation with which the first chapter concluded: that proverbs
have once been literature. That claim may be advanced on behalf of the
sayings of the _Book of Proverbs_ and _Ecclesiasticus_. It is of course
obvious that the difficulty which has to be overcome is the essential
independence of proverbial sayings: each is so relentlessly complete in
itself. How can they be so related to each other as to acquire the
higher unity indispensable for literature? The lack of system in the
_Book of Proverbs_ has already been admitted frankly; but the point must
again be emphasised. So far from the five chapters with the 154 maxims,
referred to above, being exceptional they are typical of the greater
portion of the Book. Continually we encounter the same astonishing
disregard for consecutive, or even cognate, thought in the grouping of
the proverbs. And yet, despite this fact, the attentive reader will
become conscious of a subtle unity pervading the Book. The impression
will grow that the confusion is not absolute; somehow it is being held
within bounds, whilst here and there chaos has evidently yielded to the
command of a directing purpose. Obstinate independents as proverbs are,
one discovers that here their masses, unruly though they still may be,
have nevertheless become an army, a host sufficiently disciplined to
serve a common end. As with a complicated piece of music through the
intricacies of the notes runs ever an underlying theme, so here through
the medley of disparate sayings can be heard the preaching of one great
thought--“Wisdom.” Behind the proverbs, behind the Book, we discover
men, preachers and teachers of an Idea, enthusiasts for a
Cause--“Wisdom.” Just what that phrase implied, just what manner of men
those advocates of Wisdom were, we shall see in due course. The point
for the moment is that these Jewish proverbs were not gathered
haphazard, nor simply as _a_ collection of Jewish proverbs; but for the
express purpose of illustrating, developing, and enforcing the
conception of Wisdom. Thus, through the influence of this specific
intention, they received in sufficient measure the unity of literature.
This fact is of the utmost importance for our subject, for it means that
these proverbs may be considered not merely one by one but in their
totality; that is, in their combination as text-books inculcating
Wisdom. So regarded, they afford a glimpse of a remarkable class of men
in the intensely interesting century or two when the intellectual
foundations of Western civilisation were being laid down. No doubt each
proverb bears the impress of reality and has its individual interest, is
(as it were) a coin struck out of active experience; but the same may be
said of the collected proverbs _as a whole_, and because the whole has
its own significance, the parts acquire a meaning and value they would
not otherwise possess. The Jews are an astonishing people. St. Paul
perceived that they had a genius for religion, but they have had genius
for many other things besides, as their strange fortunes testify. Their
hand prospers, whithersoever it is turned. Who but the Jews can claim to
have had a Golden Age in proverbs? In utilising their popular sayings
for a definite purpose, and in thus making them literature, the Jews
succeeded in a feat that other nations have scarcely emulated, far less
equalled. Moreover in the process the Jews made their proverbs
superlatively good. Some think that for wit and acuteness the ancient
sayings of the Chinese are unsurpassed; for multitude and variety those
of the Arabs and the Spaniards. But the Jewish proverbs of this “Wisdom”
period excel all others in the supreme quality of being possession of
all men for all time. They are marvellously free from provincial and
temporary elements; and this is the more remarkable in that the Jews
were intensely nationalistic, and their literature, as a rule, is
steeped in racial sentiment. Of these proverbs, however, very few must
be considered Hebraic in an exclusive sense, or indeed Oriental. The
mass of them have been at home in many lands and many centuries, because
they speak to the elemental needs of men. Again and again they touch the
very heart of Humanity. They are universal. But that is the
characteristic of genius. If therefore proverbs be our study, we could
ask no better subject than these proverbs of the Jews.

Even so our theme is far from easy. Life, when visible before us, can
with difficulty be portrayed. Harder by far is it to recall life from
literature, translating the symbols of letters into the sound of speech
and looking through words into the colour and movement of the scenes
that by the magic of human language are there preserved, accurately
enough, yet only like pale shadows of the reality. Hardest of all is it,
when the documents to be studied are records of a far-past age and the
life that of an alien people. But how well worth every effort is the
task! “Many of us,” writes Mark Rutherford, “have felt that we would
give all our books if we could but see with our own eyes how a single
day was passed by a single ancient Jewish, Greek, or Roman family; how
the house was opened in the morning; how the meals were prepared; what
was said; how the husband, wife, and children went about their work;
what clothes they wore, and what were their amusements.”[11] Information
so detailed as Mark Rutherford desired will not be afforded by the
Jewish proverbs. Nevertheless they are full of frank, intimate, comment
on the ways of men and women, and of reflection on the experiences we
all suffer or enjoy, and certainly should learn how best to encounter.
If they yield less than might be wished for, still what they show is
shown in the naïve and homely fashion that is so illuminating. Such
being the difficulty of our task, and such the encouragement to pursue
it, the reader will perhaps permit at the outset a short statement
mentioning the writings where Jewish proverbs are to be found, and
giving somewhat fuller information regarding the dates and composition
of the two works from which the material of the following chapters will
chiefly be derived.


I. OCCASIONAL PROVERBS. In the historical and prophetical Books of the
Old Testament there are to be found some popular sayings current in
early Israel. Though few in number, they possess considerable interest,
and will therefore be discussed in Chapter IV.

II. THE BOOK OF PROVERBS. This Book is the principal “source” of the
proverbs considered in this volume. Unlike modern writings, which are
usually the work of one author and will rarely require a longer period
than five or ten years for their composition, many of the Books of the
Bible have reached their _present form_ as the outcome of a protracted
process of compilation and revision perhaps extending over many
generations and involving the work of numerous writers. The words of
earlier authors were utilised again and again in later times by others
who, having somewhat similar ideas and purposes in view, exercised
complete liberty in reproducing, or modifying, or adding to the material
they found to hand.[12] Such a book is _Proverbs_. The consequence is
that the question of date and authorship cannot be answered in a
sentence. The problem of the _structure_ of the Book rises as a
preliminary subject.[13]

(a) _Structure._ The _Book of Proverbs_ in its present form represents
the combination of five originally independent collections of the single
proverbs which are of course the ultimate material of the Book. There is
some evidence that these five collections were themselves built out of
still smaller groups of proverbs, but such subdivisions cannot be traced
with certainty, and for our purpose may be neglected. The five main
sections are as follows:--(_a_) In chs. 1-9, a number of epigrams,
sonnets, and discourses in praise of wisdom. (_b_) In chs.
10^{1}-22^{16}, a collection of two-line (“unit”) proverbs. (_c_) In
chs. 22^{17}-24^{22} and 24^{23-34}, two very similar collections of
four-line (“quatrain”) proverbs. (_d_) In chs. 25-29, a collection of
two-line proverbs. (_e_) In chs. 30, 31, epigrams, sonnets, and an
acrostic poem.

(b) _Date and Authorship._ Both in its component parts and as a
composite whole the _Book of Proverbs_ is an anonymous work. It is true
that titles, such as “The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, king of
Israel” (Pr. 1^{1}), are prefixed to several portions of the Book[14],
but they do not imply authorship, although to those unacquainted with
the nature of ancient books that may seem the necessary meaning. Their
significance will be considered later, on p. 71.

The date of origin and the authorship of single proverbs are seldom
discoverable: a tantalising circumstance for those who would write about
them. And yet, perhaps, their reticence is wise. It may be that some of
the noblest sayings have sprung from the lips of a poor man in a peasant
home; and there are fools who would thenceforth despise them for their
birth. Of the individual sayings in the _Book of Proverbs_ a few, in
matter if not in exact phrase, may go back to ancient days; some may be
due to Solomon himself or date from his period; but the vast
majority[15], for cogent reasons of style, language, tone, ethical and
social customs and so forth, are post-exilic--that is, not earlier than
about 450 B.C.; nor on the other hand are they later than about 200
B.C., by which time the several sections had been combined to form
substantially the present Book.[16]

Something may be said concerning the relative priority of the five
sections of the Book. Internal evidence points to sections _b_ and _d_
as the oldest portions, then section _c_; sections _a_ and _e_ (_i.e._,
chs. 1-9, 30, 31) being probably the latest groups. But of the precise
date when these collections were severally formed and combined, and of
the names of the men by whom the work was done, we are unaware.
Fortunately our ignorance of detail is but a negligible trifle compared
with our firm knowledge of the general fact that _in their present form
these proverbs belong to the period_ 350-200 B.C., _and their authors
and compilers were men who styled themselves “The Wise,” and were known
in the Jewish community by that term_. A hundred and fifty years may
seem a wide margin, but it is a mistake to wish it less; if anything, it
ought to be increased. For the point to be grasped is that _Proverbs_
represents the thoughts and ideals of the Wise throughout that whole
period (350-200 B.C.) and even longer. The exact dates of the
combination and final revision of the component collections of sayings
are therefore questions of minor importance. The Book is not to be
treated as a fixed literary product of any one particular year, but as
representative of the teachings of the Wise during very many years.

To the same class of men we owe, besides _Proverbs_, other famous
writings, of which two, _Job_ and _Ecclesiastes_, were also included in
the Old Testament Canon, and two are to be found in the Apocrypha,
namely, _Ecclesiasticus_ (or, as it is often called, _The Wisdom of Ben
Sirach_) and the _Wisdom of Solomon_. Of these four writings the two
first, _Job_ and _Ecclesiastes_, are considered in other volumes of this
series,[17] and therefore, except for one or two quotations, will not be
utilised here, although they both contain a number of proverbial
sayings. The _Wisdom of Solomon_ also will seldom be noticed in this
book: it is much later in date than _Proverbs_, and is not a collection
of proverbs, but a set of discourses in praise of Wisdom.

III. Ecclesiasticus. On the other hand, the book of _Ecclesiasticus_ or
_The Wisdom of Ben Sirach_, is--next to _Proverbs_--the source from
which we shall derive most material. Like _Proverbs_ it is a storehouse
of sayings about Wisdom, but fortunately, unlike _Proverbs_, it is not
anonymous, and can be dated with some exactitude. The author or compiler
of the book was one, Jesus ben (_i.e._, Son of) Sirach, who lived in
Jerusalem about 250-180 B.C., his volume being finished about 190 B.C.
Some fifty years later his grandson, then living in Egypt, translated it
into Greek, and until recently the book was known to us only in its
Greek form. Now, however, a large part of the original Hebrew text has
been recovered, with the happy result that the Greek version can
frequently be checked and obscurities be removed by means of the Hebrew.

Besides the single, “unit,” proverbs, there are in _Ecclesiasticus_, and
in _Proverbs_ also though to a less extent, a number of short sonnets
and essays. These longer passages will be freely referred to, but
perhaps a word in justification will here be in place. It has been said
with truth, that “often a parable is an elaborate proverb, and a proverb
is a parable in germ.” That comment excellently indicates the nature of
the passages in question; most of them are expansions of some brief
gnomic phrase[18]. When, for example, in E. 20^{14^{f}} we read, “=The
gift of a fool shall not profit thee, for his eyes are many instead of
one=; _he will give little and upbraid much and he will open his mouth
like a crier; to-day he will lend and to-morrow he will ask it again:
such an one is a hateful man_....” it is obvious that the verse is only
an elaboration and explanation of the enigmatic proverb printed in heavy

IV. THE NEW TESTAMENT. Scattered through the pages of the New Testament
are more allusions to popular sayings than one would readily expect.
Almost all offer interesting comment on the life and manner of the
times; but, unfortunately, they will fall outside the scope of this
book, except for occasional references.

V. Finally, a great number of Jewish proverbs are mentioned in the
post-Biblical RABBINICAL writings--the tractates of the _Mishna_, the
_Midrashim_, and _Talmuds_. Embedded in a vast and difficult literature
(how difficult only those know who have attempted seriously to study
it), these later Jewish sayings have been somewhat inaccessible to
Gentile students. They are interesting in many ways, but the development
of our subject in this volume will give opportunity for the mention only
of a few. Should any reader desire to know more of these Rabbinic
sayings, he can now be referred to a small but trustworthy collection
recently made by A. Cohen and published under the title _Ancient Jewish

The question is, What can the Jewish proverbs tell us about human life?
The conclusion of the first chapter left us perplexed by indicating too
many paths that might be followed. This chapter solves the difficulty by
suggesting that these proverbs will have a great deal to say to us, if
we choose to treat them in their historical aspect. To do so is to
follow the king’s highway; but when the plain road promises an
interesting journey, it is folly to search for bypaths. The human story
seems naturally to divide into past and present; and, because the
present immediately concerns us, we are all tempted to ignore the past
and count it negligible. To the uneducated man the past is dead; and he
fails to perceive that, if the facts of history are unknown, the
present, though it may fascinate, will prove bewildering. The truth is
that history is one and continuous, the present is organically related
to the past, and the division between them in our thought is artificial
and perilously misleading. Nothing is of greater practical value than to
learn and ponder the narrative of the past, provided heart and mind are
kept alert to discern the guidance it continually offers to ourselves.
To neglect its lessons is to starve the power of judgment in the
present. Much that by our own unaided trials can only be learnt slowly,
painfully, and at great hazard, may be discovered swiftly and securely
by observation of the experience of other men. In this spirit let our
studies of the Jewish proverbs be first of the _past_: what glimpses of
former days are discernible in their homely words?

Let us commence as if we had some leisure at our disposal, and let us
use it by following up occasional traces of very ancient times. Then we
shall proceed to the more strenuous and more rewarding task of
recovering a picture of the stirring years when Wisdom was moulding the
Jewish proverbs to her urgent needs. Always, however, as the records
yield up these tales of byegone days we are to keep in mind ourselves
and our own generation, striving so to interpret the fortunes of men of
old that we in our turn may learn from them how to avoid folly, endure
trials, use success, and discover the secret of content. Finally we
shall gather such of the proverbs as may please our fancy, and briefly
consider them in themselves for their perennial, as opposed to their
original or historical, interest.


Forgotten Years

The past of human life offers an unimaginably long vista for our
contemplation. Vastly many more are the years that have been forgotten
than those that are remembered. Mr. Stephen Graham is therefore quite
right when, in his book _The Way of Martha and the Way of Mary_, he
insists that Christianity after nineteen hundred years is still a young
religion, its doctrines imperfectly understood, its possibilities not
yet unfolded. But for that matter history itself is young, since history
knows at the most some six or seven thousand years of human history, and
Man has been on earth hundreds of thousands of years. Glimpses of human
life in those dim and distant ages are occasionally possible (as we are
about to observe in the Jewish proverbs) and have a certain fascination;
but their interest is apt to be overwhelmed by the disquieting ideas
which the thought of so vast a stretch of time naturally raises in our
mind. In comparison, our personal hopes seemed dwarfed into utter
insignificance, and it is no comfort when a Psalmist (more than twenty
centuries ago) suggests that to the Deity time may be a very little
thing: _Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, Return, ye children
of men. For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it
is past, and as a watch in the night_. God may expend so many myriad
years as seemeth good to Him in the making of sun, moon, and stars,
earth and sea--what matter? But when the living bodies of men are racked
with pain, when tyranny endures and love and liberty are delayed, then
what is the millenial patience of God but terrifying? _We_ cannot wait
for its slow maturing. Does He not know that we who would see the
salvation of the Lord in the land of the living are ready to faint?

Perhaps, however, our distress arises from the adoption of a mistaken
standpoint. For, first, let the question be considered not from the
point of view of God’s patience but of His greatness, and the infinitely
long development will seem less dreadful. The immensity of time may then
be regarded, not as a token of God’s indifference to man, but as a
measure of His eternal majesty, and as evidence of an intention sublime
beyond our present power to apprehend, yet not antagonistic to the value
of the individual being--as indeed the author of _Isaiah_ 40 perceived:
_Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from my
God and my glory is forgotten by my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou
not heard? the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the
earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of His
understanding._ And, secondly, there is something to be said regarding
the brevity of our bodily existence, to which an analogy will furnish
the best introduction. Suppose that men were able to perceive the world
of Nature only in its immensities, seeing the oceans but not the
tumbling waves, seeing the plains but not each green or golden field,
would they not fail to perceive an incalculably great portion of earth’s
beauty? How unutterably more wonderful are all natural objects when the
microscope reveals the marvel of every particle. The tree is loveliest
to him who has an eye to see the perfection of each leaf or knows the
miracle of its growth from a single seed or shoot. Is it not possible
that something similar is true of the human spirit in its apprehension
of reality? Suppose that our personality was unable to taste life except
on the grand scale, so that for man a thousand years were only a
passing moment, experienced only “as a watch in the night,” would not
the half of life’s glory then be hidden from those who were ignorant of
what _one_ year can be? May not participation in reality on a small
scale--time felt as a day, an hour, a minute--be indispensable if the
human spirit is to grasp the amazing fulness of conscious life?
Apparently circumscribed by the limit of our three score years and ten,
are we here to learn that consciousness, even when measured in days and
minutes, is of eternal worth and pure delight? For we do learn that
lesson. We do discover that an instant of perfect and unselfish
tenderness may be of immeasurable value. Perchance Man can never love
God till he has loved his brother, never know with the Divine knowledge,
until in faith, hope, and charity he has desired to win the knowledge
which is in part. The cup of cold water must first be given lovingly
unto the least of His brethren, or we shall never comprehend to give it
into the hand of Christ Himself. “He that is faithful over a few
things,” said Jesus, “shall be set over many.” Perhaps only to those who
have sought to find Heaven in life _sub specie temporis_ can life _sub
specie eternitatis_ be imparted; for to know life fully must be to know
not only its infinite extension and its Divine splendour, but also the
exquisite perfection of its fleeting moments.


Proverbs are one of the most ancient inventions of Man, far older than
history. Four centuries before the birth of Christ, Aristotle, gazing as
far into the past as his glance could reach, saw proverbs still
beckoning him back. He spoke of them as “fragments of an older wisdom
which on account of their brevity or aptness had been preserved from the
general wreck and ruin.” Even the _Book of Proverbs_, late as it is in
date, has features which, if we follow out their significance, will
lead us back to the life of men in long forgotten years. The signs, of
course, are slight, but they are none the less real; and even a faint
trace may be a sure thread of guidance. Only some grooves upon the
surface of the rock, but the lines were indubitably made by the movement
of ice in the glacial age. Only a piece of jagged flint, but the edge we
finger was chipped by human hands for an object conceived in a human
brain. See how the conical marks where each stroke of the hammer fell
are still as clear and purposeful as on the day when they were made.
Flaking a flint is skilled work: the blows must be cunningly aimed and
exactly struck, or the stone will be shattered instead of sharpened.
This one, being well wrought, is doubtless a Neolithic weapon. But here
is a specimen more rude and primitive. It is probably a thousand years
older than the one we have just examined. Nevertheless, we know that it
also was worked by man, and that human eyes chose it and human hands
held it, and fashioned it, in days when man shared Europe with the

What faint but real traces of a far antiquity can be seen in the Jewish

(1) The first trace is to be found in the Numerical Sayings, a curious
type of aphorism, half proverb and half riddle. Four of these occur in
_Proverbs_ 30.


    _Three things there be unsatisfied,
    Yea! four that say not “Enough”--
    The land of death; the barren womb;
    Earth unsated with water;
    And fire that says not “Enough”_ (Pr. 30^{15b, 16}).


    _There be four things upon the earth small but exceeding wise_:

    _The_ ANTS--_a people little of strength, but in summer
         they store up food_:

    _The_ CONIES--_these be a feeble folk, but they make their
         homes in the rock_:

    _The_ LOCUSTS--_are they that have no king, but they march
         in an ordered host_:

    _The_ LIZARDS--_on which thou canst lay thine hand, though
         they dwell in his majesty’s court_ (Pr. 30^{24-28}).


    _Beneath three things the earth doth tremble,
    Yea beneath four it cannot bear up--
    Beneath a slave become a monarch;
    Beneath a fool that is filled with meat;
    Beneath an old-maid that hath found a husband;
    Beneath a handmaid heir to her mistress_ (Pr. 30^{21-23}).


    _There be three things of stately step,
    Yea, four of stately gait--
    The_ LION, _that is the strongest beast,
    And flees before no foe;
    The ...; the_ HE-GOAT _too;
    And the_ KING, _when_ ...[19](Pr. 30^{29-31}).

Simple as these riddles may be, they imply or make definite allusion to
many things; a settled community, a king, an army trained and
disciplined, economic foresight, dramatic changes in social rank, laws
of natural inheritance, acute reflections on the fate of man and on
human character--surely a picture too elaborate for pre-historic years?
Certainly, and for these particular proverbs, no such claim is advanced:
the lingering trace of a forgotten world is in their form, _numerical_
proverbs. Those just quoted are, as it were, links in a long chain,
which we may follow backwards or forwards. The former process will lead
to the result we seek; but first, for convenience and in further
illustration, let us notice some, still later, examples of these
proverbs. Two more are included in the Book of Proverbs, one of which
will be quoted below (p. 51): here is the other.


    _There be six things Jehovah hates,
    Yea, seven which he abominates--
    Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
    And hands that innocent blood have shed,
    A mind devising wicked plans,
    Feet that be swift to do a wrong,
    A witness false declaring lies,
    And he who stirs up friends to strife_ (Pr. 6^{16-19}).

Though cast in the same mould, this saying with its insistence on
justice, truth, honesty of purpose and humility of spirit, certainly
reflects a later and more complex stage of thought than the naïve
conundrums quoted above from Pr. 30. Indeed, it may be no earlier than
the third century, the golden age of proverb-making, to which period
belongs also the following sentence from Ben Sirach’s book: _There be
nine things that I have thought of and in my heart counted happy, and
the tenth I will utter with my tongue_--_A man whose children give him
joy: a man that liveth to see his enemies fall: happy is he whose wife
hath understanding, and he that hath not slipped with his tongue, and he
that hath not had to serve an inferior man: happy is he that hath found
prudence: and he that discourseth in the ears of them that listen. How
great is he that hath found wisdom! And above him that feareth the Lord
is there none. The fear of the Lord surpasses all things; and he that
holdeth it, to whom shall he be likened?_ (E. 25^{7-11}).[20]

Turn next to the _Sayings of the Fathers_, a treatise of Jewish ethical
reflections, compiled in the first and second centuries A.D., and in the
fifth chapter will be found a series of “numerical” observations. It
must suffice to quote but one: _There are four types of moral character.
He that saith “Mine is mine and thine is thine” is a character neither
good nor bad, but some say ’tis a character wholly bad.[21] He that
saith “Mine is thine and thine is mine” is a commercially minded
man.[22] He that saith “Mine and thine are thine” is pious: “Mine and
thine are mine,” the same is wicked._ For a last and latest example a
modern saying current among the Jews and Arabs of Syria, can be cited:
_There are three Voices in the World--that of running water, of the
Jewish Law, and of money_.

So much for the later links in the chain, but what of its beginning? Why
give thoughts in stated number? Is it a writer’s trick to catch our
fancy? _That_ it may be in the later, but certainly not in the early
instances. There is only unconscious art in such an unsophisticated,
child-like verse as the FOUR STATELY THINGS. “Child-like,” that is the
word we require to describe these riddles. True; but when were the Jews
and their Semitic ancestors children? Before Abraham was called, when
almost the world itself was young.

For a moment permit your thoughts to be drawn back a very great way, and
consider the rude and inefficient life of early man. Unaided by the
numberless resources, mental and material, that enrich our civilised
life, dwelling in forests, caverns and rude huts of stone or earth,
well-nigh defenceless against the larger animals, haunted and harried by
a thousand perils real and imaginary, so man once lived and worked and
thought, and by his thinking accomplished marvels. “From the moment,”
writes A. R. Wallace, “when the first skin was used as a covering, when
the first rude spear was formed to assist in the chase, when fire was
first used to cook his food, when the first seed was sown or shoot
planted, a grand revolution was effected in Nature, a revolution which
in all the previous ages of the earth’s history had had no parallel; for
a being had arisen who was no longer necessarily subject to change with
the changing universe--a being who was in some degree superior to
Nature, inasmuch as he knew how to control and regulate her action, and
could keep himself in harmony with her, not by a change in body, but by
an advance in mind.”[23] But it was not enough that the individual
should think. The secret of human success has lain in the ability to
communicate ideas. Yet, to this day, with what effort we find words to
body forth our thoughts and feelings! Try to conceive how difficult was
the formulation and transmission of ideas in those forgotten centuries.
Imagine the tribesmen gathered home for the day and seated around their
fire. Here is one who has had a thought when out hunting, which would
amuse or interest the rest, if only it could be made articulate. But
none can read, and none can write, and language is in its infancy. How
then can he find a way to tell it, and they perceive his meaning, and
all _remember_? By means of proverbs; not the neat epigram of later
ages, but yet sayings which for all their simplicity were embryonic
proverbs. Earliest and easiest type of all was the bare
comparison--_this is like that_--a type which, it is interesting to
note, may be illustrated by one of the oldest phrases in the Bible:
_Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord_ (Gen. 10^{9}). And the
method of comparison never ceased to be a favourite mould for the
formation of proverbs, as some polished examples from _Proverbs_ will
serve to show: _As the swallow ever flitting and flying, so the curse
that is groundless alighteth not_ (Pr. 26^{2}). _The way of the wicked
is like the darkness: they know not whereon they stumble_ (Pr. 4^{19}).
Another device for communicating thought and storing wisdom was the
riddle, and this also, under slight disguise, has its lineal descendants
in the Biblical proverbs. Thus Pr. 16^{14}, _Pleasant words are as an
honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body_, was once most
probably a reply to the question, _What is sweet as honey?_ Another
example is Pr. 22^{1}: someone would ask, _What is worth more than
gold?_ and when the listeners had guessed in vain give his answer, _A
good repute_. But better than any one comparison, more memorable than
the single question, was the _numerical_ riddle; for instance
this--_What four things are beyond our power to calculate?_

    _There be three things too wonderful for me,
    Yea, four which I do not comprehend--
    The way of an eagle in the air;
    The way of a serpent upon a rock;
    The way of a ship in the midst of the sea;
    And the way of a man with a maid._--(Pr. 30^{18, 19}).

By sayings such as these were thought and experience acquired and
transmitted in forgotten years. When complex thinking was impossible,
when minds were dull and expression feeble, these primitive proverbs by
the barb of their wit or fancy, fixed themselves deep in the memories of

(2). The last quotation has in early Indian literature a close parallel
beginning thus:

    _The paths of ships across the sea,
    The soaring eagle’s flight, Varuna knows_....

and another of the numerical sayings from the same chapter of _Proverbs_
has an even closer parallel:

    _There be three things unsatisfied,
    Yea, four that say not “Enough”:
    Death, and the barren womb,
    Earth, never sated with water,
    And fire that says not “Enough.”_ (Pr. 30^{15, 16}),

compared with:

    _Fire is never sated with fuel;
    Nor Ocean with streams;
    Nor the God of death with all creatures;
    Nor the bright-eyed one (i.e., woman) with man._ (Hitopadeça 2, 113).

These resemblances of thought and phrase between India and Palestine
provide another hint of far-past days by raising the question of the
wandering of proverbs. Variations of the same tales and sayings occur
among so many different peoples throughout Europe and Asia, that the
possible rise of similar ideas, finding somewhat similar expression, in
the various races, seems insufficient to account for the phenomena;
rather we must suppose that tales and phrases circulated from tribe to
tribe over an amazing stretch of territory and in very early times.
What, for example, may be inferred from the correspondence between these
Jewish and Indian sayings? Does it preserve a glimpse of some one man,
interested in the reflections and questionings of his people, who once
ages ago travelled out of India, following the immemorial trade-routes
westwards across Arabia till he reached Palestine, and in the mind of
some kindred soul left a memory of his wise words? Either that, or
perhaps many minds were needed to transmit the thought from East to West
or West to East; so that almost one might think of the words as having
had wings on which they flew from camp to camp along the routes,
alighting wherever men gathered for trade and found time for friendly
intercourse. The subject might be developed at some length; but, try as
we may, the details of these migrations hide themselves in the mists of
a too distant past, and we catch but a glimpse of scenes we can never
more make clear. It is better to give more time to certain general
characteristics of the Jewish proverbs.


The abnormal aptitude of the Jews for proverb-making and their love of
concrete expression are ultimately due to the conditions of early
centuries. Of these two features it will be convenient to consider the
second first.

The land of Palestine, home of the Jews from about 1200 B.C., lies
between an ocean of water and an ocean of sand: on the west its coasts
are washed, but not threatened, by the Mediterranean Sea; on the east
and on the south it has to wage incessant warfare against the indrifting
sands. The country is an oasis snatched from the great deserts and kept
from their insidious grasp only by the toil and ingenuity of man. Behind
Palestine looms Arabia, and beneath the Jew is the Arab. Throughout the
last five thousand years the population of Palestine (excepting the
Philistines on the coast) has been formed by layer after layer of
Arabian immigrants, who have invaded the fertile lands, sometimes by the
rush of sudden conquest, but also by steady, peaceful infiltration.
Despite much intermarriage with the earlier Canaanites there was always
a passionate strain of the desert in Jewish blood, and throughout its
whole history in Palestine Israel had to live in uneasy proximity to its
kinsfolk, the wild nomads who roamed the deserts to the east and south.
Consequently the ultimate back-ground of the Old Testament writings is
not Palestine but Arabia, a land which sets a deep and lasting impress
on its children. A life wild yet monotonous in the extreme, rigid in
its limitations but unbridled in its licence within those limitations:
such is the rule imposed by the vast wilderness on the men who have to
wander its blazing solitudes. Arabia produces four paradoxes in the
intellect and characters of its nomadic tribes.[24] First, “the
combination of strong sensual grossness with equally strong tempers of
reverence and worship.” Second, “a marvellous capacity for endurance and
resignation broken by fits of ferocity: the ragged patience bred by
famine. We see it survive in the long-suffering, mingled with outbursts
of implacable wrath, which characterises so many Psalms. These are due
to long periods of moral famine, the famine of justice.” Third,
ingenuity of mind and swift perception, but without that power or
inclination for abstruse or sustained argument which the Western world
has inherited from the Greeks. Fourth, a subjective attitude to the
phenomena of nature and history, combined with an admirable realism in
describing these phenomena.

For thousands of years before Israel entered Canaan and became a nation
its ancestors were nomads of Arabia. It would be strange indeed if the
great desert which so subtly and irresistibly sets its spell upon the
human spirit had left no trace on Jewish proverbs. Yet the trace is not
evident in points of detail. Most of the sayings we shall study in this
volume represent the thoughts of certain post-exilic Jews. Where then
does the mark of the desert linger? First in the peculiar _concreteness_
of the proverbs. All proverbs tend to concrete expression, but in this
respect the Jewish ones are only equalled by those of the Arabs
themselves; and this quality is shown not only in the early but also in
the later sayings. Let us illustrate the point before suggesting its
ultimate cause. The Jew said, “Two dogs killed a lion,”[25] where we
say, “Union is strength.” We say, “Familiarity breeds contempt”; they
said, “The pauper hungers without noticing it.”[26] Our tendency is to
consider riches and poverty, but they talked of the rich man and the
poor. The most remarkable example of this tendency is the conception
that gives unity to the _Book of Proverbs_, namely the idea of Wisdom.
Here, if anywhere, one would expect the abstract to be maintained. But
the individualising instinct has conquered, and in the loftiest passages
of _Proverbs_ we shall find Wisdom praised, not as an idea, but as a
person, represented as a woman of transcendent beauty and nobility. Such
abnormally concrete thinking may have its disadvantages, but at least it
will have one satisfactory quality--_humanism_. Men who thought not in
generalisations but in particular instances, who saw not classes but
individuals, could not help being great humanists. If now we ask whence
the Jewish mind received this tendency, our thoughts will have to travel
back till we discern a group of black hair-cloth tents out in the
Arabian Wilderness. In the tents are men who have learnt to pass safely
across the deserts and are at home in them as a seaman on the seas; wild
men and strong and confident, yet never careless, knowing that they can
relax vigilance only at the risk of life. For these wastes are not empty
but treacherous; apparently harmless, in reality full of peril. Security
in the desert depends on acute and untiring observation. No amount of
abstruse reasoning, no ability in speculative thought, will save life
and property there, if the first sign of a lurking foe is passed
unnoticed in the trying and deceitful light. Every faculty must be
trained to the swift perception of concrete facts, faint signs of
movement, the behaviour of men and beasts. The great sun in heaven may
be trusted to rise and set: why speculate on the mystery? While we are
lost in thought the sons of Ishmael may fall upon us. “The leisure of
the desert is vast, but it is the leisure of the sentinel.... To the
nomad on his bare, war-swept soil few things happen, but everything that
happens is ominous.”

Keen observation, then, more than any other quality, is required by
Arabia from its children. But observation is the quintessence of the art
of proverb-making, provided it be combined with practice in the
expression of one’s thoughts. As for practice in talk, one might readily
suppose that the solitudes would have made their peoples tongue-tied. In
point of fact the contrary is true, and the skill of the Jews in the
devising of proverbs, no less than their love of concrete expression,
goes back to habits engendered by this desert existence. Arabian life
provided not only long leisure for reflection but also opportunity for
social intercourse in the small tribal groups; so that the nomads came
to have a passion for story-telling and for all manner of sententious
talk, witness the customs of the Bedouin to this day and the immense
collections of Arabian proverbs. Hour after hour, with Eastern
tirelessness, the tribesmen, gathered at the tent of their sheikh, would
listen approvingly to the eloquence bred of large experience and shrewd
judgment. Here is the scene painted in the words of Doughty’s _Arabia
Deserta_: “These Orientals study little else [than the art of
conversation and narrative], as they sit all day idle in their male
societies; they learn in this school of infinite human observation to
speak to the heart of one another. His tales [referring to a Moorish
rogue, Mohammed Aly], _seasoned with saws which are the wisdom of the
unlearned_, we heard for more than two months; they were never-ending.
He told them so lively to the eye that they could not be bettered, and
part were of his own motley experience.” The Israelites carried this
habit with them from Arabia into their settled homes in Canaan. Here is
a similar scene in the hall of a modern Palestinian village-sheikh: “We
were seated on mats, spread with little squares of rich carpet round
three sides of a hollow place in the floor, where a fire of charcoal
burned, surrounded by parrot-beaked coffee pots. This was the hearth of
hospitality, whose fire is never suffered to go out; near it stood the
great stone mortar in which a black slave was crushing coffee-beans. The
coffee, deliciously flavoured with some cunning herb or other, was
passed round. But the conversation which followed was the memorable part
of that entertainment. In the shadow at the back the young men who had
been admitted sat in silence. The old men, elders of the village
community, sat in a row on stone benches right and left of the door. The
sheikh made many apologies for not having called on us at the tents--he
had thought we were merchantmen going to buy silk at Damascus. Then
followed endless over-valuation of each other, and flattery concerning
our respective parents and relations.... The elders sat silently leaning
upon their staves, except now and then, when one of them would slowly
rise and expatiate upon something the sheikh had said--perhaps about
camels or the grain crop--beginning his interruption almost literally in
the words of Job’s friends: “Hearken unto me, I also will show mine
opinion. I will answer also for my part, I also will show mine opinion.
For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me.”[27] So
has it been in Palestine time out of mind, and it is in settings of this
description that we must imagine the art of proverb-making developing in

Such, then, is the significance of these features which we have been
considering--the numerical proverbs, parallels with sayings of other
nations, the love of the Jews for proverbs with their consequent skill
in making them, and their remarkable _penchant_ for concrete expression.
Otherwise, antiquity has left few traces in the Jewish proverbs. That,
however, is but natural, since proverb-making was a living art among the
people. New maxims kept coming into use, and they crowded out of memory
the favourites of byegone generations. Doubtless a few of the sayings in
the _Book of Proverbs_ are ancient, though just how old we cannot tell.
For example, P. 27^{20}, _Sheol and Abaddon are never filled, and the
eyes of man are never sated_ may be co-æval with the fear of death and
the passion of greed. Cheyne discovers a relic of “that old nomadic love
of craft and subtlety” in the saying (Pr. 22^{3}), _A shrewd man sees
misfortune coming and conceals himself, whereas simpletons pass on and
suffer for it_; but his interpretation of the verse seems somewhat
forced. The following, however, in matter and perhaps in form also may
be nearly as ancient as the settled occupation of the land:

  _Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers set up._ (Pr. 22^{28}).

Nothing could well be easier than the removal of those
landmarks--insignificant heaps of stone, set at the end of a wide
furrow. But from earliest times the East has counted them adequate
guardians of the fields, and from generation to generation, by consent
of all decent-minded men, they have stood inviolate. Other nations, as
well as Israel, called them sacred. Greece, and Rome too, gave them a
god for their protection, Hermes of the Boundary, beside whose shrine of
heaped-up stones travellers would stay to rest, and, rested, lay an
offering of flowers or fruit before the kindly deity:

     “_I, who inherit the tossing mountain-forests of steep Cyllene
     stand here guarding the pleasant playing-fields, Hermes, to whom
     boys often offer marjoram and hyacinths and fresh garlands of

Even the thief and murderer, we are told, would hesitate before the
wickedness of moving these simple, immemorial heaps of stone: such was
their sanctity. What unutterable contempt for the laws of God and man is
therefore revealed in the multiple witness of the Old Testament[29]
against the rich and powerful in Israel, that _they_ scrupled not to
remove the landmarks of their poorer brethren? Thieves and murderers
would have kept their hands clean from such pollution:

    _Remove not the landmark of the widow,
    Into the field of the orphan enter not;
    For mighty is their Avenger,
    He will plead their cause against thee_ (Pr. 23^{10, 11}).


The Day of Small Things

Popular as the custom of making and of hearing “wise words” may have
been in ancient Israel, it is not surprising that only five or six
proverbial sayings are recorded in the early writings of the Old
Testament. For proverbs are not likely to receive mention in literature.
They are too plain for the poet, too vague for the historian, too
complaisant for the law-maker. And even these five or six, it appears,
have been preserved not for any merit they possess as proverbs: one is
of local interest only, two are picturesque, but obscure, two are the
merest truisms. The right question, therefore, is not “Why are there so
few?”, but “Why have _these_ sayings been rescued from oblivion?”; and,
being preserved, “Why should they receive our attention?”

Suppose that in Britain fifty or a hundred years hence men should quote
“It’s a long, long way to Tipperary,” when they seek an expression for
the pathos and heroism that mark the acceptance of a difficult and
perilous task--if those words live, why will they live? Obviously for no
intrinsic merit, but for the undying memory of men who counted not their
lives dear unto themselves. So with these early proverbs in the Bible.
Each of them came into quickening contact with a great personality, or
played a part in one of those fateful moments when the fortunes of a
people or the trend of human thinking has been determined this way or
that. They have lived because each has been touched by the passion of
humanity. Therefore we have to study them not in isolation from the
context, but in close connection with the scene or circumstance that
gave them unexpected immortality.

       *       *       *       *       *

(1) In days when Jerusalem was not yet Jerusalem, City of David, but
only _Jebus_, a stronghold of the Canaanites, there had been built in
the limestone uplands of Judæa an Israelitish village, _Gibeah_,
situated (as the name implies), on a hill-top, doubtless for such
security as the rising ground afforded.

At the time we are concerned with, Israel stood in sore need of every
protection her settlements could find. Baffled by the great Canaanite
fortresses, the invading Hebrews had never become absolute masters of
the land, and of recent years their fortunes had altogether failed under
the counter-pressure of new invaders, the Philistines, who had seized
the coast of Canaan and whose restless armies came sweeping up the
valleys that lead to the highlands from the plain along the sea. The
raiders harried the Judæan villages, slaying the men and carrying the
women, children and cattle captive to the lowlands. The villages were an
easy prey, and the spirit of the Israelites was broken by the miseries
of these repeated ravages. Wandering bands of religious devotees,
preaching remembrance of the power of Jehovah, kept the embers of
corporate feeling from flickering out; but, at the best, their wordy
warfare must have seemed a feeble answer to the mail-clad giants of the
Philistine hosts.

Imagine that we are standing on the hill of Gibeah, looking down the
steep pathway which leads up to the village. A few days ago a young man,
accompanied by a servant, went out to search the countryside for some
strayed animals. All in Gibeah know him well, Saul, the son of Kish, a
proper man, tall and powerful, one who in happier days might have been
a leader in Israel. Saul and his servant are returning and have almost
reached the foot of the ascent to the village. Last night they were with
Samuel at Ramah, and at day-break secretly the seer had anointed the
youth to be king over Israel; but of these events we are ignorant as
yet; we do not know that the Saul who went out will return no more. Idly
watching from the hill-top, we observe a company of devotees, who have
spent the night in Gibeah, descending the slope towards Saul. As they
approach, Saul stops and, to our faint surprise, is seen to be in speech
with them. Question and answer pass. Suddenly our listless attention
changes to astonishment. Below, excitement is rising, and on none has it
fallen more than on Saul! He begins to talk and gesticulate like a man
inspired. We raise a shout and the folk come running, and, as they see
beneath them Saul now in an ecstasy, the incredulous cry breaks forth
_Is Saul also among the prophets?_

What is the interest of this famous scene? That a proverb was born that
day in Israel? That it marked the commencement of a new stage in the
national life of Israel? More than that. The real interest is in the
transformation effected by the recognition of a personal duty. Young men
like the Saul who went out to seek the lost animals are useful members
of a State, but, had Saul remained unaltered, what waste of his latent,
unsuspected power! Saul had met devotees many times before, but their
words had roused no energies in him. One touch of the faith of Samuel,
one illuminating moment of consciousness that _to him_ God had spoken,
and--Saul was a king, and Israel again a people; despair became hope,
and hope achievement. It has always been so, whenever men have listened
to the summons of personal religion. We go upon our ordinary path a
hundred times and return as we went, uncomprehending; but if once God
meets us on the way, whether He speak by the mouth of a prophet, or, as
now, by the shock of war, the miracle is effected: we are changed into
another man.

(2) The scene of the second of these early proverbs is the steep and
rugged country that mounts from the floor of the Dead Sea valley near
Engedi. But the setting of the incident matters little; its point is all
in the play of character between two great personalities--Saul, now
nearing the dark finish of his reign and haunted by the thought that at
his death the throne will pass from his house; and David, with youth and
a good conscience to support him but fleeing for his life from the
jealous king and hard pressed by the royal soldiery. Saul has entered a
cave, unaware that David is hiding in its recesses. David suffers him to
go out unharmed and still ignorant of his peril; but quietly he follows
Saul to the sunlight at the cave’s mouth, and standing there, as the
King moves off, he calls, “O my lord the King!” At the clear, musical,
voice of the man he half-loves, half-hates, and cannot kill, Saul in
astonishment turns to hear these words: “_Wherefore hearkenest thou to
men’s words saying ‘Behold David seeketh thy hurt’? Behold this day the
Lord had delivered thee into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me
kill thee; but mine eye spared thee and I said ‘I will not put forth
mine hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ Moreover, my
father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand: for in that I
cut the skirt of thy robe and killed thee not, know thou and see that
there is neither evil nor transgression in my hand, and I have not
sinned against thee, though thou huntest after my soul to take it. The
Lord judge between me and thee, and avenge me of thee: but mine hand
shall not be upon thee. As saith the proverb of the ancients_, Out of
the wicked cometh forth wickedness: _but mine hand shall not be upon
thee_.” We can see how David meant it, that proverb of the ancients. It
leapt to his lips in eager protestation. How could Saul deem him
capable of a deed of foulest treachery? Why could he not see that only
out of the basest of men could such dire wickedness proceed? But into
the mind of Saul the saying sank with double edge. What had _he_ done
towards the making of this scene--that red mist of passion when he flung
the javelin; those cold and cunning plots to lure David into adventure
that would be his death; the unrelaxing hunt to catch and kill? Saul for
an instant saw his soul laid bare by the ancient proverb: he at least
was a man from whom great wickedness had come, and “A good tree cannot
bring forth corrupt fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good
fruit.” _And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. And he said to David,
“Thou art more righteous than I, for thou hast rendered unto me good,
whereas I have rendered unto thee evil.”_ A few years later the King lay
dead and vanquished on Mount Gilboa. From that day to this men have not
ceased to find in him a text for moralising, with some justice but with
strangely little sympathy, seeing that he sinned in one thing and paid a
heavy penalty. Which was the real Saul? The King crazy with murderous
hatred, or the man who answered David’s generosity in those noble words,
who once “was among the prophets,” who had made Israel again a people
and so long time had held the Philistines at bay? It does not greatly
matter if men reply “the mad Saul, who died believing himself forsaken
of God”; and so push their moralisings home. But on which Saul does the
Divine judgment pass? One man, more than all others, had reason to
condemn, and he did more than pardon. He sang of Saul slain on Gilboa,
_How are the mighty fallen?... Saul and Jonathan were lovely and
pleasant in their lives, and in their deaths they were not divided._

(3) In the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel two popular sayings are
mentioned, which may be considered together, for their burden is one.

(_a_) _Behold, everyone that useth proverbs shall use this proverb
against thee saying_, =As is the mother, so is the daughter= (_Ezekiel_

(_b_) _But it shall come to pass that like as I have watched over them
to pluck up and to break down and to overthrow and to destroy and to
afflict; so will I watch over them to build and to plant, saith the
Lord. In those days they shall say no more_, =The fathers have eaten sour
grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge=. _But every one shall
die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grapes his
teeth shall be set on edge_ (_Jeremiah_ 31^{28-30}); and to the same
effect, this from Ezekiel, _The word of the Lord came unto me saying,
What mean ye that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel,
saying_, =The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth
are set on edge=? _As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have cause
any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are Mine: as
the soul of the father so also the soul of the son is Mine: the soul
that sinneth, it shall die. But if a man be just, and do that which is
lawful and right ... hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread
to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment ... he is just,
he shall surely live, saith the Lord God_ (_Ezekiel_ 18^{1^{ff}}).

Heredity, the question at issue in these passages, presents a more
complex and stringent problem to the modern mind than to the ancient.
But it would be a great error to suppose that the Jewish thinkers were
less concerned about it, or that its consequences seemed to them less
bitter. Indeed for the Hebrews the problem had a sinister back-ground
which for us has sunk far out of sight. The solidarity of the tribe or
family was a fearsome reality in days when for the sin of one member
vengeance would fall upon the whole community or household. Recollect
the story of Achan, who stole from the sacred spoil a Babylonish mantle,
silver, and a wedge of gold: _Wherefore Joshua and all Israel with him
took Achan_ AND _his sons and his daughters and his oxen and his asses
and his sheep and his tent and all that he had, and burned them with
fire and stoned them with stones_.[30] There was a grim wisdom in the
ancient procedure. Man has had a stern fight for existence. How far can
he tolerate “handicaps” in the contest? What can be expected from
children of corrupt and vicious parents? Good citizens? “Men do not
gather grapes of thorns.” Yet who could fail to see that the children
were so far innocent; and therefore, whilst Achan died unpitied and
forgotten, perhaps their young voices and terror-stricken looks remained
an uneasy memory in the minds of those who stood consenting unto their
death? Was it necessary that the child should be irretrievably ruined
through his father’s guilt?

By the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, as the quotations show, the problem
had deepened and become general. In the perils, hardships, and disasters
which marked the decline and fall of the Judæan kingdom men felt that
the whole nation was suffering the consequences of their fathers’
iniquities, and bitterly they quoted the saying _The fathers have eaten
sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge_. That way lay
despair: Let us too eat of the grapes and drink of their wine and be
merry, since to-morrow we die! Even the prophets experienced the
temptation to hopelessness; as when Ezekiel, wrestling with Judah sunk
in the old sins, thinks that in future days men will still have to cast
at her the charge of idolatries handed down from the ancient Canaanites:
_as is the mother so is the daughter_. But Jeremiah and Ezekiel both
fought their way through to a new conception of life, and this it is
which is proclaimed in the two chief passages quoted above. Deliverance
from the entail of evil is, they declare, possible; man is not
immovably fastened in chains which his ancestors have forged.

So stands religion to-day, claiming power in the building of human
character. Fuller recognition and much deeper comprehension of the works
of heredity (as also of environment) are desirable and are not inimical
to a religious interpretation of human nature. Religion lays stress on
these two points. First, the fact that if there is an entail of evil
there is also an entail of good, together with the judgement that the
inheritance of good is the greater and ought to be made supreme: that as
St. Paul insisted _Where sin did abound, grace doth much more
abound_[31]. And, secondly, religion insists on the reality of that
power of self-determination which would seem to be characteristic of
every living being and in Man to be of primary importance. All that we
may become does not follow inexorably from what we now are. What we have
become was not wholly involved in what we were. Crude determinism is
either an Eastern idleness or a pedant’s nightmare, and freedom, though
it slips through the meshes of our clumsy analysis is a reality. To each
in measure it is given, though one may misuse it into the atrophy of
evil habit, whilst another may use it unto the liberty of the children
of God. We inherit, but, inheriting, we also originate. We are created,
but are also creators. We are pressed by our environment, but our
environment may become Christ, whose service is perfect freedom.

(4) One other embedded proverb occurs in a passage of _Ezekiel_ (12^{21,
22}): _And the word of the Lord came unto me saying, “Son of man, what
is this proverb that ye have in the land of Israel saying_, =The days are
prolonged, and every= =vision faileth=?” Other lands besides Israel have
echoed those despairing words. It is hard not to feel in a
city-settlement that “the days are prolonged”; hard in a half-filled
church not to wonder if “every vision faileth.” But a true man will
still hold to the instinct that somehow his hopes are certainties, and
will make answer with Israel’s prophet thus: _Tell them therefore, “Thus
saith the Lord God: I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no
more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, ‘The days are at
hand, and the fulfilment of every vision.’”_

A man who finds himself without confidence in God or man might save
himself from pessimism by a study of the intellectual, moral and
spiritual achievements of the Hebrew prophets.[32] Looking back on
Jewish history it is manifest that the spiritual longings of these great
personalities were realised to a wonderful extent and in ways impossible
for themselves or their contemporaries to perceive or anticipate. Things
did work together for good to those Jews who sought to discover the will
of God and, despite perplexity and hardship, refused to abandon their
imperfect but advancing faith. Thus even the Exile, apparently the
dissolution of Israel’s life, proved to be the very means of its
preservation and subsequent extension to a position of world-wide
influence. No one who has realised on the one hand the overwhelming
difficulties against which the prophets had to contend, the frankness
with which they faced the naked facts, their own agonising struggle of
soul against doubt and despair, and on the other side the ultimate
vindication of their faith; no one with that knowledge clear before him
will find it easy wholly to despair of men, or to cast from him for ever
the hope of God.

       *       *       *       *       *

Besides these few incidental proverbs, the pre-exilic literature of the
Old Testament fortunately has preserved occasional glimpses of the
_makers of proverbs_ in Israel, and to these we now turn. We shall then
be prepared to study the special development of Jewish proverbs which
furnishes the chief interest of our subject. It will be convenient first
to set down the evidential passages consecutively, and afterwards to
consider their significance.

(_a_) The narrative in _2 Samuel_ 14^{1^{ff}} relating the stratagem by
which Joab succeeded in reconciling King David to his son Absalom begins
thus: _Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart was
towards Absalom. And Joab sent to Tekoa and fetched thence_ =a wise

(_b_) The second passage is in _2 Samuel_ 20^{16-22}--Joab, as David’s
general, having pursued the rebel Sheba into the North of Israel, has
compelled him to take refuge in the town of Abel, and is on the point of
breaching the wall and capturing the city, when _there cried unto him_ =a
wise woman= _out of the city ... and she said unto him “There is a
saying_, =To finish your business ask counsel at Abel=.”[33] _Thou seekest
to destroy a city and a mother in Israel. And Joab answered and said,
“Far be it from me that I should swallow and destroy. But ... Sheba the
son of Bichri ... deliver him only, and I will depart from the city.”
And the woman said unto Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee
over the wall.”_ =Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom.=

(_c_) The famous passage in which the wisdom of King Solomon is
extolled, _1 Kings_ 4^{29-34}: _And God gave Solomon wisdom and
understanding exceeding much and largeness of heart, even as the sand
that is on the sea shore_. =And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of
all the children of the East= (_i.e._ Arabia) =and all the wisdom of
Egypt=. _For he was wiser than all men: than Ethan the Ezrahite, and
Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in
all the nations round about._ =And he spake three thousand proverbs=: _and
his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the
cedar that is in Lebanon unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall;
he spake also of beasts and of fowl and of creeping things and of

(_d_) _Isaiah_ 29^{13, 14}: _And the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people
draw nigh with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have
removed their heart far from me and their fear of me is a commandment of
men which hath been taught them; therefore behold I will again do a
marvellous work among this people ... and_ =the wisdom of their wise men=
_shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid_.

(_e_) _Jeremiah_ 18^{18} (cp. 8^{8} and 9^{23}): _Then said they, Come
and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish
from the priest, nor_ =counsel from the wise=, _nor the word from the

Of these passages the first two show that there was a “Wisdom” in Israel
before Solomon, that it was concerned with prudential counsel as to the
conduct of life, and was associated with the use of maxims, some of
which had passed into well-known proverbs; and further that certain
persons (often, perhaps generally, women) were recognised as of
pre-eminent skill in this giving of advice; and that townships
(doubtless with a shrewd eye to the increase of their commerce) vied one
with another in vaunting their respective sages. Slight as this evidence
may be, it is sufficient, because it is in accord with the facts of
later periods and with that liking for sententious talk which we have
noted as characteristic of the Semites from very early ages. Observe
also how in the third passage the wisdom of Solomon is not regarded as a
quality peculiar to himself. True, he possessed wisdom in a rare or
superlative degree, but it was _comparable_ with the “Wisdom of the
East” (Arabia) and the “Wisdom of Egypt.” Nor was Solomon alone in his
wisdom. To him the first place; but he had great rivals whose names
posterity thought worth preserving. One suspects that the King’s
reputation for sagacity may have been enhanced by his royal estate, and
that in the passage quoted from the _Book of Kings_ we see him through
the haze of grandeur with which later generations encircled his reign.
Even so, the tradition of his wisdom stands, and like all firm
traditions has a basis in fact. What inferences should we draw? Not that
the three thousand proverbs with which tradition credited Solomon are
those preserved in the _Book of Proverbs_, despite the fact that the
main sections of the Book are prefaced by titles ascribing them to
him.[34] A few of the proverbs may have been spoken by Solomon himself
or at his court by persons renowned for sagacity, but nothing more than
that is probable.[35] Two positive conclusions seem tenable. First,
that King Solomon made a profound impression on his contemporaries by
reason of his subtle judgment, and his ability to express his thoughts
in just such moralistic maxims, comparisons, parables, and fables, as
the Wise were wont to use. In fact, the King was a Wise-man and a
Wise-man was King.[36] No wonder that his renown grew until he became,
so to speak, the patron saint of Wisdom in Israel, with whose authority
any “Wise” words might fittingly be associated. But further in view of
the aptitude shown by the King for the art of the Wise, it is reasonable
to believe that their prestige at this period must have been greatly
enhanced in the estimation of all classes. The man of Wisdom was
_persona grata_ at Court. And what more is needed to secure a

Hence it is not unexpected, though very interesting, to find two or
three centuries later that when Isaiah and Jeremiah speak of the Wise
they refer to them as an influence in the land ranking with the prophets
and the ceremonial religion. To the true prophets it appeared to be an
influence not always for good, or even inimical to their moral idealism.
Thus Isaiah declares that in the glorious day when Jehovah reveals His
truth _the Wisdom of the wise men shall perish_ (_Isaiah_ 29^{14}); and
Jeremiah gives as the reason why his enemies consider that his death or
imprisonment would be small loss to the nation their belief that “_the
law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the
word from the prophet_” (_Jer._ 18^{18}).

This evidence might be augmented by passages in the _Book of Job_,
where, for instance, the wisdom of Israel is described as an ancient,
though living, tradition: it is _that which wise men have told from
their fathers_ (_Job_ 15^{18}.) But enough has been said. To sum up, it
appears that the Hebrews, like their near kinsmen the Arabs, loved to
listen to the conversation of those, who, having ripe experience, shrewd
wits, and a sharp tongue, were able to cast their reflections on life
into parables and maxims which the hearer could readily remember.
Persons with an aptitude for such discourse were acknowledged among
their fellows as “wise.” Anyone with the necessary intelligence and
dignity might acquire this reputation. The Wise were never sharply
differentiated from the rest of the community; they did not become a
strict order or a caste like the priests, but remained a type or class;
a class, however, of such importance that it could be spoken of in the
same breath with the prophets and the priests. Egyptian analogies
suggest that the Wise may have taken on themselves duties in the
instruction of the young: but just what these early sages said and
thought we cannot ascertain. Nor is it likely we have lost much in
consequence. Some of their favourite sayings may eventually have been
incorporated in the _Book of Proverbs_, but the antagonism of the great
prophets shows that they were not enthusiasts for reform, and doubtless
the bulk of their maxims were prudential counsels suitable to the
standards of the age. In short, their teaching must have been desultory,
lacking the inspiration of a definite purpose and a clearly conceived
ideal. Thus far we find nothing that matters to the modern world,
nothing to awaken more than a flicker of our interest. No reason has yet
appeared to prompt the hope that Israel would make more of her Wisdom
than Edom or Egypt of theirs, and that was little enough. In all this we
find only “the Day of Small Things,” and need dwell no longer on its
trifles. But equally we ought to avoid the folly of despising it. The
Hebrews, after all, were not precisely as their neighbours of Philistia,
Edom, or Egypt. Behind them they had, as a people, an astonishing
history, and in their midst a succession of amazing men, the prophets
who had prophesied to them words which it was not possible should die,
seeds of the ultimate Wisdom. In Judah there was growing up a capacity
for faith, a spiritual interpretation of life and an enlightenment of
moral conscience unique in the ancient world. Hence Israel’s Wise-men
were not as other Wise-men; they had great potentialities. At length,
after the exile, circumstances came to pass which favoured the
development of latent genius in these men. All that had been needed was
an immediate stimulus, a liberating idea, a flash to kindle the flame.


Iron Sharpeneth Iron

Life is very jealous of its secrets, and it is only by irrepressible
questioning that man has read what he has read of the truth. The
insurgent “Why?” of our early years is perhaps the one childish
thing weought to cherish to our dying day. All sorts of
evil things--surface-familiarity, routine, but above all
self-satisfaction--combine to stifle and to end our curiosity; at length
we acquiesce in and forget our ignorance, and thereafter stand with our
prejudices cumbering the ground for those who would go further.
Questioning is health to the soul, and perhaps success is to be measured
not by the fulness of the answers we receive but by our eagerness in

Almost everyone knows that there is in the Bible a _Book of Proverbs_. A
few of its sayings are in daily use. Most men have read a chapter or
two. But at that point knowledge is apt to flag. What lack of
enterprise! It is like giving up an excursion at the first mile-stone.
Why should there be a _Book of Proverbs_? Why did men think it worth
transmitting, and why did they finally count it sacred literature? Why
has it just the form it has? How comes it, for instance, that single
sayings have sometimes blossomed into little essays, and brief
comparisons grown into finished pictures? What is the note of clear
intention which pervades the chapters and gives them a certain unity and
individuality? Zeal and energy characterise the Book. Zeal for what? The
previous chapter indicates that the answer to that last question may be
stated concisely in the one word “Wisdom,” the meaning of which
subsequent pages will unfold. The aim of the present chapter is to
discover an adequate reason for the _zeal_.

Not seldom it happens that enthusiasm for a cause is first provoked by
opposition. For example, belief that international relationships ought
to be governed by ethical principles was generally and genuinely held by
the vast majority of English-speaking people in 1914; but the belief
lacked energising force. It seemed enough to entertain it. Of the
existence of a fundamentally different conception--that Might is the
ultimate right in national affairs--we were of course aware, but the
knowledge did not disturb us greatly. We fondly imagined that after some
more debate, and a little more reflection, so unenlightened and
unneighbourly a notion must disappear. When, however, Germany suddenly
put false theory into infamous practice, mark how our amiable opinion
became not only an urgent and indispensable ideal, but a definite policy
which must at all costs be upheld and made effective, if humanity was to
be saved from the yoke of an utterly immoral tyranny. In a moment we
realised the awful immediacy of the issue that had been at stake. The
debate was not as we supposed, on paper. Here was no wordy strife. Nay!
the battle at our gates was not confined even to the quick bodies of
men; it penetrated to the very mind and spirit, so that almost St.
Paul’s words seemed again in place: “Ours is not a conflict with mere
flesh and blood, but with ... the spiritual hosts of evil arrayed
against us in the heavenly places.”[37]

Similarly it was an insistent menace that roused the fervour of the
Wise-men of Israel. Subtle but deadly opposition compelled them either
to champion their cause or see it fall. Wisdom in consequence acquired a
firmer outline. Because another Creed was in the air, it also became a
definite “Way of life.” The issues were clarified, the trend of things
revealed. It was felt there were but two paths for a man to choose, now
sharply defined and seen to lead in opposite directions:

    _Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings,
    And the years of thy life shall be many.
    I have taught thee in the way of Wisdom,
    I have led thee in paths of uprightness.
    When thou goest thy steps shall not be straightened,
    And if thou runnest thou shalt not stumble.
    Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go:
    Keep her, for she is thy life.
      Enter not into the paths of the wicked,
    And walk not in the way of evil men.
    Avoid it, pass not by it;
    Turn from it, and pass on.
    For they sleep not except they have done mischief;
    And their sleep is taken away unless they cause some to fall.
    For they eat the bread of wickedness
    And drink the wine of violence.
      But the path of the righteous is as the shining light,
    That shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
    The way of the wicked is as darkness
    They know not at what they stumble._ (Pr. 4^{10-19})[38].

What then, was Wisdom’s opponent? Not Folly in the perennial sense, else
where was the novelty of the situation? The foe was Folly masquerading
as Wisdom, a specious spurious Wisdom which, said the Jewish moralists,
despite appearances was No-Wisdom. But if it was not the reality, it was
very like it; for the false Wisdom was beautiful, brilliant, and
exceedingly effective, had all the rights of sovereignty save one, all
the qualities of permanence save one--a firm basis in morality. It
lacked only the “fear of the Lord,” which the Jew defined as “to depart
from evil,” and which he held to be the one possible foundation for the
truly wise life. Not having that, it was but the devil robed as an angel
of light, Folly of Follies, a Temple of Wisdom founded upon the sand.

In order to do justice to the efforts made by the Jews of the third and
second centuries B.C. to maintain an intellectual, moral and spiritual
independence in face of the new learning, or rather the new manner of
life we are about to describe, it is necessary to appreciate not only
the force of the attack but also the limited resources of the defence.
Let us begin therefore by striving to realise the position of the
Palestinian Jews in the ancient world.[39] The overwhelming religious
importance of the Jews has so distorted the proportions of that world
that even the professed student of antiquity finds it difficult to
recover the true perspective and realise their geographical and
historical insignificance. Without pausing to reflect, answer this
question, “Which were the chief nations of antiquity?” “The Jews, the
Greeks, the Romans,” is perhaps the reply that would rise most readily
to your lips. But as well might one classify the inhabitants of the
modern Western world into Manxmen, Europeans, and Americans! “Which were
the famous countries of the pre-Christian era?” “Palestine, Egypt,
Assyria, and Babylonia,” might be our response. But the Egyptians and
Babylonians did not hang with breathless interest on the fortunes of
Palestine, as we are naturally prone to imagine. They cared no more for
the fate of Jerusalem than modern Europe does for the fortunes of
Monaco. Now and again a king of Egypt marching north along the
Philistine plain, or a grand monarch of Babylon, sweeping south to the
borders of Nile, might turn aside a fraction of his host to ravage and
overcome the Judæan highlands. But, as a rule, Jerusalem, not being on
the main track of conquest, was not vitally affected by the coming and
going of the huge armies that issued periodically from the northern and
southern Empires.

And next consider how unimportant even in Palestine were the Jews of
post-exilic days. The history of that country is familiar to us only
from the records of the Jewish Scriptures. If with the same fulness we
could hear the story from the standpoint of Israel’s neighbours the
proportions of things might seem immensely changed. How hard it is to
remember that Solomon in all his glory had no authority in Philistine
towns thirty miles away; and that Hiram of Tyre doubtless considered
himself every whit as great a lord as the ruler of Jerusalem, and
perhaps more highly civilised, certainly his superior in the matter of
arts and crafts. In 722 B.C., with the capture of Samaria, the northern
kingdom of Israel passed out of history, and with the influx of alien
settlers into its desolated territory the district became semi-heathen.
In 586 B.C. a like fate befell the little kingdom of Judah, the Temple
of Jerusalem being burnt, the city walls destroyed and the upper classes
carried off to Babylonia. Thereafter for a period of a century and a
half Jerusalem existed only as an enfeebled, unfortified township. The
return of exiles from Babylon in the reign of Cyrus (537 B.C.), though
the fame of it bulked large in Jewish tradition, was no great increase
of strength, perhaps little more than the accession of a few influential
families. Not until a century later in the time of Nehemiah, about 432
B.C., did the Jews feel that their political history had recommenced;
and, even so, the work of Nehemiah was not the creation of a kingdom for
his people but the circumvallation of their one city. With its walls
restored Jerusalem might again be said to exist, a defenced city, no
longer dependent on the mercy of petty and jealous neighbours. But the
territories of the Jews remained much as before; namely the fields and
little villages to a distance of some ten or fifteen miles around
Jerusalem. Nor was there any considerable extension of purely Jewish
land until the successes of the Maccabees were gained in 166 B.C. To sum
up. Even after the work of Nehemiah had been accomplished, the Jewish
State in Palestine was still no more than an insignificant upland
community, a drop in the ocean of pagan races enclosing it; a tract some
fifteen miles in length and breadth with Jerusalem as its only city.
Doubtless the Jews were encouraged by the prosperity of their kinsfolk
in the great cities of Babylonia, Syria and Egypt. But that was a source
only of moral or financial help, not of physical protection: and to the
east were the wild nomadic tribes, and south of Jerusalem the
treacherous Edomites, and to the north the worse than alien Samaritans,
whose Temple on Mount Gerizim challenged Jerusalem’s last glory, its
spiritual pre-eminence. Galilee was heathen land; on the west were the
splendid heathen cities of the coast; and far to the distant south
beyond mysterious Nile and away to the most distant north ranged the
vast territories of heathen monarchs before whose military power and
worldly splendour Jerusalem was altogether less than nothing and vanity.

In 332 B.C. a thunderbolt smote all the countries of the near East. In
that year a European army, led by the young king of Macedonia, Alexander
the Great, invaded Asia Minor--with such astonishing effects that the
event marks the commencement of a distinct epoch in history, the Greek
or Hellenic age. Military conquests prove sometimes to be of small
consequence in the great movement of human affairs, and famous battles
often have decided no more than that so many thousand men should die
untimely deaths and that this royal house instead of that should hold
the throne: an almost meaningless result. Only those wars are decisive
which, like the present one, involve the dominance of one or other of
two divergent conceptions or ideals of human life. Now the conquests of
Alexander were of this latter character; and, that being so, their
significance has to be measured not only from the standpoint of events
but also from the history of ideas. At this point then--the coming of
the Greeks to the East--let our narrative be checked for a moment that
we may reach the same event by following up a different line of thought,
namely the history of the development of human society. What is the
significance of Alexander from that point of view? Our aim in examining
the question will have to be threefold; to present (of course, in
simplest outline) _first_, the ruling principles of the Eastern or
Oriental manner of life; _secondly_, the Western--that is, the Greek or
Hellenic--ideals; and _thirdly_, the attempt of Alexander and his
successors to impose this Hellenic culture upon the Easterns and, in
particular, upon the Jews in Palestine.

1. First, of ancient Oriental life. In a previous chapter it was said
that behind Palestine looms Arabia and beneath the Jew is the Arab. From
before the dawn of history the immense grass-lands of Arabia have been
peopled by small nomadic tribes who derived a sufficient livelihood from
the flocks they possessed and followed. All the organised life of the
Semitic races, with whom alone we are here concerned, has its instincts
rooted in this nomadic existence, about which much might profitably be
said; but only one point is essential, and to that our remarks will be
confined. It is that these pastoral communities have solved the problem
of life under existing circumstances. The rigid limitations of their
physical surroundings dictates a narrow circle of ambitions beyond which
they do not pass, so long as the conditions remain unchanged. For not
only have they discovered how to live, but they have found out the best
way of living, within their simple, monotonous world. Therefore they
continue, but they do not change. Progress was practically unthought of,
certainly undesired; and in fact the life of the modern Bedouin of
Arabia is still in its essentials the same as that depicted in the _Book
of Genesis_. But about 3000 B.C., for the first time though not the last
time in history, Arabia became overcrowded, in the sense that its
pasturage was insufficient to sustain the population, and multitudes of
nomads, hunger-driven, poured forth into the fertile territories
bordering the deserts. There the arts of agriculture and of building
were learnt, settled communities formed, tribal organisation yielded to
larger groups, kingdoms arose, and eventually great empires. But the
civilised life of the Semites proved to be as lacking in the instinct
for progress, whether material, moral or intellectual, as in its simpler
way the original pastoral existence has been. Life in Semitic towns
became richer and more complex up to a certain point, but there ambition
faded, and the ingrained habit of acquiescence in existing circumstances
prevailed, hindering and preventing further growth. Thus, politically,
this eastern civilisation was characterised by the mass of the people
seeking no share in their own government. They were content to be ruled
by authorities whom they seldom created and never effectively
controlled. It has been truly said that the kings of the East fought
over the heads of their subjects. The affairs of a baker in Jerusalem, a
merchant in Gaza, a craftsman in Tyre (provided the victorious army left
him alive) were unaltered by the rise and fall of his rulers. To the
bulk of the inhabitants of the Palestinian towns it mattered little
whether they were temporarily independent or were under the heel now of
Babylon, now of Egypt, now of Persia. Men hoped for no more than that
trade should be possible, food obtainable, and that the injustice in
the realm should be--not abolished (no one was so mad as to entertain
the notion) but--kept within tolerable bounds. For the rest, what more
could a man desire than to live as had his father before him? Ancestral
custom held the whole of life in its paralysing grasp, and choked
initiative. The potter sought no new patterns; what was wrong with the
old? Why devise a new method of ploughing, when the old way grew the
crops? Innovation was an altogether hateful thing. Hence, however
populous Eastern towns might grow, however active and prosperous their
commerce, life in them was essentially stationary, its ambitions
limited, its possibilities achieved. In all Palestine there was but one
spark of unexhausted thought; namely, the conception of God which the
great prophets of Israel had discovered and transmitted to their people.
Evidently a nation which remembered such words as these: _I hate, I
despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn
assemblies. Yea, though ye offer me your burnt offerings and meal
offerings I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace
offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy
songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let justice roll
down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream_[40]--that nation
is not finished; it has living seed within its soil. Yes, but against
this confident assertion recall how shrunken and enfeebled the Jewish
community had become. Further, remember that in all things except their
religion and their morality these Jews were part and parcel of the
general Oriental civilisation. In their civil occupations, their
commercial and agricultural methods, they also were just as much slaves
of tradition and as content with their bondage, as were their
neighbours. “Slaves of tradition,” how much the words cover! If even
dimly we could realise the misery, disease and squalor of the poor, the
degradation of womanhood, in those tradition-ridden Eastern towns; if we
could taste like gall and bitterness in our own experience one
thousandth part of the injustice and cruelties of those “contented”
despotisms; “A stationary civilisation, having reached the limit of its
ambitions”--how easily the phrase is framed!--if we could feel how much
that meagre consummation left to be desired, the words would seem to be
written in blood and blotted with tears!

2. Meanwhile in Europe, across the blue seas of the Eastern
Mediterranean, a new thing had come to pass: an organisation of human
life different in form and in intention because different in mind and
spirit. By its means the intellectual powers and artistic achievements
of man were swiftly to be raised to an unimagined splendour, and, even
so, _to remain unexhausted_: we say “unexhausted” because the inspiring
and energising ideas which Greek genius was the first to realise and
accept have never ceased to operate, being in fact the intellectual
principles upon which Western civilisation has been constructed, and
providing the ideal towards which the development of society is still
directed. Doubtless there is terribly much to deplore in modern life; we
are far from wisdom, peace and true prosperity; it may be doubted
whether the conditions of the poor under modern industrialism are not,
in places, worse than anything even the East can show. And yet there is
one incalculable difference revolutionising the whole prospect. Unlike
the East, we do not acquiesce in existing evils. We are not exhausted,
not apathetically willing to accept things as they are. We spurn as
nonsense and cowardice any suggestions that the limit of human
development has been attained. Vehemently and hopefully we insist on the
achievement of better things. Not all the errors of the past and the
resultant evils of the present daunt us. We are rebels against our
failures, and our discontent is the measure of our vitality. This
instinct for improvement, which is the characteristic of Western life,
we owe--an infinite debt--to the people whose coming into history we
have now, briefly, to relate.

As early as before 2000 B.C., the islands of the Eastern Mediterranean,
together with certain parts of the mainland of Greece, were the home of
a vigorous sea-faring people, possessing remarkable artistic talent.
Their civilisation is now known by the name Minoan. Somewhere between
1200 and 1100 B.C. catastrophic disaster befel this race. Out of the
immense grass-lands which stretch from the plains of Hungary in Europe
eastward right across central Asia there issued a multitude of men,
moving southward with their wives and families. The invaders swept down
into Thessaly and Greece, filling the mainland and pressing onwards
across the sea to the Ægean Isles, massacring or enslaving the Minoan
inhabitants. But if the newcomers at first brought ruin to a more highly
developed race, they had their own virtues. They carried with them a
fresh vigour, like a breeze from the north. Hardy and simple, they were
not rude savages; they had learnt the use of wheeled vehicles, they had
tamed the horse, and above all they possessed, as individuals, a certain
sturdy independence and an uncommon open-mindedness. Fortunately, the
older population was not extinguished; large numbers survived as slaves,
and from these in time the “horse-tamers”--as the conquerors loved to
style themselves--learnt for themselves the secrets of the Minoan arts
and crafts. With astonishing rapidity they were to improve upon their

Owing to the mountainous character of Greece and the indentations of its
coast, the invaders were split into many separate communities, each
easily controlling the small plains and valleys in the immediate
neighbourhood, but finding it difficult, if not unnatural, to extend its
rule beyond the mountain passes. For defensive purposes the members of
these small groups naturally tended to inhabit a single fortified town,
which became the all-absorbing centre of the tiny state; the town being,
as it were, a stronghold and its territories a garden round it. Thus
there came into existence what is known as “the Greek City-State.” Like
the Arabian tribes who also had passed from nomadism to settled life,
each of these new communities fell for a time under some form of
despotic government, now the rule of one man, a King or “Tyrant,” now of
a clique of rich and powerful persons, an Aristocracy. But there was
something in the character of the Greeks which proved intolerant of such
organisation, and, unlike the Arabians, they passed beyond that
experience and developed a novel and, as events were to prove, an
invaluable social system to which they gave the name “Democracy.” The
foundation principle of the democratic state lay in the conviction that
every adult free-born citizen, being an integral part of the state,
contributing to its prosperity and security, was entitled to a share in
its government. Slaves were outside the franchise, but all others
whether base-born or noble, rich or poor, clever or stupid, were
citizens--each with a vote and a voice in the direction of public
policy, internal and external. To this citizen-body belonged the power
of electing from among themselves officers, both civil magistrates and
military commanders, to whom administration was _temporarily_ entrusted,
and who were ultimately responsible for their actions to the
citizen-body. Under happy fortune this system was adopted as the
constitution of society in the leading Greek cities. Mark the mental and
moral qualities thereby engendered. In the first place men became
exhilaratingly conscious that they possessed individual freedom combined
with corporate strength. Each citizen felt himself to be of political
importance, an organic part of the state, entitled on the one hand to a
share in its glory and its privileges, and on the other responsible
himself for the general welfare. How can the epoch-making importance of
this fact adequately be emphasised? In primitive patriarchal society the
individual had been free but only within the narrow limits imposed by
the rigidity of custom and the bare simplicity of rudimentary life. And
civilised town-life of the Eastern type, as we have seen, was complex
and magnificent in many ways, but nevertheless had missed the secret of
advancing freedom. Intellectually it hated novelties. Politically it
made men either kings or the slaves of kings, giving them either too
great importance or none at all. Hence the larger the Eastern town, the
more powerful and extensive the State, the less was the mass of the
people personally concerned in their civil or military affairs.
“Freedom” in an Eastern city meant anarchy. The Greeks succeeded in
bringing freedom and civilisation into organic union. So far from
choking liberty, the connection of each Greek citizen with his city was
perceived to be the very cause of the freedom he enjoyed, the means by
which his privileges were multiplied and secured. Hence the greater the
organisation of society the greater the opportunities each citizen
acquired for the development of personal talent and inclination. It is
assuredly no exaggeration to describe such an achievement as

Along with political freedom went mental freedom. Interchange of opinion
took place easily and continually between all grades of the free
community. The general obligation to promote the social, commercial, and
military well-being of the state stimulated discussion and gave to
debate the piquancy and solemnity of serious issues. A Greek might be
poor, but he could hold up his head with the richest as a member of the
citizen army and the citizen electorate; and in the citizen assembly he
need not be a gray-beard to be reckoned wise. Mental ability became the
test of worth, and the benumbing tyranny of tradition was overthrown; at
least its unquestioned rule was at an end. Custom must henceforth submit
to criticism and seek to justify itself. Enterprise, enquiry, innovation
became the order of the day. It was the emancipation of the human

Moreover, since the rough work of society was performed by the slave
population, Greek citizens found much leisure at their disposal. Herein
was obviously a danger, but also an opportunity; and fortunately the
genius of the people was not found wanting, so that, in the early days
the Greeks turned their leisure to good purpose, physical and
intellectual. Part of their leisure was devoted to physical exercises,
running, wrestling, boxing, throwing the _discus_, chariot-racing; and
in the healthful competition of these games in stadium and hippodrome
they found continual pleasure. But their ardour for mental exercise was
even keener. They began to think with restless energy and with brilliant
results; men of genius, poets, historians, philosophers, and artists, by
their matchless achievements raised the intellectual interests of their
contemporaries to an extraordinary extent. In general, the Greeks
acquired a wonderful feeling for proportion and natural rhythmic beauty.
“Nothing in excess” became their motto, but what was meant thereby was
no timid mediocrity, but an avoidance of extreme, wherever the extreme
was grotesque or foolish. Men sought an equipoise of perfection, and
felt infinite delight in the increasing measure of their success. Within
a few hundred years the Greeks had produced masterpieces of art and
literature which few nations have been able even to rival, none to

In short, three characteristics distinguished Greek or Hellenic
civilisation: First, _Emulation_. Men vied one with another, vied with
their own past efforts. They sought to excel and achieved excellence.
Second, _Intellectualism_. The critical faculties of the mind were
increasingly released from the trammels of tradition. Reason became the
touchstone of life in all its aspects; and thus, just as in our own age,
the immense destructive and constructive energies of the free
intelligence were ceaselessly set to work. Third, _Patriotism_. This
third quality calls for fuller comment, for it was the main source of
Greek morality. Greek religion contributed something to the growth of
moral principles, but less than one might imagine. Its ethical interest
for the most part was limited to inculcating the fear lest Divine
vengeance should follow _gross_ outrage of the normal decencies of life.
Doubtless also the artistic sense fostered love of the good, since, as a
rule, what is wicked appears to men to be ugly; yet the fruits from this
source also were not much to boast of. But from the intense patriotism
fostered by the City-States came great moral consequences. The interests
of the State claimed men’s allegiance, and the claim was nobly answered.
Not only great-hearted leaders but also masses of ordinary men were
willing to set the public weal above their individual prosperity or
security. In striving to be noble citizens men became noble men.
Thousands and thousands were conscious that they could not live unto
themselves--without shame. Altruism was a searching reality in their
lives, and its burdens were loyally, even gladly, accepted. Men were
very zealous for their city, longing for its honour and renown, ready to
toil for it, to face hardship and peril on its behalf, and for its
safety to die unflinchingly. And no less measure of sacrifice was all
too frequently required from the citizens of these ambitious and
war-like little States. Let their own words tell how they met the
supreme call: “Through these men’s valour, the smoke of the burning of
wide-floored Tegea went not up to heaven, who chose to leave the city
glad and free to their children, and themselves to die in the forefront
of the battle.”[41] Or, best of all, take Simonides’ epitaph on the
Athenians fallen at Plataea:--

    “If to die nobly is the chief part of excellence,
    To us of all men Fortune gave this lot;
    For hastening to set a crown of freedom on all Hellas,
    We lie possessed of praise that grows not old.”

Surely no one can fail to hear in those words and in the spirit of this
Greek life the music of familiar things, things which we have taken to
our heart. That is because the thoughts of Hellas are the source from
which our own intellectual and social ideas have been derived.

But Hellenic life was not sunshine without shadow. For all its power and
brilliance Greek society was exposed to many perils and was guilty of
serious mistakes. These, however, we have here no need to discuss in
full. It is enough to note that, when-and-where-soever the necessity for
ardent patriotism was absent or unfelt the Greek conception of life
lacked adequate moral incentive, and sinister conditions which were a
very black shadow in a fair world could and did arise. Much might also
be said regarding the jealousies of the petty cities, whence came
warfare constant, embittered, and suicidal. Nevertheless it remains
absolutely true, that compared with the stagnation of Eastern
civilisation, Hellenism was life and health. Judge from one token, the
epitaphs just quoted. Men could not write like that in Palestine or
Babylon, because they never died for such a cause.

In the years between 359 and 338 B.C. the independent Greek cities were
all forced to admit the suzerainty, first of Philip II., king of
Macedon, and, after his assassination in 336, of his son Alexander, who
was to be remembered throughout history as Alexander the Great. The
humiliation was not in any way a crushing blow to the spirit of Greece.
To the yoke of Philip and Alexander the city-states could submit with a
good grace, for the Macedonians were of the same ancestry as the Greeks,
and for years had been to all intents and purposes a part of the Greek
world; and Alexander was wholly Hellenic in his upbringing and his
ideas. Had he not been educated by the great philosopher, Aristotle? In
334 B.C., the young king organised an army of Macedonians and Greeks and
set forth to make a grand assault upon the nations of the East: a
stupendous task, but the enterprise appealed to the Greeks as a poetic
requital of the awful peril one hundred and fifty years before when
Xerxes of Persia at the head of a horde of Orientals had crossed to
Greece and almost blotted out its rising life. If the task was colossal
and the force to achieve it tiny, the results staggered the imagination
of the world. The huge Persian Empire crumbled at the touch of Greek
military prowess, directed by the genius of Alexander. In three years
the young Macedonian had become absolute master of Western Asia Minor,
of Egypt, Syria, Babylonia, and Persia. In 326 B.C. he pushed his
conquests to the Punjab, and in 325 he died; but _Hellenism did not die
with him_. The East had seen many conquerors rise and sweep through its
lands in triumph, and had continued to dream its long dreams. But the
military achievements of Alexander were only the beginning of his work.
What stirred the East to its depths was the fascination of the ideas
that had accompanied him and that he deliberately sought to establish
among the conquered peoples; with what measure of success it now remains
to consider.

3. A stormy period followed Alexander’s death. Eventually his Eastern
dominions were divided between two of his generals; Ptolemy, who took
possession of Egypt, and Seleucus, who became ruler of Syria and the
Mesopotamian territories. Happily it is not necessary to follow
the confused struggles that ensued between them and their
successors--struggles in which Palestine, situated between the rival
kingdoms, was continually involved. The point to be observed is that
both Ptolemy and Seleucus were Hellenes, as also were most of their
leading men, and both they and their successors prosecuted, with all
possible energy, Alexander’s policy, the Hellenising of the East.
Consider the forces directed to the attainment of that object.

The powerful influences of the royal courts in Egypt and Syria saw to it
that throughout the length and breadth of their kingdoms places of
honour were reserved for Greeks and such Orientals as might show
themselves capable of appreciating and adopting Hellenic culture. To be
a Greek, if not by race, then by imitation, became the only avenue to
wealth or fame or royal favour.

Alexander, however, had seen that if Hellenism was permanently to subdue
and recreate the East it must touch not only the interests of such as
are clothed in soft raiment and in kings’ courts live delicately, it
must be made a reality daily affecting the life of common folk; and with
the foresight of genius he himself pointed the way to secure that end.
Realising the organic connection between the Greek ideals and the Greek
city, he established at strategic points of his Empire new cities
planned on the Hellenic model. The Ptolemaic and Seleucid kings
persevered in this scheme. New cities of the Grecian type were founded
in their realms, and the old towns were conformed to the new order of
things so far as might be. In all important centres the essential
accompaniments of Hellenic life were introduced: new political
organisation for the election of magistrates, and buildings to meet the
system; a hall for the Senate, shady pillared galleries where the free
citizens might gather to lounge and talk, baths and gymnasia, a stadium
and a hippodrome for the games, and for the drama a theatre. With such
interests and amusements the imagination of the common folk was stirred
and pleased. The youth of the cities became enthusiastic for the
gaieties and glories of the competitive games. Guilds of athletes were
formed and received the privilege of wearing a special dress, “a
broad-brimmed hat, a fluttering cloak broached about the shoulders, and
high laced boots.”[42] In great public processions these young men
marched as a special class, wearing crowns of gold, and bearing witness
to the wealth and pride of their respective cities by the colours and
rich embroideries of their attire. But staider folk than the young and
fashionable were also caught in the wide-spread nets of Hellenism. The
wealth of the Greek cities and the royal favour shown them attracted
commerce, and sleepy Eastern merchants discovered that if they wished to
do business they must conform to the prevailing tastes; so that Greek
became the language of the market-place as well as of the Court.
Finally, the learning and skill of the East confessed its conqueror.
Greek art and Greek literature, Greek science and philosophy made the
older Eastern styles seem worthless in comparison. Within two centuries
following the death of Alexander the near East had been transformed.
Hellenism had cast its spell over the whole of life.

The period is one of profound interest for the study of humanity. On the
one hand it did much to secure the perpetuation of the intellectual
methods of the Greeks, which might have perished had they not been
extended beyond the frontiers of the small Greek States in Europe; and
on the other hand it showed that the East can change. Human nature is
not, as some would have us believe, divided for ever into irreconcilable
sections. There are no unbridgeable gulfs between the Eastern and the
Western mind. If the modern Westernising movements in China or India
should fully succeed, they will but demonstrate anew what was proved
long ago in Asia Minor during the three critical centuries before
Christ. The challenge these facts present to those who suppose that
Christianity cannot become a universal faith is obvious. We must not
attempt to give a detailed picture of Hellenism. But even these outlines
are enough to show how thoroughly and dramatically the immemorial
fashions of the East had been upset and new ambitions kindled, so that
men must have felt as if they had been emancipated from the dead past
and told to make trial of a new form of life, one that was already
brilliant and delightful, but was most of all thrilling in its unknown
possibilities. The peoples that walked in darkness thought they had seen
a great light.

One fact, however, and that of prime importance, has been left out of
count in this description of the situation. Hellenism in the East had a
fatal deficiency; it lacked the keen patriotism that inspired the life
of the old Greek cities. In Athens men had known that only by the
maintenance of their best ideals could Athens lead the intellect of
Greece, only by discipline and self-sacrifice could the foe be driven
from Athenian fields, could Athens rule the seas, could Athens be free
and Athens glorious. But citizens of some Hellenised city of Syria
experienced no such sentiments. Their politics were urban not imperial,
academic not matter of life and death. To be a captain in the armies of
Ptolemy or Seleucus might be a convenient way of gaining a livelihood
and might lead to fame, fortune and favour; but after all, to fight in
those ranks was to fight for kings’ glories, not for hearth and home.
The ambitions of the petty states of Greece had had certain evil
aspects; strifes, jealousies, envyings were ever present among them,
bleeding the higher interests of their common civilisation. Nevertheless
the need for passionate devotion to one’s city had been the root of
Hellenic virtue, and _that_ not even Alexander’s genius could transplant
to Asiatic soil.

Moreover, even such faint assistance as Greek religion gave to morality
failed the Hellenism of the East. By Alexander’s time the early
conceptions of the gods had been riddled by criticism, and as yet
neither philosophy nor mysticism had discovered for morality a basis
intelligible and acceptable to ordinary men. The earnest spirits of the
day were aware of the danger ahead. They foresaw that, if society
continued on its present course unchecked, its moral bankruptcy must
bring disaster. For not all the Greeks were eating, drinking, and making
money: some were asking questions about life to which a _demoralised_
Hellenism could give no satisfying answer. And the problem was more than
merely intellectual. The perils and pains of actual life made the enigma
a personal agony for many men, who saw that “they were being carried
onward into a future of unknown possibilities, and whatever might lie on
the other side of death, the possibilities on the hither side were
disquieting enough. Even in our firmly ordered and peaceful society,
hideous accidents may befall the individual, but in those days when the
world showed only despotic monarchies and warring city-states, one must
remember that slavery and torture were contingencies which no one could
be sure that the future did not contain for him.” In the old days it had
been possible to appeal for succour to deities not wholly inhuman in
their ways and thoughts. “If now that hope faded into an empty dream,
man found himself left naked to fortune. With the mass of passionate
desires and loves he carried in his heart, the unknown chances of the
future meant ever-present fear.”[43] The situation called for remedy.
Hellenism itself evolved the Stoic philosophy as a possible solution for
its urgent problems.[44] Our contention is that in their own sphere and
in their own fashion the Jewish proverbs, as used at this period by the
Wise in Jerusalem, were, like Stoicism, an answer to the moral
instability which contemporary Hellenism had spread abroad.

But even if Hellenism could have entered Syria in its purest form, it
would have needed all its nobility to overcome the vices ingrained in
the East. When it came to the task with faith in the high gods shaken
and falling, with the spur of patriotism left behind in Greece, no
wonder that the ugly elements hitherto held in check in the city-states
fed themselves fat amid the ancient evils of the Oriental world.
Particularly in Syria did the baser tendencies of Hellenism run riot.
Life there did indeed become richer, richer in iniquity. If facts have
any meaning, then the history of Syria and Egypt in the Hellenic age
cries aloud in witness of the futility of a civilisation, however
brilliant, that lacks a basis of moral idealism: “Other foundation can
no man lay than that which is laid.” The fine culture of the Hellenised
lands was dependent on the wrongs and miseries of countless slaves; the
cities were filled with glittering, venal women; and the general
population sank deeper and deeper in corruption, gluttony, and license.
Even the games in Syria were made to pander to the base side of human
nature; and, although ideally the cult of athletics might be an
excellent thing, “in its actual embodiment it could show all degrees of
degradation.” Life in the Syrian towns became for the most part a
studied gratification of the grosser senses. Here is the accusation of
an eye-witness, a Syrian Greek named Poseidonius, who lived about 100
B.C.: “The people of these cities are relieved by the fertility of their
soil from a laborious struggle for existence. Life is a continual series
of social festivities. Their gymnasiums they use as baths, where they
anoint themselves with costly oils and myrrhs. In the public banqueting
halls they practically live, filling themselves there for the better
part of the day with rich foods and wines; much that they cannot eat
they carry away home. They feast to the prevailing music of strings. The
cities are filled from end to end with the noise of harp-playing.”

And yet it was a great and wonderful age. Although the nobler qualities
of the Greek cities could not be made to grow in the new soil, the
genius of the Greek intellectual attitude to life was rescued from the
bickerings and fatal factions of the little states and was successfully
communicated to the larger world, to become in time the priceless
heritage of Western civilisation. Rightly conceiving that the spiritual
aspect of human life is the supreme thing, we are accustomed to divide
history into the period before and the period after the birth of Christ;
but were attention to be confined solely to the mental development of
mankind, the dividing line would be found in the coming of the Hellenic
methods of thought.

The bearing of these facts upon our subject is not far to seek. In face
of the subtle influences that were transforming their environment how
fared it with the Palestinian Jews? Jerusalem was sheltered by its
outlying position from the full tide of Hellenism. Had it not been so,
its special characteristics could scarcely have been preserved; it would
have become as one of the cities of the coast. But if Jerusalem was not
swept away by the flood, that does not imply that the rain of new ideas
was not falling in its streets and markets. From 300 to 200 B.C.
Palestine was controlled by the Ptolemaic Kings of Egypt, from 198 B.C.
by the Syrian Seleucids. This change of authority imposed no check upon
the progress and vigour of the Hellenistic movement. Greek cities sprang
up throughout the land, and older towns were eager to adapt themselves
to the new models. Shortly after the death of Alexander, Samaria and
Ptolemais (Acco) had already become centres of Greek influence, and
there was a group of Greek cities beyond Jordan. Imagine too how quickly
and how effectively the ideas of the Jews in Jerusalem would be affected
by intercourse with the flourishing colonies of their brethren now
thoroughly at home in the great centres of Greek dominion in Egypt,
Syria and Babylon. It is not surprising therefore to find a Greek writer
about 250 B.C. observing that “many of the traditional ordinances of the
Jews are losing their hold.” And if any reader wishes further
confirmation, he need only turn to the works of _Josephus_, and note the
relish with which that writer tells the story of Joseph the son of
Tobiah, nephew of the High-Priest, who by his insolent wit won favour at
the Egyptian Court, and battened for a while on the extortionate taxes
he wrung from the towns of southern Syria: a repulsive character but
quite evidently a popular hero in the estimation of many of his Jewish
contemporaries. Picture the coming and going of Greek traders in the
bazaars of Jerusalem, and the journeying of Jewish merchants to and from
the markets of the Hellenic cities. Consider what it meant that the
immense mercantile centre of Alexandria, with its tempting opportunities
to the acute and enterprising Jew, lay only a few days’ journey to the
south. In short, Hellenism was swiftly becoming the very atmosphere men
breathed. Certainly its manifold allurements were only too visibly and
temptingly displayed before the eyes of the young and ambitious in
Jerusalem. And yet Hellenism had met its match in the strange city of
Zion. Greek met Jew, and in the struggle the Wise-men of Israel played
no insignificant part. For they marshalled and moulded their proverbs
till they represented the Wisdom of Israel set over against the
worldly-wisdom[45] of Greece. They counselled a way of life which was
_not_ the seductive Greek way. They sturdily opposed another doctrine to
the fashionable immorality of Hellenism with its overwhelming prestige
and ostensible success. For several generations the attack of the new
civilisation came by way of peaceful penetration, which was perhaps
harder to resist than open enmity, since nobody could deny the good in
Hellenism, its beauty, and its cleverness, if only it had been pure in
heart. Later, as we shall see, the campaign was to be conducted with all
the devices of reckless and inhuman violence. Hebraism against
Hellenism! All Egypt, Syria, and Persia had made scarcely an effort to
resist the spell of the new learning and the new ways. At first sight
then how unequal the contest! A stiff moralism preaching against the
pleasures of sin to hot-blooded, able, and ambitious men. A clique of
obscurantists arrayed not against a kingdom or an empire but against a
magnificent, world-conquering civilisation. The Jews maintain their
ground? Impossible! No, not wholly so; for this battle, like another
which touches us more closely, was ultimately spiritual; and because the
Jews held a conception of the nature and destiny of man deeper, truer,
than even the Greeks had found, Hebraism in the end proved stronger than
Hellenism with all its genius and all its works.


A Sower went forth to Sow

Let us imagine two of the Wise-men meeting in the streets of Jerusalem
and conversing. That is easier proposed than effected: bold words, to be
followed by small performances. For the outlines of ancient Jerusalem
are none too clear, and again in what tongue shall our Wise-men
converse? In ancient Hebrew or in modern English? Modern English from
their lips will seem incongruous, and Hebrew is not so widely known as
it deserves. Before we can make so much as a beginning we are compelled
to compromise: let them talk in Hebraic English. But the difficulties
need not discourage us overmuch, for in this case even a half-done task
will be worth the doing, and there are some circumstances in our favour.
The topography of old Jerusalem may be uncertain, but our knowledge of
the influences, events and tendencies of the period in question is
considerable. Therefore although the conversation between the Wise-men
must be imaginary, it need not be fancy-free. We can make them say such
things as can be inferred from the historical situation, and the talk
can be so directed as to help our immediate purpose, discovering what
were the dominant fears and ambitions of the Wise. Moreover, however
imperfectly this aim be realised, the picture can hardly fail to help us
across the gulf which divides the abstract or general conception from
the concrete or particular embodiment, a matter of vital importance for
the comprehension of these Jewish proverbs. It is not sufficient to
imagine the Wise as a class. Doubtless most Wise-men conformed to a
type, and they were a class in the community in that they shared a
general attitude towards life; but this bond of union was loose enough
to leave room for great variety of interest, beliefs, and moral
qualities. And just this diversity within the unity is the point on
which stress should be laid; for it explains the individualism of the
Jewish proverbs, and is the secret of their broad humanity.

It is the month of June in the year 203 B.C. Ptolemy Philopator, the
ruler of Egypt, has died the previous year, and is succeeded on the
throne by Ptolemy Epiphanes, a child of four years old. The situation
points to the renewal of warfare between the great Empires. Embarrassed
by the weakness of its young king, Egypt is in obvious danger from the
restless ambition both of Philip of Macedonia and of Antiochus III of
Syria. But although the East is uneasy, the storm has not yet broken.
Palestine is still controlled by the Egyptians, and a garrison of
Ptolemy’s soldiers lives at ease in the citadel of Jerusalem. Zion is at
peace; her harvests of barley and wheat have been gathered in; the
first-ripe figs have fallen and already are on sale in the markets, and
there is prospect of a plentiful later crop. Imagine that we are
watching the city, as the day is about to break. The last hour of the
night is ending. Low down in the Eastern sky a faint tinge of blue
appears, with shades of purple and pink above it, fading upwards into
the dark of the night sky overhead. Soon the horizon flushes into red,
changing swiftly to deep yellow as the first rays of the sun rise over
the hills.[46]

The guard of the Levites on duty at the Temple stands watching for the
dawn, and as soon as the sunlight touches Hebron, just visible to the
south, they raise a shout, heralding the day and summoning the people to
hasten to the celebration of the morning sacrifice.[47] From the
citadel the trumpets of the soldiers take up the sound and call the
garrison from sleep. Soon the whole city is astir. Day has begun, and
its hours are precious before the sun grows hot beyond endurance. The
gates open, and first the cattle-dealers and money-changers begin to
pass along the narrow lanes, hurrying ahead of the people to the
Temple-court. Shopmen appear and busy themselves preparing their booths
in the bazaars. From his house in one of the narrow streets a dignified
man of rather more than middle age, Judah ben Zechariah, comes out and,
turning in the direction of the Temple mingles, with the stream of
worshippers who purpose to be present at the offering of the sacrifice.
Let us keep him in sight. When the ceremony at the temple is ended, he
makes his way without haste through the tangle of streets towards the
Northern wall and the Fish gate. There in the open space near the gate,
just inside the city, he stops, and stands watching the passers by. A
company of Tyrians, pagans all of them, files in through the gate,
bringing fish for Jerusalem from the Phoenician markets. They are
followed by a long caravan of forty or fifty mules laden with wheat from
the north, and their drivers, like the Tyrians, are also pagan. Judah is
Hebrew of the Hebrews, and the sight does not please him. After a while
as he stands there a friend approaches and gives him greeting--Joseph
ben Abijah, one who, like Judah, had reputation as a Wise-man. “Peace be
to thee, Judah.” “And may Jehovah bless thee, my brother,” answered
Judah, “and may He increase thee to a multitude; for truly there be few
this day in Israel such as thou, who keepest faith before God and before
men. Behold now this long time stand I here, Joseph, to see them that
pass by, and I swear unto thee that for one man of Israel there be nine
from the ends of the earth, worshippers of strange gods. Men call this
city Zion; but where are Zion’s children? From end to end the streets
are full of these Gentiles. Moreover, look yonder!” (a company of the
garrison came swinging down to change guard at the Gate)--“these
soldiers of Ptolemy! Mark well their heathen insolence, their pride and
their contempt for us. Are we not the bondservants of Egypt, even as our
fathers were? I tell thee, Joseph, it is not well with Israel.”

“Nay! thou art over-anxious, Judah. The land is at peace. The harvests
are good, trade prospers and extends; we and our wives and our children
dwell in safety. None hinders us in our worship. Why then take so sore
to heart these Gentiles? _They_ are the slaves, who in their folly
worship dumb and senseless images. Is not Israel free in her God?
Moreover--a word in thine ear--how thinkest thou, Judah? Will Ptolemy
much longer lord it over us in Zion? Or are his times come near to an

“Hush! see that none hear thee. I also think his day is at an end. But
for what then shall we look? For the dreams of the prophets? For the Day
of the Lord? Ah, would that the Lord might rend the heavens and come
down, but I, for one, do not look for these things to come to pass at
this time, Joseph. And except the Lord deliver us wherein shall we hope?
Nay, Zion, is still far from salvation. We shall change the bondage of
Egypt for the yoke of Syria, and her little finger will be thicker than
the loins of Egypt. Antiochus is ten times more Greek than Ptolemy.
Verily, the whole world becometh Greek. Traders and talkers, how they
throng in our streets and multiply in our midst! And whether they be
rich and noble or poor and the servant of servants, behold how they
despise us and make mock of us, the people of the one true God! And how
with their vainglory and their wicked wisdom--for, as the Lord liveth,
’tis not the wisdom of God--they do bewitch fools and entice them away.
Thou sayest, ‘Israel is free in its God’; but I say ‘How long shall God
find faith in Israel?’ If then Ptolemy be cast down and Antiochus be
lifted up over us, wherein is our advantage? How wilt thou save this
people from following wholly after the thoughts and customs of the
Greeks? Again, thou speakest of peace and good harvests, but how long
shall peace and prosperity be permitted us? If that whereof we speak
should come to pass, it shall not be without war and desolation. Who
knows but that Jerusalem shall soon be a besieged and captured city? As
for the Day of the Lord, the prophet hath said ‘The Lord will hasten it
in His time’ and his word is good; but alas! I fear that ours is better:
_Hope deferred maketh the heart sick_.”

Said his friend, “I also--thou knowest it, Judah--am not of the
dreamers, and know well that they who in our days see visions are
prophets in name and not in truth. And the true prophets did not live
for ever. Nevertheless their word liveth; and have not we that are Wise
learnt from them that fear of Jehovah which is to turn from evil and do
good, so that in measure their mantle is fallen upon us and we are
become their successors, and according to their commandments so we
teach? Yea, I say that their word _hath_ overtaken this people, not for
evil but for good; since of all the Jews who is there that doth not from
the heart know that the Lord our God is one God, and that the gods of
the heathen are nought and their images wood and stone? Wherefore,
Judah, I fear not the Greeks so much as thou. For if a Jew from among us
go forth unto them and learn their skill and follow their fashions, yet
he will not reverence their gods. Moreover, remember, Judah, those that
fight for us in the strife. If God hath not raised up a prophet in
Israel these many years, are not the Priests and Levites become a strong
tower of defence? In all their interpretation of the Law of Moses, they
do well: for they seek to establish justice and mercy between a man and
his brethren, and to confirm the fear of Jehovah’s Name. It is written,
_The Law of the Lord is perfect, making clean the heart_; and these men
love its statutes wholly. Thou dost not think that _they_ will become

“Not all of them, Joseph; yet of the great priests many are evil. They
live for place and power, not for the pure service of their God, and if
the day come when it shall profit them these would surpass the Greeks in
the fashions of the Greeks. But concerning the Levites and the Scribes
thou sayest right; for they truly have set their hearts upon their work:
albeit zeal for the Law will not save Israel. If only the ritual be
observed and the services in the Temple maintained, if the feasts be
duly kept, they deem all things are well. They would have all men more
Levite than themselves. But what answer is that to the young who crave
for fortune, favour, and fulness of pleasures like the unbridled
heathen? Some it may satisfy, but thou knowest that more turn empty
away; and all of them understand that the Greeks will feed their desires
full. Come now: tell me, I pray thee: this very year how many are gone
hence to seek fortune in the markets of Ptolemais? How many to the court
of Antiochus, aye! from the noblest of our families? How many to be made
captains in his armies and in Ptolemy’s? Perchance it is well for thee,
Joseph, whose son is a scribe well spoken of and one day will be counted
a Wise-man and a fearer of God even as thou, his father, art: but my
son, my son, is in Alexandria, though I besought him with tears that he
would not go.”

“Judah, I verily knew that it was for this cause thine heart was sad.
Nevertheless I would comfort thee, my friend. Hear now my words. They
are not all lost to Zion that are gone forth from Zion’s gates. Thou
knowest there is no evil in thy son. Take heart. Are not the families of
our people there in Egypt many and prosperous? Thy son will be a loyal
Jew in Egypt, not forsaking his father’s faith. I am persuaded he will
send his tribute to the Temple when the time comes round. Aye! and thine
eye shall see him again ere long returning to keep the feast at
Jerusalem and to make glad thine heart. My brother, hear thou the
thought which the Lord hath given me concerning this thing. It is
written that all flesh shall come to worship before the Lord in His holy
hill; but how shall this thing come to pass? They chant in the Temple of
His outstretched arm and His mighty acts. What if the stretching out of
His arm is in the going forth of these His children unto the ends of the
earth; seest thou not how that already praise is offered to His Name in
many lands, and His glory is exalted among the heathen? In the Temple
they sigh for the day when all peoples shall come crouching to Zion; but
what if thy son, and others even as he, have gone to prepare the way of
the Lord and to make straight His paths, and in Alexandria, Babylon, and
Antioch are beginning the victory of our God, a victory which shall be
(as saith Zechariah) ‘_not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’
saith the Lord_? So shall thy son’s going be turned to God’s glory, and
perchance it hath happened in accordance with His will. Saith not Isaiah
that _His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts_? And
when thou sayest of the priests and scribes that all their care is for
the Law and the Temple, and that they know not how to speak unto the
heart of these young men, in truth thy reproach is just. But herein is
our work. _We_ have the answer for this need in Israel. Have we not
counsel for success in life _with_ allegiance to our God; so that our
words are from the Lord, though we praise not the Law daily neither make
mention of the prophet’s hopes? If then we be found faithful and our
task well done, none in Israel shall reckon that Wisdom is of the Greeks
only, but rather that their Wisdom is found folly in the latter end.
Honour, long life, and riches are in our words and they that hearken
unto us shall find them and yet shall not depart from justice nor hate
mercy. He that heareth our words and learneth our Wisdom shall even
dwell with the Greeks and be wiser than they, being delivered from the
snares of their iniquities and the vanity of their faiths. So shall it
be with thy son, my brother. He will not forget thy instruction. And
like him there shall be many who, though they go forth from Jerusalem,
will yet give diligent heed unto our precepts, and with them shall go
Wisdom to be a guide unto their feet that they shall not stumble. Yea,
even of those that in Zion seem to heed us not, some perchance shall
remember in a distant land, and so be saved from falling. But, come,
thou knowest this even as I, though sorrow for a moment had hidden it
from thine eyes. With the blessing of God we do not labour in vain.”

“Friend, thou comfortest well; and in my soul I know that these thy
words are true, and that our work is of God, and that our children’s
children shall see the reward of all our labours. But as for this
generation many there be that scorn and few that hear.”

“Be our zeal the greater then!” responded Joseph, “What saith the
prophet?--_Precept on precept, line upon line_; and for us therefore
‘Proverb on proverb,’”

The older man smiled at him gently, pleased by the words and spirit of
his friend: “Thou art a true friend and wise counsellor, ben Abijah. And
now let us leave this place, and, if it seem good to thee, let us pass
through the streets and take note of them that buy and sell; for the
heat is not yet upon us and the markets are full this day. Comest thou
with me?”

“I come gladly. Thou shalt see--we shall find one here, one there, that
hath need of our wisdom; and perhaps to-day we shall even catch the ear
of the multitude, and many will give heed both to hear and to receive
our teaching.”


Men and Manners

Students of the Old Testament do not require to be told that the
universalism of the _Book of Proverbs_ is a remarkable fact. But even
those whose knowledge of Jewish history is not exact, and who have not
made a comparative study of the post-exilic writings, need have no
difficulty in perceiving how strange it is, if they will give the
briefest consideration to the following points. Just how free are these
sayings from indications of the national aspirations or religious
peculiarities of the Jews? Never once in the whole _Book of Proverbs_ is
mention made of Israel or of any synonym for Israel! Not a word is said
of the nation’s past history or present fears and hopes; the word
“prophet” never once occurs, although the influence of prophetic
teaching is frequently manifest; Priests, Levites, Temple and even
Jerusalem are absolutely ignored; “sacrifice” is mentioned four times in
disparagement; _To do justice and judgement is more acceptable to the
Lord than sacrifice_ (Pr. 21^{3}; cp. 15^{8}; 17{1{(mg)}}; 21^{27}): and
“offerings” once incidentally: _I have peaceofferings with me_ (Pr.
7^{14}). Even the divinely appointed Law is passed silently by; it is
neither commended nor condemned. True, the word “law” is often found in
_Proverbs_, but the law which men are there bidden to observe is not the
precepts, ritual or moral, of the great Pentateuch, not the Law of
Moses, but the doctrine laid down by the Sage and his _confrêres_! Ben
Sirach differs from the Sages represented in _Proverbs_ to this extent
that once or twice he identifies the Law of Moses with the Divine
Wisdom, and asserts that Wisdom has chosen Zion for her
resting-place.[48] Otherwise his book has precisely the same broadly
humanistic and super-national character.

Clearly one need not be an expert in Jewish history to see that all this
is startling; but it seems little less than astounding as soon as it is
brought into comparison with the passionate patriotism and religious
exclusiveness that characterise other books of the Old Testament, not
only those that set forth the Law, but also such prophecies as _Isaiah_
40-66, or again the _Psalms_. For example, contrast the ecclesiastical
version of Israel’s history given in the Books of _Chronicles_, _Ezra_,
_Nehemiah_, which in its present form is the work of a Levite of
Jerusalem writing about 350-250 B.C., _i.e._, at the very period of this
Wisdom preaching. A glance will show that the narrative of the
Chronicler is consistently intended to set forth the praises and virtues
of the holy city, Jerusalem, and its inhabitants, the true “Israel.”
From first to last his work burns with national devotion, and the events
of history are by him so related as to make prominent the honours due to
the divine Law of Moses, wherein he sees the nation’s eternal hope and
sure defence. Greater contrast there could scarcely be. The seeming
indifference of _Proverbs_ and Ben Sirach would be explained if the
Sages had been irreligious or mere worldly-wise men, contemptuous of
altruistic, national sentiment. But their doctrine is in no way
anti-national: there is absolutely no whisper of polemic against Judaism
or even depreciation of its special tenets. Neither were they
irreligious; that is quite certain. Although on the surface there is no
warm glow of religious zeal, again and again “the fear of Jehovah,” said
they, “is the foundation of Wisdom.” The Sages, at least the majority
of them, were respectable, earnest, and God-fearing Jews. It seems to
the present writer psychologically incredible to suppose that such
persons in Jerusalem of 300-200 B.C. were, in their heart of hearts,
unmoved by the extraordinary distinctive sentiments of their race. Why
then the apparent apathy shown in their proverbs?

It is true that a taste for aphoristic ethical teaching was manifesting
itself at this period in various countries besides Judæa, and that such
moralistic teaching always tends to be cosmopolitan, but we find therein
no adequate explanation of the astonishing facts just mentioned. It is
more to the point to follow up a hint suggested by the conversation of
the two Wise-men depicted in the preceding chapter. Hellenism seemed to
be in the ascendant, as no observant person in Jerusalem of the third
century could fail to perceive; equally, no sober-minded pietist of the
old school could be blind to its demoralising tendencies, and no patriot
fail to dread its disintegrating effect on Judaism. How to encounter the
insidious and attractive force that threatened the overthrow not only of
Jewish nationality but of Jewish virtue: that was the problem for every
loyal Jew. The Priests and Levites of the Law of Moses were fighting the
foe in one way. The Wise had chanced on another weapon for the fray. In
the old, common-sense maxims of their fathers, which being rooted in
Israel’s religious faith and enriched by the ethical idealism of the
great prophets presented a general moral standard, or at least a moral
ardour, clearly superior to the normal tone of the neighbouring Hellenic
cities, the Wise perceived they had an instrument for countering the
peril on its more mundane side. Their duty was to teach men that in
order to get on in life it was not necessary, even in the clamorous
confident Hellenic atmosphere, to fling morality overboard and laugh at
the fear of Jehovah. To suppose that all, or even the majority, of the
Wise-men consciously formulated this point of view is of course not
essential: many of them may have been actuated by an instinctive rather
than a reasoned antagonism to the spirit of the age. The point is that,
viewing the teaching of wisdom on the one part and the circumstances of
the period on the other, this is the _rôle_ the Wise in actual fact
fulfilled. Now it is evident that the nature of the work presented to
them was such as to make the advocacy of nationalism or even of the duty
of conformity to the Law somewhat irrelevant for them. It was for others
to enjoin these things. The Wise kept to their own path. Broad-minded
yet loyal Jews, they were engaged on a task that happened to be
naturally independent of the ritual injunctions of the Law and of any
immediate political concerns.[49] It was their business to urge
morality, and to be very practical in so doing; to tell men how to get
on and not be blackguards; to persuade men that the wages of sin is not
victory but death--a noble task, however matter-of-fact the means they
used for its achievement.

We believe, then, that the universalism of these proverbs is to be
explained chiefly as the mark of the Wise-men’s ability to keep to the
point, not as evidence either of lack of patriotism or of indifference
to the national faith. They were speaking to the heart on the common
things of daily life that men of all races necessarily share with one
another. Consequently--perhaps without their knowing or intending
it--what they said transcended time and country. It was none the less
work for their people. As we hope to show later, there is good reason to
believe that the plain, common-sense morality of the Wise preserved for
Judaism the respect and affection of many ordinary men, whom the
Levites, with all their enthusiasm for the specific forms of the
national worship, would have lost. Religion has no right to despise or
overlook even the least of its advocates. There was One who said, “He
that is not against us is on our part.”

Reviewing the argument of these pages and the suggestions of the last
chapter, we conclude that, whilst the ranks of the Wise were wide enough
to include men of diverse character and outlook, they must be credited
with having had a definite standpoint and a method of their own well
suited to the circumstances of their times.

Let us now turn our attention from the Wise themselves to the men they
observed. Let us walk with Judah and Joseph through the busy streets,
and take our stand with them in the open spaces by the city-gates, and
overhear their comments on the scenes of human intercourse which met
their eyes. Let us, as it were, join some group that has gathered round
to enjoy their talk, to applaud their maxims and their morals, to laugh
as the characteristics of this man or of that are hit off in some shrewd
epigram, and perhaps--if need be--to take to heart the lesson.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the popular talk there were doubtless many sayings concerning the
habits of the various craftsmen and traders--the potter, the
sandal-maker, and so forth--but (perhaps because the purpose of the Wise
was so broadly humanistic in its outlook) such specialistic sayings are
rare in the literature the Sages have left us. A few, however, do occur
in which men are pictured from the standpoint of their external
relationships, and with these we may conveniently begin.

First, then, an observation so faithful to human nature that it has
never lost its spice and is appropriate in all countries, although it
must always have had peculiar pungency in the deceitful, haggling,
Eastern marts. Behold the bargain-hunter drawn to the life:

    _“It is nought, it is nought,” saith the buyer;
    But when he is gone on his way then he boasteth_ (Pr. 20^{14}).

Not a man in old Jerusalem but must have felt the dry humour and the
accusing truth. But here is the other side of the transaction:

    _A merchant shall hardly keep himself from doing wrong,
    And a huckster shall not be acquitted of sin.
    Many have transgressed for the sake of gain,
    And the fortune-hunter requires a blind eye.
    As a nail will stick fast between the joinings of stones,
    So will sin thrust in between buying and selling_ (E. 26^{29}-27^{2}).

Six of one and half a dozen of the other, but perhaps neither buyer nor
seller were such rogues as they are painted! Let us allow a discount for
the epigram.

Of the man in debt, a problem for society in all periods, the Sages said
plainly but sufficiently:

    _The rich man lords it over the poor,
    And the borrower is the lender’s slave_ (Pr. 22^{7}).

Ben Sirach, however, was much more graphic; says he,

    _Many have treated a loan as a windfall,
    And have been a plague to those that helped them.
    Till the loan is lent, he will kiss a man’s hand,
    And for his neighbour’s money will speak right humbly;
    But when payment falls due, he prolongs the days,
    And girds and grumbles and says, “Hard times”_ (E. 29^{4, 5}).

Support for Ben Sirach’s description might still be obtained.

The rendering of assistance to unfortunate members of the community has
always been a prominent and admirable feature of Jewish society, and
quotations to be given later on will bear witness to the esteem in
which the Sages held the practice of charity. But the alms-giving was
not wide enough, or else not deep enough or (it may be) not wise
enough--as our own is not yet--to succour the lowest _stratum_ of
society. Remember Lazarus at the rich man’s gate: apparently there were
such as he in Ben Sirach’s time, whether brought low by misfortune or by

    _My son, lead not a beggar’s life;
    It is better to die than to beg.
    A man that looketh unto the table of another,
    His life is not to be counted life_ (E. 40^{28-29}).

In E. 38, Ben Sirach discusses an ancient and unsettled
controversy--subject, the doctor. As he devotes half a chapter to the
matter, we may reasonably assign it a paragraph.

It would seem that in those days the medical profession was under a
slight cloud. Some people (and for these we have no mercy: they were
doubtless prescribing for others, not for themselves) were of opinion
that all sorts of healing were an invention of iniquity and an attempt
to thwart God’s will. Ben Sirach enters a healthy-minded protest against
these fanatical obscurantists, insisting on the healing properties of
plants: _Was not water made sweet with wood to acquaint every man of
God’s power?_ (E. 38^{5}); an allusion to _Exod._ 15^{25}. More damaging
is the unspoken but obvious implication of the sober-minded Chronicler
when he records concerning King Asa that _in the thirty and ninth year
of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet; his disease was exceeding
great; yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the
physicians. And Asa ... died in the one and fortieth year of his reign_
(_2 Chron._ 16^{12}). But to this the physician may make a weighty
answer. Until later times than Asa’s it seems possible that orthodox
medical practice was in the hands of the priestly classes, and therefore
it may be suspected that Asa is censured for having committed the
unpardonable wickedness of daring to call in one of the non-priestly
practitioners, dealers in herbs and incantations, outsiders, quacks,
charlatans, impostors all of them. But unfortunately, whatever the
rights and wrongs of Asa’s case, it must be admitted that the profession
did not wholly succeed in quelling the doubts about its merits.
_Physician, heal thyself_--so ran the proverb in our Lord’s time (_Luke_
4^{23}), and is it not written of a certain poor woman that _she had
suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had,
and was nothing better, but rather worse_ (_Mark_ 5^{26})? Moreover,
reluctantly, we have to notice that the _Mishna_, still later, gives
utterance to the disconcerting opinion that _the best of physicians is
deserving of Gehenna_ (_Kidd_, 4^{14}). Well, well, it is a vexed
question. With relief let us turn, in conclusion, to Ben Sirach’s
altogether cheerier view. _The Lord_, says he, _created medicines out of
the earth, and a prudent man will not despise them. Wherefore, honour a
physician as thou needest him with the honours due; for verily the Lord
hath created him. For from the Most High cometh his healing, and from
the king he shall receive a gift.... My son, in thy sickness be not
negligent, but pray unto the Lord, and He shall heal thee. Put away
wrong-doing, and order thine hands aright, and cleanse thine heart from
all manner of sin. Offer a sweet offering and a memorial, set in order a
fat offering as best thou art able. Then give place to the physician,
and let him not go from thee, for thou hast need of him. There is a time
when in their hands is the issue for good: they also shall beseech the
Lord that He may prosper them to find out what is wrong and to save the
life_ (E. 38^{1-15})--then, as the conclusion of the passage, in the
Greek text come these words which read like a very doubtful compliment,

    _He that sinneth before his Maker--
    Let him fall into the hands of the physician_.

But Ben Sirach must be acquitted of malice, for the Greek text turns out
to be a mistranslation of the original Hebrew which fortunately has here
been recovered; and all ends happily thus:

    _He that sinneth before his Maker
    Will behave himself proudly before a physician_.

Good doctrine! Sound therapeutics and sound theology are allies, not

Reference to the special trades may be few, but some of those few are
memorable. Thus the only allusion in _Proverbs_ to the unskilled
labourer is one of the poignant sayings of the Book:

    _The labourer’s appetite laboureth for him,
    For his mouth constrains him to toil_ (Pr. 16^{26}):

Hunger! that unwearying goad of men, so beneficial to the race, so
pitilessly cruel to the individual.

Ben Sirach gives us a glimpse of many men in some graphic verses--the
ploughman, the cattle-driver, the engraver, the smith, the potter:

    _The wisdom of the scribe cometh by opportunity of leisure,
    And he that hath little business shall become wise.
    How shall he become wise that holdeth the plough,
    That glorieth in the shaft of the goad,
    That driveth oxen, and is busied in their labours,
    And whose discourse is of the stock of bulls?
    He will set his heart upon the turning of furrows,
    And his wakefulness is to give his heifers their fodder.
    So is every artificer and workmaster
    That passeth his time by night as by day,
    Cutting gravings of signets,
    And his diligence is to make great variety:
    He will set his heart to preserve likeness in his portraiture,
    And will be wakeful to finish his work.
    So is the smith sitting by the anvil
    And considering the unwrought iron;
    The vapour of the fire will waste his flesh,
    And with the heat of the furnace will he contend;
    The noise of the hammer will be ever in his ear
    And his eyes upon the pattern of the vessel:
    He will set his heart upon perfecting his works,
    And he will be wakeful to adorn them perfectly.
    So is the potter sitting at his work,
    And turning the wheel about with his feet;
    Who is alway anxiously set at his work,
    And all his handicraft is by number;
    He will fashion the clay with his arm,
    And bend its strength in front of his feet;
    He will apply his heart to finish the glazing,
    And he will be wakeful to make clean the furnace._

    _All these put their trust in their hands,
    And each becometh wise in his own work.
    Without these shall not a city be inhabited
    And wherever they sojourn they will not hunger.
    They shall not be sought for in the council of the people,
    And in the assembly they shall not mount up on high;
    They shall not sit on the seat of the judge,
    Nor understand the covenant of judgement,
    Neither shall they declare instruction and judgement,
    And among them that speak proverbs they shall not be found.
    But they will maintain the fabric of the world,
    And in the handiwork of their craft is their prayer_ (E. 38^{24-34}).

The passage is so interesting an illustration of the attitude of the
educated Jews towards manual labour that a digression is irresistible.
Among the Greeks all humbler forms of labour were heartily despised. In
ancient society so much of the rough work was performed by slaves that
the fortunate classes could and, as a rule, did find occupation in
military, political, commercial, and literary or artistic affairs. Even
the farmer was reckoned of small account, because, despite the honest
worth of his occupation, his busy life and practical interests denied
him the intellectual leisure of the town population. The Romans had
certain incidents in their historical traditions that gave to
agriculture a measure of honour, at least in theory. Otherwise their
standpoint was much the same as that of the Greeks. But the Jews
maintained a more generous and a very sensible attitude, as is
exemplified by this quotation from Ben Sirach. They recognised the
limitations imposed by hard toil, but at the same time they saw that it
had an essential part to play in the economy of the whole, and therefore
they freely acknowledged its merits:

    _Hate not laborious work,
    For toil hath been appointed of God_ (E. 7^{15}).

Nevertheless Ben Sirach is well pleased that God had not made him a
farmer or a smith. It is evident that he did not deem the art of the
craftsman compatible with learning; and, since he loved his scribe’s
life, his satisfaction at having full leisure to prosecute the search
for Wisdom is very human and pardonable. All the same, some may feel
there is a touch of intellectual snobbery in his tone. If so, his
successors, the Rabbis of later Judaism, did not follow him in the
fault. They took the view that the degrading tendencies of certain
occupations must be frankly recognised, but that there were many trades
requiring manual toil which ought to be highly esteemed.[50] In that
most interesting work of the first and second century A.D., _The
Sayings of the_ [Jewish] _Fathers_, we read that Shemaiah said, _Love
work_. Rabbi Meir, however, said cautiously, _Have little business, and
be busy in the Law_. It is said in the Talmud (_Kidd_, 99a) that
_Whosoever doth not teach his son work, teacheth him to rob_. These
remarks scarcely carry the question beyond Ben Sirach’s view. But many
of the Rabbis went much further and urged that religious and
intellectual studies were not profitably undertaken unless accompanied
by some acquaintance with manual labour. Thus, said Rabbi Gamaliel
(about 90 A.D.), _An excellent thing is study of the Law combined with
some worldly trade ... but all study of the Law apart from manual toil
must fail at last and be the cause of sin_. Another, and a powerful,
saying is this: _Flay a carcase in the street and earn a living, and say
not, “I am a famous man, and the work is beneath my dignity.”_ St. Paul
will doubtless occur to many as an instance of a great scholar who was
proud to know and to exercise the trade of tent-making. Recall how
earnestly he protested to the Christians of Corinth his independence of
their monetary help (cp. _Acts_ 18^{1-3}; _1 Cor._ 4^{12}, _2 Cor._
11^{9}). This admirable association of labour and learning persisted
among the Jews, and their history contains many examples of splendid men
who combined the virtues of great scholarship with the pursuit of some
humble means of livelihood. Some of the best-known Rabbis of the Middle
Ages supported themselves by labouring as carpenters, shoemakers,
builders, bakers, and so forth.

Of the numerous sayings concerning wealth and poverty we may mention
some that bring before us the concrete picture of men rich and poor.
Here is one that is eloquent of the bitterness of the contrast:

    _The rich man’s wealth is his strong city;
    The poor man’s poverty is his undoing_ (Pr. 10^{15}).

Even to-day, in a land where Justice is designed to be even-handed, but
must needs be approached through the lawyer, who imagines that the rich
and the poor stand on level terms? Even among the well-to-do the
majority of men would think twice before engaging in legal warfare with
a millionaire or a railway company.

Of the friendlessness of the poor there are these pathetic proverbs:

    _Wealth addeth many friends,
    But the poor is separated even from the friend he hath_ (Pr. 19^{4}).

    _The poor is hated even of his own neighbour,
    But the rich hath many friends_ (Pr. 14^{20}).[51]

And this from Ben Sirach:

    _My son, deprive not the poor of his living,
    And make not the needy eyes to wait long_ (E. 4^{1}).

Do not those eyes stare hungrily from the proverb, and seem to gaze
after us as we hurry on?

A sterner note is heard in this almost ironical observation:

    _A rich man toileth in gathering money, and when he resteth
         he is filled with his good things:
    A poor man toileth in lack of substance, and when he
         resteth he cometh to want_ (E. 31^{3}).

Two beautiful passages in the _Book of Proverbs_ recognise that the
problem of success goes deeper than riches:

    _Better a dinner of herbs where love is,
    Than a fatted ox and hatred therewith_ (Pr. 15^{17}).

    _Remove far from me vanity and lies:
    Give me neither poverty nor riches;
    Feed me with the food that is needful for me:[52]
    Lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    Or lest I be poor, and steal,
    And use profanely the name of my God_ (Pr. 30^{8, 9}).

Both grand sayings. The last is a really noble prayer for the Golden
Mean, and at the same time an effective accusation which we know to be
only too true of many self-confident rich men on the one hand, and many
embittered poor men on the other.

Finally, let us ruminate on the fact that wealth and dyspepsia are old
acquaintances: _Better is a poor man, being sound and of good
constitution, than a rich man that is plagued in his body_, says Ben
Sirach (E. 30^{14}); and doubtless he had plenty of shocking examples to
confirm his opinion, if there be any truth in Poseidonius’ description
of the Hellenic cities whose citizens “practically lived in the
banqueting halls,” and were wont to pocket what they could not there

In the next place we may turn to proverbs dealing with character.
Fastening upon one outstanding quality, for the moment they identify the
personality with it. And if that is never entirely fair to any human
being--because even the best of us is, for instance, never perfectly
brave, nor the worst of us wholly mean--nevertheless it is good to be
told bluntly whither the bias of our nature tends. To isolate the
Virtues and the Vices and to hold them up for praise or blame has ever
been a favourite and a successful method of moral education.

The quotations that follow are, as it were, swift portraits, some of
them only lightning sketches, seizing in outline some obvious feature;
but others (for all their brevity) are so full of life and colour, and
often so tellingly correct, that no comment is needed to enforce the
justice or importance of what is said. They have been compared to
“Meissonier pictures: minute, graphic, realistic, unromantic; pictures
drawn not by Fancy but by Observation”[53]:--


    _Riches are not comely for a niggard,
    And what shall a covetous man do with money?
    He that gathereth by miserliness gathereth for others,
    And others shall revel in his goods_ (E. 14^{3, 4}).
    _The miser hasteth after riches
    And knoweth not that want shall come upon him_ (Pr. 28^{22}).


    _There is that scattereth, and increaseth yet more;
    And there is that withholdeth, and it tendeth only to want.
    The liberal man shall prosper the more,
    And he that nourisheth others shall himself be
         nourished_ (Pr. 11^{24, 25})--

But appearances are sometimes deceptive:

    _There is that feigneth himself rich, yet hath nothing;
    And there is that feigneth poverty, yet hath great wealth_ (Pr. 13^{7}).

There are numerous sayings dealing with the tale-bearer and the
mischief-maker, for slander was a prominent evil of the crowded Oriental


    _The liar disseminates strife:
    The whisperer parteth friends_ (Pr. 16^{28}).
    _For lack of wood the fire goes out,
    And where there is no whisperer, contention ceaseth_ (Pr. 26^{20}).


    _An evil man digs a pit of mischief
    And on his lips is a fire that burns_[54] (Pr. 16^{27}).
    _An evil man, a sinful man, deals always in crooked speech.
    He winks his eyes and shuffles his feet,
    And his fingers make secret signs:
    His thoughts are all plots,
    He plans ceaselessly mischief;
    A spreader of discord.
    Wherefore, his ruin shall come in an instant.
    Like a flash he’ll be broken, and that beyond mending_ (Pr. 6^{12-15}).


    _As clouds and wind that yield no rain,
    So is he who brags of gifts ungiven_ (Pr. 25^{14}).


    _The fool is quite certain his way is right,
    But the wise man listens to counsel_ (Pr. 12^{15}).
    _Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit?
    There is more hope of a fool than of him_ (Pr. 26^{12}).

--the last, a saying that increases in force when a little later we come
to note just what the Wise-men thought of a fool! With these proverbs on
the Proud we may conveniently group some sayings on the man whose tongue
runs away with his discretion:


    _The tongue of the Wise distils knowledge,
    But the mouth of fools poureth out folly_ (Pr. 15^{2}).
    _A fool’s mouth is his destruction,
    His lips are the snare of his soul_ (Pr. 18^{7}).
    _A fool’s vexation is instantly known,
    But a prudent man ignores an affront_ (Pr. 12^{16}).

How true! Most normal persons have acquired the power to delay or
suppress the answer that rises to the lips in anger, but which of us
would not confess that it was hard to learn this wisdom and that it is
never easy to observe its teaching? The temptation to blurt out all our
thought in time of trouble or vexation is always with us. In the
hot-tempered East restraint was even more necessary than it is amongst
ourselves, and one is therefore not surprised to find the absence of
this virtue receiving the same fearsome condemnation as self-confidence:

    _Seest thou a man that is hasty of speech?
    There is more hope of a fool than of him_ (Pr. 29^{20}).

Next, a group of proverbs concerning certain persons who to their own
great surprise have missed success in society. The list may begin with a
character one scarcely expects to meet in Scripture:


    _As a madman that casteth firebrands, arrows and death,
    So is he who deceives his neighbour and cries,
         “I was only in jest”_ (Pr. 26^{18, 19}).

Then some advice to


    _When thou sittest to eat with a ruler
    Bear in mind his lordship’s presence;
    And if thou be a hearty eater,
    Put a knife to thy throat_ (Pr. 23^{1-3}).

And, thirdly, in two proverbs,


    _As one that taketh off a garment in cold weather,
    And as vinegar upon a wound;
    So is he that singeth songs to a heavy heart_ (Pr. 25^{20})[56].

    _He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice,
         rising early in the morning;
    It shall be counted a curse unto him_ (Pr. 27^{14}).

The last saying prompts the thought that Mr. E. V. Lucas is also among
the Sages, for has he not given it as his opinion that “early rising
leads to self-conceit, intolerance, and dulness after dinner”? “The old
poet,” says he, “was right--

    ‘When the morning riseth red
    Rise not thou but keep thy Bed;
    When the Dawn is dull and gray
    Sleep is still the better way:
    Beasts are up betimes, but then
    They are beasts and we are men.’”

The last of the social failures is the Flatterer, oily and ingratiating,
but treacherous and in the end exposed:


    _The words of a flatterer are like dainty morsels
    Going down to the innermost parts of the body_ (Pr. 18^{8}).

    _A man that flattereth his neighbour
    Spreadeth a net for his feet_ (Pr. 29^{5}; cp. 26^{28}).

    _He that rebuketh a man shall afterward find more favour
    Than he that flattereth with the tongue_ (Pr. 28^{23}).

Theophrastus, a Greek writer, has left us certain character-sketches of
Athenian society about 300 B.C., many of which might profitably be
studied in relation to these Hebrew epigrams. His essay on _The
Flatterer_ is a case in point. Here is the Greek conception:--

“Flattery may be considered as a mode of companionship, base but
profitable to him who flatters. The flatterer is a person who will say
as he walks with another, ‘Do you see how people are looking at you?
This happens to no man in Athens but you.’... With these and the like
words he will remove a morsel of wool from his patron’s coat; or, if a
speck of chaff has been laid on the other’s hair by the wind, he will
pick it off, adding with a laugh, ‘Do you see? Because I have not met
you for two days, you have had your beard full of white hairs--although
no one has darker hair for his years than you?’ Then he will request the
company to be silent while the great man is speaking, and will praise
him too in his hearing, and mark his approbation at a pause with ‘True’;
or he will laugh at a frigid joke and stuff his cloak in his mouth as if
he could not repress his amusement. He will request those who pass by to
‘stand still until His Honour has passed.’... When he assists at the
purchase of slippers, he will declare that the foot is more shapely than
the shoes. If his patron is approaching a friend, he will run forward
and say ‘He is coming to you’; and then, turning back, ‘I have announced
you.’... He is the first of the guests to praise the wine, and to say
as he reclines next the host, “How delicate is your fare,’ and (taking
up something from the table) ‘Now this--how excellent it is.’... He
will take the cushions from the slave in the theatre and spread them on
the seat with his own hands. He will say that his patron’s house is well
built, his land well planted, and that his portrait is excellent.”[57]
Even when full allowance is made for the unity of authorship and the
conscious and careful artistry of the Greek writing, it must be felt
that comparison between the Hebrew portrait and the Greek is scarcely
possible, the advantage is so entirely with the latter. The Wise were
perhaps unusually dull in their _dicta_ concerning the Flatterer, but at
their best they never come within sight of the brilliant detail that
makes the Greek portrait live before our eyes. It is all the more
significant therefore that the Hebrew has hit the one point that the
Greek ignores or overlooks: the moral issues of flattery. Theophrastus,
the artist, observes that flattery is a base employment; with its evil
and disastrous consequences he does not trouble himself. The Wise miss
almost everything except that: _A man that flattereth his neighbour_,
said they, _spreadeth a net for his feet_. They offer an unadorned
assertion; but, taken to heart, it would prove more useful to society
than all the subtlety of the Athenian delineation. Note then in passing
how the contrast is an epitome of the struggle between the two
world-ideas, Hellenic and Jewish; on the one hand the overwhelming charm
and skill of the Greek, and on the other the unfailing instinct of the
Hebrew for the one thing the Greek world lacked.


In the lazy man the Wise found a subject that stirred not only their wit
but also their eloquence. In two instances proverb has expanded to
become a parable and a picture, both of which arrive at the same
conclusion. The parable is very famous--

    _Go to the ant, thou sluggard,
    Consider her ways and be wise,
    Which, having no chief, overseer or ruler,
    Provideth her meat in the summer
    And gathereth her food in the harvest.
    How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard?
    When wilt thou arise from thy slumber?
    Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,
    A little folding of the hands to sleep--
    So shall thy poverty come as a robber,
    And thy want as an armed man_ (Pr. 6^{6-11}).

But the picture deserves to be no less familiar:

    _I passed by the field of the slothful,
    By the vineyard of the witless man:
    And lo! it was all grown over with thorns,
    Its surface was covered with nettles,
    Its stonewall was broken down.
    Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,
    A little folding of the hands to sleep--
    So shall thy poverty come as a robber,
    And thy want as an armed man_ (Pr. 24^{30-34}).

Besides these longer sketches there are several brief and pithy words
about the lazy man. First, a delightful “hit” at him to whom any excuse
for idleness is better than none:

     _The sluggard saith, “There is a lion outside. I shall be slain in
     the streets!”_ (Pr. 22^{13}).

And here are two beautiful verses which breathe the very air of

    _As the door turneth upon its hinges,
    So doth the sluggard upon his bed.
    The sluggard burieth his hand in the dish;
    It wearyeth him to bring it to his mouth again_ (Pr. 26^{14, 15}).

The verse immediately following (Pr. 26^{16}) will serve to conclude
this topic, for it shows the sluggard to be own cousin to the type of
man whom next we shall consider:

    _The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit
    Than seven men that can render a reason._

As the Wise went through the streets of Jerusalem and stood to teach in
its open spaces, they observed certain men of various occupations,
differing one from another both in social rank and in mental ability,
whom nevertheless they classed under one category--THE SONS OF FOLLY.
There were, of course, distinctions in the nature of their folly. The
Authorised and Revised Versions are content to differentiate only three
types, namely--Simpletons[58] (whether from lack of brain or lack of
instruction, “Dullards”), Scorners[59], and Fools. The Hebrew text goes
further and classifies the last named, the Fools, into (1) _Ivvillim_,
those whose folly is due chiefly to the unrealised weakness of their
nature--ignorant, vain, confident, headstrong, infatuate persons: in a
word, “stupid fools”; and (2) _Kesilim_, whose is the folly of a gross
and sensual nature, men who are morally, rather than mentally,
unresponsive to the finer aspects of life--insensate, brutish persons,
“coarse fools”; and (3) the _Nabal_, the man who is deliberate in his
wrong-doing, the “Fool of Fools,” but whose folly is only folly,
provided the moral instinct of Humanity is sound and the law of the
Universe is ultimately against evil and Man was meant for God and
goodness. He it is of whom a Psalmist, getting to the very root of the
problem, says _The fool hath said in his heart: “There is no God.”_
Having made the fundamental error, his whole judgment of life has become
perverted. Probably he is an astute person; but the greater his ability,
the greater and more pernicious will be his folly. Naturally, this fool
and the scorner were often one and the same person. The Wise speak
little of him, except in his capacity as a scorner; but they recognise
that he is terrible. One of the four things that cause the earth to
tremble, say they, is when a man of this sort is filled with meat (Pr.
30^{22}). Elsewhere (Pr. 17^{7}) they remark sarcastically that _Honest
words do not become a fool_--decency would be out of keeping with his
character. So much for “the Fool _par excellence_.”

The rest of the sayings about “fools” are concerned with those of the
first and second types. If it were our intention to go into the teaching
fully, the nice distinctions of the Hebrew would have to be observed
with care.[60] But now that the _Nabal_ has been considered, it will be
sufficient to follow the classification of the English Bible--scorners,
simpletons, and fools--allowing the precise distinction between the
_weak_ and the _coarse_ fool to lapse.

The _Simpleton_ is one type; his folly may, and should be, cured by
instruction. But he is disappointingly dull of hearing and “slow at the
uptake”: _How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity?_ cries
Wisdom to them (Pr. 1^{22}). Nevertheless, although the teacher may fail
to give them efficient brains, he can perhaps save them from evil and,
in a quiet, humble way they may learn that fear of the Lord which is a
sufficiency of true Wisdom. Wherefore on the whole the Wise spoke to
these men sympathetically and hopefully: so in the exordium which states
the purpose of the _Book of Proverbs_ we are told that it is meant _to
give prudence to the simple_ (Pr. 1^{4}).

To the average fool the Wise were severe. Were they fair in being so?
Surely many of these fools were either weak-willed or coarse, as the
case might be, because they were just uninstructed “simpletons?” No!
These are they who have opportunity but refuse or neglect it. Therefore
their condition is culpable, and the Wise do well not to mince matters
concerning the folly of their conduct. Such persons require to be
kicked into sense, and the Wise were of opinion that in some instances
the kicking might with advantage begin by being physical. Hold! Of whom
are we speaking? Of the inhabitants of Jerusalem? Yes, but, suppose we
were analysing the population of our own times, would there not be more
than a few found guilty of just such folly--men and women
_undisciplined_ in mind and soul? Possessing plenty of wits and much
capacity for moral feeling, they fling their chances aside. It is a
perilous attitude towards the realities of life, for refusal to learn
grows ever easier as life goes on. What chance do thousands give
themselves of acquiring Christian faith, or even of maintaining or
improving their intellectual and moral qualities? Do they seek for the
good in the Christian Churches, or for the faults, and so miss the good?
How much study have they given to the knowledge of God in Christ? Many
have consulted their Bradshaw more often than their Bible. What efforts
do they make to apprehend the meaning and value of Christianity in face
of modern knowledge and in view of modern conditions? “Last Sunday you
managed to evade the message which God sent you: that makes it much
easier to evade the message He sends you to-day. Next Sunday you will be
almost totally indifferent. Soon you will get out of reach of His word
altogether, saying it does you no good. Then you will deny that it is
His word or His message.”[61] This reference to Church-going is of
course but one point out of many: the principle at issue is one which
vitally concerns the whole of a man’s attitude to life. The fool is
almost unteachable, and that of course is his supreme peril. He is so
self-confident, so unreasonable, so certain he is right and others
wrong. He does not dream of becoming wiser, because already he knows
himself to be as wise as Solomon. Therefore the Sages are justified in
their unsparing rebukes. What is wrong with the fool, is primarily his
moral condition; and accordingly for the moment we need not trouble to
distinguish between the weak fool and the coarse. What is censured in
them both is neither their present silliness nor their grossness, but
their unwillingness to learn. They have what amounts to an error of
moral vision, and they desperately need to realise the fact. Mr.
Chesterton has somewhere said, “The fool is one who has an impediment in
his thought. It is _not_, as the modern fellows say, put there by his
grandmother. I have wandered over the world (so to speak) trying to find
some faithful, simple soul who really believed in his own grandmother.
He does not exist. The first act of the fool, when he is articulate, is
to teach his grandmother how to suck eggs. Fools have no reverence.
Fools have no humility.” Doubtless a man must not be blamed for the
initial quality of his mind, and possibly the Wise were too caustic to
the congenitally stupid. But then the Wisdom they were teaching was not
intellectually difficult to acquire; it was not book-learning but that
Wisdom which is from on high and can be revealed to babes and sucklings.

As for the third class, the Scorner or Chief Fool; he too suffers from
corruption of moral vision. But with him the distortion is desperate: he
calls white black and black white. For this alert, deliberate Fool, the
Wise had little hope or none at all; he has chosen the path of Folly
with his eyes open. All they can do is to meet his scorn with a greater
scorn, and make their appeal in his hearing. One does not wonder that
the Wise were baffled by this type of man. There is hope of such a
person, but the hope is in the fact of Christ. This Fool has wit enough
to rethink the situation, if he chose. He may some day have imperative
cause to reconsider his view of life, and so may discover first that
Christ is truth, and then learn that Christ can pardon.

We turn now to the sayings themselves, or rather to a selection from
them, for the sons of Folly provoked very many proverbs.

A number are humorous and spicy--the sort of phrases that might catch
the ear of a crowd, raise a laugh at the fool’s expense, and remain
fixed in the hearer’s memory by the barb of wit. Think, for instance, of
the feeble, vacillating eyes that so often accompany and reflect a weak
intellect or character:

    _Wisdom stands ever before the mind of a prudent man,
    But the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth_ (Pr. 17^{24}).

and for comment on the mind behind the eyes, this will do:

    _The mind of a fool is like a cartwheel,
    And his thoughts like a rolling axle-tree_ (E. 33^{5}).

The Wise laid their finger with much accuracy on the salient features of
the foolish character. Thus in the dullard they point to his credulity,
_The simpleton believeth every word, but the prudent looketh well to his
going_ (Pr. 14^{15}). The fool is apt to be greedy of reward, _The fool
will say “I have no friend and I have no thanks for my good deeds_ (E.
20^{16}); and grudging in his charity, _To-day he will lend but
to-morrow he will ask it again_ (E. 20^{15}), although himself a
spendthrift, _Precious treasure abides in the Wise man’s house, but a
foolish man swallows it up_ (Pr. 21^{20}, cp. Pr. 14^{1}). He is a
blusterer, _A Wise man is cautious and avoids misfortune, but the fool
rageth and is confident_ (Pr. 14^{16}); shallow and frivolous, _As the
crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of a fool_
(_Ecclesiastes_ 7^{6}); garrulous, saying what he thinks before he
thinks what he says, _The heart of fools is in their mouth, but the
mouth of wise men is in their heart_. (E. 21^{26}); changeable and
unreliable, _The foolish man changeth as the moon_ (E. 27^{11}); _Take
not counsel with a fool, for he will not be able to conceal the matter_
(E. 8^{17}). He is a bully often, but his courage is unstable, _Pales
set on a high place will not stand against the wind; so the cowardice in
a foolish heart will not bear up against any fear_ (E. 22^{18}). He
aspires to be witty, but seldom has wit enough, _The legs of the lame
hang loose: so does a parable in the mouth of fools_ (Pr. 26^{7}).

Nevertheless the fool’s pride and self-confidence is complete, _The way
of the foolish is right in his own eyes_ (Pr. 12^{15}; cp. 14^{3},
28^{26}); so that he loses sense of the awfulness of evil and even
enjoys it, _It is as sport to a fool to do wickedness_ (Pr. 10^{23}, cp.
13^{19}); sneering at those who fain would give him guidance, _A fool
despiseth his father’s correction ... a fool scorns his mother_ (Pr.
15^{5, 20}); and hating information, _A fool hath no delight in
understanding_ (Pr. 18^{2}). Thus it is almost useless to attempt to
instruct a fool--here is a counsel of despair, _Speak not in the hearing
of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of thy words_ (Pr.
23^{9})--and here is the sigh of the weary teacher, _Wherefore is there
a price in the hands of the fool to buy wisdom, seeing that he hath no
wits?_ (Pr. 17^{16}). _The inward parts of a fool are like a broken
vessel, and he will hold no knowledge_ (E. 21^{14}). _He that teacheth a
fool is as one that glueth a potsherd together_ (E. 22^{7}). The fool,
in fact, is in uttermost peril of being incorrigible, _He that
discourseth to a fool is as one discoursing to a man that slumbereth; at
the end thereof he will say “What is it?”_ (E. 22^{8}). Altogether it is
hard to suffer fools gladly:

    _A stone is heavy and the sand weighty,
    But a fool’s vexation is heavier than both_ (Pr. 27^{3}).

Wherefore the Wise dealt them some shrewd blows, being well aware that
the skin of the dullard and the scornful was tough:

    _A whip for a horse, a bridle for an ass,
    And a rod for the back of fools_ (Pr. 26^{3}).

    _As a dog returneth to his vomit,
    So a fool repeateth his folly_ (Pr. 26^{11}).

    _A rebuke entereth deeper into a sensible man
    Than a hundred stripes into a fool_ (Pr. 17^{10}).

    _Though thou shouldst bray a fool in a mortar,
    Yet will his folly not depart from him_ (Pr. 27^{22}).

It may be thought that some of these words are over-bitter and even
savage. If so, the plea can be advanced that there was probably much
provocation. The Scorner seems to have been a familiar figure, and he
was doubtless clever enough to upset with his mockery many an audience
to which the Wise-man was holding forth. _He that correcteth a scorner
getteth to himself insult, and he that reproveth a wicked man getteth
himself reviling_ (Pr. 9^{7})--_that_ sounds like the fruit of
experience, and there is much that is suggestive in this saying
also--_The proud and haughty man, scorner is his name, he worketh in the
arrogance of pride_ (Pr. 21^{24}). But if the Wise suffered at times,
one gathers that they found no small consolation for their hurt dignity
in such reflections as these:

    _Answer not a fool according to his folly
    Lest thou be like unto him_ (Pr. 26^{4}).

    _Judgements are prepared for scorners,
    And stripes for the back of fools_ (Pr. 19^{29}).


The Ideal

The Wise were not cynical persons intent on the faults and failings of
humanity. The sayings recorded in the preceding chapter give their
comments on the abnormal elements of society, and do not represent their
general outlook on life. The real centre of their interest was the
ordinary man. They were well aware that for one incorrigible fool or one
notorious flatterer there are a hundred, or a thousand, average persons
who, if they do not grow better, will assuredly grow worse; and to these
the bulk of their instruction was directed. The Wise therefore ought not
to suffer in our estimation, because we have arbitrarily chosen to set
their critical opinions in the foreground. And if it be insisted that,
in point of fact, criticism of others is a prominent feature of the
proverbs, the reply is first, that we are not endeavouring or expecting
to prove the Wise innocent of all censoriousness or occasional snobbery;
and secondly, that criticism is an almost indispensable weapon for
practical moralists. Human beings hate to be lectured directly on their
weaknesses; yet when the faults of others are being exhibited they will
listen merrily and attentively, notwithstanding the possibility that
some shrewd blow may come knocking at the gates of conscience. Every
teacher knows that the average man will be left only offended and
unbelieving if he is told bluntly how much his small failings leave to
be desired; but show him by a shocking example whither the way of pride
or folly tends and he will often take to heart the lesson. It might
therefore be claimed that in a sense all the proverbs were addressed to
the normal, teachable man, even those which rebuke an extreme fault in
an extreme manner being meant for the ears of others besides the
hardened sinner against whom they were ostensibly directed.

Certainly the great majority of the proverbs are applicable to the
affairs of the rank and file of men. So keen were the Wise on the task
of admonishing and encouraging very ordinary men that they uttered many
a commonplace in a fashion too simple to be memorable or even
momentarily interesting to any person of alert intelligence.
Nevertheless such material cannot be neglected here, and ought not to be
despised. It must not be neglected, just because it is actually a large
section of our subject matter; it ought not to be despised, for it all
helps to show the humanism of the Wise, testifying that they were honest
and practical teachers rather than clever writers anxious only to
compile a book of skilful proverbs. _That_ teacher is to be condemned
who cannot, or will not, relate his thinking to the capacities of his
hearers. The Wise deserve praise because they said a great deal that
even the simpleton could not plead was beyond him.

We have begun, it seems, by tasting some of the spices with which the
Wise seasoned their counsel. We come now to the solid matter of their
doctrine. By noting the qualities they praised or blamed, the deeds
which won their approval or their censure, we shall gain a general
conception of their aspirations. What were their ideals for men as
individuals, as members of a family, as citizens of a State?


The threefold division just suggested--man in his individual, domestic
and political relationships--seems simple and natural, but proves
difficult to maintain, because the first category in reality trespasses
on the other two. Strictly speaking, none of the virtues and the vices
concern the individual alone. If a man ruin his health by intemperate
indulgence of fleshly desires, doubtless he is himself the prime
sufferer, but obviously the State loses something thereby, and woe
betide his family! Still, such a quality as Temperance may reasonably
enough be classed as a personal virtue, being primarily an aspect of
Man’s duty to himself. But what shall be said of duties such as
Generosity, Forbearance, Deceitfulness, the exercise of which might be
reckoned almost as much Man’s duty to his neighbours in family or State
as to himself? In which division shall we reckon these? For convenience,
let these also be considered under the first heading as personal, rather
than social, qualities. Enough material will still remain for use in the
second and third sections of our topic.

(_a_) VIRTUES OF RESTRAINT. A convenient starting-point for our review
of the characteristics the Wise desired to see in the individual is
provided by certain negative virtues of restraint, which the proverbs
frequently enjoin.


The duty of Moderation in eating and drinking is sufficiently, though
not urgently, commended: _He that loveth pleasure shall come to want,
and he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich_ (Pr. 21^{17})--_A
companion of gluttonous men shameth his father_ (Pr. 28^{7}). Again,
_Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoso erreth therein no
wise man is he_ (Pr. 20^{1}; cp. 23^{29-35}). Not that the Wise were
advocates of an ascetic abstinence: they did no more than commend
moderation.[62] Thus Ben Sirach, who certainly enjoyed banqueting on
good food and good wine, contents himself with advising the
inexperienced “not to eat greedily lest he be hated”; _How sufficient_,
says he, _to a well-mannered man is a very little, and he doth not
breathe hard upon his bed. Healthy sleep cometh of moderate eating; he
riseth early and his wits are with him. The pain of wakefulness and
colic and griping, these go to the insatiable man_ (E. 31^{19-20}).

[Sidenote: II OF ANGER]

The duty of curbing anger is emphasised in several telling proverbs.
Doubtless the evil consequences of unbridled passion are more evident
among the quick-tempered peoples of southern and eastern lands; but the
northerner is apt to be sullen, and perhaps what he gains by initial
restraint he loses through the permanence of his indignation. Who dare
affirm that a warning against wrath is not sorely needed in all lands
and all centuries? What havoc has been wrought in human affairs by
passion, be it sullen or sudden! Not even poverty is chargeable with
causing more pain and misery. In delivering their admonitions the Wise
took up no specially exalted standpoint: they were content to note the
plain consequences of anger--its disastrous effect on society, _An angry
man stirreth up strife and a wrathful man abounds in transgression_ (Pr.
29^{22}, cp. 15^{18}); and how that the angry man (too weak to conceal
his emotions, _A fool uttereth all his anger but a wise man keepeth it
back and stilleth it_ [Pr. 29^{11}]), must himself suffer in the end,
_He that is soon angry will deal foolishly and a man of wicked desires
is hated_ (Pr. 14^{17}). And again to much the same effect they said in
a phrase that has become immortal, _He that is slow to anger is better
than the mighty, and he that controlleth his temper than he that taketh
a city_ (Pr. 16^{32}). How excellent that last proverb is! “So hot,
little man, so hot?” The British Government has discovered the uses of
advertisement for thrusting facts before the unobservant: one may
disapprove the practice but not on the ground that it is ineffective.
What if this proverb (and a few other valuable sayings that the Jewish
Sages could supply) were to appear one fine day on a million placards
throughout the Kingdom? Would the money go wasted, or would there be the
swiftest and most economical reform on record?

[Sidenote: III OF SPEECH]

Closely associated with restraint of passion is restraint of speech, a
duty which is considered in several forceful proverbs: _Death and life
are in the power of the tongue, and they that love it shall eat the
fruit thereof_ (Pr. 18^{21})--_He that guardeth his mouth keepeth his
life, but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction_ (Pr.
13^{3}). Of the specious dignity that silence for a time confers, they
said with truth and humour: _Even a fool when he holdeth his peace is
counted wise; when he shutteth his lips he is esteemed as prudent_ (Pr.
17^{28}). On the other hand, speaking the right word at the right time
won their keen approval. Was it not the very art in which they
themselves sought to excel? _A man hath joy in the answer of his lips,
and a word in due season how good it is_ (Pr. 15^{23}).

       *       *       *       *       *

(_b_) THINGS TO AVOID. Much can be learnt regarding the ideals of the
Wise by observing what they counselled men to shun. Thus the sayings on
the Sluggard (p. 128) might be used to show how they hated Indolence:
_As vinegar to the teeth and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to
them that send him_ (Pr. 10^{26}). They censured Disdain and Pride: _He
that despiseth his neighbour is void of wisdom_ (Pr. 11^{12})--_Pride
goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall_ (Pr.
16^{18}). Ingratitude is dealt with in a restrained but memorable
saying, _Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart out of his
house_ (Pr. 17^{13}); and there are these two splendid proverbs against
Revenge, _Say not, “I will recompense evil”: wait on the Lord, and he
will save thee_ (Pr. 20^{22})--and _Rejoice not when thine enemy
falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he is overthrown, lest the
Lord seeing it be displeased, and transfer his anger from him to thee_
(Pr. 24^{17-18})[63]. Recall, by way of contrast, the terrible Italian
proverbs quoted in Chapter I. (p. 23); remember the innate ferocity,
derived from the ancient custom of the Desert vendettas, that has always
characterised the quarrels of the near East; and the wonder of such
generous and noble exhortations as these in the Jewish proverbs cannot
fail to be perceived.

Here is a vice which the Wise counted worse even than anger: _Wrath is
cruel and anger is overwhelming but who can stand against Jealousy_ (Pr.
27^{4})? They repeatedly point out the evil of contentiousness: _As
coals to the hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man to
inflame strife_ (Pr. 26^{21})--_It is an honour for a man to keep aloof
from strife, but every fool sheweth his teeth_ (Pr. 20^{3}). One proverb
makes use of two curious similes to enforce the lesson, _Lay thine hand
upon thy mouth; for, as the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and
as wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood, so the forcing of wrath
bringeth forth strife_ (Pr. 30^{33}) and another with a touch of dry
humour remarks, _He seizes a dog by the ears who meddles with a quarrel
not his own_ (Pr. 26^{17}), _i.e._, having once taken hold he cannot let

What the Wise thought of Slander and of Flattery has been indicated
sufficiently in the preceding chapter.

Dissimulation and Treachery stirred them to a fine contempt: _Fervent
lips and a wicked heart are an earthen vessel plated with silver. He
that hateth dissembleth with his lips, but layeth up deceit within him:
when he speaketh fair, believe him not; for in his heart are seven
abominations. Though his hatred cloak itself with guile, his wickedness
shall be shown openly before the congregation_ (Pr. 26^{23-26})--brave
words and vigorous! One feels very sure that the Empire which betrayed
its mind in the Hymn of Hate would need to show more than the penitence
of fair words on fervent lips before it could hope for clemency from
this Sage.

(_c_) THE VIRTUES. So much for the Vices. It is time to consider the
positive qualities that the Sages praised, and the foregoing picture of
guile raises thoughts of its opposite. Let us begin therefore with the
praises of True Friendship. Ben Sirach expands the subject into a little
essay: _If thou wouldest get thee a friend, get him by dint of trial,
and be not in haste to trust him. For there is a friend that is such for
his own occasion, and he will not continue in the day of thine
affliction. And there is a friend that turneth to an enemy, and he will
be openly at strife with thee to thy confusion. And there is a friend
that is a companion at the table_ (_i.e._, a “cupboard-lover”), _and he
will not remain in the hour of thy distress.... A faithful friend is a
strong defence, and he that hath found him hath found a treasure. There
is nothing can be exchanged for a faithful friend, and his excellency is
beyond all price. A faithful friend is a medicine of life, and they that
fear the Lord shall find him_ (E. 6^{7{ff}}). To match any single
proverb against such words is a hard test, yet there is one that not
only can bear the ordeal but is perhaps the finest of all epitomes of
friendship: _A friend is always friendly, born to be a brother in
adversity_ (Pr. 17^{17}, mg. R.V.).

Seeing that the Wise saw in the fool’s pride and self-sufficiency his
worst and fatal error, it is only to be expected that they should lay
constant stress on the duties of preserving an open mind and continuing
amenable to instruction and reproof: _Take fast hold of instruction; let
her not go, for she is thy life_ (Pr. 4^{13})--_Whoso loveth correction
loveth knowledge, but he that hateth reproof is a boor_ (Pr.
12^{1})--_He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck shall suddenly
be broken, and that beyond mending_ (Pr. 29^{1}).

No less prominent and much more remarkable (seeing how profoundly and
persistently falsehood in speech has beset the Oriental character) is
the demand for Truthfulness: _A righteous man hates deception_ (Pr.
13^{5}). We are told that only truth endures: _The lip of truth shall be
established for ever, whereas a lying tongue is but for a moment_ (Pr.
12^{19}). Sincerity of character is often extolled in plain speech and
in metaphor: _The righteousness of the perfect shall make straight his
way_ (Pr. 11^{5})--_The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life_
(Pr. 10^{11})--_The tongue of the righteous is like choice silver_ (Pr.
10^{20})--_The lips of the righteous feed many_ (Pr. 10^{21})--_The
thoughts of the righteous are just_ (Pr. 12^{5})--_The heart of the
righteous studieth what to answer, but the mouth of the wicked poureth
out evil things_ (Pr. 15^{28}).[64]--_The fruit of the righteous is a
tree of life_ (Pr. 11^{30}). Integrity of purpose is even more
beautifully commended in this memorable proverb: _He that loveth
pureness of heart, and on whose lips is grace, the king shall be his
friend_ (Pr. 22^{11}).

Perhaps not a few of the Wise wore an air of superiority to their
neighbours; some may have given God thanks that they were not as other
men; but assuredly not all fell victims to what was for them a natural
temptation, and justice demands that full weight be assigned to the
numerous sayings in which they castigate Vanity or praise Humility. For
instance, _When pride cometh_, said they, _then cometh shame, but with
the lowly is Wisdom_ (Pr. 11^{2}).

To be temperate in body and mind, energetic, peaceable, honest and
truthful, teachable, sincere, loyal and honourable--evidently the Wise
made no small demand on human nature. But above and beyond these
qualities, and very wonderful in the old Oriental world, are these
virtues, which the Wise expected good men to possess and
show--consideration for others, helpfulness, mercy, kindness of word and
deed, and even forgiving love. They declare that, _Whoso mocketh the
poor reproacheth his Maker, and he that is glad at calamity shall not go
unpunished_ (Pr. 17^{5}). The righteous ought to be a guide to his
neighbour (Pr. 12^{26}); and (as an arresting passage insists) the
obligation must not be shuffled off or wilfully ignored: _Deliver them
that are carried away unto death and them that are tottering to the
slaughter see that thou hold back. If thou sayest, “Behold we knew not
this,” doth not He that weigheth the hearts consider it? And he that
keepeth thy soul doth He not know it? And shall he not render to every
man according to his work_ (Pr. 24^{11, 12})? As regards the broad
social applications of this proverb, the deep guilt of all nations
leaves little to choose between them. But taking the command on its more
intimate and individual aspect, does it not utter a warning that the
average Briton has peculiar need to hear? For our national character is
such that we hate interfering with another man’s way of life; we are
even shy of rebuking the young. There is, of course, a virtue in our
natural tolerance, for men cannot be school-mastered into mending their
ways. But conscience will admit that much of our non-interference is
mere shirking of duty, a passing-by on the other side. If we were less
frightened to warn or to help others, less anxious how our words would
be received and whether we might be snubbed and made uncomfortable or
called a Pharisee, it may be that, whenever we did so warn or help, we
should do it with a better grace and therefore more effectually. Since
nine out of ten are wont to err on the side of silence, we reiterate the
injunction ... _them that are tottering to the slaughter see that thou
hold back_. There are times when diffidence may be a sin, and the fear
of contention cowardice.

Concerning Mercy in deed or thought and Honesty in speech the Wise
said, _Let not mercy and truth forsake thee. Bind them upon thy neck,
write them on the tablet of thine heart; so shalt thou find favour and
good repute in the sight of God and man_ (Pr. 3^{3, 4}). There are
phrases concerning Kindness which live in the memory and touch the
heart: _The healing tongue is a tree of life_ (Pr. 15^{4})--_There is
that speaketh rashly like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of
the Wise is health_ (Pr. 12^{18}), and a saying that for all its
gentleness holds the conscience in a vice-like grip: _A soft answer
turneth away wrath_ (Pr. 15^{1})--so hard to believe when occasion
presses, but proved true a thousand thousand times. And here, in
conclusion, are three, wonderful, winged proverbs, which haunt one with
the magic of their moral challenge: _Say not, “I will do so to him as he
hath done to me, I will render to the man according to his work”_ (Pr.
24^{29})--_If thine enemy be hungry give him bread to eat, if he thirst
give him water to drink; for thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head,
and the Lord shall reward thee_ (Pr. 25^{21}).

    _Hatred stirreth up strife,
    But love covereth all transgressions_ (Pr. 10^{12}).[65]

So much for Man, the individual. To finish the outline of the Wise-men’s
ideal we have still to consider the proverbs concerning family life and
the wider relationships of the State.


A slight acquaintance with Oriental life will suggest the probability
that in the family, as the Wise conceived it, fathers and sons were the
only important figures; and Jewish proverbs at first sight confirm the
conjecture: “Daughters,” says Kent[66], “are passed by with a silence
that is significant.” But, significant of what? Not that they were
ill-used or neglected or unloved in Hebrew homes, but that the Wise not
unnaturally acquiesced in the normal conditions of Oriental existence
which inevitably made a daughter of much less importance than a son. A
girl was debarred from the manifold interests of commercial, social, and
political affairs; she could not, like a son, perpetuate the family
name; nor could the parents hope to see in her the support and strength
of their old age. The Wise never attempted to ignore facts, and they
never aimed at nor imagined revolutions in the fundamental circumstances
of society as they found it. But we have to confess that Ben Sirach does
more than acquiesce in the recognised limitations of daughters. He was
reprehensibly querulous upon the subject, and we fear lest some who read
may find it difficult to forgive him for such a ridiculous exhibition of
masculine stupidity. Says Ben Sirach (and from the slow shake of his
head we infer this to be no hasty _dictum_, but the result of his mature
and cautious consideration), _A daughter is a secret cause of
wakefulness to a father, and anxiety for her putteth away sleep.... Keep
a strict watch over a headstrong daughter, lest she make thee a
laughing-stock to thine enemies, a byword in the city, and notorious
among the people_ (E. 42^{9-11}).

Closer scrutiny of the Wise-men’s thoughts about family life reveals
something surprising and gratifying. It might have been expected that in
any Eastern society Woman would continue all her days to be held in
small esteem, carrying a heavy yoke for scant reward. But the Hebrew
proverbs testify on the contrary that when a Jewish woman grew up and
became wife or mother she stepped at once into a noble and influential
position, enjoying a real share in the honour or prosperity of her
husband, and entitled equally with him to the obedience and devotion of
her children. No less than the father she was reckoned by the Wise to be
the children’s guide and counsellor. She had reasonable opportunity for
social intercourse with other persons than the members of her own
household, and within her own house was trusted with responsibilities
that gave her a large share in the making or marring of its happiness
and fortunes. The Wise-men’s ideal of married life is presented in a
famous panegyric, which deserves to be given at length, for some writers
have declared--not unreasonably in view of the immemorial inferiority to
which the women of the East have been condemned--that it is the most
remarkable feature of the _Book of Proverbs_.


    _A virtuous woman who can find?
    For her worth is far above rubies.
    The heart of her husband trusteth in her,
    And he shall have no lack of gain.
    She doeth him good and not evil
    All the days of her life.
    She seeketh wool and flax,
    And worketh it up as she pleaseth.
    She is like the merchant-ships,
    Bringing her food from afar.
    She riseth also while it is yet night,
    And giveth food to her household.
    She examines a field and buyeth it;
    With her earnings she planteth a vineyard.
    She girdeth herself with strength,
    And maketh strong her arms.
    She perceives that her profit is good;
    Her lamp goes not out by night.
    She puts out her hand to the distaff,
    And layeth hold on the spindle.
    She extendeth her hand to the poor;
    Yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy._
    She feareth not snow for her household,
    For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
    She maketh her cushions of tapestry;
    Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
    Her husband is distinguished in the gates,
    When he sitteth among the elders of the land.
    She maketh linen cloth and sells it,
    And delivereth girdles to the merchants.
    Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    And she laughs at the time to come.
    Her speech is full of wisdom,
    And kindly instruction is on her tongue.
    She looketh well to the ways of her household
    And eateth not the bread of idleness.

Industrious, skilful, wise, provident and kind, she is rewarded by the
praise and affection of husband and children--

    _Her husband also, and he praiseth her saying:_

    _“Many daughters have done excellently
    But thou excellest them all.”_

Wherefore despite the despondent query, _A virtuous woman who can find?_
which somewhat quaintly introduces this eulogy, we may believe that the
ideal thus pictured was a reality in many Jewish homes. To be critical,
the poem has a touch of the _Hausfrau_ conception which is none too
pleasing, but it does not set out to say everything about Woman, and one
might fairly read some romance between the lines; certainly the
enthusiasm of the last verse has a note of something deeper than “thanks
for value received.” To give further assurance, if that be required, we
may also quote this happy saying, _Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good
thing, and obtaineth favour from the Lord_ (Pr. 18^{22}).

The treatment of children advocated by the Wise is accurately, although
too succinctly, summarised in the notorious “Spare the rod and spoil the
child” doctrine (cp. Pr. 13^{24}). Thus we are told, _The rod and
reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself causeth shame to his
mother_ (Pr. 29^{15})--_Withhold not correction from a child, for if
thou beat him with the rod he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with
the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from Sheol_ (Pr. 23^{13, 14}). All
this sounds merely harsh. But the splendid records of Jewish family life
make one suspect that the Wise were sterner in their words than in their
deeds, that at least their justice was often tempered with mercy and
their discipline with genuine affection. Ben Sirach, the most severe, is
also the most encouraging. Here is a truly forbidding passage: _Pamper
thy child, and he shall make thee afraid; play with him and he will
grieve thee. Laugh not with him, lest thou have sorrow with him and thou
shalt gnash thy teeth in the end. Give him no liberty in his youth, and
wink not at his follies. Bow down his neck in his youth, and beat him on
the sides while he is a child, lest he wax stubborn and be disobedient
unto thee, and there shall be sorrow unto thy soul_ (E. 30^{9-12}). But
against its ferocious energy set the kindly, peaceable atmosphere of
this exhortation in which Ben Sirach expands the fifth commandment on
the relations of children to parents: _He that giveth glory to his
father shall have length of days, and he that hearkeneth to the Lord
shall bring rest to his mother. In word and deed honour thy father that
a blessing may come upon thee from him: for the blessing of the father
stablisheth the children’s houses, but the curse of the mother rooteth
out the foundations.... My son, help thy father in his old age, and
grieve him not as long as he liveth. If he fail in understanding, have
patience with him, and dishonour him not all the days of his life. For
the relieving of thy father shall not be forgotten, and over against thy
sins it shall be set to thy credit. In the day of thine affliction it
shall be remembered to thine advantage, to put away thine iniquities as
the heat melteth hoar-frost_ (E. 3^{6-9, 12-15}). Further, the severity
of the Wise regarding children might seem less repellent if we
appreciated more keenly the circumstances of their age. Probably their
stern discipline has to be set against a background of disastrous
slackness. How were children brought up in the Græco-Syrian cities? Were
they sent forth untutored to join the mad dances of unbridled
inclination? Was there in but too many Jewish, as well as Hellenic,
homes appalling blindness to the need of control and moral training?
Great allowance must be made for the Wise, if they were under the
necessity of pointing a contrast. And who can deny the essential wisdom
of their attitude? Who dare say that kindness does not lie in an excess
of discipline rather than in an excess of indulgence? _Train up a child
in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from
it_ (Pr. 22^{6}). As to the value which the Wise attached to the virtue
of filial duty, if further evidence than the quotation just given from
Ben Sirach is needed, it lies to hand in proverbs that condemn the deeds
of unnatural children, who used violence to their parents (Pr. 19^{26}),
or mocked and robbed them (Pr. 30^{17}; 28^{24}). Listen to the
indignation in this utterance: _Whoso curseth his father and mother, his
lamp shall be put out in blackest darkness_ (Pr. 20^{20}).

The servants of the household are less noticed in the proverbs than one
would expect. Usually they were slaves, and the _status_ to our mind
suggests hardships and injustice. But the remarkable provisions laid
down in the Hebrew Law regarding Hebrew slaves greatly alleviated their
lot, preventing or mitigating cruelties which frequently befell the
slaves of the Gentile nations. Few topics, in fact, more arrestingly
demonstrate the superiority of the moral feeling of the Jews as compared
with the Greeks or Romans than the treatment accorded to their
respective slaves. In ordinary circumstances the life of the Jewish
slave was not unhappy, and to gain freedom might be disaster rather than
benefit.[68] The trustworthy slave found satisfactory and sometimes
honourable position in many Jewish households: he was in reality, though
not in theory, a member of the home. On the other hand, among the Greeks
and Romans the slave was regarded strictly as property, not necessarily
to be treated as a human being. If a man chose to misuse or destroy his
“property,” so be it! It was solely his affair. If he chose to wreak his
anger at a certain cost to himself, no more need be said on the subject.
Doubtless theory and practice did not always agree, and some Roman
slaves were happy and well cared for, and some Jewish were miserable.
But, generally speaking, it is true that the Jews were more humane to
their servants than the Gentiles, although the evidence of the proverbs
would not lead one to think so. Here, for instance, is a sufficiently
sinister saying: _A servant will not be corrected by words, for though
he understand he will not answer_ (Pr. 29^{19}). Similarly when Ben
Sirach counsels a measure of restraint in dealing with a slave he does
so on the Græco-Roman ground that he is part of one’s possessions, and
therefore not to be spent foolishly (E. 33^{30, 31}); and he says
bluntly and indeed brutally, _Fodder, a stick, and burdens for an ass;
bread and discipline, and work for a servant. Set thy servant to work,
and thou shalt have rest: leave his hands idle, and he will seek
liberty. Yoke and thong will bow the neck, and for an evil servant there
are racks and tortures. Set him to work, as is fit for him; and if he
obey not, make his fetters heavy_ (E. 33{24-28}). On the other side,
however, may be set this proverb: _A servant that acteth wisely shall
have rule over a son that doeth shamefully, and shall inherit among the
brethren_ (Pr. 17^{2}), and Ben Sirach does something to redeem himself
in these gentler sentiments, _Entreat not evil a servant that worketh
truly nor a hireling that giveth thee his life. Let thy soul love a wise
servant; defraud him not of liberty_ (E. 7^{20, 21}).


The duties of men in general social relationships afforded a wide field
for the application of wisdom. In expressing their views on these
topics, the Sages said little that was original, much that was truly

The perfect State will be one in which justice between man and man never
faileth, and its operation must range from the highest to the lowest in
the land. As for the great ones of the earth, the fateful consequences
of their conduct is emphasised as follows: _As a roaring lion and a
ranging bear, so is a wicked ruler over a poor people_ (Pr.
28^{15})--_By justice the king establisheth the land, but he that
exacteth gifts overthroweth it_ (Pr. 29^{4}); and that the latter type
of monarch or official was, alas! more than an evil dream is naïvely
vouched for by the existence of a most unideal, if frank, intimation
that _A gift in secret pacifieth anger, and a present in the purse
strong wrath_ (Pr. 21^{14}). Princes are exhorted to temperance, _“It is
not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for
princes to say ‘Where is strong drink?’ lest they drink and forget the
law, and pervert the judgement of the afflicted”_ (Pr. 31^{4, 5}); to
justice, and consideration of the lowly, _The king that faithfully
judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established for ever_ (Pr.
29^{14}); to kindness and truth, _Mercy and truth preserve the king, and
he upholdeth his throne by mercy_ (Pr. 20^{28}). Two other sayings are
worthy of mention; one a subtle proverb, _It is the glory of God to
conceal a thing, but the glory of kings to search out a matter_ (Pr.
25^{2}); the other ominous, _The heaven for height, and the earth for
depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable_ (Pr. 25^{3}).

But this demand for right-dealing is extended throughout the body
politic: honesty was required in the courts of law from the witness (Pr.
24^{28}) and from the judge (Pr. 17^{23}); from dealers in shop and
market (Pr. 20^{23}); and generally from all men, in a saying which is a
significant and ringing echo of the Prophets’ work in Israel: _To do
justice and judgement is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice_
(Pr. 21^{3}).

Turning next to the disorders of society we find that the Wise set their
face against the following offences. Land-grabbing, they declare, is a
sin God will assuredly punish (Pr. 23^{10, 11}), and so also oppression
of the poor, _Rob not the poor because he is poor, nor crush the
afflicted in the gate; for the Lord will plead their cause and despoil
of life those that despoil them_ (Pr. 22^{22, 23}). Warnings are given
against lawlessness: _Envy not thou the man of violence, and choose none
of his ways; for the perverse are an abomination unto the Lord, but His
friendship is with the upright_ (Pr. 3^{31, 32}); and in Pr. 1^{11ff},
there is an amusing description of outlaws enticing a novice to join
them: “_Come with us, let us lay wait for blood.... We shall fill our
houses with spoil. Thou shalt cast thy lot amongst us; we will all have
one purse._” Against drunkenness there is this effective saying: _Who
hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath quarrels? who hath complainings? who
hath wounds without cause? who hath dimness of eyes? They that tarry
long at the wine, that go to seek out mixed wine. Look not thou upon the
wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goeth down
smoothly. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an
adder_ (Pr. 23^{29-31}). Still greater stress was laid on the peril of
unchastity, and there are many earnest entreaties to shun the seductions
of wicked women (cp. Pr. 5^{1-14}; 6^{20-}7^{27}): _My son, attend to my
wisdom, incline thine ear to my understanding, that thou mayest preserve
discretion and thy lips keep knowledge. For the lips of a strange woman
drop honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but her latter end is
bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword: her feet go down to
death, and her steps take hold on Sheol._ The spread of Hellenic
civilisation in Palestine had increased luxury and sensuality, and in
these matters the Wise doubtless were combating the most prominent vices
of the age. Another common fault of town life which merited and received
their vehement rebuke was malice against neighbours: to the portrait of
the Slanderer already given (see p. 122) two proverbs may here be added:
_Devise not evil against thy neighbour seeing he dwelleth securely
beside thee_ (Pr. 3^{29})--and this grand one, _Whoso diggeth a pit
shall fall therein, and he that rolleth a stone, it shall return upon
him_ (Pr. 26^{27}).

Several interesting maxims of the Wise concerning Wealth and Poverty are
kept for consideration in a subsequent chapter, and some have already
been recorded, but the topic is one so intimately affecting the common
weal that here also it must receive mention. These Wisdom proverbs are
sometimes charged with exhibiting too mundane an attitude towards
riches, so frankly and unreservedly do certain of them recognise the
material advantages wealth confers. For the moment, however, we are not
concerned with a general judgment but with noting ideals. Isolating
therefore the nobler sayings, we find emphasis rightly laid on the broad
distinction between just and unjust gains. For the former riches, which
were the reward of diligence and shrewd but upright conduct, there is
cordial approbation. Our deeper modern perplexities as to the proper
distribution of wealth was of course beyond the Wise-men’s ken; it is
enough that we find them clear on the issue presented to their day and
generation: _The treasures of wickedness, said they, profit nothing_
(Pr. 10^{2})--_Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity than he
that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich_ (Pr. 28^{6})--_Better
is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice_ (Pr.
16^{8}), and lastly the noble passage (Pr. 30^{7-9}, see p. 121) in
praise of the Golden Mean will perhaps be remembered.

Further the Sages were stern in denunciation of greed and of
indifference to the needs of the poor and defenceless: for instance, _He
that augmenteth his substance by usury and interest gathereth for him
that hath pity on the poor_ (Pr. 28^{8})--_The Lord will root up the
house of the proud, but he will establish the property of the widow_
(Pr. 15^{25}); and correspondingly, they exalted the virtues of
generosity and kindly help _He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack,
but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse_ (Pr.
28^{27})--_Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in
thy power to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, “Go, and come again, and
to-morrow I will give,” when thou hast it by thee_ (Pr. 3^{27, 28}).

       *       *       *       *       *

The ideals of the Sages, so far as they are immediately visible in the
proverbs, have now been given, at least in broad outline. It remains to
sum up and to consider the result. Of the vices condemned, deeds of
violence and sins of the flesh are prominent enough, but (and the fact
is remarkable) almost equal stress is laid on the iniquity of many of
the sins of the spirit. Thus, pride, jealousy, malice, revenge,
contentiousness, and all forms of dishonesty, guile, and treachery are
the way of the wicked; whereas humility, charity, peaceableness, purity
of heart, and honest purpose mark the upright man. To be indolent,
obstinate, and passionate in speech or action is characteristic of the
fool intellectual and the fool ethical; whereas the sensible man is
diligent, faithful to his friends, helpful to his neighbours, tactful
and teachable. On the last point the Wise were urgent, and they deserve
praise for their insight: that men have need to be apt to learn, not
merely when they are young and ignorant, but after they have attained
maturity and learnt much, is doctrine as important as it is unpopular.
The frigid discipline advised by the Sages for the upbringing of
children must be admitted to be harsh, but perhaps the conditions of the
age almost dictated it, and at least it reflects the value that the Wise
most rightly placed on learning young. Moreover, stern as their rule may
seem, they did not deem it incompatible with the growth of affection and
trust between fathers and sons. Of womanly virtue they held a high
ideal, and the esteem felt for the good wife and wise mother was, for
the ancient world, extraordinarily great. Ideal relations between master
and servant were conceived in terms of fidelity, care for the interests
of both parties, and possibly of friendship. In the perfect State there
would be an upright government, riches acquired by just means only, and
generous care to preserve the poor from suffering. There would be
commercial honesty, thrift and industry; no slander, no impurity, no
impiety, but only honourable and prudent conduct: in short, a peaceful,
prosperous, kindly and contented society, devoted primarily to the
pursuit neither of comfort nor of pleasure nor of riches, but of high
Wisdom. Finally, as the climax, we must remember those exalted proverbs
demanding the exercise of mercy, forgiveness, mutual help and love.

The standard of character the Wise thus set before men is open to
adverse comment. It savours of salvation by merit. That therefore it
falls below the Christian ideal, and below the majestic and penetrating
conception of human possibilities that the great Hebrew Prophets urged,
is undeniable. But such radical criticism may for the moment be put
aside; later on we shall discuss what may be the relative values of the
Wise-men’s words and works. For the present all that is desirable is to
consider certain surprising features which the reader may have noted in
this outline of Good and Evil.

First, then, there are curious deficiencies in the list of the Virtues.
Several qualities we admire are ignored or touched rarely and with
hesitation, as for example Courage. But, _with one exception_, these
gaps in the Ideal are not so serious as might appear. The proverbs do
not show all that was in their authors’ minds and hearts. Altogether
fallacious, as we shall see later, would be the notion that the prudence
of the Wise was really pusillanimous, that they had in reality no place
for courage in their conception of life, as they have little or no room
for its mention in their proverbs. The valid inference from these
absences is only that, as Toy says, “the Wise attached more importance
to other qualities as effective forces in the struggle of life.” But
what can possibly be said concerning the apparent absence of Religion,
the exception alluded to above? That which one looked to find in the
foreground of the picture--where is it? Yet even in this point the plea
just made might be repeated. The immediate object of the Wise was to
commend certain ethical conduct as being, despite appearances, the right
line to follow in order to command true success in the contingencies of
daily life; and in pursuance of that task they could say a great many
things without requiring to express their views on ritual worship or
theological belief. Still, when the point at issue is a man’s love for
religion, to plead simply that he more or less ignored it in his
teaching because other qualities seemed more effective in the struggle
of life, would verily be a thin apology. The real reply to this serious
charge is vastly stronger. It is the admission that our exposition of
the Wise-men’s thoughts has not been fair to them. One emphatic and
reiterated proverb of theirs, which is evidently a key-proverb and
interpretative of the general tenor of all their teaching, has not yet
been given, and _it_ is essentially religious:


Consider the implication. The word “foundation” (usually rendered
“beginning”) in Hebrew unites the notions both of “beginning” and
“best”; and “fear,” of course, is to be interpreted religiously as
“reverence” not as “terror.” Such awe of God (say the Wise) is to be
reckoned the commencement of Wisdom and also Wisdom’s quintessence: it
is both the root and the fruit of perfect living. Now Wisdom was the
sublime source to which the Sages traced back even the simplest of their
counsels, and the most practical of their observations on men and
affairs; it was the creative sun, the derivative proverbs being, as it
were, the rays by which its light is distributed over the whole of life.
But now it appears that this sun and centre of all things itself was
conceived as rising out of religious faith, for when the Sages
considered this high Wisdom and asked what was _its_ sum and substance,
they answered, “The fear of the Lord,” and, when they wondered what
might be _its_ origin, again they answered, “God.” The fundamental
importance of this one saying would therefore be obvious even if it
stood alone as a solitary expression of faith. But other religious
proverbs occur as we shall note in due course; for example, Ben Sirach’s
opening words, _All wisdom cometh from the Lord, and is ever with him_
(E. 1^{1}), or this--_Trust in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not
on thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he
shall make plain thy path_ (Pr. 3^{5, 6}). Such sayings may not be
numerous in comparison with the secular sayings, but there are enough of
them to show that the great proverb quoted above is not an isolated
sentiment of formal piety thrust into a mass of worldly-wisdom for
appearance’s sake. The soul of the Wise-men cannot accurately be gauged
by deducting the few religious from the many non-religious proverbs, and
drawing the inference that these men must have cared very little for God
and overwhelmingly much for worldly prosperity. Human nature guards its
secrets from such cynical or mechanical treatment. Rather will it be
true that when, as here, even one earnest plea is made for the love of
God as the ultimate inspiration of conduct, _that_ will give us the
heart of the whole matter to which all else is subsidiary and only to be
interpreted in and through the underlying religious faith.
Matter-of-fact, prudential, moralisms might be far more numerous than
they are in these Jewish proverbs, and still it would not follow that
the Wise-men were devoid of religious feeling or fervour. Some doubtless
were, but others assuredly were not, and _all_ (save an occasional
sceptic) would have stoutly maintained the view that their counsel was
derived from the ultimate, fundamental doctrine of “the fear of the

The second obvious point of criticism is the indefiniteness apparent in
this so-called Ideal of the Wise. Their ethic may justly be called
redundant, or defective, or both; and in truth their Utopia, even in its
broad outline, does seem too confused and too fragmentary to provide any
coherent scheme. Contrast the relatively clear-cut work of the Hellenic
thinkers who, starting also from similar vague popular notions of
ethics, correlated, combined, and sifted the material until, as in the
Stoic and other philosophies, precisely formulated systems were
elaborated. Was not the Jewish lack of method fatal to effective
teaching? No. The Wise did not, indeed could not, construct a strict
unity out of their free-and-easy, uncorrelated aims. But they were not
candidates for a degree in Moral Sciences, nor are their doctrines here
exhibited as a satisfactory substitute for modern social philosophy.
Their thinking, as a matter of fact, was definite enough to serve their
day and generation. The position was not quite so serious as it may
appear from a theoretical point of view. In reality, the Sages knew very
well what they were aiming at, and had a reasonably clear idea of the
type of character they wished to see developed in themselves and other
men. Now it is fortunate that in the pages of _Ecclesiasticus_ we
possess not a little information about the thoughts, habits, and
fortunes of its author, Jesus ben Sirach; for this man, though doubtless
not a perfect embodiment of Wisdom, provides just what we most require
at this point of our study--a historical figure, and an admirable and
typical representative of his class. To envisage him will humanise our
notion of the Wise-men and may give to their ideals a coherence which in
the abstract they may seem to lack.

Jesus ben Sirach was a Jew of Jerusalem who lived about 250 to 180 B.C.;
that is, well on in the period of Hellenic influence. By profession a
scribe, he seems all his days to have been a man of earnest mind,
naturally inclined to intellectual and literary pursuits. He was of good
family, and presumably possessed of considerable means, to judge by his
life-long leisure for study, the tone of his remarks on wealth, his easy
and regular participation in social entertainment, and his foreign
travels, which provided the one stirring episode in a placid career.
From some remarks in his book we gather that his travels were undertaken
whilst he was still a young man. Just when and where he journeyed is
uncertain, but since he says that he came into touch with a foreign
Court, in all probability he visited the great cities of Egypt and the
Court of Alexandria. The important point is that his tour was not
without excitement and real peril (E. 34^{12}, 51^{3{ff}}). Through some
lying and malicious gossip he had the misfortune to incur royal
displeasure, suffered imprisonment, and, in his own firm opinion, was
for a time in gravest danger of losing his life. Such an experience is
inevitably a severe test of any man’s mettle, and is doubly sure to
produce a deep impression on the mind of one so naturally unadventurous
as Ben Sirach. His comments on the matter are therefore a valuable clue
to his character. He took the view that his travels, notwithstanding the
danger, had been a great and lasting benefit, an experience in which
anyone who aspired to be counted wise would do well to imitate him. It
had proved worth all the hardship and anxiety--a fine broadening
influence: _He that hath no experience knoweth few things, but he that
hath travelled shall increase his skill. Many things_, he reflects,
_have I seen in my wanderings_ (E. 34^{10}). The other impression left
by his adventures was the paramount value of Israel’s Wisdom. In the
hour of his danger he would have perished but for the principles of
discreet and honest conduct in which Wisdom had instructed him. (E.

He returned from abroad to settle for the rest of his days in beloved
Jerusalem, where he became an honoured citizen, a man of considerable
weight socially as well as intellectually, and a notable exponent of
Wisdom, whose advice in the manifold affairs of daily life was sought
and respected. There are grounds for thinking that for some years he may
have conducted a regular school for instruction in the science of
Wisdom. He was a thorough townsman, loving the busy life of his city,
keenly observant of its varied occupations and appreciative of all
opportunities of human intercourse. So far from thinking of him as a
scholarly recluse, careless of all save his duties as a scribe or
teacher, we have to picture a man who enjoyed dining out with his
friends; no glutton, yet a frank connoisseur of food and wine. Feasting
he considered a subject not to be trifled with, as is shown by the rules
for polite behaviour, which he is careful in all seriousness to detail
in his book. As for his faults, one suspects that in public he was
inclined to be dictatorial and perhaps pompous, but he possessed a
saving grace of humour. In his home, if we are to trust his own
assertions, he must have been a strict disciplinarian. Many of his
sayings are too worldly-wise to be commendable. Now and then he is
cynical, and for the out-and-out fool he allows no hope: to essay
teaching such an one is as futile as glueing a broken potsherd together
(E. 22^{7}); and again, _Seven days are the days of mourning for the
dead, but for a fool all the days of his life_ (E. 22^{12})! Still, Ben
Sirach was no pessimist about humanity, and his judgments of men for the
most part are kindly and hopeful.

The outstanding feature of his personality was his _breadth_ of
interest. “Whether it is upon the subject of behaviour at table, or
concerning a man’s treatment of a headstrong daughter, or about the need
of keeping a guard over one’s tongue, or concerning the folly of a fool,
or the delights of a banquet, or whether he is dealing with
self-control, borrowing, loose women, slander, diet, the miser, the
spendthrift, the hypocrite, the parasite, keeping secrets, giving alms,
standing surety, mourning for the dead, and a large variety of other
topics--he has always something to say, which for sound and robust
common-sense is of abiding value.”[69]

Except that he puts the point in his own way, there is in matter or
opinion little in Ben Sirach’s book that could not be paralleled from
the _Book of Proverbs_. But in manner an interesting difference is
observable. _Ecclesiasticus_ is far and away superior in point of
literary charm. It has the merit of constant variety, and in places real
grace of expression, for to a much greater degree than in the _Book of
Proverbs_ Ben Sirach has developed the brief unit-proverb into epigrams
and sonnets, short essays, eulogies and longer odes; and although the
unit-proverb is still frequent, it is no longer the sum and substance of
the book. Thus by the skilful use of the more elaborate forms, the
almost unrelieved disjointedness that detracts so seriously from the
pleasure of reading _Proverbs_ is triumphantly overcome.

In criticism of Ben Sirach’s ethical attainments, one is inclined to
call attention to the juxtaposition of great and little matters which he
perpetrates in his book: a feature also to be observed in _Proverbs_.
Questions of fundamental moral law and trivialities of etiquette are
astonishingly conjoined, apparently without his feeling the least sense
of the absurdity. Thus he bids his pupil be ashamed “of unjust dealing
before a partner and a friend, of theft in the place where he sojourns,
and of falsifying an oath and a covenant, and of _leaning on the table
with the elbow when at meat_” (E. 41^{17-19})! Manners and morals, one
is driven to suppose, had not been sufficiently differentiated in
general opinion. Then also, just when our respect for Ben Sirach is
quietly increasing, he is apt to dismay us by interjecting some most
unideal observation, as when immediately after delivering a stinging
censure on lying speech, he remarks (E. 20^{29}) that gifts which _blind
the eyes of the Wise, and are a muzzle on the mouth_, are an effective
way of appeasing influential persons. Nevertheless, as one reads his
book, the conviction deepens that Ben Sirach was sincere and earnest in
his profession of morality, and such falls from grace as the proverb
just quoted are probably due to his anxiety to give an honest
representation of the facts of life. It has been said in his favour that
he was no platitudinarian, by which, of course, is not meant that his
book contains no platitudes, but only that in face of the supreme
problems of human existence he did not cravenly blink the facts, but
faced them and sought to do justice to them; as for instance when,
writing of death, he owns that to a healthy and prosperous man it is
wholly a “bitter remembrance” (E. 41^{1}).

From youth to his dying day this man loved and served Wisdom, and his
volume is a storehouse of many noble and valuable thoughts. It may be
charged against the authors of _Proverbs_ that they paid scant regard to
the peculiar national aspirations of their race. If so, Ben Sirach can
be acquitted on that score. He had a thoroughly patriotic outlook, for
he makes it quite clear that to his mind Judaism was the real home of
Wisdom and the truly wise man is a loyal Jew obedient to the Law. His
sense of the marvel of the world as a revelation of divine power, which
he expresses in two chapters of considerable ability, shows that he was
not without poetic feeling.[70] All his thinking rested on belief in a
great and holy God, Source of all Wisdom, in whom he exhorts men to put
their trust, from whom they must ever seek guidance.

A worthy citizen! Of whom does he remind us? Surely of such a man as was
Horace, strolling on the Appian Way, pleased with himself and with his
fortunes, much interested in the pageant of life, keenly observant both
of the faults and the graces of his fellows, humorous, shrewd and
kindly? Or of Chaucer, part courtier, part business man of London town,
yet with a quick eye and swift sympathy for the deeper issues in the
human drama? Or (to come nearer our own days) of Pepys, with his
matter-of-fact ways, his sturdy, average morality, and his honest
enjoyment of the good things of life? Or of Dr. Johnson, with his
natural pomposity and his big, generous soul? Yes, of all these; but Ben
Sirach had one great quality that perhaps none of these possessed to the
same extent--a most earnest sense of duty in regard to his fellow men, a
whole-hearted desire to give them the advantage of the lessons life had
taught him.

Perhaps the reader is disappointed still. When the utmost has been said
for these ideals, he may feel that there is no new insight into the
mystery of things, and no irresistible appeal to conscience. But
remember that even an imperfect Cause and an inadequate Ideal, provided
the fundamental aim be generous and sound, may be the source of real and
lasting benefits to men, for life is such that the goal we fain would
reach instantaneously must, as a matter of fact, be approached by small
advances, which therefore ought not be despised. The Wise, it is true,
were neither perfect Saints nor complete Philosophers, but our subject
is the Humanism of the Jewish proverbs, and if even this Ben Sirach,
model pupil of Wisdom, is not a wholly inspiring figure--is he not very
human? Moreover, the utmost has not yet been said on behalf of the


The Exaltation of Wisdom

Continuing the criticism of the ideal or ideals of the last chapter, it
may be said that the morality commended is not unusual nor markedly
superior to that of other peoples. Do not many of these proverbs state
the merest _a b c_ of ethical sentiment, for which any civilised nation
could produce a parallel in its proverbs? The charge is not only true in
a general way, it has special force in view of the circumstances of the
fourth to the second centuries B.C. For there is evidence of a
widespread tendency to sententious moralising in that period, and, had
we so desired, this Jewish movement might have been considered only as
part of a larger whole.[71] Among the Greeks, especially in Asia Minor,
this was the age when several gnomic poets, such as Menander and
Phocylides, won fame and popularity by their moral aphorisms, and indeed
the Jewish proverbs have many opinions in common with contemporary
Hellenic sayings. In Egypt also there was current a collection of
ethical observations, the Precepts of Ptah-hotep and the Maxims of Aniy,
so closely resembling the form and sentiment of the average Jewish
proverb that it has been suggested that the Sages of Palestine were
directly influenced by these Egyptian teachings. Certainly the
resemblances are striking. These Egyptian books “inculcate the study of
Wisdom, duty to parents and superiors, respect for property, the
advantages of charitableness, peaceableness and content, of liberality,
chastity, and sobriety, of truthfulness and justice; and they show the
wickedness and folly of disobedience, strife, arrogance and pride, of
slothfulness, interference, unchastity, and other vices. “What then? Is
the idealism of the Jews decreased in value because other nations also
had moral ambitions? Judging from the facts of history, the elements of
morality, and of commonsense, too, need constant iteration in all
languages and all periods, not excluding the present. To discover that
most of the Jewish proverbs are far from unique is no real loss, indeed
the danger lies rather in the other direction. If it could be shown that
these maxims were unlike those current elsewhere among men, the
accusation would be serious, for then this volume must needs be written,
not on the humanism, but on the unhumanism of a part of the Bible. The
charge that the Jewish maxims are not unusual is to be admitted

More disquieting would be the contention, which the number of
self-regarding maxims readily suggests, that the general moral tone of
these proverbs is not merely normal but actually low. There is no
denying the unblushing utilitarianism that at times crops out. It is
said: _I (Wisdom) walk in the paths of righteousness, in the midst of
the paths of judgement, that I may cause those that love me to inherit
substance and that I may fill their treasuries_ (Pr. 8^{21})--_The
reward of humility and the fear of the Lord is riches and honour and
life_ (Pr. 22^{4}). This sounds even more reprehensible than the famous
definition of Christianity as “doing good for the sake of the kingdom of
heaven.” It seems suspiciously like doing good for the sake of the
kingdoms of this earth! But, hear the defence. First it has already been
urged that general judgments on the proverbs _as a whole_ require most
careful handling, if they are to be even moderately fair: let the
utilitarian sage bear his own sin; his brother who said, “Love covereth
all transgressions,” ought not to be implicated in his fall. Secondly,
there is the sensible, though not lofty, argument that since the Wise
were dealing with men tempted to throw off even ordinary moral restraint
in the burning desire to get all possible prosperity and enjoyment out
of life, if they had pitched their key much higher it is very probable
they would have received no hearing at all. Modern students of ethics
are well aware that pleasure, however often it may accompany good
conduct, cannot be made the motive for virtue. But the Wise were less
sophisticated than ourselves, and it was therefore easy for them to make
the mistake of expressing in too commercial a fashion their conviction
that “honesty is the best policy”[72]; and even if they did sometimes
over-emphasise the thought of external reward, we should remember that
perhaps it was the only way to catch the ear of certain men and draw
them back from the hot pursuit of Folly. The third point will be
surprising to those who are not aware how late in Jewish history was the
development of a worthy conception of immortality and the just judgment
of the soul after death. Compared with the Christian, who starts from
the belief that “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living”, and
that the consequences of good or evil conduct reach onwards beyond the
grave, the Wise-men of Israel were cruelly handicapped in their
consideration of the moral problem. Oesterley with justice pleads in
extenuation of Ben Sirach’s stress on the worldly advantages of Wisdom,
“This is natural in a writer whose whole attention is concentrated on
the present life, and who has nothing but the vaguest ideas about a life
hereafter.”[73] Fourthly, the Wise were not conscious of their
utilitarianism. Of course it is bad to be utilitarian at all, but it is
better to be so unintentionally than deliberately. The ancients did
not, could not, speak or write with that precise realisation of the
implications of words, which often does, and certainly should,
characterise a modern thinker. While therefore the Wise cannot be
exonerated from blame in this respect, there is not a little to be said
in mitigation of their offence.

But the last plea we have to advance on their behalf is the best; and
indeed it is the main apology we wish to make for all their

A man’s utterances are often an inadequate expression of his soul. Our
final estimate ought to be based, not on the proverbs themselves, singly
or collectively, but on what is behind them, the character of the
speakers. The question is, Were these sayings just verbal piety and
respectable commonplace, or were they, so to speak, waves borne on the
swell of an advancing tide, having beneath and behind them the deep
impulse of a live enthusiasm? What manner of men were the Sages at
heart--mere talkers, seeking the mental satisfaction of turning a neat
phrase and sunning themselves in popular esteem, or men genuinely
concerned for the moral welfare of their fellows? One we have already
considered and not found him altogether wanting. Much can be forgiven if
only the majority of the Wise were like Ben Sirach, in earnest about
their task. We ventured to describe him as a typical Wise-man, but what
ground is there for that assertion?

Now this vital question is not an easy one to investigate and answer,
since concerning the individual Sages, except Ben Sirach, no personal
information has been transmitted, and we have therefore only their
sayings from which to draw a conclusion. Even so the material is perhaps
sufficient. Surely there is a valuable hint to be found in the “strict
attention to business” of _Proverbs_ as well as _Ecclesiasticus_; both
of these books preach at us incessantly from their text “Wisdom.” Why is
it that every word they contain is directed to the end of moral
improvement? Must there not have been a remarkable concentration on
moral interests to account for the comparative absence of what one might
describe as the neutral, non-moral observations on life, which are
common in the proverbs of every other nation?[74] Fortunately however,
there is one much stronger piece of evidence available. It has been
explained that the abstract conception “Wisdom” represented the teaching
of the Wise in epitome, and was the unification in thought of their
manifold opinions. It follows that what they said, or left unsaid, about
“Wisdom” furnishes an admirable test of their sincerity, revealing the
presence or absence of enthusiasm for their work. Wisdom was the Cause
they championed against Folly: it will be easy to tell whether they
truly loved it. If they had been only clever people, content to parade
their shrewdness, or comfortable upholders of law and order, proclaiming
the maxims of respectability with a business eye to the security of
their own possessions, then inevitably they would have betrayed
themselves by giving an exposition of Wisdom coldly intellectual. But
the opposite is what has happened, and the warmth and passion as well as
the reverence, of their words in honour of Wisdom bear eloquent,
unconscious testimony to the admiration and affection in which the Sages
held their calling. Hear then the Praises of Wisdom--

_Happy is the man that findeth Wisdom, and the man that getteth
understanding; for the merchandise of it is better than silver, and the
gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and none
of the things that thou canst desire are comparable unto her...._ (Pr.
3^{13-15}): surely a disconcerting verse for upholders of the supposed
utilitarianism of the proverbs? Again, _How much better is it to get
Wisdom than gold! Yea to get understanding is to be chosen rather than
silver_ (Pr. 16^{16}, cp. 8^{10})--so much for the Sages’ notion of
comparative values. In chapter 9 of _Proverbs_, by a touch of fine
imagination, Wisdom is daringly pictured as a noble Lady, bidding guests
to her banquet. She is the counterpart of Madam Folly, who also gives a
banquet and who thus invites a passer-by: _Stolen waters are sweet, and
bread eaten in secret is pleasant_, (to which the Wise add in caustic
comment as they see the foolish one enter: _But he knoweth not that the
dead are there, that her guests are in the depth of Sheol_, Pr. 9^{17,
18}). But, in contrast, Wisdom--_Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath
hewn out her seven pillars: she hath killed her beasts, she hath made
ready her wine, and furnished her table. She hath sent forth her
maidens; on the highest parts of the city she crieth aloud, “Whoso is
ignorant, let him turn in hither”; and to him that is void of
understanding she speaketh, “Come, eat ye of my bread, and drink of the
wine which I have made ready”_ (Pr. 9^{1-5}). Ben Sirach knew that
Wisdom was high, and he does not disguise that only by long, unwearying
efforts can her favour be attained. But the reward, says he, outweighs
the toil, and he bids men seek her: _At the first she will bring fear
and dread upon a man and torment him with her discipline, until she can
trust his soul and has tested him by her judgements_ (E. 4^{17}; cp. E.
6^{19-25}). Nevertheless, he says, _Come unto her with all thy soul, and
keep her ways with thy whole power. Search and seek, and she shall be
made known unto thee, and when thou hast hold of her, let her not go.
For in the end thou shalt find her to be rest, and she shall be changed
for thee into gladness. Her fetters shall be to thee a covering of
strength, and her chains a robe of glory_ (E. 6^{26-29}).

Wisdom is the source of all right and noble conduct, the principle that
in all things ought to regulate men’s lives. Casting behind him the grim
facts of Hellenistic courts, and perhaps of high society in Jerusalem
also, one wise man, seeing in vision the world as it should be, put
these glowing, optimistic words into the mouth of Wisdom: _By me kings
reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even
all the judges of the earth_ (Pr. 8^{15, 16}).

But all these praises are slight compared with the thoughts inspired by
the supreme conviction that Wisdom itself is derived from God and dwells
in His Presence: “The Wisdom that illumines the lives of the good is a
reflection of the full-orbed wisdom of God.”[75] It is the ineffable
counsel of the Almighty, the power by which He created heaven and earth
(Pr. 3^{19f}), the principle through which the universe is still
sustained. In face of this belief praise rose into exultation, and
Wisdom was reverently but enthusiastically conceived as that which had
been ordained of God from eternity to be His counsellor in the work of
Creation and His daily delight:

    _Jehovah formed me first of His creation,
      Before all his works of old.
    In the earliest ages was I fashioned,
      Even from the beginning, before the earth.
    When there were no depths was I brought forth,
      When there were no fountains brimming with water.
    Before the mountains were sunk in their bases,
      Before the hills was I brought forth;
    Or ever He had made the earth and the fields,
      Or the first clods of the world.
    When He established the heavens I was there,
      When he drew the circle over the abyss;
    When He made firm the skies above,
      And set fast the fountains of the deep;
    When He gave the sea its bounds,
      And fixed the foundations of the earth,
    Then was I with Him as a foster-child,
      And daily was I His delight,
    As I played continually before His eyes,
      Played o’er all the habitable world.
    So now, my children, hearken unto me,
      Receive my instruction and be wise;
    For happy is the man that heareth me,
      Happy are those that keep my ways,
    Watching daily at my gates,
      And waiting at my gate-posts.
    For he that findeth me findeth life,
      And winneth favour from Jehovah;
    But he that misseth me wrongeth himself:
      All that hate me love death._ (Pr. 8^{22-36}).[76]

In similar language Ben Sirach imagines Wisdom proclaiming her glory in
the very presence of God Himself:

    _I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
      And like a cloud I covered the earth;
    I had my dwelling in the high places,
      And my throne was in the pillar of cloud;
    I alone compassed the circuit of heaven
      And walked in the depth of the abysses,
    In the waves of the sea and through all the earth;
      And in every people I got me a possession.
    With all these I sought for a resting-place--
      “In whose lot shall I find a lodging?”
    Then the Creator of all commanded me,
      Even he that formed me, pitched my tent
    And said, “In Jacob be thy dwelling,
      And in Israel thine inheritance.”
    In the beginning, before the world, He fashioned me,
      And to all eternity shall I fail not.
    In the holy tabernacle I ministered before Him,
     And thus was I established in Zion;
    Yea, in the beloved city He gave me resting-place,
     And in Jerusalem was my dominion_ (E. 24^{3-11})[77].

Such words would have set the Greeks, as they set us, asking questions:
“Is it implied that Wisdom is an entity distinct from God?”; “How far is
it fair to see Greek influence in this apparent ascription of
personality to Wisdom?” Both questions may be considered together. Too
much stress cannot be laid on the firm hold which Monotheism had
obtained in post-exilic Judaism; to the Jews of the Hellenic age the
unity of God was a fundamental tenet. But the Jewish mind was as yet
unphilosophical, not from lack of intelligence but from lack of
inclination or initial suggestion. Hebrew thought started from the
existence of God as an axiom, and was content to use the fact of
conscience as the key to the interpretation of life, whereas Greek
thought had naturally inclined towards making intellectual speculation
the basis of its endeavour to attain through truth, morality, and beauty
to the secret of life and the knowledge of God. Consequently many
utterances that inevitably raise metaphysical questions in our minds,
and would have philosophical meaning if spoken by a Greek, were put
forward by the Jews most simply, without consideration of inherent
intellectual problems. Of this character are the praises of Wisdom:
although language is used that would fittingly be applied to a personal
being, there was no intention to personify Wisdom as some kind of
sub-divine Being other than God. The Wise intended only to declare
their fervent belief that the Wisdom they studied, loved, and trusted,
was transcendently great, was _God’s_ Wisdom, was “from above.” Wisdom
in these proverbs was not consciously deemed to be more than an
attribute of God, and phrases that seem to us to overstep the bounds and
confer personality are to be regarded as an enthusiasm of the heart not
implying metaphysical conclusions as to the ultimate nature of Deity.[1a]
This is the language not of philosophy but of affection and reverent
esteem. From an early age there was a strong tendency in Hebrew thought
towards clothing abstract and collective terms in the warm language of
personal life, and the books of _Proverbs_ and _Ecclesiasticus_ may
fairly be considered a natural development of pure Hebrew tradition.[2a]
And yet there are “signs of the times” about them. The description of
Wisdom we are discussing would read strangely in pre-exilic Hebrew
books; and so the question of Greek influence may still be pressed. In
the opinion of the present writer the influence, if any, is confined to
a slight unintentional colouring. Seeing that the Wise stood out against
the pressure and menace of unscrupulous, secular Hellenism, and that
they lived at a period when Greek intellectual prowess had not yet
brought its full weight to bear on Palestinian, or at least on Judæan,
thought, it is a reasonable conjecture that any trace of new philosophy
in the proverbs has been introduced unwittingly and unwillingly. The
general soundness of this opinion becomes vividly apparent, if the two
passages quoted above are compared with the eulogy given in a Jewish
work of considerably later date, the _Wisdom of Solomon_. There Wisdom,
Artificer of all things, is described as

    _A spirit, quick of understanding, holy,
    Only-begotten, manifold, subtle, mobile,
    Pure, undefiled, clean,
    Inviolable, loving the good....
    For Wisdom is more mobile than any motion,
    Yea, she pervadeth and penetrateth all things
    By reason of her pureness;
    For she is a breath of the power of God,
    And a pure effulgence of the Almighty._

    (_Wisdom of Solomon_, 7^{22ff}).

and in one verse (W.S. 9^{4}) Wisdom is actually called _She that
sitteth beside Thee on Thy throne_, astonishing words from a Jew. The
atmosphere of Hellenic philosophy being here unmistakable, the contrast
between the language of this passage and the restrained phraseology of
_Proverbs_ and _Ecclesiasticus_ is accordingly significant.

As the _Book of Job_ is treated in another volume of this series, the
reference to it must here be brief, but a chapter on the Exaltation of
Wisdom must not close without some mention of the wonderful poem in that
Book, where also confession is made of the sublimity of Wisdom, but it
is insisted that Wisdom dwells far beyond the reach of mortals, unknown
and unknowable, save to the inscrutable Deity who wills not to reveal
its secrets unto suffering man. Each section of this great passage
begins with the haunting question, _But Wisdom--whence cometh it, and
where is the place of understanding?_ We quote the last stanza only.

    _But Wisdom--whence cometh it,
      And where is the place of understanding?
    It is hid from the eyes of all creatures,
      And concealed from the fowls of the air.
    Abaddon and Death acknowledge:
      “But a rumour thereof have we heard.”
    God alone hath perceived the way to it,
      He knoweth the place thereof--
    Even He that made weights for the wind
      And meted the waters by measure,
    When He made a law for the rain,
      And a way for the flash of the thunders.
    Then did He see it and mark it:
      He established and searched it out_ (Job 28^{20-27}).[78]

“The Humanism of the Bible”--who would ask finer acknowledgment of one
aspect of life, its profound mystery; who could fail to hear in those
grand but desolate words the pathos of our mortal ignorance voicing its
immortal longing? Happier than this poet, and more in accord with
ordinary human experience, were the Wise-men of _Proverbs_; for theirs
was the faith that, though Wisdom might dwell in the innermost light of
God’s presence, the boon of its guidance was not wholly denied to men.
They praised its exceeding great glory, acknowledging its transcendence,
yet quietly rejoicing in the measure of knowledge they were conscious of

    _Wisdom is the principal thing,
      Therefore get Wisdom:
    Yea! with all that thou hast gotten
      Get understanding_ (Pr. 4^{7}).


The Hill “Difficulty”

The Wise had not found the last secrets of Wisdom. There were ranges of
human nature beyond their imagining, there were paths to salvation not
visible from the highroad of respectability. Perhaps they suspected as
much in moments when the sublimity of Wisdom towered over them. But
usually no doubt they felt convinced that, given an unquestioning
acceptance of their precepts, this world would be made perfect. Better
it would have been, but that is all. Perfection is higher than climbing
humanity believes, and short cuts to the summit prove delusive.
Mechanical obedience to rules and regulations for our conduct will
certainly not suffice, for character fails to ripen in that dry soil. So
to reverence the past as to accept its thoughts as finished standards,
requiring from us only the repetition of the lips and not the
re-affirmation or re-statement of heart and intellect, is to exclude the
possibility of progress; and that, racially, is the unpardonable sin.
Tradition, an invaluable servant, is a fatal master. God means us to own
no ultimate authority save His eternal and ever-present Spirit. There
was room in the world for many a Ben Sirach, but there was even more
room for men like St. Peter and St. Paul, who could break free from
conventional standards of morality, and penetrate further into the
exceeding great and precious promises of God.

Moreover it would have been disastrous for the Wise themselves, had the
world accepted their way of life as indisputable truth. Think what
would have happened to their characters, already inclined to
superiority, if with one accord men had bowed down to their every word
and received their maxims as beyond the breath of criticism. The point
of course, is not one that the Sages would have appreciated. Few men can
resist the impression (and those few must be cold-blooded,
unenthusiastic souls) that all would be well, provided their lightest
word was law. What a truly delightful world, where one’s judgments met
only with reverent and grateful admiration! Yet were God to give us the
desire of our hearts, we might construct a universe excellent according
to our standard, and be left ourselves the only insufferable persons in
it. “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”

There was, however, little danger of the Wise being spoilt by
approbation. They may have had a sufficiently good conceit of
themselves, but they cannot possibly have been ignorant that many of
their neighbours held them in very different esteem; and whenever a
Wise-man in old Jerusalem put his heart into the effort to guide his
brethren into the path of understanding he can have been under few, if
any, delusions regarding the obstacles in the way. In the last two
chapters we have been picturing life as the Wise desired it to be, not
as they actually found it. Our next duty is to descend from these
heights to the plain where opposition waited to test what stuff the
Wise-men’s dreams were made of. Not without courage, not without
patience, were they able to keep these ideals in their hearts.

The discouragements they suffered are written large across the face of
the literature. Consider first the reception accorded to their teaching.
All the Jews were not lovers of Understanding, nor was Jerusalem a State
wherein the dictates of celestial Wisdom ruled with unquestioned sway.
No doubt the note of confidence which pervades _Proverbs_ and
_Ecclesiasticus_ implies that many people respected the Wise-men’s
dignity and paid deference to their speeches. But the presence of
outspoken hostility is not a whit less clear. They did not preach
unchallenged at the entry of the Gates. On the contrary the number and
severity of the proverbs denouncing “scorners” show that the irreverent
were a vigorous section of the population. We have to bear in mind that
the Gateway was open to all-comers, and _Psalm_ 1^{1} (_Blessed is the
man that sitteth not in the assembly of the scornful_) supplies a hint
that the scoffer (and his friends) may have had an inconvenient habit of
claiming his own corner of the ground, and that not infrequently it
pleased him to be merry at the Wise-man’s expense, now pretending he
could not, or would not, hear the sermon (_A scorner heareth not
rebuke_, Pr. 13^{1}), now deriding the doctrine (_I have called and ye
have refused, I have stretched out my hand and no man regarded: Ye have
set at nought all my counsel and would have none of my reproof_, Pr.
1^{24^{f}}); now encouraging others to make vexatious interruptions
(_Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out_, Pr. 22^{10}).
Sage-baiting seems to have been a joke that waxed not stale with
repetition: “_How long_,” asks one Wise man pathetically, “_how long
will scorners delight in their scorning_” (Pr. 1^{22})? _He that
reproveth a scorner getteth himself insult_ (Pr. 9^{7})--behold a sage
by the street-corner, wise in words but by no means so sharp in
repartee, shaking a puzzled head and wondering what the laughter had
been about and why his audience had so speedily melted away.

Besides these cynical persons--the scorners or intentional fools--there
were fools-by-birth, whether dull-witted or coarse-natured or both,
“Simpletons”, to whom the Wise were perhaps less charitable than is
meet. But then “suffering fools gladly” belongs to the apostolic ethic;
and it vexed the Wise to think how much breath they had wasted in
seeking to teach these folk. Glorious Wisdom stirred no enthusiasm in
their obtuse souls, and the shafts of morality seldom discovered a
joint in the armour of their self-content. Wherefore, concerning these
also went up the cry, “_How long, ye simpletons, will ye love
simplicity_” (Pr. 1^{22})? And when we read that _the sluggard is wiser
in his own conceit then seven men that can render a reason_ (Pr.
26^{16}), who can fail to see a baffled Sage turning wearily and
disgustedly away? Towards the dull-witted is due mercy and patience; but
oh! those self-satisfied, petty persons, ignorant of their ignorance,
into whose mental darkness no new illuminating thought can penetrate.
These were the prime objects of the Wise-men’s indignation--and
legitimately; for in all ages they have been the curse of society, the
mainstay of old abuses, rocks which have to be blasted from the path of
progress. Of your charity, then, bear in mind that the Wise did not
lecture picked pupils only, but faced the contradictions and stupidities
of the highway, and endured the disappointment of seeing men hostile or
indifferent to their teaching.

But the point will bear further consideration. Two types of opponents
may be distinguished. First, the actively hostile, whose manner of life
was in violent contradiction to the Wise-men’s principles, men who must
often have hated them for their moralising efforts. In the mirror of the
sayings we observe the immoral, the cruel, the violent, plotters of
mischief against their neighbours, whose deeds were evil, whose words
scorched like a fire (Pr. 16^{27}); dishonest dealers and pitiless
usurers, who robbed the poor and crushed the defenceless (Pr. 22^{22});
men who lured others into wickedness; bloodthirsty men, thieves,
cut-throats, and reckless outlaws (Pr. 1^{11^{ff}}). Against these
Wisdom, for all its exaltation, must often have seemed powerless.
Secondly, there was the mass of the indifferent, who, being neither very
good nor very bad, did not think Wisdom mattered very much or that it
was any special concern of theirs: a type with abundant representatives
to-day. Why will they not comprehend that it is to them, almost more
than to any others, that Wisdom is crying aloud; and that their
co-operation is desperately needed for the advancement of mankind? Why
do they saunter so carelessly down the streets of life, sometimes to
fall into sore disaster from which a little Wisdom, had they sought it,
would have saved them? Why do they always pass “the preacher for next
Sunday” without a second thought? Ah! these are they that require a full
church and good music and a first-rate sermon. But if _they_ attended,
the churches would be full and the choirs strong; and sermons have a way
of winning home when men are out not for oratory, but to seek the truth
of God.

Certainly the Wise were not ignorant of the problem of the inattentive.
Something of disappointment and perplexity lies behind the reiterated
appeals of the _Book of Proverbs_: _Hear, O my son, and receive my
sayings._ ... _My son, let them not depart from thine eyes._ ... _Hear,
my son, the instruction of a father, and attend to know, for I give you
good doctrine._ Granted that the exhortation tended to become a set
phrase, and that “my son” was often spoken to an eager pupil or an
attentive class in the Wise-man’s house, it was also used in the market
place, and for one man that stopped and responded how many passed by
unheeding? _Doth not Wisdom cry and Understanding put forth her voice?
In the streets she takes her stand; beside the gates, at the portal of
the city, at the entrance of the gates she cries aloud_ (Pr.
8^{1-3})--frequently, we may suspect, with small result. See, yonder is
Alexander ben Simeon, young, confident and well-to-do, proud to think
that his parents have called him by the name of the great Greek
conqueror. He comes strolling through the bazaar to the gate of the
city. There two voices accost him. One, that of his friend Aristobulus:
“Greeting, Alexander! Hast heard news of the boxing? ’Tis said that
Aristonicus is beaten in the Olympic _pankcration_. ‘By whom?’ By
Cleitomachus of Thebes.[79] But I swear it cannot have been by fair
means. How sayest thou?” The other voice was that of Judah the Wise,
who, perceiving the two young men in talk, approached them hopefully and
earnestly, though of course with all necessary dignity. “A wise son,”
said he, “maketh a glad father, but a foolish son is a heaviness to his
mother. Now, therefore, my sons, hearken unto me, for blessed are they
that keep my ways. Treasures of wickedness profit nothing, but
righteousness....” Unfortunately the last words were not heard by
Alexander and Aristobulus. They were already some distance off, hunting
for the man who had spread the rumour of the downfall of Egyptian

But others besides the young could be deaf to good counsel. Jerusalem
had many confident citizens of middle life, into whose soul the cares of
the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the lusts of other things
had entered, choking the Word: _the rich man’s wealth is his strong
city, and as an high wall in his imagination_ (Pr. 18^{11}), said the
Wise with a sigh. There is one proverb that suggests where the most
grievous personal disappointment of the Wise lay: namely, in those,
whether boy or man, who said “I go, Sir; but went not”: _Cease, my son,
to hear instruction, only to err from the words of knowledge_ (Pr.
19^{27}). Surely there was sorrow in the heart of him who uttered those
words of warning?

In the next place consider the hindrances that the general conditions of
the age placed in the path of morality. These also are not difficult to
perceive. The moral corruption of the luxurious Hellenic cities may have
been perfectly obvious and the danger unmistakably clear, but dazzling
opportunities, political, social, and commercial, also lay waiting
there for the young and ambitious Jew. Is it to be wondered if many a
lad was ready to make a bid for fortune, and let his morality take its
chance? Important families of Jerusalem, with a handsome son who might
perhaps win favour at the foreign courts or shekels in their markets,
will have had little love for old-fashioned, moralistic Wiseacres, who
forsooth were stupid enough to oppose “the onward march of progress.”

One passage (Pr. 1^{10-19}), addressed to “my son,” urges him not to
take up highway robbery as a career: _If they say, “Let us lay wait for
blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause” ... consent
not thou_, but there cannot have been much outlet for promising youths
in that direction; it is perhaps a formal rather than a serious warning.
Much more prominent were the sensual temptations to which prosperous
persons were exposed, temptation to indulgence in gluttonous feasting
and drunken revelry. Such vices were alluring to an extent unknown to us
who live in an age when society is no longer slave-ridden, when the
wealthy can have as many duties to occupy their energies as the poor,
and when it is no longer gentlemanly to be drunk. You cannot make a
drunken man wise until you have sobered him. But the evils of
intoxication, though real enough, were less serious in old Jerusalem
than in modern cities, and in wine the Wise saw an enemy only where
pronounced abuse was present. Complete abstinence is unmooted, and even
temperance is demanded in very temperate terms. Ben Sirach bestows an
encomium on wine taken in moderation. _Wine_, says he, _is as good as
life to men, if thou drink it in its measure. What life is there to a
man that is without wine? And it hath been created to make men glad.
Wine drunk in season and to satisfy is joy of heart and gladness of
soul_ (E. 31^{27^{f}}). He observes its quarrelsome tendencies, but
thinks it necessary only to counsel tact! _Rebuke not thy neighbour at a
banquet of wine, neither set him at nought in his mirth. Speak not unto
him a word of reproach, and press him not then for repayment of a debt_
(E. 31^{31}). In like manner _Proverbs_ 31^{6, 7} is not suitable as a
text for a Temperance address, even if (which is doubtful) it be partly
metaphorical: _Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and
wine unto the bitter in soul: let him drink and forget his poverty and
remember his misery no more_. Here’s a stick to beat the teetotallers
withal! How one can imagine some foolish persons discovering that even a
text is worth picking up (if it will serve to throw at an opponent), and
pouncing gleefully upon these sayings. “Foolish persons”? Yes,
“foolish”; for the effects of alcohol in the development of modern
society have been, and are, calamitous to the material as well as the
spiritual progress of the race. Moreover, even the Wise were insistent
in denunciation of _excessive_ drinking. Said Ben Sirach, _Wine drunk
largely is bitterness of soul with provocation and wrath.[80]
Drunkenness increaseth the rage of a fool unto his hurt; it diminisheth
strength and addeth wounds_ (E. 31^{29, 30}; cp. Pr. 20^{1},
23^{29^{ff}}, quoted pp. 138, 232). There is no possible doubt what
their attitude would have been towards the facts of the modern Drink
Question. Had they seen one thousandth part of the moral and material
losses consequent upon drunkenness and heavy drinking in the great
European or American cities, the book of their proverbs would have been
replete with commands and entreaties for reform.

In respect of the relations of the sexes, the _morale_ of the
post-exilic Jewish state was high. Monogamy was the custom, and the
virtuous wife received a degree of honour unequalled in the old Oriental
world. There are, however, in the proverbs frequent warnings against
adultery; but, as the Hebrews were more outspoken than ourselves on
such matters, it may be that the prominence of the subject points not
so much to the prevalence of the offence as to the indignation with
which it was regarded. Yet it must be borne in mind that the crowded
city life of the period increased temptations to that sin. More serious
socially was the evil of venal women. Schechter[81] is of opinion that
the repeated denunciations of “strange women” exaggerate the low state
of morality in Jerusalem, but, with all reasonable allowance for
rhetoric, it is certain that the peril was never absent from the streets
of Jerusalem, and in the brilliant cities of Egypt and Syria, so close
at hand, licence walked unrestrained and unrebuked. The Wise knew only
too well how powerful and deadly a foe this evil could prove to their
hopes for men.[82]

The arch-enemy, not only of Idealism, but of the mildest proposals for
reform has ever been the selfish individual. Turn to the proverbs, many
of which have already been quoted, about rich men, about money-lenders,
false-witnesses, slanderers, oppressive rulers and unjust judges; and it
becomes easy to realise how strong was the opposition confronting the
preachers of Wisdom.[83]

Finally, recollect the gulf between a reform in words and its
translation into fact. With all our political machinery designed to
yield better legislation, how difficult it is to give effect to the will
of the wiser and nobler members of the community. Ancient society found
it incalculably harder to redress its wrongs. Grievances were not always
stifled; they might be aired in moderation and provided the charge was
vague. But, short of revolution, how was it possible to bring adequate
pressure to bear on the guilty, strongly entrenched in their high
offices by birth and wealth and autocratic might? These and similar
considerations will suggest the external difficulties of the life in
which the Wise were placed.

To the “fightings without,” however, must next be added a tale of “fears
within.” The Old Testament writers were not unconscious of the
intellectual problems of religion. It is true that they do not debate,
or often doubt, the _existence_ of God. But the question of the Being of
God is, in a sense, academic; the question of His character and relation
to men is vital; and this problem the Jews felt as acutely and faced as
honestly as any modern men can do. Many of them had encountered
realities of experience sterner than most modernists have known--at
least until 1914. Some of the Sages, no doubt, were unspeculative
persons, content with traditional beliefs. But others there were not
blind to any of the poignant elements of life. All may have assumed God
as a fact, but some realised that only if God be just and holy and
merciful, was the ground of morality solid beneath their feet. Men who
maintained that in the fear of the Lord and honourable conduct is found
the key to a successful career, could not ignore the fact that in
reality the wicked were frequently prosperous and the good subject to
misfortune, injustice, pain, and bitter hardships. How could such things
be in the world of a righteous God? Not until the post-exilic period was
it vividly realised by a number of Jewish thinkers how obdurate these
facts are to an optimistic interpretation of life, and how they menace
not only belief in a gracious God, but also the whole structure of
morality. In many of the later Psalms, and in portions of the Wisdom
literature, to which the _Book of Proverbs_ belongs, the stringency of
the problem is clearly recognised, and the struggle for faith grows
correspondingly severe. Men cried to God to sustain their trust despite
the awful enigmas of suffering and wrong. They wrestled agonisingly with
the facts, turning now to one, now to another, explanation, if in any
wise hope in God might be preserved.

Our consideration of the great subject must here be confined to
considering the proverbs of the period. From these it appears that the
rank and file of the Wise-men either did not feel the problem in its
acutest form or failed to reach those heights of spiritual insight that
some of the Jews attained. In the proverbs a variety of sensible but
unsatisfactory arguments are put forward. One method of defence was to
challenge or deny the reality of the facts alleged: _There shall no
mischief happen to the righteous, but the wicked shall be filled with
evil_ (Pr. 12^{21})--_Say not thou, “I will recompense evil.” Wait on
the Lord, and he shall save thee_ (Pr. 20^{22})--_The Lord is far from
the wicked but he heareth the prayer of the righteous_ (Pr.
15^{29})--_The Lord will_ =not= _suffer the soul of the righteous to
famish, and he thrusteth away the desire of the wicked_ (Pr. 10^{3}). No
one capable of sympathy with human perplexity will dismiss such
assertions as merely stupid. Pathetically insufficient they may be, but
these are the words of men convinced that somehow their instinct for God
and the moral life is sound; and there is grandeur in the unyielding
defiance. Another favourite reply was to insist on the solid rewards of
virtue or to maintain that in the end it is honesty that pays best: _The
wicked earneth deceitful wages, but he that soweth righteousness hath a
sure reward_ (Pr. 11^{18})--_He that soweth iniquity shall reap
calamity_ (Pr. 22^{8}). The Wise liked also to dwell on the fear of
retribution which is likely to haunt the evil-doer: _His own iniquities
shall take the wicked, and he shall be holden in the cords of his sin_
(Pr. 5^{22}), a retort to the power of which many a villain, dogged by
the thought of exposure, could bear witness. After all, there generally
is _human_ justice to be considered, although the _divine_ seem far
away. Sometimes The Wise had recourse to the suggestion that _the fear
of the Lord prolongeth life, but the years of the wicked shall be
shortened_ (Pr. 10^{27}). Some, more daringly, declared that the agony
of a single day or hour might redress the balance; thus Ben Sirach: _It
is an easy thing in the sight of the Lord to reward a man in the day of
his death according to his ways. The affliction of an hour causeth
forgetfulness of delight, and in the last end of a man is the revelation
of his deeds. Call no man blessed before his death_[84]; _and_ (yet
another suggestion) _a man shall be known in his children_ (E.
11^{26-28}). This further possibility that Justice, if nowhere manifest
in a man’s own life, will certainly appear in the fortunes of his
descendants, is emphasised also in several Psalms and in passages of the
_Book of Job_ (_e.g._, _Job_ 5^{4}), and apparently was more satisfying
to the Jews than it would be to ourselves. A new argument, too vague to
be consoling, is hinted in Pr. 16^{4}, where it is declared that _God
hath made everything for its own end, even the wicked for the day of

These answers, of course, do not cut deep enough, and their inadequacy
reflects adversely on the value of the Wise-men’s judgments of life. But
three important points must be noted in extenuation. First, the best
that Israel’s Wisdom had to say on the sore problem was not said in the
proverbs to which we are here limiting attention. If anyone desires to
know how unflinchingly certain Wise-men and other Jews could face the
facts and uphold their faith, he must turn to the _Book of Job_, to the
_Psalms_, to _Daniel_ and the daring aspirations of Apocalyptic writers.
Secondly, there was as yet among the Jews no active belief in the
continuance of personal consciousness after physical death, and thus the
moral problem raised by the suffering of good men was immensely harder
for them than it is for ourselves. The Hebrews from earliest times had
believed vaguely that a phantom-like continuation of individuality
awaited good and bad alike in the underworld of _Sheol_; but that
existence was not reckoned to be “life” in any real sense; certainly it
was not thought that a man could receive the reward of his merits in
_Sheol_, the land of shades. _Sheol_ offered no solution, or even
alleviation, of the moral enigma confronting the Wise. If there was to
be a Divine vindication of morality, in their opinion it must needs be
shown on earth, either in the life-time of the sufferer himself or in
that of his children. In the period we are considering, reason and
intuition were already pointing the Jewish thinkers to a higher doctrine
of human immortality; but no traces of the great liberating conception
have made their appearance in the proverbs.[85] The attitude of the Wise
towards death may be grasped from Ben Sirach’s words: _When a man is
dead he shall inherit creeping things and beasts and worms_ (E.
10^{11})--_Thanksgiving perisheth from the dead, as from one that is
not; he that is in life shall praise the Lord_ (E. 17^{28}). Death to
Ben Sirach is a great silencing fact, not a mystery provoking thought.
Sometimes he speaks of it very quietly: _All things that are of the
earth turn to the earth again, and all things that are of the waters
return to the sea_ (E. 40^{11}), and he bids men fear it not, seeing
that death comes to us all: _Fear not the sentence of death. Remember
them that have been before thee and that come after. This is the
sentence from the Lord over all flesh, and why doest thou refuse when it
is the good pleasure of the Most High? Whether thou livest ten or a
hundred or a thousand years, there is no inquisition of life in the
grave_ (E. 41^{3, 4}). The same unquestioning acquiescence appears in
the helpless commonplace of the following: _O death, how bitter is the
remembrance of thee to a man that is at peace in his possessions, unto
the man that is at ease and hath prosperity in all things, and that
still hath strength to enjoy luxury. O death, acceptable is thy sentence
to a man that is needy and that faileth in strength, that is in extreme
old age and is distracted about all things, and is perverse and hath
lost patience_ (E. 41^{1, 2}); and still more grimly in his
unconsciously brutal counsel to beware of long sorrow for the dead: _My
son, let thy tears fall over the dead, and as one that suffereth
grievously begin lamentation, and wind up his body according to his due,
and neglect not his burial. Make bitter weeping and passionate wailing,
and let thy mourning be according to his desert, for one day or two,
lest thou be evil spoken of; and so be comforted for thy sorrow. For of
sorrow cometh death, and sorrow of heart will bow down the strength. Set
not thy heart upon him, forget him, remembering thine own last end.
Remember him not, for there is no returning again: him thou shalt not
profit, and thou wilt hurt thyself_ (E. 38^{16ff}).

This great difference of outlook would of itself incline one to a
lenient judgment on the imperfections of the proverbs. But thirdly, and
chiefly, remember that the Wise-men lived in a world that knew not
Jesus, a world in which the supreme moral fact had not yet appeared.
Therefore they lacked what we possess--the assurance that nothing,
tribulation or anguish or persecution, or famine, nakedness, peril or
sword, can sunder the spirit of Man from the love of Him whom to know is
life eternal. To them it was not possible, as it is for us, to confront
the reality of evil with the greater reality of good, to answer the
mystery of present suffering with the deeper mystery of the peace of

Lastly, the noblest of the proverbs has been kept in reserve till now.
Said one of the Sages, perceiving that suffering (be it justly or
unjustly incurred) is at least an efficient teacher: _My son, despise
not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary at his reproof. For
whom the Lord loveth he reproveth, and paineth the son in whom he
delighteth_ (Pr. 3^{11, 12}). The author of _Hebrews_ 12, writing to men
enduring great distress but with the fact of Christ before them, thought
fit to quote those words; and we also will do well to ponder them. It is
reasonable to believe that hardships (which judged from certain aspects
often are unjust), even such terrible hardships as men sometimes endure,
are inevitable in a world where moral personality is in the making: not
otherwise could God Himself make man “in His own image”; not otherwise
could even He create beings who should learn to seek the Truth, and to
will the Good, in freedom. It is easy to see that courage, to take one
instance, cannot be disciplined in sham fight, but only in the hazard of
real risks. So also, it may be, all other fruits of the Spirit will grow
for men nowhere save on the rugged slopes of the hill called
“Difficulty.” The Wise, therefore, despite their perplexities, were not
pessimistic. But, though they resolutely drove out despair, they knew
depression: _Even in laughter the heart may be sorrowful, and the end of
mirth be heaviness_ (Pr. 14^{13}), and _A faithful man who can find?_
(Pr. 20^{6})? To at least one of the Sages God seemed far distant,
silent and inscrutable. Thus Pr. 30^{1-4}--_The Words of Agur, ... I
have wearied myself, O God, I have wearied myself, and am consumed, I
surely am more foolish than other men, and no wisdom have I acquired to
give me knowledge of the Holy One. Who hath ascended up into heaven and
descended?... What is his name and his son’s name, if thou knowest?_ The
sturdy rebuke that immediately follows, (Pr. 30^{5-6})--_Every word of
God is tried. He is a shield to them that trust in Him. Add not thou
unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar_, is the
sentiment of another and a happier man than Agur.

Such was the world in which the Wise had to labour and to think. How
like our own! How sobering in the discipline it imposes on the idealist!
To one who reads without consideration of the back-ground the
sententiousness of these Jewish proverbs may soon prove irksome. But the
fault becomes bearable, and the Wise grow very human, when we recognise
that for all their bold words, they were not always confident of their
creed, and that to many an earnest man among them the preaching of
morality must at times have seemed a weary and a fruitless task.



We have seen the Wise at work, breaking up the hard ground, ploughing
the field and scattering the seed. Came ever their toil to harvest? And
since the world is the field, to what place in the wide world, what
point of time in the world’s long story, ought our search to be
directed? “They that sow in tears,” said a brave man long ago, “shall
reap in joy; though he goeth on his way weeping bearing forth the seed,
he shall come again rejoicing bringing his sheaves with him,”--and his
words encourage us to search for effects of the Wise-men’s teaching in
the immediate history of their times. No matter how often the Psalmist’s
expectation has gone unfulfilled, something in us cries assent to his
daring, and we shall therefore follow his guidance; nor shall we look in
vain. But one knows that the proverb Jesus quoted to His disciples, _One
soweth and another reapeth_, is more often true to the facts of life;
and therefore, following its warning, we must be prepared also to seek
traces of the Wise-men’s influence in times and places unforeseen by

So wide a range of human history thus opens for consideration that the
task we are attempting in this chapter is necessarily difficult. It is
still further complicated by the problem of analysis. For example, to
say bluntly that in the modern determination to remedy existing evils in
our social organisation the Christian Church may see the harvest of its
labours is ultimately true, but it is not the whole truth, and because
there is so much more to be said on the matter the statement might be
challenged as actually untrue by those whose thoughts leap at once to
the chequered official record of the Church in the last few centuries.
But the opposition with which such cut-and-dry assertions are received
often requires only a more careful analysis for its removal. Quite
certainly, despite the antagonism of certain professed Christians, the
penetrative influence of the regular preaching and teaching of
Christianity, especially during the last generation or so, has done more
towards rousing and enlightening the national conscience regarding
social conditions than can easily be measured; but the social movement
of to-day also owes much to the rise of ambitions that naturally
accompany the increase of wealth, to scientific invention, to popular
education, and to other factors that might be mentioned. The progress of
mankind is the product of many influences that have worked together for
good, and the ethical and intellectual condition of a people at any
given period is like a garment woven from many threads but without seam.
Analysis of history is desirable; but to attempt an analysis so subtle
that we can say, “Just so much is due to this influence from the past,
so much to that,” is always difficult, if not impossible. In part of
what follows we must be content to describe certain events and
circumstances concerning which we make no greater (but also no less) a
claim than that the Wise were a _contributory_ cause, their words and
their example having co-operated with the work of others in producing
the result described.

Where then, may it be said, that the seed they sowed took root and
ripened? One general answer may be given instantly--Wherever the Bible
has been known and read: a result immeasurably exceeding the utmost
expectations of the Wise. Who among them ever hoped that their proverbs
would receive a place in a Book destined to exercise pre-eminent moral
and spiritual force throughout the world, and that through all these
centuries the best part of their wisdom, wit, and idealism would be
known and esteemed in a myriad Gentile homes?

For closer consideration three themes may profitably be singled out; the
first being that of immediate Jewish history in Palestine, by which is
meant the critical centuries 350 to 150 B.C. This topic will first be
discussed generally, and then attention will be concentrated on certain
events during the years 200 to 150 B.C., when the struggle between
Judaism and Hellenism came to a climax and was decided.


(_a_) Less than justice is done to the Wise in the picture of
post-exilic Judaism usually presented to students. They are not wholly
ignored, but their value as a formative influence in the community of
Jerusalem and Judæa, we venture to think, has been insufficiently
appreciated. For this misjudgment there are several plain reasons which
will prove to be well worth examining.

In the first place, the absence of theological fervour in the proverbs,
their matter-of-fact standpoint, and the doubtful propriety of certain
sayings have been disappointing and even disconcerting to many readers
of the Bible. Judged too hastily by the superficial features of their
writings, the Wise have been dismissed either as altogether wanting or,
at best, as of small moral and religious importance. But how serious an
error that method of rough-and-ready judgment may induce, can readily be
imagined. It is much as if some future historian, attempting to estimate
the value of Christianity to this generation, had to derive his opinion
from a survey of the volumes of sermons published, many of which he
might be inclined to criticise on the ground that they were concerned
with the inculcation of commonplace moral duties. There is far more
behind such a book as _Proverbs_ than can appear in it. The Wise have
been considered too much from the literary point of view, too little
from the human.

But, secondly, it is not surprising that the attractive, “human” aspect
has been overlooked or underestimated. We miss the warmth of personal
history in the proverbs. One’s interest is stirred so much more deeply
by persons than by things or even ideas; and the proverbs are so coldly
impersonal that only close scrutiny, such as we have here attempted,
reveals the Wise as men. They _may_ often have been pompous,
self-satisfied folk, but it cannot be denied that in their writings they
were anything but self-advertising, saying many things about Wisdom and
next to nothing about themselves.

Even more serious for their repute than this praiseworthy self-reticence
is, thirdly, the fact that the Wise soon vanish from the surface of
Jewish affairs, apparently as completely as the prophets. But again
appearance is misleading, and the explanation that can be found for this
fact deserves to be set forth at some length, because it is likely to
help us further in the understanding of our subject. Commencing perhaps
as early as the latter part of the fifth century, B.C., there developed
in the loyal Jewish community, alongside of the elaborate worship of the
Temple, a custom of meeting together for purposes of religious
exhortation and prayer, and, above all, for study of the great Law which
was increasingly felt to be the strength and heart of Judaism. At these
meetings, or _Synagogues_, the delivery of a moral discourse would be
appropriate, perhaps was formally arranged, and the speaker selected for
this purpose must often have been one of those known as the Wise. But
commendation and exposition of the Law was even more in place on these
occasions, and this duty would naturally be entrusted to one of those
who were making the exact interpretation of the Law a life-long interest
and indeed a profession; that is, to one of those who are familiar to
us by the title “Scribe.” Now it is easy to see that the functions of
the Wise and of the Scribes were not far sundered, and these “synagogue”
meetings must have done much to promote and hasten the approximation of
the two classes.[86] Indeed the process of fusion can be watched in the
pages of Ben Sirach’s book. From it we learn that Ben Sirach, prominent
as a Wise-man, was himself professionally a Scribe, and he praises that
occupation as the best of all careers, the one most suitable for a
disciple of Wisdom (E. _Prologue_ and 39^{1-3}). What more was needed
than that the Sages should recognise in the Law of Moses the mysterious
Wisdom which they served? And we find this very identification expressly
made by Ben Sirach, who declares (in reference to certain wonders of
Wisdom he has set forth in previous verses) that _All these things are
the book of the covenant of the most high God, even the Law which Moses
commanded us_ (E. 24^{23}; cp. 15^{1}, 19^{20}, etc.). What happened is
clear. From about the beginning of the second century B.C. the functions
of moral exhortation--the special sphere of the Wise, at least in
public--were discharged by persons who were Scribes; henceforth, to put
it briefly, the Wise were mostly Scribes, and the Scribes were mostly
Wise. The disappearance of the Wise-men is thus explained; seated in
Moses’ seat, they have passed out of our sight and so out of mind; or,
if dimly recognised by us in their new character, they have been
involved in the Scribes’ not wholly merited disfavour.[87]

In the fourth place, the Wise have also suffered unduly from the
overwhelming prestige customarily assigned to the Law in post-exilic
times. Many scholars have so sat in its shadow that they seem to lose
sight of all other elements in the situation, nay! even to have
forgotten the sunny side of the Law itself. Jerusalem is sometimes
pictured as a city of ecclesiastical lawyers, and the Jews as a
congregation clustered round a book of rules; an exaggeration and
misconception that might never have gained favour, had the mass of
spiritual exposition and reflection embodied in early Rabbinical
literature been more accessible to Christian students. It is a question
of proportion. Without denying that the Law had become the
rallying-point of distinctive Judaism and was destined to obtain a
paramount place in Jewish life and thought, we have to insist that it
held no monopoly of influence in the period before 150 B.C., when the
Wise were still distinctively the Wise. Jewish legalism may already have
become an important fact in the national consciousness, but plenty of
room remained for Jewish humanism. We would insist that whilst the Law
had one great rival--the spirit of indifference to all its teaching
which the growth of Hellenic fashions favoured--it had also coadjutors.
There were other spiritual influences at work, moulding the standards
and ideals of the Jews; one of these was the study and appreciation of
the writings of the great Prophets of Israel, whence before long came
the high aspirations of the Apocalyptic school of thinkers; and another
was the example and teaching of the Wise. Consider the point in view of
the normal qualities of human nature. What impresses ordinary folk? How
do they learn new knowledge? Men are impressed by worth and dignity in
their teachers, the Easterns in particular paying even undue deference
to age and prosperity. And most men learn by small degrees: as Isaiah
put it, they need to be taught precept upon _precept, line upon line,
here a little, and there a little_. Is not that exactly what the Wise
were best fitted to give them--precept upon precept? Here were some of
the most honourable and prosperous citizens of the day, not keeping
their Wisdom jealously to themselves, but counting it their serious duty
to impart the secrets of success; now teaching chosen pupils; now
mingling in the open with all sorts and types of men (Did not Wisdom cry
aloud and utter her voice in the broad places, and cry her message in
the chief place of concourse, even at the entering in of the gates, cp.
Pr. 1^{20}, 8^{1-3}?); everywhere upholding reverence towards God and a
standard of morality, if not perfect, at least far superior to average
attainments. Day in, day out, the social and personal idealism, and the
wholesome vigorous commonsense of these proverbs were being instilled
into the ears of the people by teachers whose prosperous respectability
alone was enough to gain them popular attention. Must it not be that all
this had effect, and great effect, on the Jewish community? The Law no
doubt enlisted the prime devotion of the pious, the prophets appealed
most to the enthusiast, but the Wise must have had the ear of the
ordinary folk--that is, of the majority of men.

(_b_) Detailed proof of the conclusion thus drawn from general
considerations is of course not available. There is, however, one
direction in which immediate evidence of the Wise-men’s influence may be
sought, namely in the issue of the struggle between Judaism and
Hellenism. To this end let us briefly pass in review certain events of
the years 200 to 150 B.C. It will already be clear to the reader how
slight was the chance of the older Jewish habits persisting in face of
the full tide of new life and thought, which was steadily smoothing them
away as waves will melt sandcastles on the shore. By the end of the
third century the infection of Hellenism was rife, not only in the upper
classes, but in all grades of Jewish society; “even in the very
strongholds of Judaism it modified the organisation of the State, the
laws, public affairs, art, science and industry, affecting even the
ordinary things of life and the common associations of the people.”[88]
Black as was the outlook for Judaism at this date, it was soon to grow
much worse. Early in the second century the leading families of
Jerusalem had become thoroughly Hellenic in their point of view, and,
worst of all, in 174 B.C. the office of the High Priesthood fell by
intrigue into the grasp of an unscrupulous man, Joshua or (to use the
Greek name which he adopted and preferred) Jason. This Jason, to curry
favour with the Syrian king, set to work to complete the transformation
of Jerusalem into a Grecian city. Accordingly a gymnasium was now built,
and so popular was the High Priest’s policy, so forgotten the
old-fashioned sentiment, that even the Priests were found willing to
participate actively in the competitions of the public athletic games.
The unholy zeal of the more ardent Hellenists, however, crystallised
into definite shape such opposition as still existed. A body of men,
convinced upholders of strict Judaism, now drew together and became
known as _Hasidim_, _i.e._, “The Conscientious” or “The Faithful”; but
their ranks were recruited largely from the poorer classes, they lacked
intellectual prestige, and no doubt their opposition to Hellenism in
some respects had the weakness of mere unreasoning conservatism. The
party did not seem fitted either to grow in numbers or to continue
through many years, and with its passing the old Jewish piety bade fair
to perish finally.

But at this stage occurred one of the most astonishing _dénouements_ in
history. In 175 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes began to reign over the
Syrian dominions: a remarkable but dangerous man, eccentric to the verge
of insanity; inordinately vain, yet endowed with great ability, energy,
and ambition. Soon after his accession certain tumults took place in
Jerusalem. The rioting was directed against Syrian authority, but did
not amount to anything which could fairly be construed as rebellion,
being in fact mere faction-fighting. None the less Antiochus, whose
exchequer happened to be in sore straits for money, made the occurrence
a pretext, first, for plundering the Temple of its treasures and, two
years later, for inflicting on the Jews a cruel punishment. Entering the
city in 168 B.C. he razed its walls, and desecrated the Temple in an
abominable fashion, sacrificing swine on the altar and converting it
into a sanctuary for Hellenic worship. Still more important, however,
was his resolve once and for all to stamp out any obscurantists among
the Jews who might presume any longer to follow their ancestral customs
and oppose the Greek culture. Then began throughout the Jewish province
a fierce persecution. In all towns and villages men and women were
sought out and slain--whosoever was found guilty of practising Jewish
observances, or possessed a copy of the Jewish Law, or refused to offer
worship at a heathen shrine. The position of the loyal Jews soon became
desperate. The threat of torture and death was stamping out relentlessly
the last flicker of resistance. Many of the _Hasidim_, refusing to make
the great surrender, died for their faith, and the small companies who
escaped to the deserts for refuge, though steadfast in determination to
resist, were in despair, feeling that Jehovah had forsaken His people
utterly. A famous passage in 1 Maccabees (2^{29-38}) relates how one
thousand of them, men, women and children, pursued into the wilderness
by the Syrian troops, were overtaken on a Sabbath day, and how (rather
than violate the laws of the Sabbath by fighting) they sought neither
to escape their enemies by flight nor yet to defend themselves, but
stood and met death in heroic silence.

Such was the condition of affairs when suddenly a change came over the
character of the Jewish resistance. A certain Mattathias, a priest of
the village _Modein_, with his five sons (one of whom was the famous
_Judas_, afterwards surnamed _Maccabeus_), indignant at what was taking
place, and convinced of the futility of such passive martyrdom as had
led to the massacre just mentioned, struck a blow for freedom, and began
to organise active opposition. The _Hasidim_ fell in with the new
policy, and men rallied to the support of Mattathias and his sons. It
was as if the latent patriotism of the Jews had waited only for a spark
to kindle it, had required only action on lines of sufficient common
sense to offer a faint chance of success in combating Antiochus. The new
army that sprang dramatically into being was fortunate in its commander.
Under the brilliant leadership of Judas Maccabeus surprising victories
were gained, and after vicissitudes of fortune which it is not in point
here to record, there emerged a Jewish State, free from the tyranny of
Syria, and eager to preserve the essence of that moral monotheistic
faith which had been Israel’s one unique glory.

But whence this astonishing revival? The _Hasidim_ were none too
numerous, and if, as is entirely probable, a large proportion of their
men were advanced in years, they can hardly have been the most efficient
portion of the Maccabean armies from a military point of view. Victories
in war are won by young, vigorous men, and the swift triumph of the
Maccabees implies the adhesion to their cause of numbers of young Jews
from within and without Jerusalem; and that again is explicable only by
the presence in the nation of a strong undercurrent of respect for the
older, distinctive Judaism. Things were not quite so desperate as they
had seemed. Hellenism had progressed far; but it had not eaten out the
heart of the people. Obviously if all the young Jews had been convinced
Hellenists, content to follow the lead of the high-priestly party to any
lengths and wholly contemptuous of Israel’s former piety, they would
have looked on with indifference, or even approval, while the last
remnants of the puritanical _Hasidim_ and the villagers of Modein were
being blotted out. But from that attitude they had evidently been saved,
and it is fair to acknowledge that the Wise must have done much to
achieve that consummation. Their broadminded outlook, their sensible but
genuine piety, their solid worth of character, their shrewd yet earnest
and at times enthusiastic teaching, all had helped effectively to
maintain regard for the old-fashioned interpretation of life that rested
on “the fear of the Lord.” With the example of the Wise-men before them,
there must have been many who, though they felt that Hellenism was
wonderful, yet knew in their soul that Judaism also was great and wise.
So soon therefore as the vileness of a bloody and remorseless
persecution clarified the moral issue and compelled a choice, men were
found who could make the right resolve to fight for their liberty and
their fathers’ God. The result of the Maccabean conflict was a real
decision; the tide had turned, and the losing battle was not lost.
Hellenic thought and method would in days to come mould and modify the
Jewish people in many ways, but its strangle-hold on the vital point of
Jewish religion was loosened, never to be renewed. The spiritual genius
of Judaism could breathe again. Henceforth, to quote a memorable saying
of Wellhausen, “in a period when all nationalities and all bonds of
religion and national customs were being broken up in the seeming cosmos
and real chaos of the Græco-Roman Empire, the Jews stood out like a rock
in the midst of the ocean. When the natural conditions of independent
nationality all failed them, they nevertheless artificially maintained
it with an energy truly marvellous, and thereby preserved for
themselves, and for the whole world, an eternal good.”


The second field in which one may reasonably look for signs of the
Wise-men’s labours is of course subsequent Jewish history, the question
being, “Did the teaching of the Wise slip out of sight and memory when
the crisis we have described was ended, and when the professors of
Wisdom became the Scribes and were more and more absorbed in purely
scribal interests, or did it escape oblivion and continue a living
influence in the life of the Jews?” The ground that must furnish an
answer to our question is chiefly the presence or absence of references
to these proverbs, or of imitations and echoes of them, in the later
Jewish literature. To begin with, however, there is one clear,
independent proof of the esteem in which at any rate the _Book of
Proverbs_ came to be held, and that is its inclusion in the Hebrew
Bible. This fact alone is irrefutable and sufficient testimony that the
thoughts of the Wise never ceased to influence the minds and characters
of loyal Jews. So much for _Proverbs_, but what of _Ecclesiasticus_? It
also was far from being forgotten. Though it failed to secure a place in
the Hebrew Canon, it was included in the Septuagint[89], the Bible of
the Greek-speaking Jews of Egypt. The Talmud in one ultra-orthodox
passage forbids quotations to be made from Ben Sirach’s book, but
actually there are quotations from it in the Talmud itself! In fact, a
vast number of references might be adduced from the whole range of
Jewish literature testifying both to the popularity of these two great
treasuries of the Sages’ sayings, and to the steady appreciation of
proverbs old and new, which the Jews displayed.

To set forth proof of this assertion even in barest outline would
involve technicalities that might be wearisome. We give therefore but
two or three points in illustration. Perhaps the most interesting, and
for Gentile readers the most accessible, source of evidence is a work of
the first and second century A.D., a compendium of the ethical ideas and
ideals of certain famous Jewish teachers, bearing the title _Pirke
Aboth_, that is _The Sayings of the Fathers_.[90] Throughout this
treatise the influence of the Wisdom writings is clearly indicated by
the sententious style that characterises the several _Sayings_, as well
as by the numerous direct references to _Proverbs_. A few quotations
will bring this out, and at the same time illustrate the high ideals,
curiously but often very attractively expressed, of which the book is

_Ben Zoma said, “Who is mighty? He who subdues his nature, for it is
written ‘He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty’_ (Pr.

_Antigonous of Soko used to say, “Be not like servants who work for
their Lord with a view to receiving recompense, but be as slaves that
minister without seeking for reward, and let the fear of heaven be upon

_Rabbi Chananiah said_--something that might have averted the European
war, and made Germany a blessing instead of a curse, had her rulers and
thinkers accepted his deep counsel!--_“Whenever in any man his fear of
sin comes before his wisdom his wisdom endures, but whensoever a man’s
wisdom comes before his fear of sin his wisdom doth not endure._”[93]

_Rabbi Judah ben Thema said, “Be bold as a leopard, and swift as an
eagle, and fleet as a hart, and strong as a lion to do the will of thy
Father which is in heaven.”_[94]

And there was Rabbi Samuel the Little, who chose for his life’s motto
just one verse of _Proverbs_ (24^{17}), and added thereto no word in
comment: “_Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart
be glad when he stumbleth_.”[95]

So the topic might be pursued, and from _Midrash_ and _Talmud_ might be
drawn examples in plenty, both references to the ancient proverbs and
quotations of new ones--words of wit and humour, of prudence and fine
idealism--applied to all manner of human intercourse, and witnessing
abundantly that in Israel Wisdom was still known of her children. Space
must be found for just these three observations on married life:

     _Whose wife dies in his lifetime, the world becomes dark for him_
     (C. 55)[96].

     _He who loves his wife as himself and honours her more than
     himself_ ... it is _of him the Scripture saith “Thou shalt know
     that thy tent is in peace”_ (C. 55).

And, lastly, this gentle and subtle saying:--

     _If thy wife be short, bend down and whisper to her_ (C. 55).

If Wisdom is an influence at all, it is always an intimate influence
working in homes and individual consciences as well as in street and
market-place, so that besides noting the frequent mention of proverbs in
the literature, consideration should also be paid to the vigour of
Jewish morality in the Christian era. Perhaps the simplest and most
human point at which to test the matter briefly will be the ethic of the
Jewish home. Dispossessed of their native land and scattered to a
thousand different cities, the Jews were compelled to work out their own
salvation under great and increasing difficulties.[97] _God_, says a
significant Talmudic comment, _dwells in a pure and loving home_; and no
one, aware of the evils that were rampant in the decaying paganism of
the Græco-Roman Empire and persisted, still powerful though not
unrebuked, in the slowly developing society of nominally Christian
Europe, would deny that the isolated and often harassed communities of
the Jews did their utmost to make that noble saying a reality,
maintaining with amazing courage and pertinacity a splendid ideal of
family and communal existence. A discussion of the topic in the _Jewish
Encyclopædia_ concludes with the following affirmation: “Throughout
these centuries of persecution and migration the moral atmosphere of the
Jewish home was rarely contaminated, and it became a bulwark of moral
and social strength, impregnable by reason of the religious spirit which
permeated it.” And in elucidation of what was involved in the
persecution referred to let this one grim statement speak: From the
sixteenth century, and earlier, regulations were enforced compelling the
Jews of numerous large cities to reside in certain confined areas,
“ghettos.” Nevertheless the dreadful overcrowding to which this led
resulted in no serious moral evils: “The purity of the Jewish home-life
was a constant antidote to the poisonous suggestions of life in slums,
and it was even able to resist the terrible squalor and unhealthiness
which prevailed in the miserable and infamous Roman ghetto, where at one
time as many as 10,000 inhabitants were herded into a space less than a
square kilometre. In the poorer streets of this ghetto several families
occupied one and the same room. The sufferings of the Jews in that hell
upon earth were not diminished by the yearly overflowing of the Tiber
which made the Roman ghetto a dismal and a plague-stricken swamp.”[98]

Of course many things worked together to sustain the morality of the
Jewish people--the long-suffering of the Psalmists, the golden promises
of the mighty Prophets, and the strength of the ancient Law. But surely
also that store of homely, yet stirring and challenging, proverbs which
the Wise-men had created, may claim a real share in the magnificent
result? And if, quite rightly, it be insisted that the Law, with its
fascination of hallowed customs and manifold spiritual suggestions,
played the all-important part, then in reply we may still enter the plea
that, as Ben Sirach had felt and said, for the Jew the Law was Wisdom
and Wisdom had become the Law.


In the third place, the words of the Wise were given an honoured place
in the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ. To some that may be an unexpected
statement. It is well-known that Jesus was intimately familiar with the
doctrine of the Prophets, and many have perceived how conscious He was
of all that is admirable in the Law, the spiritual essence of which He
fulfilled. But, though His interest in the Wise is seldom noted, it is
no less true that He had considered deeply and sympathetically the idea
of the Divine Wisdom, and was familiar with the famous proverbs that
sought to apply its guidance alike to the greatest and the least of our
affairs. Just how often a memory of Wisdom is traceable in the recorded
words of Jesus cannot be determined with certainty. _Verbatim_ allusions
are rare, perhaps because the ideas of the Wise and their more memorable
sayings had become so familiar in our Lord’s time as to be common ground
between hearer and teacher, so that often it was only the point made by
the Wise that was hinted at, or caught up and given some new turn and
emphasis. But echoes from the thoughts and images of the proverbs are so
frequent in the Gospels that together they furnish ample evidence of His
having known and valued the ancient treasury of Wisdom. The evidence is,
of course, cumulative, and its strength must not be judged by the
following few illustrations.[99]

No fewer than seven of the eight Beatitudes (_Matt._ 5^{3ff}) recall
proverbs of the Wise; what had been, as it were, a seed of thought in
the proverb finding ripe expression in the Beatitude. For instance,
_Blessed are the poor_ (_i.e._, humble) _in spirit, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven_, said Jesus--_Better_, said the Wise, _is it to be of
a lowly spirit with the poor, than to divide the spoil with the proud_
(Pr. 16^{19}). With Jesus’ condemnation of mischievous talk, _Every idle
word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the day of
judgement; for by thy words shalt thou be justified, and by thy words
thou shalt be condemned_ (_Matt._ 12^{36, 37}), compare Pr. 18^{20, 21}
_Death and life are in the power of the tongue; and they that love it
shall eat the fruit thereof_ (also Pr. 13^{2}, 15^{4}, 21^{23}, etc.).
With the teaching, _Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth
... but in heaven_, compare Pr. 11^{4, 28}, 15^{16}, 16^{8}, etc. _Give
us this day our daily bread_ seems to echo Pr. 30^{8}: _Give me neither
poverty nor riches; feed me with the bread that is needful for me_. In
the command for generous dealing, _Give to him that asketh thee, and
from him that would borrow of thee turn not away_ (_Matt._ 5^{42}),
there is perhaps a precise reminiscence of Pr. 3^{28}: _Say not unto thy
neighbour, “Go and come again” when thou hast it with thee_ (cp. also
Pr. 19^{17} with _Matt._ 25^{40}); and again when Jesus encouraged His
disciples saying _Be not anxious how or what ye shall speak.... For it
is not ye that speak but the spirit of your Father which speaketh in
you_ (Matt. 10^{19, 20}), perhaps the very words of Pr. 16^{1} were in
His memory: _The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the
tongue is from the Lord_?

Some of the immortal images in our Lord’s parables may have been painted
from the thought suggested by a proverb. In the parable of _Luke_
14^{7-11}, the command not to seek the highest seats at the banquet may
originate in the saying of Pr. 25^{6} as much as in the concrete
examples of the failing which contemporary life no doubt afforded. So
also the famous parable of the two houses, one built on rock, the other
on sand, perhaps goes back to the seed-thought in Pr. 12^{7}: _The
wicked are overthrown and are not, but the house of the righteous shall
stand_; and the proverb _Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou
knowest not what a day will bring forth_, Pr. 27^{1}, might be text for
Christ’s parable of the rich man and his barns (_Luke_ 12^{16-21}).
Again when Jesus, speaking of the kingdom of heaven, likens it to a
marriage feast (_Matt._ 22^{1-14}; etc.) and elsewhere compares it in
its infinite value to a hidden precious pearl, there are details in the
language used which suggest that the picture of Wisdom’s banquet (Pr.
9^{1-5}), and the proverbs on the incomparable worth of Wisdom were not
far distant from His mind.

More important than even the certain or possible verbal reminiscences of
the proverbs is the resemblance between the manner of Jesus’ teaching
and the manner of the Wise. Like them, He also taught in the streets,
seeking the people where they were most easily to be found; and though
His words were infinite in depth of insight and spiritual grandeur, He
was wont to clothe them in simple language--now quoting a telling
proverb, _Physician, heal thyself_, now kindling imagination by a
familiar but graphic metaphor or comparison that went home to the heart,
and challenged the conscience, and was comprehensible to learned and
unlearned equally. Like the Wise, He spoke constantly on those simple
but supreme issues which concern every man that cometh into the world;
and His highest doctrine was often cast, like the lessons of ancient
Wisdom, in brief sentences that refused to be forgotten: _Blessed are
the pure in heart, for they shall see God--He that findeth his life
shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it_.
Many readers will realise that the deepest thing concerning the relation
between Jesus Christ and Wisdom has not yet been referred to, but that
we deliberately reserve. Enough has been said for the present purpose.

Who in face of all these facts would dare to maintain that the Wise-men
toiled to no purpose. Their love’s labour was not lost. In the issue of
the struggle with Hellenism and the revival of the Jewish national
consciousness with its unique moral and religious features, some of them
witnessed a result such as their teaching, whether they were fully
conscious of the fact or not, had tended to achieve.

But also there came gradually in later generations, and in lands of
which they had not so much as heard, a rich reward of which the end is
not yet in sight. Could they but have foreseen even a small corner of
this ultimate harvest field, how completely depression would have
vanished, and all mistrust of God’s dealings with faithful men been
lifted from their minds! Their proverbs were laid on the foundation of a
religious and ethical idealism, and if some have proved to be only wood,
hay and stubble, others were gold, silver and costly stones, and these
have obtained a place in the temple of eternal Truth. Doubtless the
imperfections of the Wise were great and their failures and
disappointments many, but all the time they were building far better
than they knew. Is it not always so with every courageous effort after
righteousness, every honest search for the kingdom of the living God?



Our fathers required no volumes on the Humanism of the Bible. They felt
themselves close-linked with its heroes; Patriarchs, Judges, Warriors,
Kings, and Prophets were their kith and kin, not in blood, but in the
nearer relationship of human experience. Saul, in his pride, his
jealousy and desolate death, stood in warning beside them; David,
pattern of faith and fortitude in adversity, was at their right hand, so
that in their distresses men would take courage, remembering that David
also had cried unto the Lord and been delivered. But the perspective of
the years has ceased to be foreshortened, and between our generation and
the old world of the Bible a great gulf now seems fixed. Nevertheless
our fathers were right, and we are wrong. Saul and David and the men of
the Bible are not separated from us by 3,000 years, nor yet by one year,
for difference of race and custom are trivialities compared with the
fundamental conditions of life and the unalterable principles of
character. Our predecessors may have made too light of the differences,
but that is a small fault compared with the modern tendency to ignore
the resemblances: not to ask “What do these men and these events say to
us concerning the eternal things we share with them?” is to miss the one
thing needful.

To illustrate the argument, recollect that skeleton of dates, _William
the Conqueror_ 1066 ... which not so long ago did duty in our schools
for the record of the glory of England. What could have been more
ineffective for revealing the soul of history? Now-a-days, the tale is
better told but, even so, be the events narrated never so graphically,
unless they are conceived in relation to ourselves we are little
benefited. To use the famous simile of the prophet, bone may come to its
bone, and sinews be upon them, and flesh come up and skin cover them
above, until the very semblance of men rises before our eyes; but there
will be no breath in them. Only when it is realised how out of the
living past has grown the living present, only then enters the breath of
God into the men of old and they live and stand up upon their feet, an
exceeding great army--to our aid in the shaping of what is to be.
History is profitable in so far as its significance for the present is
understood.[100] Thus, with fine insight, the Jews perceived that even
their majestic Law would be of no avail if it were heard only as the
recital of words delivered long ago at Sinai, and accordingly the
exhortation ascribed to Moses in the _Book of Deuteronomy_ comes to its
climax in this deep saying: _The commandment is not too hard for thee,
neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say “Who
shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it down unto us, and make us
hear it, that we may do it?”... But the Word is very nigh thee, in thy
mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it._[101]

And so also in like manner this account of the history behind the Jewish
proverbs has not been told in order to evoke for a brief moment
nerveless phantoms of the Wise in ancient Israel, but with the hope that
a voice would be heard saying even of this Word “It is very nigh thee,
in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” What is the
significance _for us_ of these men and their experiences?

Consider some of the features of this Movement, if so precise a term may
for convenience be applied to the easy, natural, teaching of Wisdom. In
the first place observe the thorough and effective contact established
by the teachers of Wisdom with the people they sought to reach. One of
the main problems confronting Christianity is the severance of the
potential influence of its Churches from the life of the people; verily
Mahomet sits waiting for the mountain. What then? Ought the Churches to
be abandoned, and men go a-worshipping in the market-place?
“Impractical--at the best it would soon lose its effect--the experiment
has been made, with sadly limited results”: a thousand valid objections!
But the problem must not be dismissed so lightly with a bare
consideration of its obvious difficulties, for the issues at stake are
too serious; the bulk of the population live perilously free from the
stimulus of any Ideal, whether self-sought or impressed from without by
the teaching of others. Seeing then that the Wise succeeded where we
have missed the mark, their ways must at least deserve a scrutiny; here
is a method by which the poor were preached to, and religion stood daily
in the streets and morals in the market-place; here is idealism put in
language the unlearned could both comprehend and recollect. Indeed the
proverb was wonderfully suited to their needs, for even its riddles were
easily solved, not darkening counsel but devised only to awaken
curiosity and so assist the slow and simple mind. Of course a slavish
imitation of the Wise-men’s procedure is out of the question in modern
circumstances, but slavish imitation is not suggested. Said Sir Joshua
Reynolds when urging the students of the Royal Academy to the study of
the Old Masters, “The more extensive your acquaintance is with the works
of those who have excelled, the more extensive will be your powers of
_invention_.” There is a force of idealism latent in almost all men, but
it requires to be brought to the surface, examined, criticised and
judiciously directed to the attainment of practical objects; otherwise
the greater part of its potential energy will never be brought into
action; and in this easy-going land of ours there is more than normal
scope for increased discipline of the mind. We can afford to think much
harder than we have ever yet done without losing the virtue of humorous,
tolerant good-nature. As Mr. Clutton Brock has said recently, “The fact
that some thinking is bad is not a reason why we should not think at
all. The Germans have been encouraged by their bad thinking to exercise
certain virtues perversely and to bad ends, but still to exercise them
in a manner which has astonished the world; while we have been little
encouraged by thinking, good or bad, to exercise any virtues.”[102]
There is ample room for more _outspoken_ interest in the ends and
principles of human life, more earnest and stringent consideration of
the problems of social organisation--provided our discussions be
undertaken, not in the spirit of silly contention, mere bolstering up of
unconsidered prejudice, but in a sincerity that will be both more
critical and yet more humbly eager, for truth’s sake, to learn one from
another. For it is not division of opinion, or even real conflict of
interest that prevents and retards reform, so much as the dead weight of
ignorance, of indifference and of paltry pride in argument--the very
sins which in the past were the prime cause of the evils that call for

No less than the ancient Hebrews we moderns stand in need of the
exhortation to let Wisdom _enter into our hearts and knowledge be
pleasant unto our souls_ (cp. Pr. 2^{10}). Neither with all our heart,
nor even with all our mind, far less with all our soul, have we yet
sought her whose _ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are
peace_ (Pr. 3^{17}); nor have we understood sufficiently that _she is a
tree of life to all that lay hold on her, and happy is every one that
retaineth her_ (Pr. 3^{18}). Says a later Jewish proverb, _Lackest thou
Wisdom, what hast thou acquired? Hast acquired Wisdom, what lackest
thou?_ (C. 93.)

Secondly, the constant intimate contact that the Wise maintained with
the actualities of men’s ordinary experience was beneficial not only to
the taught but to the teachers. It kept the Wise in touch with
work-a-day problems (the most difficult of tasks for the idealistic
thinker), and so helped to make their toil productive. It taught them
how to bring Heavenly Wisdom down from the right hand of God that she
might dwell with men, and make their homes pure and loving, and their
business just, and their pleasures clean. And herein is a thought of no
little encouragement for preachers and teachers in these days of not
overcrowded Churches. Somehow it seems that personal contact is
invaluable in the moral and spiritual education of man. That is why the
leading article, with its scores of thousands of readers, may sometimes
have less effect than a good sermon heard by a few hundred. The Press
addresses us from an Olympian but distant Fleet Street, thundering at
us--but in cold print; whereas the parson and the teacher, if he is a
true man, somewhere and to some few is a neighbour and a friend. However
excellent the Manual of Ethics, it will not serve to influence the lives
of many. The Son of Man, it seems, must come eating and drinking and
teaching in our streets.

In the next place, this Movement is an interesting and important example
of independent as opposed to systematic instruction, illustrating both
the weaknesses as well as the strength of pronounced individualism, and
supporting the opinion that, if only one safeguard be present, the
advantages of individualism outweigh its dangers. Teachers less
restricted than the Wise it is difficult to imagine. Each was free to
develop his own opinions on the nature of life and the principles of
success and failure, even to the point of open agnosticism. What
prevents such licence from becoming chaos? The reply indicated by the
Wisdom Movement is that freedom, even extreme freedom, of judgment in
matters of conduct and faith will not result in chaos provided there is
an underlying unity of aim. All the Wise were lovers of Wisdom. They
conceived their theme in different fashions, but they had all the same
intention--to teach and to practise Wisdom and not Folly; hence, despite
the diversity in their proverbs, the shifting standpoints, the variety
of ethical standards, even the contradictions of advice, their teaching
was ultimately effective. If we had had space to consider their work in
relation to other movements in the intellectual life of that period,
both in Palestine and also in the wider world, it would have been easy
to show that the immaturities in the Wise-men’s thoughts, the
uncertainties of their faith and ethic (the very points on which the
cynical would pounce as evidence of failure) on a wider and wiser survey
of the facts were in reality co-operating influences, clearing the way
for a deeper, fuller, faith. Truth is eternal, but men’s apprehension of
it is progressive; and it should be insisted that, given the presence of
one fundamental purpose so that an ultimate unity of spirit must
necessarily exist, divergence of opinion, even on matters of high
importance, does not indicate weakness or indecision or decay, but
rather is a sign of vitality and hope. The reason for this is obvious.
Final statements can be made only with regard to the conceptions of the
abstract sciences, such as mathematics, or to the judgments we can
sometimes pass on lost causes; and on the other hand power to perceive
the imperfection of present attainment has ever been, and still is, the
prime condition of human progress: “God,” said John Robinson, minister
of the Pilgrim Fathers, “has yet more truth to break forth out of His

The bearing on modern Christianity is not far to seek. A doctor recently
remarked to the present writer that one had only to enter the several
Churches of a certain town to discover that Christians were now in
hopeless confusion, ignorant as to what they did or did not believe, and
that if the professed followers of the faith could not state their
doctrine coherently, others might well be excused from attempting the
task of ascertaining what Christianity now meant. The argument is not
unusual, but it is profoundly mistaken. It might have been retorted that
divergencies of medical opinion (and many patients will bear witness
that they are neither slight nor few) are no indication whatever of the
essential unsoundness of the science of medicine, but rather the
guarantee of its advance into more accurate knowledge. Moreover had the
critic been in actual touch with the feeling and activities of the
Churches in question, he would have recognised that the points of
disagreement, though important, were not upon the vital question of
faith in God and general attitude towards life; so that whilst he
personally might still have been unable to accept Christian belief, he
could not possibly have formulated such an indictment as appears above.
The real peril of Christian theology has not been vagueness, but the
Hellenic tendency to essay the definition of all things to the last
_iota_. But from the perils inherent in that attitude Christianity has
been delivered by the passionate instinct of mankind for truth, and by
the reforming energy of great individuals; and will be delivered, so
long as the Church has faith in the guiding Spirit of God.

There is value in the Wise-men’s witness to the intimate relation
between faith and morality. The religion of Israel in its higher
development is magnificent in its clear recognition that the claim of
God upon man is absolute, complete and not partial--if there be one God,
Creator of heaven and earth, then certainly He besets us behind and
before and lays His hand upon us--and that the love of God and the love
of our fellow-men must be indissolubly related, faith being the
inspiration of morality, and moral action the necessary outcome of
faith. With these sublime beliefs, proclaimed by Prophets and Psalmists,
the Wise were in accord: they also in their more homely fashion
recognised the universality of the Divine claim, and its operation in
the realm of moral duty. Perhaps those thoughts may seem to some readers
only elementary and obvious ideas on spiritual things. But they ought to
be regarded not as elementary (and therefore of small account) but as
fundamental and vital conceptions. Every student of comparative religion
would testify how great and terrible a gulf in human life was crossed
when first a Hebrew Prophet conceived the thought that God desireth
mercy and not sacrifice, not ceremonial worship but _philanthropy_ (in
the true sense of the word), and how glorious a hope for the future of
religion then dawned upon our race. Moreover the fact remains that, even
if to many these thoughts of God and the nature of His service may be no
novelty, even if they have grasped the idea in its full significance and
are conscious of its exact bearing on manifold contemporary affairs,
there is still room for its reaffirmation. Said a soldier in France,
after a discussion about Christianity to which he had listened intently
and with some surprise, “But, as I understand it, religion is all talk
about heaven. What’s it got to do with morality?” Religion _has_ got to
do with morality, and morality, like the demand for truth and the
instinct for the beautiful, penetrates life through and through to its
least details. Christianity is not a bargain with the Deity entailing
magical immunity from hardship in this life and special privileges in
the next. It is such an attitude of the essential personality as should
wholly determine our activities in each and every aspect life can
present to us, both now and hereafter. The scope of religion is as wide
as our interests; and what could serve more happily to remind us of that
fact than these Jewish proverbs which, beginning with the fear of God,
range from kings to labourers, from merry men to broken hearts, from
dreams of perfect justice to cynical observations on the uses and
advantages of bribes? Wisdom is indeed ubiquitous: _Divers weights and
false balances are an abomination unto the Lord_, say the Wise in the
busy mart; and then in the hour of leisure and of plenty _It is not good
to eat much honey_--and all this in the name of transcendent Wisdom,
_whose fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold_; Wisdom that was
_set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was_.

Incidentally we have also to note how thoroughly these proverbs, by
reason of the range of interest of which we have just been speaking, and
by the sensible attitude they endeavour to preserve, illustrate the
Humanism of the Bible; for surely the most ungenerous of critics would
not accuse them of being unpractical or absorbed in supra-mundane
matters. The point has already been emphasised, and therefore we will
not dwell upon it again, except to remark its importance as one instance
of a general principle: that Idealism to be effective must needs grow
out of the soil of commonsense. There is a degree beyond which existing
facts must not be disregarded. For example, men have not mastered the
art of flight by ignoring gravitation, but by having studied its laws
and conquered the difficulties they present. In the admirable words of a
friend of the writer, “Christian opinion is peculiarly liable to the
danger of running counter to the average common sense in the midst of
which it finds itself; that is a natural alternative to simply falling
into line with current common sense views.... Thought that has its head
in the clouds must have its feet planted firmly in sound common sense,
if its heart is to be in the right place.... No one can think of Jesus
as the devotee of a faddist cult. He entered whole-heartedly into the
common joys and sorrows and into the common interests of the people:
their wedding-feasts and their mourning for dead friends and their
longing for freedom from the Roman yoke.... _He entered by the open door
of common sense, and led out the spirit of man into a larger life than
it had ever conceived._”[103] Omitting the superlative “ever,” these
words in italics are wonderfully apposite in reference to the genius of
the Wisdom Movement in Israel.

There is value for us in the confidence which the Wise-men showed in
their attitude towards life. They, like ourselves, lived in an age when
all things were being put to trial, and doubt and perplexity were rife.
They were aware that even their instinctive fundamental ideas were under
challenge, aware that the path they followed was unfinished; and yet, as
the general tone of the proverbs indicates, they lived with firmness and
decision, and therefore achieved much. They were wise indeed in that
they perceived the issue between good and evil to be clear enough for a
man to choose which of the twain he will pursue. Having chosen, these
men did not content themselves with expressing a timorous hope that the
moralistic view of life might ultimately be proved correct; they did
battle for righteousness, valiantly and practically. So with ourselves.
Stringent and systematic application of the test of reason is a most
necessary attitude to preserve, but it is not a whit less necessary,
despite our uncertainty regarding ultimate problems of existence, early
in life to form a definite idea whither we wish to direct our steps. To
do so is the only highway to an effective life. Nor is it unreasonable
to demand from men that much resolution, for Good and Evil do present
themselves quite distinctly as alternative routes. Of course, all the
coward in us and all the sluggard prompts a protest for delay: we see a
hundred reasons for postponing judgment, or for arranging a compromise
between the claimants; “our philosophy is unsettled; we have neither
proved God to our complete satisfaction, nor has He clearly justified
His ways to us: so that surely it is not reasonable to insist that we
make choice (and therefore, we take it, the subsidiary matter of our
unwillingness need not arise)--let us drift a little longer through
these puzzling mists.” Nothing but a bold decision for Wisdom or for
Folly ever clears those mists away. To shirk the challenge (as some do
all their lives) is easy and at first may seem the natural course to
adopt, but it entails a heavy penalty. It deprives us of any firm
criterion of judgment, and we must needs go fumbling with the golden
opportunities which come but return not. Take then the Wise for an
example. Uncertainty they felt, but uncertainty did not paralyse their
power, because they met perplexities in the open field of action. From
us, as from them, many secrets of creation are concealed; but some
things are certainly evil and some are pure and good. A blessing and a
curse are set before us, and the difference between them is in no way
obscure. We ought to choose the blessing; and then, in faith that the
Good is really and ultimately the True, act vigorously in support of our
belief. Wisdom we know and Folly we know; Christ we have seen and the
fruits of wickedness: in the name of sanity how much clearer need the
issue be?

Passing from the methods and manner of the Movement, it is encouraging
to turn for a moment to the thought of its success. When we measure the
might of the forces making against Wisdom, the numbers and influence of
those bent on pleasure or on riches with scant regard, or none at all,
for nobler possibilities in life, it is wonderful that the ideals of the
Wise should have become known to vast numbers of men in alien lands, and
that, enshrined in the Bible, their influence should still remain
unexhausted. Had the memory of them continued in honour only for a
century or two and been restricted to the limits of the Jewish
communities, even that would have been a result exceeding what had once
seemed probable. For Hellenism was a monstrous flood apparently
capable of sweeping away far larger obstacles than all Judaism
combined--priests, prophets, and Wise-men--could raise against its
onset. But Wisdom and Law and Prophets survived the deluge, quite
unharmed and indeed strengthened by the trial they had undergone. Why
was it so? How comes it to pass that the Wise after all do not toil in
vain; that the Crucified conquers; that St. Paul, who in his lifetime
can establish no more than a few struggling Churches, eventually
commands the intellect of Greece and subdues the power of Rome? Surely
because, in the words of yet another great passage in the Hebrew
Scriptures, Elisha’s vision in beleaguered Dothan was no mirage in the
eyes of a famine-haunted man, but truth of truth, and the mountains of
Reality which compass the City of Human Faith are full of the chariots
of the Lord of Hosts. Christianity is not dying, nor is the Church
doomed, nor is the work of idealists in this generation of no avail.
Rather he is blind that imagines so, blind to the armies that in the
soul of Man do battle for the one eternal God.

Such are some of the reflections prompted by the history of the Wisdom
Movement. We come now to what those unacquainted with the events we have
been describing may have imagined to be the only, as it is the most
obvious and perhaps the most important, gift the Jewish Sages have left
for our inheriting--the proverbs themselves, considered apart from their
origin or use in relation to any particular historical events. Not all
the sayings are of value in themselves, for some are trivial and some
are obsolete, some have been said better, and a few were better left
unsaid. But there remain many having permanent interest, and many that
speak deep and undying truth, truth which we, no less than our fathers,
have need to learn, and which those who come after us will have to learn
or suffer loss. Had we chosen to use such proverbs as texts whereon to
build discussion, illustration or enforcement of their thoughts and
counsels, they are enough to fill not one but many volumes of this size.
For stirring subjects would open up on every side. How shrewd, for
example, are these Jewish maxims in their insistence that principle
should precede practice, that success in life is won not by experiment
unguided by fixed purpose but by the early adoption of certain great
principles which our experiences will continually test and interpret,
clarify and confirm! How sensible in their demand for the use of
unsparing criticism--both the discipline of self-imposed criticism, and
the humility that will receive, and, if necessary, assent to the reproof
of others! How true the instinct which taught them to feel that real
Wisdom is not merely an intellectual affair; so that they bid men seek
not learning but rather the power to use it for right purposes, not
knowledge of fact so much as the understanding mind. It is of profound
importance in life this distinction between intelligence and knowledge.
As the late Lord Cromer remarked to one of his friends soon after the
outbreak of the European war, “I believe that Germany will live in
history as the supreme example of the failure to distinguish Wisdom from
Learning.” It is Wisdom that the Jewish Sages preached. And how wise
they were in the emphasis they lay on the necessity of application in
the difficult task of awakening and cultivating the dormant powers of
the mind.[104] Above all, how more than wise, how humane, are they in
depicting Wisdom in lovely colours, not as cold and repellent, but as
warm and welcoming, an infinitely desirable, compassionate Friend of
Humanity! How much we have still to learn from them in that respect, we
who are not yet wholly delivered from an age that of set purpose hid the
fascinating light of knowledge under a bushel of dull and unimaginative
discipline, making education seem a thing to be endured;--till we grew
up--and depicting Morality as an All-seeing Eye, unblinkingly on the
watch for our misdemeanours, a sort of inescapable Super-Spy! And again,
treating the proverbs from this general point of view, what
inexhaustible variety of themes would be at our disposal--education,
commerce, responsibility, virtue and vice, hardships, luxury, marriage
and friendship, idleness and diligence; in fact we might talk “of shoes
and ships and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings”; an _embarras de

The remaining pages of this volume will be given to a review of certain
of the Jewish proverbs, grouped under several topics. The principle on
which these topics and the proverbs used in their illustration have been
selected is chiefly the avoidance of repetition, so far as has proved
reasonably convenient. Obviously, many most suitable subjects, such as
the personal virtues, and many sayings that might fittingly be quoted in
exposition of the themes actually chosen for the following pages, have
already been utilised in our account of the Wisdom Movement. These then,
with a few exceptions, will not be reproduced again, partly because
there is little need to draw upon them, the stock of Jewish proverbs
being far from exhausted, but mainly because it is to be hoped that
their wit and wisdom for ourselves and for all men did not pass
unnoticed and unconsidered in the historical setting. The sins of
omission of which the following pages are guilty are patent even to the
author. If they rouse the reader into making a better selection for
himself, good and again good.

To preserve a thread of connection with what precedes, we may commence
by reviewing first _Nature_ and then _Humour_ in the Jewish sayings,
both of which subjects have not only a certain general interest, but
will help further to show how the proverbs can contribute to our
realisation of the Humanism of the Bible.


Nature in the Proverbs

In comparison with the Greeks and those peoples who have inherited
something of the Grecian genius for form and colour in the world, it may
fairly be said that the Hebrews were inartistic. When, however, they are
charged with being “unresponsive to Nature,” or “lacking the artistic
sense,” it is time to protest. For the Hebrews were not unobservant of
Nature or unsympathetic, and the writers of the Old Testament make many
allusions to the scenes and processes of the visible world, and they
recognise its beauties and its marvels. The artist’s proper quarrel with
the Hebrews is that very seldom did they see Nature in and for itself,
but almost always through the medium of its relationship to the mental
or physical interests of Man--how far does Nature threaten or encourage
his faith and aspirations? What does it teach him? The Psalmist does not
tell you “what a glorious night it is” or that “the sunset is
magnificent”; he says that _the heavens declare the glory of God, and
the firmament sheweth His handiwork_. We are bidden to lift our eyes to
the hills, not to perceive the lights and shadows on their slopes, but
because thence we may look to see the advent of our hope. Let us set two
famous passages in contrast, the first from Greek literature, the second
from the New Testament. In one of Pindar’s jewelled Odes, the
poet--singing the praises of Iamos, a mortal born of the god Poseidon
and a human mother--first paints in rich and glowing words a picture of
the infant hero laid in a cradle among the rushes, “his soft body
bedewed with light from the yellow and purple colours of the pansies,”
and then goes on to show him, now grown to manhood and tasting the first
fresh glory of his youth, “going down to the midst of the Alphæus
stream, there to invoke the regard of his divine progenitor and to
beseech of him the favour of a hero’s task--νυκτὸς, ὑπαίθρις, _by night under the open sky_.”[105] No one who has ever
felt the magic of a star-filled night can miss the art that makes the
passage culminate in those two words. Now compare this from the New
Testament, of course in reference to the literary question only:-- ...
“So when he had dipped the sop, he taketh and giveth it to Judas, the
son of Simon Iscariot. And after the sop, then entered Satan into him.
Jesus therefore saith to him, That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at
the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some thought,
because Judas had the bag, that Jesus said unto him, Buy what things we
have need of for the feast, or that he should give something to the
poor. He then having received the sop went out straightway: _and it was
night_.”[106] Here also is art, the highest art--it needed the darkness
to cover Judas and make possible his sin--but the art is unconscious.
The words are given only as a detail of fact, an indication of time,
added without a thought of their effect on our emotions. The writer of
the Gospel is altogether absorbed in the agonising human interest of the

No expectation therefore should be entertained that Nature in the Jewish
proverbs will be presented with unusual beauty or close observation.
Nothing very wonderful is remarked of the world outside the little world
of man, and the allusions almost always are made in relation to human
hopes and fears and habits. But Nature has not been expelled from the
proverbs; she crops out now and then, and, if we bear in mind this
warning against undue hopes, the subject seems worth a brief
examination. Well then, the following proverbs are assembled solely on
account of their references to natural phenomena. That is the one and
only pretext for their collocation. Some perchance may say that the
excuse is insufficient--but they forget that “a touch of Nature makes
the whole world kin.”

Since tradition saith of Solomon that “he spake of trees from the cedar
that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall;
he spake also of beasts and of fowl and of creeping things and of
fishes,” we can see where we ought to make a start.

We begin with the _trees_. The _trees_ however will disappoint us.
Wisdom, we are baldly told, _is a tree of life to them that lay hold
upon her_ (Pr. 3^{18}), and it is said (Pr. 27^{18}) _Whoso keepeth the
fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof_. Even if we get so far as to spy a
little fruit upon a tree, and imagine that we have it safely gathered,
lo! and behold! it rolls out of our fingers. For the famous proverb,

    _Like apples of gold in baskets of silver,
    So is a word spoken in season_ (Pr. 25^{11}),

is pretty but elusive, the truth being that the vague phrasing of the
English Version is due to nobody knowing what the Hebrew really means!
The best passage is this from Ben Sirach, _As the flower of roses in the
time of new fruits, as lilies at the waterspring, as the shoot of
Lebanon in time of summer, ... as an olive tree budding forth fruit, and
as an oleaster with branches full of sap_ (E. 50^{8-10}).

Here are the _birds_ in proverbs:

    _In vain is the net spread in the eyes of any bird_ (Pr. 1^{17}).

    _As a bird that wandereth from its nest
    So is a man that wandereth from his home_ (Pr. 27^{8}).

    _Birds resort unto their like,
    And truth will return to them that practise it_ (E. 27^{9}).

    _The eye that mocketh at a father,
    And despiseth an aged mother,
    The ravens of the brook shall pick it out,
    And the young eagles shall eat it_ (Pr. 30^{17}).

The _beasts_ may be divided into the wild creatures untamed by man, and
the domestic animals. Some of the latter are to be seen wandering most
naturally through this picture of the wise farmer:

    _Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks,
    And look well to thy herds;
    For riches endure not for ever,
    Nor wealth to all generations.
    When the hay is carried and the tender grass springeth,
    When the grass of the mountains is gathered,
    Then the lambs will supply thee with clothing
    And the goats yield the price of a field,
    And give milk enough for thy household,
    Enough for the maintenance of thy maidens_ (Pr. 27^{23-27}).

For the _horse_ see Pr. 26^{3}, E. 30^{8} and 33^{6}; of the _dog_, whom
we shall meet again in the next chapter, there is a famous saying in
_Eccles._ 9^{4}, _Better a living dog than a dead lion_.

Among the _wild animals_, the lion (Pr. 30^{30}) and the bear enjoy the
most fearsome reputation according to the proverbs--_The king’s wrath is
as the roaring of the lion_ (Pr. 19^{12})--_As a roaring lion and a
ranging bear, so is a wicked ruler over a poor people_ (Pr. 28^{15}).
But there are worse things than either--_Let a bear robbed of her whelps
meet a man rather than a fool in his folly_ (Pr. 17^{12})--_I will
rather dwell with a lion and a dragon than keep house with a wicked
woman_ (E. 25^{16}). The references to _conies_, _locusts_, and
_lizards_ in Pr. 30^{26f} may be remembered (see p. 47). _Wine_, said
the Wise, _goeth down smoothly, but_ (was there gout, or worse, in those
days?) _at the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an
adder_ (Pr. 23^{32}), and the _serpent’s_ elusive track across the rock
is mentioned in Pr. 30^{19}. Perhaps these references to snakes should
have been placed at the head of a paragraph on _creeping things_.
However that may be, one of the creeping things, being “exceeding wise”
(Pr. 30^{24}), received an immortality in _Proverbs_:

    _Go to the ant, thou sluggard,
    Consider her ways and be wise_ ... (Pr. 6^{6}).

Cannot one see a Sage in some leisure hour, bending down to watch the
busy energetic little creature hurrying about its toil? And then--“Aha!”
said he, “behold a proper scourge for lazy bones”!

The one reference to _fishes_ makes one wonder whether the days of yore,
like our own times, had their sea-serpent season. Says Ben Sirach,

    _They that sail on the sea tell of the danger thereof,
    And when we hear it with our ears we marvel.
    Therein be also those strange and wondrous works,
    Variety of all that hath life, the race of sea-monsters_ (E. 43^{24, 25}).

The proverbs may lack something as a text-book for young scientists; yet
here is the very essence of the fact of gravitation observed and duly
noted: _He that casteth a stone on high casteth it on his own head_ (E.

Two or three features in what one may call civilised Nature, are worth
recording here, although Man played the chief part in their appearing:--

A glimpse of a battlemented town:

    _A wise man scaleth the citadel of the mighty,
    And bringeth down its strong confidence_ (Pr. 21^{22}).

Of great ships on the sea:

    _She is like the merchant ships,
    She bringeth her food from afar_ (Pr. 31^{14}).

Of a prosperous dwelling-place:

    _Through Wisdom is an house builded
    And by understanding it is established,
    And by knowledge are the chambers furnished,
    With all precious and pleasant riches_ (Pr. 24^{3, 4}).

Curiously enough, no reference to sun, moon or stars occurs in
_Proverbs_[107], but there are several allusions in _Ecclesiasticus_,
especially in one remarkable chapter of really poetic appreciation,
which tells first of the wonder and the blazing intolerable heat of the
sun (E. 43^{1-5}), and then celebrates the glories of moon and stars and
rainbow--_the moon increasing wonderfully in her changing, a beacon for
the hosts on high, shineth forth in the firmament of heaven. The beauty
of heaven is the glory of the stars, an array giving light in the
highest heights of the Lord: at the word of the Holy One they stand in
due order and sleep not in their watches. Look upon the rainbow and
praise him that made it; exceeding beautiful in the brightness thereof.
It compasseth the heaven round about with a circle of glory; the hands
of the Most High have constructed it_ (E. 43^{8-12}). Again in a
panegyric on the virtues of Simon, the son of Onias, the high-priest
“great among his brethren, and the glory of his people,”[108] Ben Sirach
says that, when the people gathered round him as he came forth out of
the sanctuary, he was glorious

    _As the morning star from between the clouds;
      As the moon at the full;
    As the sun shining forth upon the Temple of the Most High;
    And as the rainbow giving light in clouds of glory_ (E. 50^{6, 7}).

The elements and seasons, in one way or another, are referred to not
infrequently. For instance, Pr. 25^{13}, _As the coolness of snow in
time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him_[109]:
a proverb we might appreciate more fully if either we had to go
harvesting under an eastern sun or if His Majesty’s postal system were
suddenly abolished.

    _As clouds and wind without rain,
    So is he that boasts of gifts ungiven_ (Pr. 25^{14}).

--how tantalising to see the precious moisture far overhead and drifting
hopelessly out of reach, in a land where rain was desperately needed!

One passage from the poetical chapter of _Ecclesiasticus_ mentioned
above has something of the Grecian charm, combining as it does grace of
expression with precise observation of Nature. Save in the spring-song
of _Canticles_, in one or two _Psalms_ and in some exquisite chapters
(_e.g._, chapters 28 and 38) of _Job_, it has few, if any, rivals in
ancient Jewish literature. Mark the skilful transition from the raging
of the tempest to the stillness of the snows:--

    _By His mighty power Jehovah maketh strong the clouds,
    And the hailstones are broken small:
    At His appearing the mountains shake,
    And at His will the south wind rages,
    And the northern storm and the whirlwind;
    The voice of His thunder maketh the earth to travail.
      Like birds flying down He sprinkleth the snow,
    And as the lighting of the locust is the falling down thereof:
    The eye will marvel at its white loveliness,
    The heart be astonished at the raining of it.
    So also the hoar-frost He spreads on the earth as salt,
    And maketh the shrubs to gleam like sapphires_ (E. 43^{15-19}).[110]

Some of the simplest allusions to natural phenomena are among the most
memorable of these “Nature” proverbs perhaps because it happens that the
clear and simple image from the world without is linked to some equally
clear and simple, yet poignant, experience of human life:--

    _As cold waters to a thirsty soul,
    So is good news from a far country_ (Pr. 25^{25}).

    _As in water face answereth to face,
    So answereth the heart of man to man_ (Pr. 27^{19}).

    _As the sparrow in her wandering, as the swallow in her flying,
    So the curse that is causeless alighteth not_ (Pr. 26^{2}).

    _Dreams give wings to fools_ (E. 34^{1}).

    _The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
    Shining more and more unto the perfect day_ (Pr. 4^{18}).


Humour in the Proverbs

Discretion counsels the suppression of this chapter. Justice insists
that it shall be written, for the Hebrews, on the evidence of the
Scriptures, have been accused of lacking humour; a much more serious
offence than being inartistic. Humour, divine gift, is no merely
ornamental or superfluous quality we can easily afford to do without,
but is the active antagonist of many deadly sins. From inordinate
ambitions and peacock vanity humour is a strong deliverer. If only
Germany could have laughed at herself now and then these past thirty
years! Of course the mere fact that the accusation has been levelled
against the Hebrews is nothing serious, for the same charge has actually
been made against the Scotch; but whilst the Scot is well able to take
care of his own reputation, few have been concerned to defend the Hebrew
on this score.

The Bible is on the whole a solemn book, but remember the nature of its
subjects. British humour is plentiful enough; but you will seek it in
the pages of _Punch_ rather than in our volumes of jurisprudence or in
official histories or in impassioned orations urging the redress of
wrongs, or in _The Book of Common Prayer_, or in the hymnaries. It is
not fair to expect that Hebrew humour will show itself to full advantage
in the Scriptures. However, the least promising material has a way of
supplying against its will one form of humour--the unintentional; we can
all quote some examples from the hymn-book. Of this _unconscious_
humour, the Bible has its share. Many no doubt will recall that
stricken Assyrian army of whom it is naïvely said in the Authorised
Version that “when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were
all dead corpses.” So in the proverbs there are numerous sayings which
to us are provocative of a laugh or a smile, or at least bring to memory
certain amusing incidents of life, but which probably were uttered by
their authors without a thought of anything comical in the words. Thus,
the following, _There is one that toileth and laboureth and maketh
haste, and is so much the more behind_ (E. 11^{11}), may be meant as a
solemn inculcation of the doctrine “More haste, less speed,” but _we_
conjure up a vision of our fussy friend and see the fun in it. Again the
remark (Pr. 26^{17}), _He that passeth by and vexeth himself with strife
not belonging to him is like one that taketh a dog by the ears_ (and
then finds he dare not let go!), is to us amusing but to its author may
have seemed merely a shrewd or apt comparison; and yet in this instance
we may suspect the Sage also had a smile for the impulsive man’s
predicament. Is the humour of this unconscious: _Houses and riches are
an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord_ (Pr.
19^{14})? Far be it from a prudent man to say.

The question of Hebrew humour, however, goes much deeper. Doubtless
there is a philosophy of laughter, and an ideal humour, possibly a
standard joke to which all other jokes imperfectly conform; but what the
definition of this perfect humour may be who dare yet say? At present
the nations have each their own opinion and the divergencies are great.
We must ask of the Hebrew no more than Hebraic humour, and it does not
necessarily follow that his notion of fun will coincide with ours or
even nearly resemble it. Was he humorous in an Eastern way?--nothing
more can reasonably be required.

What then was the way of humour in the Semitic East? Fortunately life in
Palestine has altered so little that modern observation can help us to
an answer. “The first appearance of an Eastern”, writes Dr. Kelman[111],
“is grave and solemn, with an element of contempt in it rather trying to
the stranger. The Eastern does not understand chaff, his wildest
outbreak of humour reaching no further than those solemn and laboured
puns of which he has always been so fond.... Perhaps it is due to the
ever-present remembrance of danger that the Eastern--especially if he be
an Arab--so often assumes a show of superiority and bullying swagger,
which seem to the uninitiated quite impervious to any thought of fun.
_But the mask is easily laid aside_, and the gravest and most
contemptuous Syrian will suddenly collapse into harsh laughter or forget
himself in childish interest. Their notion of entertainment differs so
much from ours that Eastern “festivities” may appear to us only
wearisome or even ridiculous. On one occasion we arrived at our tents to
find a ‘poet’ or improvisator, waiting for us. The minstrel seated
himself on the ground, while we formed a wide circle round him, and the
camp-servants stood behind. From a cloth-bag he produced an instrument
which bore close resemblance to a domestic shovel, much the worse for
wear and perforated with little irregular holes as if it had been shot.
He began to play, and sang a selection which soon conquered any levity
that may have greeted his beginning. He had but a few tunes and they all
ended in the Minor _doh si lah_, the _lah_ being prolonged, diminuendo
and tremolo, in a long wail that had a sob in it. While the wail was
dying away his head was thrown forward and his face uplifted, the upper
lip quivering rapidly and the eyes rolling from side to side. Then just
as he seemed to have reached silence, came a quick spasmodic outburst,
very loud and clear, with vigorous accompaniment, which in its turn died
off in the same long wail. All this must be imagined with a wonderful
sunset of gold in a sky of indigo and grey, against which the figure of
the Arab sat in dark silhouette.” A pleasure so ludicrously sad would
certainly seem to imply a lack of humour in those who can enjoy it;
but--“the minstrel whom we have described was quite open for joking when
he had emerged from his ecstasy.... Often at night there is singing
among the servants of the camp and outbursts of hilarity can be
heard.... When a fantazia (to celebrate the gift of a fatted sheep) was
held there was no possibility of mistake as to the mirth.” Thus there is
good reason to mistrust appearances. And certainly it is inherently
improbable that the Hebrews should have been devoid of humour; for, as
Dr. Kelman goes on to insist, “the East is full of provocatives to
mirth. Take the one instance of the camel. Much has been written about
him from many points of view, but justice has never been done to the
camel as a humorous animal. Yet he is the most humorous of all the
inhabitants of the East. Beside him, with his sardonic pleasantry, the
monkey is a mountebank and the donkey but a solemn little ass. He has
been described as ‘the tall, simple, smiling camel’; but on closer
acquaintance he turns out to be hardly as simple as he might be taken
for, and if he smiles, he is generally smiling at you. The camels you
meet in Syria are carrying barley with the air of kings and regarding
their human companions with, at best, a contemptuous tolerance.” Dr.
Kelman in conclusion comments on, and cites examples of the camel’s
unsanctified capacity for conduct bearing a horrible resemblance to that
abomination of human invention--the practical joke.

To sum up. Eastern humour is by no means non-existent, but being often
deliberately concealed or restrained in the presence of strangers and
being of a different temper from our own, it may easily fail to be
observed by Western eyes. Generally speaking, it is apt to be of the
most awkward Order of the Camel’s Hump, tending to other people’s
disadvantage, fond of personalities, often coarse because primitive,
and, it may be, cruel. This being so, it will now readily be understood
that the Bible held for its contemporaries much more wit than we are
wont to perceive in it. Thus to many a Hebrew the incidents of Jacob’s
clever, and none too scrupulous, dealings narrated in _Genesis_ would
seem not only edifying but also extremely amusing. From this point of
view such a saying as (Pr. 17^{12}) _Let a bear robbed of her whelps
meet a man rather than a fool in his folly_ is a merry jest; other
examples from the proverbs will be given below.

But however plentiful this fierce and bitter kind of fun, the sting of
the original accusation is not drawn. After all, our conviction remains
deep-rooted that there is only one real humour--our humour; and no other
brand is genuine. What men miss, and complain of missing, is that fine
impartial sense of the ludicrous which is just as ready to see the
disproportionate in ourselves as in others. The humour we demand is that
kindly, tolerant, variety which can laugh at our own folly with profit
and enjoyment, and at our neighbour’s without malice. But is even this
best of all humour absent from the Bible? Rare it may be; absent
altogether it is not, and with a certain triumph we venture to claim its
presence in not a few of the Wise-men’s sayings, to which may be added
an occasional proverb from the Rabbinic literature.

Beginning, however, with examples of the dry or caustic type of wit,
camel-humour, let us take some of the sayings on Woman to illustrate the
point. Doubtless the ladies had a great deal to say in reply, but with
the customary meanness of man their remarks have been suppressed by the

    _As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout,
    So is a fair woman without discretion_ (Pr. 11^{22}).

    _It is better to dwell in the corner of the roof
    Than in a wide house with a fractious woman_ (Pr. 25^{24}; cp. 21^{9}).

     _A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman
     are alike_ (Pr. 27^{15}).

One saying there is on this topic, which comes nearer to our thought of
humour, its bitterness being forgotten in the quaintness of the simile

    _As the going up a sandy way is to the feet of the aged,
    So is a wife full of words to a quiet man_ (E. 25^{20}).

Some of the characters pictured in Chapter VII. lent themselves to
sarcasm, particularly the Sluggard, and the Fool; but, if certain of the
proverbs about them may seem too heavy-handed, touched with the camel
brand of humour, others surely come near to being “the real thing.” Of
the Sluggard the remark, _He that is slack in his work is brother of him
that is a destroyer_ (Pr. 18^{9}) is true, undeniably true, but a trifle
icy in its wit. More amusing and much more genial were these sayings,
which we may repeat from Chapter VII.: _The sluggard saith, “There is a
lion in the way; a lion is in the streets”_ (Pr. 26^{13})--_The sluggard
burieth his hand in the dish, it wearieth him to bring it again to his
mouth_ (Pr. 26^{15})--and, above all, the Sluggard’s Anthem, _Yet a
little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep_
(Pr. 24^{33}). Of the Fool, some observations are almost savage, such as
Pr. 17^{12} (quoted above), and this--_Though thou bray a fool in a
mortar ... yet will his folly not depart from him_ (Pr. 27^{22}). The
following are more subtle and on the whole more kind: _The legs of the
lame hang loose, so doth a story in the mouth of fools_ (Pr.
26^{7})--_The eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth_ (Pr.
17^{24})--_He that discourseth to a fool is as one discoursing to him
that slumbereth; at the end of it he will say, “What is it?”_ (E.
22^{8}). But the Fool and Mr. Lazybones were ever an easy target: it
needed a prettier wit to slay the Self-Advertiser with a word, but does
not this saying despatch him neatly, _It is not good to eat much honey;
so for men to search out their own glory is not glory_ (Pr. 25^{27})?

Here is a pleasing pair of contrasts--to the disadvantage respectively
of a would-be “silent Solomon,” and of a Chatterbox:

    _There is that keepeth silence, for he hath no answer to make;
    And there is that keepeth silence as knowing his time_ (E. 20^{6}).
    _There is that keepeth silence and is found wise;
    And there is that is hated for his much talk_ (E. 20^{5}).

In conclusion we give some proverbs that seem to the present writer
still more clearly to come within the category of modern humour, whether
by reason of their sly shrewdness or some droll comparison, or even a
frank intention to rouse our sense of fun:

     _He that pleadeth his cause first seemeth just, but his neighbour
     cometh and searcheth him out_ (Pr. 18^{17}).

     _Better is he that is lightly esteemed and hath a servant, than he
     that makes a fine show and lacketh bread_ (Pr. 12^{9}).

     _There is that buyeth much for a little and payeth for it again
     sevenfold_ (E. 20^{12}).

     _In the city my Name, out of the city my Dress_ (C. 265).

     _Sixty runners may run, but they will not overtake the man who has
     breakfasted early_ (C. 86);

_Thy friend hath a friend, and thy friend’s friend hath a friend_ (C.
258)--a canny hint on Gossip.

     _Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a
     broken tooth or a foot out of joint_ (Pr. 25^{19}).

    _If one person tell thee thou hast ass’s ears, take no notice;
    Should two tell thee so, procure a saddle for thyself_ (C. 191).

_If our predecessors were angels, we are human; if they were human, we
are asses_ (C. 141)!

As for this last observation, it may have been well enough once upon a
time, but of course one would not dream of asserting it now-a-days--as
regards the present generation it would be, yes, altogether
inappropriate. Well, let us not dispute the matter. Ancient and modern,
East and West, we can all unite to enjoy the honest fun and good counsel
of Ben Sirach’s advice (E. 19^{10}) to that distracted individual the
man with a secret:

_Hast thou heard a word? Let it die with thee. Be of good courage, it
will not burst thee!_


From Wisdom’s Treasury


But Wisdom will brook nothing less than the full purport of those
words--a diligent search, a genuine love, and an unrelaxing grasp--in
exchange for her high rewards. And though it is better to find her late
than not at all, as a rule it is true that only the life she has entered
early is likely to know great happiness. Yet Wisdom makes no mystery of
her treasures, nor hides them willingly.

Here are some of her most precious truths.

How simply told! How hard to make our very own!

    _As iron sharpeneth iron,
    So man sharpeneth man._[112]

    _Faithful are the wounds of a friend._[113]

Who is ignorant of it? As Bacon says in his essay on Friendship, “There
is no such flatterer as is a man’s self; and there is no such remedy
against flattery as the liberty of a friend.” And yet how rarely, in
actual experience, have men the grace to appreciate, or tolerate, even
the kindliest of their critics.

       *       *       *       *       *

    _A soft answer turneth away wrath._[114]

Have you tested the matter yet?

     _He whose spirit is without restraint is like a city that is broken
     down and hath no wall._[115]

       *       *       *       *       *

    _Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit?
    There is more hope of a fool than of him._[116]

    _Pride goeth before destruction,
    And a haughty spirit before a fall._[117]

       *       *       *       *       *

    _The wicked flee when no man pursueth._[118]

    _If a righteous man fall seven times, he riseth up again;
    But the wicked are overthrown by calamity._[119]

       *       *       *       *       *

    _He that despiseth small things shall fall by little and little._[120]

    _Be not wise in thine own eyes;
    Fear the Lord and depart from evil._[121]

       *       *       *       *       *

    _Hope deferred maketh the heart sick;
    But a wish fulfilled is a tree of life._[122]

    _Woe unto fearful hearts and to faint hands,
    And to the sinner that goeth two ways!
    Woe to the faint heart, for it believeth not;
    Therefore shall it not be defended.
    Woe unto you that have lost your patience!
    What will ye do when the Lord shall visit you?_[123]

       *       *       *       *       *

    _There is no wisdom nor understanding,
    Nor counsel against the Lord:
    The horse is prepared for the day of battle,
    But the victory is of the Lord._[124]

    _Truth stands:
    Falsehood does not stand._[125]

       *       *       *       *       *

This is a very long chapter;

Think on these things.


The Body Politic

The art of hurling texts dies out of fashion, is almost dead, perhaps
because it yielded the delight of victory so seldom, but for deeper
reasons also. It was ever a game at which two could play; the Scriptures
proving so rich a quarry that your skilled antagonist would quote you
text for text. Both Socialist and Individualist have found therein
ammunition in plenty for their long quarrel, by reason of the
disconcerting manner in which the Bible preaches both doctrines and
gives its sanction to neither. Thus it never so much as questions the
propriety of individual ownership, yet on the other hand continually and
with awe-inspiring vehemence it is found denouncing the wickedness of
individual owners and the wrongs arising from their sins and
negligences. So for the unreflecting text-hunter confusion was apt to
grow worse confounded. The existence of this _impasse_, which in reality
pointed only to an error in method, has helped to create the notion,
characteristic of the present time, that the Bible having failed to
settle the difficulty, we ought to consider our problems entirely
without its aid. So completely are we now supposed to be the sole
arbiters of our conduct that, even if the Bible had been found to enjoin
(or forbid) explicitly and beyond all possibility of doubt certain
socialistic measures, it would in no way follow that what may have been
right in Jerusalem long ago is right now, or what was wrong then wrong
now. Up to a point this attitude is sound: not to consider our duties
for ourselves, as if our ancestors or any external authority could
rightly determine them for us without our active consent, is to fall
into a sin that, however innocently committed, sooner or later benumbs
the conscience and, if historical experience has any lesson whatsoever
to teach, paralyses social progress.

But the legitimate distrust which the modernist feels for mere
text-hunting can be, and often is, pushed too far. To construe it as a
mandate contemptuously to ignore the thinking and ideals of the past is
to be guilty of as foolish a blunder as ever was involved in the old
method of determining an issue by proof-texts; for the relation between
even the Old Testament and the social affairs of any modern community is
far too valuable to be disregarded with impunity; and on these three
grounds at least. _First_, the experiences of the Israelitish people
constitute incomparably the most amazing national career the world has
witnessed; and the story of their fortunes testifies for all time that
one nation, situated in no secluded and sheltered corner of the globe,
but occupying a little land encircled by vast and jealous Empires and
covered time and again by the surge of successive civilisations,
prolonged its life and in all essential respects maintained its
identity, not by bread alone, but by words that proceeded out of the
mouth of God. For, undeniably, Israel has preserved its continuity not
merely through the stormy fourteen hundred years of which the Biblical
records tell, but subsequently throughout the Christian era, in virtue
of distinctive moral and religious qualities; and whatever view a man
may hold regarding the truth of religion and the validity of morals, no
serious student of human affairs can afford to overlook their practical
effect in the history of the Jews. _Secondly_, in the course of that
history (limiting our attention to the Old Testament literature) there
appeared certain great personalities, in particular the true prophets,
whose insight into the problems of society, whose enthusiasm for the
welfare of men, and whose burning invective against all forms of
injustice and oppression, ought to be familiar to every man who feels
within him the sense of social obligation. The example of the Prophets
of Israel and also, though less brilliantly, of her Psalmists, her
Law-makers and her Wise-men, is a magnificent incentive to duty,
quickening the conscience, stimulating one’s resolution under
difficulties, and encouraging to good hope. _In the third place_, the
record of these men’s thoughts frequently deserves our _intellectual_
consideration. Modern industrialism has created unsolved problems of
organisation and production, upon which it would be idle to contend that
the conditions of life in the Judæan highlands offer valuable comment;
but since modern commerce, for all its marvellous development of wealth
and resources, has signally failed to remove the vast inequalities
between man and man, indeed has only accentuated them and made the
contrast still more bitter for the unskilled, the weakly, and the
unfortunate, it follows that from the standpoint of human happiness the
social problem is in its essence unchanged: the poor, in fact, are still
with us, with their great virtues and also their shortcomings, their
pathetic lack of opportunity, and often their failure to profit when
they might, and above all, with their capacity for joy and sorrow and
aspiration, which things they share with the richest in the land. No
wonder that he who reads the Old Testament with intelligence and
sympathy will constantly feel its words on the social needs of men not
merely pricking his conscience but holding and challenging the
intellect--how wealth is made, how rightly used, how kept, how lost;
what it feels like to be poor; of the duties of him that hath to him
that hath not; by what things a city is preserved, and of the power we
each possess to make or unmake one another’s joy in life.

On these and kindred subjects the Jewish proverbs have a vast deal to
say that is worthy of attention, but an outline of their comments and
pleadings has been given in the description of the Wise-men’s ideals
(Chap. VIII.). It may be hoped that the foregoing remarks will help to
make more clear the bearing on present social duty of the teaching there
related in reference to a distant past. Here then follow only a few
considerations which will suggest how the subject might be developed,
and will at the same time give opportunity for the quotation of some
fine proverbs not mentioned in Chapter VIII.

I. In dealing with the perplexities of organised society, we moderns
possess the advantage of high and increasing skill in the use of
classification, so that we are able to envisage our problems in abstract
terms, analysing the population into reasonably exact groups, and
considering the inter-relations of “classes” and the reconciliation of
class interests one with another. This attempt, crude though it still
may be, to employ scientific method in the treatment of humanity is all
to the good; but if one thing more is forgotten, our best-laid schemes
somehow refuse to work or are apt to work amiss. For--“the ‘masses’ and
‘the poor’ whom it is ‘our’ duty to keep are neither sycophants nor
toadies nor sponges nor are all of them at the last gasp. They resent
the control of their destinies by classes or persons who profess to know
what is good for them. They will never become the passive instruments of
anybody’s social theory. They will trust themselves only to those who
love them. Individualists and socialists take note! Experts and
doctrinaires, be warned in time!”[126] Now the Jewish proverbs, not of
set purpose but by sound instinct, subtly and insistently remind us how
personal all social questions ultimately prove to be. They think and
speak with the individual in the foreground of the mind. They prefer
the concrete to the abstract, with how great advantage! Contrast the
effect of these two passages; the occasional, abstract type, _Water will
quench a flaming fire, and almsgiving will make atonement for sin_ (E.
3^{30}), with the much more frequent personal presentation: _Incline
thine ear to a poor man and answer him with peaceable words gently.
Deliver him that is wronged from the hand of him that wronged him_ (E.
4^{8, 9}). We discuss “Capital and Labour”; but the Jewish proverb says
(Pr. 22^{2}; cp. 29^{13})

    _The rich and the poor dwell together,
    The Lord God made them both_;

and how deep the proverb goes, how swiftly it strikes home and excites
the imagination. _Rich and poor together_, yes, in a sense--united
within one city’s bounds; and yet how far apart they dwell from one
another. How tragically far apart! But are they so greatly sundered as
at first thought one imagines? In the things that matter
ultimately--their manhood, womanhood; their tears and laughter; their
loves; their sinning and repenting; their strength and health; their
death and immortality? Perhaps there is just one meeting-place where
rich and poor unite and stand absolutely equal; but it is there where
earth and heaven fade away--the great white throne of God.

Mark how the sense of the individual man, with whom eventually all our
plans to remedy the mischiefs in the body politic must come to terms,
permeates the following proverbs:--

    _A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children;
    But the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the righteous_ (Pr. 13^{22}).

(No pious platitude this, but a keen-sighted observation of fact. It is
seldom indeed that wealth is handed down through many generations,
except in a morally “good” family; and on the other hand the sinner’s
undisciplined children can usually be depended on to make ducks and
drakes of their inheritance).

    _Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor,
    He also shall cry, and shall not be heard_ (Pr. 21^{13}).

    _There is that scattereth and increaseth yet more;
    And there is that withholdeth that which is meet,
         and it tendeth only to want_ (Pr. 11^{24}).

     _Hast given the poor to eat and drink, accompany them on their way_
     (C. 208).

In the recognition of personal faults as the bane of society:

    _He that covereth a transgression seeketh love,
    But he that harpeth on a matter separateth chief friends._ (Pr. 17^{9}).

    _For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty,
    And drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags_ (Pr. 23^{21}).

These few maxims might be multiplied with ease, but they are sufficient
for our purpose. Is it not clear how profoundly humanistic are these
Jewish proverbs in their outlook on social affairs? Except our science
be tempered by the same redeeming grace, we shall succeed on paper but
fail in fact.

2. The Jewish proverbs throw out a challenge to the present age in the
demand they make for commercial honesty and consideration of the general
welfare of the community. This claim is put forward in a variety of
ways, and there is no mistaking its earnestness; as in the famous
saying, _A false balance is an abomination unto the Lord, and a just
weight is His delight_ (Pr. 11^{1}), a maxim reiterated in similar
language in Pr. 20^{10, 23}. Again it is said, _The getting of treasures
by a lying tongue is a vapour driven to and fro: they that seek them
seek death_ (Pr. 21^{6})--_Better is the poor that walketh in his
integrity than he that is crooked in his ways though he be rich_ (Pr.
28^{6}); and memorably--_Better is a little with righteousness than
great revenues with injustice_ (Pr. 16^{8}); to which add this
startlingly modern protest against the food-profiteer, _He that
withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him; but blessing shall be upon
the head of him that selleth it_ (Pr. 11^{26}). “Ah! but the times have
changed, and the complications and stringency of modern business often
render the employment of perfectly honest methods impractical. In those
byegone days a man of industry and ability had perhaps little temptation
to double-dealing, or at least was not compelled to follow the tricks of
the trade in order to squeeze out a livelihood.” But no! that shortcut
out of the difficulty is barred. Ben Sirach puts the matter bluntly: _A
merchant_, says he, _shall hardly keep himself from wrong-doing, and a
huckster shall not be acquitted of sin_ (E. 26^{29}). “Well, then, have
the proverbs any remedy to suggest? It is easy for the purist to _talk_.
No one wishes to deny the courage of him who maintains a life-long
protest against sharp practice, and we grant you the desirability of the
protest; we can even admit the success of one here and there who has
undertaken it. But it may seem doubtful if such unbending rectitude
could be carried out generally; and at any rate, as matters stand, there
must be thousands of well-meaning men who to keep themselves and their
families from want and hunger must bow themselves slightly in the modern
house of Rimmon”--so may a plea for a reasonable latitude be advanced.

What solution do the proverbs offer for the stern facts of present-day
commerce? None; but that is no reason why we, following the spirit of
their teaching, should not strive to find a remedy for our more complex
problems, especially since the line along which progress can be made is
surely not difficult to discover. The root of the matter is in the fact
that whilst commercial dishonesty may benefit (in a material sense
only) certain persons, it can only do so at the expense of the many, so
that its elimination would necessarily conduce to the general welfare of
organised society. Meantime it is hard for the individual to kick
against the pricks of a system far greater than he, but it does not
follow that the _community_ of individuals is unable to fight the giant
and slay him. Though the present situation is such that the guilt of the
individual is lessened (it is of course still real), the guilt of the
community in tolerating such a condition of affairs is the more
increased. For union is immense strength. It is the imperative duty of
modern man by collective action (which may require eventually to become
world-wide) to check, diminish and abolish those evil and improvident
conditions which now impose such pressure upon the integrity of
individuals. A herculean task! What then? The resources of civilised man
are already vast, and they increase with marvellous rapidity, We stand
at the beginnings of organised achievement; yet already magnificent
opportunities for the betterment of human life lie within our reach, and
wait only the consent of mind and conscience for their realisation.
False weights have continued, despite the Jewish proverb, these twenty
centuries and more; it does not follow that they need continue to the

3. Much of the injustice and degradation still prevalent in our
civilised society would be brought to an end by the force of public
opinion, were it not for wide-spread ignorance of the facts. Sometimes
the ignorance is wilful blindness and no true ignorance; men refuse to
look or listen; but as a rule it is due to mere lack of interest and
unimaginative carelessness. No decent man or woman could desire the
appalling facts of child-labour in the mines and factories of this
country during the first half of the last century, or, for the matter of
that, the facts of sweated industries at the present day; but many
respectable people wished not to know and vastly many more troubled not
themselves to know, and so the horrible and disastrous iniquities went
on year by year. Time and again the frank uncompromising proverbs of the
Jews set us an example by their bold recognition of evil. They proclaim
it for what it is, not mincing words but denouncing wickedness
outspokenly and vehemently. A hundred illustrations could be taken from
the maxims already quoted. Here, from sayings not yet mentioned, are
three vigorous assaults on the hypocrite, the oppressor, and the morally

     _There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are
     not washed from their filthiness.... There is a generation whose
     teeth are swords and their mouths armed with knives, to devour the
     poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men_ (Pr. 30^{12,

    _As one that killeth a son before his father’s eyes,
    So is he that bringeth a sacrifice from the goods of the poor.
    The bread of the needy is the life of the poor;
    He that depriveth him thereof is a man of blood.
    As one that slayeth his neighbour is he that taketh away his living;
    And as a shedder of blood is he that depriveth a hireling
         of his hire_ (E. 34^{20-22}).

     _He that saith unto the wicked “Thou art righteous,” peoples shall
     curse him and nations shall abhor him_ (Pr. 24^{24}).


     _Weary not thyself to be rich.... For riches certainly make
     themselves wings, like an eagle that flieth toward heaven_ (Pr.
     23^{4, 5}).

“Believe not much them that seem to despise riches; for they despise
them that despair of them.... Be not penny-wise; riches have wings, and
sometimes they fly away of themselves, sometimes they must be set
flying to bring in more.”[127]

_A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches_ (Pr. 22^{1}).

“I cannot call riches better than the baggage of virtue. The Roman word
is better, _impedimenta_. For as the baggage is to an army so is riches
to virtue. It cannot be spared nor left behind, but it hindereth the
march; yea and the care of it sometimes loseth or disturbeth the
victory. Of great riches there is no real use except it be in the
distribution; the rest is but conceit.”

_His riches are the ransom of a man’s life, but the poor heareth no
threatenings_ (Pr. 13^{8}).

“But then you will say, they may be of use to buy men out of dangers or
troubles. As Solomon saith, ‘Riches are as a stronghold, in the
imagination of the rich man.’[128] But this is excellently expressed,
that it is in imagination, and not always in fact. For certainly great
riches have sold more men than they have bought out.”

_Wealth gotten in haste shall be diminished, but he that gathereth
slowly shall have increase_ (Pr. 13^{11}).

“Seek not proud riches, but such as thou mayest get justly, use soberly,
distribute cheerfully, and leave contentedly.”

_Health and a good constitution are better than all gold, and a good
spirit than wealth without measure_ (E. 30^{15}).

_Riches profit not in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivereth
from death_ (Pr. 11^{4})--

whereat the shallow-minded may smile if it please them.

5. “Most gracious God, we humbly beseech Thee, as for this Kingdom in
general, so especially for the High Court of Parliament: that Thou
wouldest be pleased to direct and prosper all their consultations to the
advancement of Thy glory, the good of Thy Church, the safety, honour,
and welfare of our Sovereign and his Dominions; that all things may be
so ordered and settled by their endeavours, upon the best and surest
foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and
piety, may be established among us for all generations.”

How the Jewish proverbs would endeavour to give effect to the prayer for
good government has been told already (p. 152), and it may be remembered
that their teaching was described as a demand for a reign of justice
extending from the highest to the lowest in the land. But that was an
inadequate description. Examine more carefully what they say, and it
will appear that the Jewish proverbs ask for more than bare justice;
they enjoin mercy, they plead for honour, kindness, generosity, and
affection between man and man; in a word they plead for _humanity_ as
the supreme solvent of human need. And are they not profoundly and
rebukingly right therein? Justice may be the stones of the great
building, but Love is the cement without which the fabric will not
cohere. The stability of society depends on the good-will of
well-intentioned men--_By the blessing of the upright the city is
exalted, and it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked_ (Pr. 11^{11}).

6. One other arresting feature concerning the relations of rich and
poor. The poorer classes of Jerusalem must have had many faults, but the
Wise were very gentle towards them; scarcely ever do they reproach the
poor _directly_ for their shortcomings. On the other hand they have no
mercy for the sins of those in high places, their instinct seeming to be
that the root of evil in the State is in the neglect of opportunity on
the part of those who possess the means for well-doing: and this is the
more significant and conscience-searching in that the speakers of these
proverbs were themselves, as a rule, members of the “fortunate” classes.
“The poor, forsooth, are thieves!” Are they? Then, why? _If a ruler
hearkeneth to falsehood, all his servants are wicked_ (Pr. 29^{12}).
“The poor are disloyal and jealous of their betters!” Are they? _The
king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established
for ever_ (Pr. 29^{14}).

7. In conclusion, a few memorable proverbs that will repay
consideration. Here is an ambiguous maxim--from one point of view a
platitude, from another a deep saying:

     _Sovereignty is transferred from nation to nation Because of
     iniquity, violence and greed of gold_ (E. 10^{8}).

Does it mean that greed and evil ambitions incite nations to war, to
conquest, and so to the acquisition of new territories? If so, we are
none the better for the information. Yes, but sometimes the
“transference” takes place the other way, and not as the covetous folk
desire it should. There have been peoples whose blind lust for power
overreached itself, to meet with disaster and condign punishment.
Concerning them too might it be said, though with a different accent to
our words, “Sovereignty is transferred from nation to nation, because of
iniquities, violence and greed of gold.”

There is no ambiguity, and no indecision, in these fine sentiments,
which are none the less admirable, because they do not tell us how to
reach the Golden Age:

    _When the righteous prosper the city rejoices;
    And when the wicked perish there are shouts of joy_ (Pr. 11^{10}).

    _Righteousness exalteth a nation,
    Whereas sin is a shame to any people_ (Pr. 14^{34}).

But of all that the Jewish proverbs have to say on the duties of our
interrelated lives, this is the best in that it _does_ show the gateway
to the Golden Age, and allows no man to pass by unchallenged,

    _If thou wilt lift the load I will lift it too;
    But if thou wilt not lift it, I will not_ (C. 257).


A Chapter of Good Advice

Suppose A LECTURE (subject, GOOD ADVICE) to be given in THE LARGE
LECTURE HALL, to-night, by the Venerable Rabbi Wiseman. We go, but with
mixed feelings, assuring ourselves we do not care a straw for his
advice, but we have nothing much better to do, the man has a reputation,
and we wonder whether the hall will really be full to hear him. Somewhat
to our surprise, the hall does fill rapidly, is full! Extraordinary how
a well-known name will draw: doubtless the man has got a “following” in
every town, prepared to drink in every word he says. But that will not
altogether account for it; there must also be a big number here to-night
who have come, like ourselves, out of mere curiosity. We wait the great
man’s arrival with impatience, uncomfortably conscious that we are meant
to be edified, expectant that we shall be merely bored. (A lecture of
“Good advice,” forsooth. As if we haven’t a right to our own opinions,
and are not competent to advise ourselves: it will take him all his time
to impress us!) The Rabbi arrives, to the usual clap-clapping of his
admirers in the hall.... We are a little surprised at his appearance--a
strong face, but his best friends would not call him handsome. At the
same time, to give him his due, one could not call him _pompous_.... Why
doesn’t the Chairman stop talking? Who wants to listen to him? Seeing
that we are “in for it,” let’s hear what the speaker has to say, and so
get it over--

At last the Rabbi rises, and proves wiser than we have expected; wise
enough to be also wily. He begins with a touch of humour; we smile, are
caught off our guard, and for a few moments (it was all he needed) he
has captured our attention.

Here is the thread of his remarks:

    _Commend not a man for his beauty,
    And abhor not a man for an ugly appearance._[129]

    _Be willing to listen to every godly discourse,
    And let not the proverbs of understanding escape thee.
    If thou seest a man of Wisdom get thee betimes unto him,
    And let thy foot wear out the steps of his doors._[130]

    But, _Let thy foot be seldom in thy neighbour’s house,
      Lest he be weary of thee and hate thee_.[131]

    _Answer not a fool according to his folly,
      Lest thou be like unto him._[132]

    _He that giveth answer before he heareth,
      It is folly and shame unto him._[133]

    _Learn before thou speak; and have a care of thy health,
      Or ever thou be sick._[134]

     _Prepare thy work without and make it ready for thee in the field;
     and afterwards build thine house._[135]

    _Hast spoiled thy work? Take a needle and sew._[136]

      _Boast not thyself of to-morrow;
    For thou knowest not what a day may bring forth._[137]

    _Change not a friend for the sake of profit,
      Neither a true brother for the gold of Ophir._[138]

     _Laugh not a man to scorn when he is in the bitterness of his soul;
     for there is one who humbleth and exalteth._[139]

    _Reproach not a man when he turneth from sin;
      Remember we are all worthy of punishment.
    Dishonour not a man in his old age;
      For some of us also are waxing old.
    Rejoice not over one that is dead;
      Remember that we die all._[140]

    _Do no evil, so shall no evil overtake thee;
      Depart from wrong, and it shall turn aside from thee.
    My son, sow not the furrows of unrighteousness,
      And thou shalt not reap it sevenfold._[141]

     _Be not thou envious of evil men, neither desire to be with them,
     for their heart studieth oppression and their lips talk of

     _Let not thine heart envy sinners, but be thou in the fear of the
     Lord all the day long; for surely there is a reward and thy hope
     shall not be cut off._[143]

     _Say not thou, “It is through the Lord that I fell away: for that
     which He hateth He made not.” Say not thou, “It is He that caused
     me to err, for He hath no need of a sinful man.”_[144]

     _Say not, He will look upon the multitude of my gifts, and when I
     offer to the Most High God He will accept it._[145]

    _Keep thy heart with all vigilance,
      For that is the way to life._[146]

    _Be not faint-hearted in thy prayer,
      And neglect not to give alms._[147]

    _Commit thy ways unto the Lord,
      And thy purposes shall be established._[148]

A brief lecture, but none the worse for that. Much Wisdom in small
compass. Depart, as you must, whether touched or ostensibly indifferent.
However that may be, whatever your feelings now, you cannot forget all
his words; some of them are fastened in the memory. One day you may act
upon them and discover that they were wise indeed, and then you will
want yourself to move a vote of thanks to the lecturer.



This chapter will prove less ambitious than its title suggests. As the
remarks made a few pages back, on _The Body Politic_ were meant to be
taken in conjunction with what was said in Chapter VIII. regarding
social and family conduct, so here also only a few reflections will be
given in summary or in supplement of the Wise-men’s ideal of personal
character. It is perhaps as well that it seems superfluous to
recapitulate the various attributes that the proverbs say are to be
chosen or eschewed by the perfect man; for when the Vices have been
assembled they form a dismal and depressing crowd, and when the Virtues
are lined up over against them, they are a celestial host but they
glitter on high beyond a modest man’s attainment. Moreover the art of
noble living is best practised not by those who go spelling out the
details, as if the Virtues were meant to be acquired singly or the Vices
attacked and conquered one by one, but by those who from sound instinct
or a wisely-trained intelligence have mastered a few great thoughts and
assented to follow their guidance in the maze of life. It is the purpose
of these pages to touch only on certain of these controlling facts,
principles, or ideals of conduct. The task before us is therefore
neither intricate nor long. It is simple, yet (for all its simplicity)

There is one quality that is not so much a part of character as the very
soil out of which it grows--_Honesty of purpose_; if absent or only
fitfully present, moral growth is either stunted or cut off; if
present, then a multitude of imperfections are found pardonable. Wise
therefore is the Jewish proverb that says of _Deceitfulness_, using a
realistic metaphor more eloquent than many words, _Bread of falsehood is
sweet to a man, but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel_
(Pr. 20^{17}). Over against it set this strong simple plea for
_Sincerity: Strive for the truth, unto death, and the Lord God shall
fight for thee_ (E. 4^{28}); and then consider the implication in the
contrast of those maxims--that Evil is first sweet then bitter, and Good
first painful then joyous. Sometimes those propositions are visibly,
demonstrably, true in their entirety; sometimes the second part of them
to be credited requires faith in the spiritual nature of man. But of the
first part there can be no question; ’tis a matter of universal
experience--moral victories at the first are difficult, moral defeats
easy, _The way of sinners is smooth without stones, but at the end
thereof is the pit of Hades_ (E. 21^{10}), a glissade to the precipice
and over; _facilis descensus Averno_.

Setting aside for the moment the influence of religious belief on
conduct (the next chapter will have something to say upon the point), it
would seem that there is one outstanding quality to which the Jewish
proverbs recur again and again, as if to tell us that here is the
supreme secret. That quality may be called _Receptivity_, but it has
many aspects for which other titles might more fittingly be used: it is
the willing mind, the open eye and the hearing ear; in youth it is zeal
to learn, in manhood more often the grace to profit by mistake. So from
teachableness it is wont to pass into penitence, the recognition of
error and imperfection--not passive penitence, however, but the active
desire to improve--and then from this virile penitence it should rise
into that disposition of Charity or Love towards others, which is the
highest virtue, without which a man may have many talents and yet profit
nothing. Let us trace the sequence in the proverbs, commencing with the
desire for knowledge:

    _The fear of the Lord is the chief part of knowledge,
    But the foolish despise wisdom and instruction.
    My son, hear the instruction of thy father,
    And forsake not the teaching of thy mother;
    For they shall be a chaplet of grace unto thy head
    And ornaments round thy neck_ (Pr. 1^{7-9}).

    _Yea, if thou cry after discernment,
    And lift up thy voice for understanding;
    If thou seek her as silver
    And search for her as hid treasures ...
    Then shalt thou understand righteousness and judgement,
    And equity, yea, every good path_ (Pr. 2^{3, 4, 9}).

To him that is willing to learn, the proverbs promise rich and wonderful
reward, and the New Testament repeats the promise:

    _God scorneth the scorners,
    But He giveth grace to the lowly_ (Pr. 3^{34}).[149]

    _If thou desire wisdom, keep the commandments,
    And the Lord shall give it unto thee freely_ (E. 1^{26}).[150]

Thus far the subject is familiar. Twice already reference has been made
to this virtue of Learning-Ever. Impenitently we bring it up again,
seeing that the Jewish proverbs are most urgent on the matter and also
that men to-day stand in no small need of the counsel. For all its
vaunted liberty of thought, our age is by no means patient of personal
criticism, doubtless because owing to the swift and amazing increase in
control of material resources it has been peculiarly successful in
certain directions (not, however, the most important); and the success
has made us vain. To know a little about the universe (and we know no
more) is a very dangerous thing.

But observe how from the initial grace of an eager, receptive attitude
towards life, other virtues naturally appear. Frankly and patiently to
recognise one’s errors is to increase in wisdom, to learn before it is
too late, to see the pitfalls one has narrowly escaped, and so to be
humbled, to feel the sense of a great forgiveness vouchsafed to the
simple-hearted, and accordingly to be grateful and to be happy:

    _He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper:
    But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy.
    Happy is the man that feareth alway:
    But he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into calamity_
    (Pr. 28^{13, 14}).

This experience, if at all intense, has a profound effect on character;
he that knows he has been forgiven much will love much, and his
gratitude towards the Giver of all mercy will spontaneously show itself
in mercy towards other men. Others will wrong him and disappoint him
often, but, remembering his own imperfections, he will want to judge
them gently and never to despair of helping them; to him it seems as if
“they know not what they do.” But this is the very disposition required
of us in the prayer “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that
trespass against us,” and the question must surely be rising in the
reader’s mind, What relation can possibly be discovered between these
high thoughts and the Jewish proverbs? This surprisingly intimate
relation--that whilst the manifestation of perfect forgiveness in
Christ’s own Person made His Prayer a new power in the world, the
thought in this petition was not new; it goes back to these words of Ben
Sirach, _He that taketh vengeance on his neighbour will meet vengeance
from the Lord, and his sins will surely be confirmed. Forgive thy
neighbour the hurt that he hath done thee, and then shall thy sins be
pardoned when thou prayest_ (E. 28^{1, 2})! Who dares withhold his
approval from the condition in the abstract? If we are Christians at
all, our conscience must welcome its eternal justice, recognising that
we can ask no greater mercy to be extended us by God. And so we are wont
to repeat the Prayer willingly without reservations or misgivings ...
just until the day come when “our neighbour” has gotten him a name and
we lie dazed and bleeding from the hurt that he hath dealt us. _That_ is
the moment for which these words were spoken--_Let not mercy and truth
forsake thee, bind them upon thy neck_ (Pr. 3^{3}). Know that--_By mercy
and truth iniquity is purged away, and by the fear of the Lord men
depart from evil_ (Pr. 16^{6}). By the time a man has schooled himself
to put those exhortations into practice, he will be in no danger of
treating forgiveness lightly: true forgiveness is conditioned by the
Moral Law, is no futile shutting-of-the-eyes to uneradicated sin, and
may therefore call for faithfulness unto death and necessitate the
greatest sacrifice earth knows, even the Cross of Christ.

And with the thought let us return to that saying of Ben Sirach, _Strive
for the truth unto death_. “The Truth” is here to be interpreted in the
fullest sense of the term; it means Righteousness or Justice; it denotes
sincerity in things great and small, in thought word and deed. The
proverb then may serve as a reminder of the uncompromisingly stern and
perilous element in human experience. Until three years ago many men had
no lively sense of that aspect of things. The sinister possibilities
were not absent, but often they were fallaciously concealed. When a man
catches the same train to town day after day and his outward
circumstances are uneventful and regular as some slow-moving stream, he
may easily be deluded into thinking that his inner, spiritual self is
likewise pursuing the even tenor of its way; whereas in reality it may
be waging a desperate battle against increasing pride, prejudice,
hardness of heart, and a whole battalion of the Fiend’s picked
legionaries. The Prosperous, consulting his bankbook, may easily be
betrayed into saying “I shall not want,” whilst the soul within him is
choking. If our essential life is spiritual and consists in our love of
the True, the Good, the Beautiful, riches are likely to prove a thin
armour against the enemy. But three long and terrible years of war have
transformed the situation, and there are few to-day who do not know that
there is “a striving for the truth unto death.” Little need now to
emphasise the dark side of life; myriads are but too well acquainted
with its tragedies.

The Jewish proverbs offer no philosophy of Suffering; for that one must
go to the Christian religion, which has faced the worst of the problem
and is unique in having found a reassuring answer. When, however, we
turn to the immediate question, how best to meet and deal with hardship,
physical or mental, behold! Christianity is content to appropriate the
language of a Jewish proverb and reiterate its counsel, though with a
glorious new confidence: _Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed
about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and
the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the
race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter
of our faith.... For consider Him who endured such gainsaying of sinners
against himself that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls. Ye have
not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin, and ye have forgotten
the exhortation which reasoneth with you as with sons,_

    _My son, regard not lightly the discipline of the Lord
    Nor faint when thou art reproved of him;
    For whom the Lord loveth He disciplines,
    And chasteneth[151] every son whom He receiveth_ (Pr. 3^{11, 12}).

_It is for discipline that ye endure; God dealeth with you as with sons;
for what son is there whom his father doth not discipline?_ (_Hebrews_
12^{1-7}). To use or to refuse this idea of the educative opportunity in
suffering makes an amazing difference to life. Says a commentator of the
older school writing upon this passage in _Proverbs_: “First, _Despise
not_ the discipline.... Do not meet sorrow by a mere hardihood of
nature. Let your heart flow down under trouble, for this is human: let
it rise up also to God, for this is divine. And secondly, _Faint
not_.... This is the opposite extreme. Do not be dissolved, as it
were--taken down and taken to pieces by the stroke. You should retain
presence of mind and exercise your faculties. If the bold would see God
in his afflictions, he would not despise; if the timid would see God in
them, he would not faint.... The same stroke may fall on two men and be
in the one case judgement, in the other love. You may prune branches
lying withered on the ground, and also branches living in the vine. In
the two cases the operation and instrument are precisely alike; but the
operation on this branch has no result, and the operation on that branch
produces fruitfulness.”[152]

    _My son, if thou comest to serve the Lord,
    Prepare thy soul for trial.
    Set thy heart aright and with constancy endure,
    And be not terrified in time of calamity....
    For gold is tried in the fire,
    And acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation,
    Put thy trust in God and He will help thee;
    Order thy ways aright and set thy hope on Him_ (E. 2^{1-6}).

Never in living memory has there been greater need for wise and
persuasive advice how to conduct oneself in time of anxiety and
affliction. In the gales of life many a ship is flung on the rocks for
lack of a little good seamanship on board. But ships need care even when
they are sailing summer seas; and so, because one hopes that brighter
days are coming to the world and coming soon, there is room for one more
counsel in conclusion. Religion, and particularly Christianity, has been
robbed of half of its power over men’s souls, by reason of the absurd
and tragical notion that it bears chiefly on the woes of man and very
little on his joys. On this score also the Jewish proverbs preach a
useful and pleasant sermon, with their natural honest desire for the
good things of life and their strong and salutary conviction that in
Wisdom--being that fear of the Lord which is to depart from evil--will
be found a never-failing source of refreshing happiness:

    _The fear of the Lord is glory and exultation
    And gladness and a crown of rejoicing.
    The fear of the Lord shall delight the heart,
    And shall give gladness and joy and length of days_
         (E. I^{11, 12}; cp. Pr. 2^{10}, 3^{16}).



Ben Sirach has a wise passage in recognition of the transcendent majesty
of God. He has been seeking to describe the marvels of the universe, and
words have failed him; how much more then if he should strive to declare
the glory of the Creator! Wonderful as the visible world may be, _Many
things are hidden greater than these, and we have seen but a few of His
works.... The Lord is terrible and exceeding great, and marvellous is
His power. When ye glorify the Lord praise him as much as ye can, for
even then will He surpass. When ye exalt him, put forth your full
strength; be not weary; for ye will never attain_ (E. 43^{29-32}). These
words give the reason why expressions of belief in God so often appear
to the unbelieving mere platitudes. Before the thought of the living
God, men of intense and sensitive faith are either silent, or at the
most will speak in simple language, being conscious that _we may say
many things, yet shall we not attain; and the sum of our words is “He is
all”_ (E. 49^{27}).

The Jewish proverbs recognise that God makes one fundamental demand from
men, namely Honesty of purpose--the very quality or attitude of soul
which, as we have just seen, is so essential to the growth of moral

    _All the ways of a man are right in his own eyes,
    But God weigheth the heart_ (Pr. 21^{2}).

_He that sacrificeth of a thing wrongfully gotten, his offering is made
in mockery; and the mockeries of wicked men are not well-pleasing_ (E.

Ben Sirach says of a sinner, confident in his wrong-doing because no man
seeth him--_But he knoweth not that the eyes of the Lord are ten
thousand times brighter than the sun, beholding all the ways of men, and
looking into secret places_ (E. 23^{19}).

And again he writes of the hypocritically pious:

_The Most High hath no pleasure in the offerings of the ungodly, neither
is He pacified for sins by the multitude of sacrifices_ (E. 34^{19}; cp.
Pr. 21^{27}).

It does not seem probable that the Almighty will be any the better
impressed, should the wicked offer up hymns instead of sacrifices.
Motive is still the criterion of worship: take heed how ye praise or
pray, lest your words be no more than the sound of a voice; take heed
how ye hear, lest, judging a sermon, you fail to hear God’s judgment of
you; and above all remember that the chief act of worship, without which
all else is in vain, must be rendered at home and in the city’s streets,
for--said a Wise-man on whom the spirit of the prophets had
descended--_to do justice and equity is more acceptable to the Lord than
sacrifice_ (Pr. 21^{3}). A plain commandment, but there is none greater:
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

And to them that are fain to keep the commandment God giveth gifts.
“But” says one, “how know you that they are _God’s_ gifts? Is there a
God to give? Faith is very difficult to attain.” Certainly faith is
difficult to the sophisticated in this and every age; but to the Wise it
has always seemed natural, and never impossible. Said a young Russian
modernist, “I find it difficult not to believe in God.” So much in
passing; we shall return to the question a little later. Meantime,
however, let us turn to what cannot be denied, the reality of the gifts
and the axiomatic truth of the assertion that they are from God in the
sense that they are the consequence of believing God is and is good.

To believe in the true God, the high and holy and merciful God of
Israel’s noblest thinkers, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ,
certainly gives men confidence and courage, not because the dangers and
difficulties of life are removed, but because our strength being
increased, it becomes possible to overcome them: _The name of the Lord
is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe_ (Pr.
18^{10}). Through the new spirit that is ours, life is lifted to a
higher plane where we feel that, when sorrow and pain and sin have had
their say, still the Lord reigneth; God is greater than His foes: _Whoso
feareth the Lord shall not be afraid and shall not play the coward; for
God is his hope_ (E. 34^{14}).

To them that seek Him God gives illumination. _Evil men understand not
justice, but they that seek the Lord understand it altogether_ (Pr.
28^{5})--which does not mean that the pious are omniscient, but does
mean that to follow after truth and goodness enlightens, whereas to seek
evil and pursue it makes men blind. Accordingly it is said, _There is no
wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord_ (Pr. 21^{30}),
and the truth of that great saying has been repeatedly displayed in the
rise and fall of mighty nations and empires, as well as in the lives of
individuals. Selfishness is always short-sighted, snatching greedily at
shadows and missing the best there is in life. Again, _The curse of the
Lord is in the house of the wicked, but He blesseth the habitation of
the righteous_ (Pr. 3^{33}); and that is true because it is seldom that
such things as passion, hatred, cruelty and haunting moral fears are
absent from the former, and, whatever the good man’s house may lack, it
will generally have love, joy, peace and all the fruits of the Spirit.

One remarkable proverb claims that _When a man’s ways please the Lord,
he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him_ (Pr. 16^{7}); and
the value of the saying is perhaps increased in that, regarded
pedantically, the claim breaks down, whereas on a wider consideration it
seems to be subtly and profoundly true. Thus, our truthfulness may not
prevent some particular individual (our enemy) from deceiving us by a
lie, but it helps many, who might become false and some day deceive us,
to persevere in truthfulness; and if all men really were liars, heaven
help our race! Our honesty may not prevent a thief from breaking through
and stealing, but it does make it easier for other men to be honest and
so helps to reduce dishonesty in the world; and if all men were
deceivers, peaceful trade would cease. Mercy begets mercy; the kindness
of all true men who love God and follow Christ is making the world more
kind. In a word, the effect of righteous example is magnificently great.
What matter then if the truth be superlatively phrased? Let us affirm it
boldly: “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies
to be at peace with him.”

Here is a verse that sums up the whole topic:--

    _The eyes of the Lord are upon them that love Him,
    A mighty protection and strong stay,
    A cover from the hot blast and a shelter from the noonday,
    A guard from stumbling, and a succour from falling.
    He raiseth up the soul, and enlighteneth the eyes;
    He giveth healing, life, and blessing_ (E. 34^{16, 17}).

The gifts are good. But is there a Giver, a God who cares? Why not so
believe? It is neither impossible nor incredible. In the last chapter we
shall touch further upon the great question. For the moment our concern
is only with the answer to it that we find in the Jewish proverbs. That
answer is boldly affirmative. Let us begin, however, with a rather
hesitant saying; _A man’s goings are of the Lord, how then can he
understand his ways?_ (Pr. 20^{24}). Possibly the author intended not to
assert God’s guidance but only to complain of the baffling character of
our fortunes. If so, we will have none of it. If there be no God at all,
at least let us struggle to determine our path with such intelligence as
we can muster. In the following, however, there is no dubiety about the
affirmation of faith: _A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord
directeth his steps_ (Pr. 16^{9}). Hard doctrine! theoretically possible
perhaps, but is it probable? Certainly it is hard to believe, almost
incredible, so long as it is considered merely from the critic’s chair.
But the sublime hope that God careth for men displays an astonishing
vitality; and the altogether amazing and significant fact is this, that
just where it ought most surely to die down and be extinguished, there
it always rises up and burns again--as now in the trenches.

Here is the witness of an educated man, who had long ceased to be a
Christian in the conventional usage of the term. He is writing freely to
one who had been more than a friend for Christ’s sake, and it is fair to
give his words, because death is no longer a mystery to him.
“Half-unconsciously I hummed the tune rather than the words of the
famous hymn [_When I survey the wondrous Cross_]; As I did so there
appeared before me, not a vision of Christ’s person, but of the meaning
of the glorious crown of thorns He wore. The King of Heaven, the Prince
of Peace, is a man--He took not upon Him the nature of angels. That
would have been easy but futile. It would not have linked Him with us
closely enough. So my vision told me. He must needs suffer for us....
And if suffering, and forgiveness, and love of our fellows, and general
self-forgetfulness be what is required of every one of us, how greatly
we all stand in need of His atonement. That was the lasting impression
of my vision: but, subsidiary, there was another. I felt, for a moment,
a sense of divine spectatorship, as if there was but God in the world
besides me; and God, all-seeing, all-understanding, with whom no words
were necessary[153].”

But also those whose training in the school of life has brought them no
such command of words as had the writer of the above, have their own way
of voicing the instinct, saying that “if a fellow’s name is written on a
bullet he’ll get it, and if it isn’t, he won’t.” Press the naïve
metaphor. Who writes the name on the bullet? Not Krupps; they are too
busy for that. Then is the writing the writing of God, graven upon the
bullet? Probably the man himself would say, Fate is the writer. “Fate”
on the lips of men who have nineteen centuries of Christian tradition
behind them is only another name, and imperfect, for God the Father.
There is fatalism and fatalism. The fatalism of men who, being conscious
(however dimly) that duty has drawn them into a war which is at bottom
an immense conflict of ideas and ideals regarding the use and abuse of
national power, feel somehow that they will not die except they were
appointed to lay down their life for others; _that_ fatalism is
separated by a hair’s breadth from explicit trust in the overshadowing
love of God. Belief in God’s providence may seem difficult to the
student at his ease, but it is high human doctrine. It was the doctrine
of Jesus; and keen and earnest thinkers, and simple men and women
innumerable, facing the sternest facts of life, have found it possible
to place their trust in it, and, trusting, have found themselves at

    _Be not afraid of sudden fear, nor of the desolation
         of the wicked when it cometh;
    For the Lord shall be thy confidence, and shall keep
         thy foot from being taken_ (Pr. 3^{25f}).

In conclusion, here is a proverb which needs a few words of
introduction. The graces and benefits of religion are frequently
associated in the Bible with “meekness” or “humility.” Now those English
words carry unfortunate associations which are absent from the Hebrew
they represent. The “humility” commended by the Prophets and Psalmists
is a certain frank simplicity of soul--a quality from which not a few of
the most effective and virile personalities in the world’s history have
derived their power. It has little or nothing to do with softness or
timidity of character; indeed courage is its hall-mark. Those who first
rallied round the Maccabean leaders in the struggle against an unclean
Hellenism were of “the meek ones of the earth.” The Russian peasant has
this Biblical “humility,” but the proudest military empire in the modern
world has tasted the fortitude of his soul. Wherefore we may claim that
this exquisite saying is not merely beautiful, but is also profound:

    _The prayer of the humble pierceth the clouds_ (E. 35^{17}).


The Gift of God

The sayings we have been quoting in this volume for the most part belong
to the life of ordered and peaceful society. There is no tramp of
armies, no sense of imminent death, no outrage of gigantic suffering and
injustice, in the pages of _Proverbs_ or _Ecclesiasticus_. To-day,
however, the ordinary problems and interests of peace-time seem
altogether irrelevant. Twenty million fighting men in Europe, asked what
a maxim is, would talk to you of machine-guns; the maxims otherwise
called proverbs belong to a different and forgotten world. For trifling
moralisms we have to-day neither taste nor time.

But the Jewish proverbs range wide enough to have a word for everyone,
for the grave or the gay, for pious or profane, for those in haste just
as much as for those at leisure; and many of their comments on life are
very far removed from being trifling. In our enquiry we have met not a
few winged words worth capturing and holding fast even in war-time;
great thoughts such as this assertion, _He that followeth after
righteousness shall attain unto life, but he that pursueth evil doeth it
to his own death_ (Pr. 11^{19}), or this reassuring hint of the
fundamental goodness of human nature, _When the righteous triumph there
is great glorying, but when the wicked come to power men hide
themselves_ (Pr. 28^{12}; cp. 11^{10}), or this grand medicine for a
tempted people, _Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a disgrace
to any folk_ (Pr. 14^{34}).

Moreover it ought to be recognised that, properly regarded, morality is
never unimportant; moralisms being trifling only so long as they remain
mere words, not when they are translated into deeds. Act upon the good
that is found in these proverbs, and immense results would follow. But
just there is the crux: “It is a small matter to get right principles
recognised, the whole difficulty lies in getting them practised. We need
a power which can successfully, contend against the storm of our passion
and self-will.”[154]

Now there is one deeply significant fact which we have seen in our study
of the Jewish proverbs, but on which we have not yet laid sufficient
stress--the fact that they seemed to their authors to point beyond
themselves to a Divine Source. They were not fortuitous atoms gathered
no man knew whence or why, but part of a marvellous system inspired and
originated by God, sustained by His inexhaustible power, and governed by
His holy purposes. Whatever may be thought regarding particular
proverbs, no sensible person can imagine that Wisdom itself is idle or
unimportant talk. Wisdom remains wise even in such a war as this, though
the nations rage and the kingdoms are moved.

But is there a Divine Wisdom? Or is the aspiring faith of men only an
unsubstantial dream? From first to last the Jews believed that Wisdom is
a reality, and, far from weakening as the years went on, their
confidence even increased, and their thoughts of the wonder and glory of
the Heavenly Wisdom became, if possible, more sublime and yet no less
intimate. And high as they exalted Wisdom, her chiefest glory remained
this, that she was willing to dwell with men. Let us take as a last
quotation some beautiful and loving words from that late work, the
_Wisdom of Solomon_, to which reference was made in Chapter IX:

    _Wisdom is an effulgence from everlasting light,
    A stainless mirror of God’s working, and an image of His goodness.
    And it, being one, hath power to do all things;
    And remaining in itself, reneweth all things:
    And from generation to generation passing into holy souls
    It maketh men friends of God and prophets....
    Wisdom is fairer than the sun, and above all the
        constellations of the stars.
    Being compared with light, it is found to be before it;
    For to the light of day succeedeth night,
    But against Wisdom evil doth not prevail_ (W.S. 7^{26-30}).

Is there this Heavenly Wisdom? Century by century, Life is accumulating
its patient answer to the question, building up its vast evidence that
the word of God endures, generation by generation confirming the
intuition that the visible is for man the least real and that it is the
unseen things that are eternal. But out of the midst of history there
has also come one finished and marvellous reply--the personality of
Jesus Christ.

_Wisdom, whence cometh it? And where is the place of understanding?_
cried one who had despaired to find an answer. But the day came when
certain of the Jews declared that Wisdom was _found_, that the infinite
Divine Wisdom in its full glory had dwelt amongst us. All, and more than
all, that had been said or thought or hoped of the Heavenly Wisdom, they
had discovered in Christ Jesus. For one who had been man among men to be
thus _by Jews_ identified as the Perfect Wisdom, which was but an aspect
of God Himself, is clearly wonderful; but just how utterly amazing it
is, perhaps only those can realise who are conscious of the innate and
magnificent monotheism of the Jews, and who have listened with sympathy
and understanding to these reverent and rapturous praises of Wisdom.
That a human being could possibly be felt to be the incarnation of
Wisdom’s Self is a miracle. But the miracle is precisely that which has
happened, and it is explicable only by a cause as great as the effect;
that is, by the miracle of what Jesus was and is.

Recognition of Christ as the Divine Wisdom, and of Wisdom as incarnate
in Christ, permeates the tradition and theology of the New Testament. It
is visible in almost every passage where His disciples have sought to
express the mystery and majesty of Him whose human love they had known
on earth, whose divine power they now felt from heaven. The idea of
Wisdom is the basis of St. Paul’s great utterances regarding Christ in
the _Epistle to the Colossians_; of the affirmations in _Hebrews_ that
by Christ were the worlds made and that He is the Radiance of the Divine
Glory and the Reflection of the Divine Being; and behind the wonderful
opening chapter of _St. John’s Gospel_ there is a hymn to the Eternal
Wisdom, which was in the beginning, and was with God, and was God.[155]

_Who hath ascended into heaven and descended?_--asked a sceptical
questioner in the _Book of Proverbs_ (Pr. 30^{4}). _No man ascended into
heaven, but He that descended out of heaven, even the Son of Man_, rings
out the answer of the Gospel (_John_ 3^{13}).

_If any man lack Wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally,
and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him_, writes St. James. Surely
God’s gift is Christ? There are now nineteen centuries to show that
nothing that has set itself against His wisdom has endured and been
accepted as the truth.

“We need a power which can successfully contend against the storm of our
passion and self-will.”--St. Paul affirms that the need has been met
and answered in Christ crucified, _the Power of God and the Wisdom of
God_, and the Gospel holds out the same promise: _as many as received
Him to them gave He power to become the children of God_.

But are they many who throughout these centuries have sought to find
Wisdom in Christ, and in His redeeming compassion, His perfect knowledge
of human weakness and human need, His calm unfailing strength, His
infinite holiness, His glorious ideal, His faith, His sacrifice, have
declared that they have found that which they sought? They are very
many. Already they are a multitude which no man can number--out of every
nation and of all tribes and peoples--of whom some have sealed the
confession with their life-blood, and some have given equal testimony in
the unfaltering purity and patience of a quiet and unselfish life. Some
of them have been learned and some unlearned in this world’s knowledge,
but it is abundantly evident that all who have been faithful to His word
have possessed in its fulness the deeper Wisdom which is from above.

The sum of it all is this. Christ has come. There are those who do not
trouble to seek for Wisdom with their whole heart, but that is a foolish
attitude which should be shunned. The miracle has happened, and we ought
to face its challenge. What think ye of Christ? Whose son is He?



Articles on _Proverbs_, _Ecclesiasticus_, _Wisdom Literature_,
_Hellenism_, etc., in the Encyclopædia Brittanica (11th edition),
Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible and the Encyclopædia Biblica.

C. H. TOY, _Proverbs_ (International Critical Commentary).
G. CURRIE MARTIN, _Proverbs_, etc. (The Century Bible).
C. F. KENT, _Wise Men of Ancient Israel_.
W. O. E. OESTERLEY, _Ecclesiasticus_ (Cambridge Bible
         for Schools and Colleges).
S. R. DRIVER, _Literature of the Old Testament_ s.v., Proverbs, etc.
G. A. SMITH, _Modern Criticism and the Preaching of
         the Old Testament_, ch viii.
A. R. GORDON, _The Poets of the Old Testament_ chs. XV.-XVIII.
C. TAYLOR, _Sayings of the Fathers_ (_Pirke Aboth_).
A. COHEN, _Ancient Jewish Proverbs_ (Wisdom of the East Series).
E. L. BEVAN, _The House of Seleucus_ (2 vols.)
E. L. BEVAN, _Jerusalem under the High Priests_.
H. P. SMITH, _Old Testament History_ chs. XVIII., XIX.



ver. CHAPTER I. page

4                         130
7-9                  157, 267
10ff       153, 181, 184, 200
17                        231
22              130, 180, 181
24                        180


3, 4, 9                   267
10                   217, 272
16-19                     186


3, 4                 145, 269
5, 6                      158
7                         246
11, 12               192, 271
13-15                     170
16                        272
17, 18               217, 231
19f                       172
25f                       278
27, 28               155, 211
29                        154
31, 32                    153
33                        275
34                        267


7                         177
10-19                      77
13                        142
18                        236
19                         51
23                        264

      CHAPTER V.

1-14                      153
22                        188


6-11                 128, 233
12-15                     123
16-19                      48
20-vii. 27                153


1-27                      153
14                        108
20                        234


1-3                  182, 200
10                        171
15, 16                    172
19                        222
21                        167
22-36                     173
23                        222


1-5                  171, 212
7                    135, 180
10                        157
17, 18                    171

      CHAPTER X.

2                         154
3                         188
11                        143
12                        145
15                        119
20, 21                    143
22                         25
23                        134
26                        140
27                        189


1                         253
2                         143
4                    211, 257
5                         143
10                   259, 280
11                        258
12                        140
18                        188
19                        280
22                        241
24, 25               122, 253
26                        254
28                        211
30                        143


1                         142
5                         143
7                         211
9                         243
15                   123, 134
16                        123
18                        145
19                        143
21                        188
26                        144


1                         180
2                         211
3                         140
5                         143
7                         122
8                         257
11                        257
12                        246
19                        134
22                        252
24                        149


1                         133
3                         134
13                        192
15, 16                    133
17                        139
20                        120
32                        190
34                   259, 280


1                    145, 246
2                         123
4                    145, 211
5                         134
8                         108
16                        211
17                        120
18                        139
20                        134
23                        140
24                        190
25                        155
28                        143
29                        188


1                         211
3                         264
4                         189
6                         269
7                         276
8               154, 211, 254
9                        277
16                       171
18                  140, 246
19                       210
24                        51
26                       116
27                  123, 181
28                       122
32             139, 206, 246


1                        108
2                        151
5                        144
7                        129
9                        253
10                       135
12             232, 241, 242
13                       140
16                       134
17                       142
21                       130
23                       153
24                  133, 242
28                       140


2                        134
7                        123
8                        125
9                        242
10                       275
11                  183, 257
13                       262
17                       243
20, 21              140, 211
22                       148


4                       120
12                      232
14                      238
17                      211
26                      150
27                      183
29                      135


1                  138, 185
3                       141
6                       192
10                 222, 253
14                      113
17                      266
20                      150
22                 140, 188
23                 153, 253
24                      277
28                      152


2                       273
3             108, 153, 274
6                       253
9                       242
13                      253
14                      152
17                      138
20                      133
22                      233
23                      211
24                      135
27                 108, 274
30, 31             247, 275


1                   51, 257
2                       252
3                        58
4                       167
6                       150
7                       113
8                       188
10                      180
11                      143
13             128; cp. 242
22, 23             153, 181
27                      113
28                       58


1-3                     124
4, 5                    256
9                       134
10, 11               59, 53
13, 14                  149
17, 18             190, 263
21                      253
29-31              153, 185
29-35              138, 233


1                       263
3, 4                    234
11, 12                  144
16                      246
17, 18             141, 207
24                      256
27                      262
28                      153
29                      145
30-34              128, 242


2, 3                    152
6                       211
11                      231
13                      234
14                 123, 235
16                       17
17                  30, 262
19                      243
20                      125
21                      145
24                      242
25                      236
27                 222, 243
28                      246


2                   51, 236
3                  134, 232
4                  135, 262
7                  134, 242
11                      135
12                 123, 246
13              242, cp.128
14, 15             128, 242
16                 128, 181
17                 141, 238
18, 19                  124
20                      122
21                      141
23-26                   141
27                      154
28                      125


1                  211, 262
3                       134
4                       141
6                       245
8                       231
14                      125
15                      242
17                      245
18                      231
19                      236
20                       58
22                 135, 242
23-27                   232


1                       246
5                       275
6             154, 245, 254
7                       138
8                       155
12                      280
13, 14                  268
15                 152, 232
17                      245
22                      122
23                      125
24                      150
26                      134
27                      155


1                       142
4                       152
5                       125
11                      139
12                      259
13                      252
14                 152, 259
15                      149
19                      151
20                      124
22                      139


1-6                     192
4                       283
7-9                     155
8, 9               121, 211
12, 14                  256
15, 16               46, 52
17                 150, 232
18, 19              51, 233
21-23               47, 129
24-28               47, 233
26f                     232
29-31               47, 232
33                      141


4, 5                    152
6, 7                    185
10-29                  147f
14                      233


Prologue                198

      CHAPTER I.

1                       158
11, 12                  272
26                      267


1-6                    271f
12-14                   246


6-9                     150
12-15                   150
36                      252


1                       120
8, 9                    252
11, 12                  245
17                      171
28                 266, 269


7ff                     142
19-25                   171
26-29                   171
35, 36                  262


1-3                     263
9, 11                   263
10                      264
15                      118
18                      263
20, 21                  152


5-7                     263
17                      133


3-9                     186

      CHAPTER X.

8                       259
11                      190


2                       262
11                      238
26-28                   189


3, 4                    122


1                       198
11, 12                  263


28                      190


19                      262


1                       246
2                       186
10                      244
20                      198


5, 6                    243
12                      243
14f                      40
15, 16                  133
29                      163


6                       272
10                      266
14                      134
26                      133


7                  134, 162
8                  134, 242
12                      162
18                      134
19                      274


3-11                    174
23                      198


1, 2                     48
7-11                     48
16                      232
20                      242


5                        48
29ff               113, 254


1, 2                    113
9                       231
11                      133
25                      233


1, 2                    269


4, 5                    113


8                       232
9-12                    149
14                      121
15                      257


3                       120
12ff                    124
19, 20                  139
27f                     184
29, 30, 31              185


5                      133
6                      232
24-28                  151
30, 31                 151


1                      236
10                     161
12                160, 161
14                     275
16, 17                 276
18, 19                 274
20-22                  256


17                     279


1-15                   115
5                      114
16ff                   191
24-34                  117


1-3                    198


11                     190
28f                    114


1                      163
1-4                    191
17-19                  163
20                     186


9-11                   146


1-5                    234
8-12                   234
15-19                  235
24-25                  233
27-32                  273


1ff                     20

      CHAPTER L.

6, 7                   234
8-10                   231

3ff                    160

Genesis =10= 9 (50); =28= 10-19 (49).
Exodus =15= 25 (114); =20= 5 (67).
Numbers =21= 27 (69).
Deuteronomy =27= 17 (59); =80= 11-14 (215).
Joshua =7= 24, 25 (66).
Ruth =2= 7-14 (235).
1 Samuel =10= 11 (62); =24= 9-13 (63); =24= 16 (64).
2 Samuel =1= 23 (64); =14= 1ff (68); =20= 16-22 (68).
1 Kings =4= 29-34 (69, 231).
2 Kings =4= 18, 19 (235).
2 Chronicles =16= 12 (144)
Job =5= 4 (189); =15= 18 (73); =24= 2 (59); =28= 20-27(175); =28, 38= (235).
Psalms =1= (77); =1= 1 (180); =19= 1 (229); =90= 3 (43).
Ecclesiastes =7= 6 (133); =9= 4 (232).
Canticles =2= 11ff (235).
Isaiah =5= 8 (59); =28= 10 (109, 200); =29= 13, 14 (70 );
         =40= 27 (44); =55= 8 (106).
Jeremiah =18= 18 (70); =81= 28-30 (65f).
Ezekiel =12= 21, 22 (67); =16= 44 (65); =18= 1f (65).
Hosea =5= 10 (59).
Amos =5= 21f (83).
Zechariah =4= 6 (106).
St. Matthew =2= 12 (283); =5= 3f (210); =5= 42, =10= 14,
         =12= 36, =22= 1-14, =25= 40 (211).
St. Mark =5= 26 (115).
St. Luke =4= 23 (115); =12= 16-21 (211); =14= 7-11 (211).
St. John =1= 12 (284); =3= 13 (283); =7= 17 (267); =18= 26ff (230).
Acts =18= 1-3 (119).
Romans =5= 20 (67); =12= 20 (145).
1 Corinthians =1= 24 (284).
2 Corinthians =11= 9 (119).
Ephesians =6= 12 (76).
Hebrews =12= 1-7 (270f).
James =1= 5 (283); =4= 6-(267).
1 Peter =5= 5 (267).
1 Maccabees =2= 29-38 (202).
Wisdom of Solomon =7= 22ff (176, 282); =9= 4 (176).
Sayings of the Fathers =49=, 206f.


Abbreviations, 40, 205, 207.

Agnosticism, 176, 192, 218.

Almsgiving, 113f

Anger, 139f.

Antiochus Epiphanes,  201

Aristotle, 45.

Athletics, 88, 93, 96, 183, 201.

Bacon, Francis, 22, 245, 256.

Beggar, 114.

Ben Sirach, 39, 160ff.

Bribery, 152, 163, 257.

Children, 145ff, 271.

Chronicler, 109, 114.

Church, 182, 195, 199n, 216, 220, 225.

Commerce, 113, 254.

Craftsmen, 116f.

Cromer, Lord, 226.

Death, 163, 168, 190f.

Democracy, 86ff.

Desert, Arabian, 54f, 141.

Discipline, Self-, 139, 171, 191f.

Doctor, 114f.

Ecclesiasticus, 39f, 162, 205.

Education, 149.

Epitaphs, Greek, 89f.

Farmer, 232.

Fatalism, 278.

Flattery, 125f.

Fools, 129ff, 242.

Forgiveness, 144, 268.

Friendship, 142.

Germany, 206, 217, 237.

Ghetto, 209.

Greek, City-State, 86ff.

---- philosophy, 95n, 159, 175f.

_Hasidim_, 201.

Hellenism, 84ff, 110, 196, 201f, 225.

Heredity 65f.

History, 21f, 43, 81, 194f, 214f.

Honesty, 141, 143f, 153, 253f, 265, 273.

Idealism, 213, 222.

Individualism, 218f, 252.

Jealousy, 141.

Josephus, 98.

Justice, 152, 258, 269.

King, 152, 258.

Labour, 116ff.

Law of Moses, 38n, 104, 108, 110f, 198, 209.

Mercy, 144f, 276.

Miserliness, 122.

Morality, 90, 94f, 153, 181, 183ff.

Nationalism, 89, 94, 164, 174n.

Oesterley, 151, 162, 168, 267

Old Testament, 249.

Pindar, 229.

Poseidonius, 96, 121.

Pride, 123, 140, 143.

  Arabic, 23f;
  Chinese, 34;
  Egyptian, 166;
  English, 14-25, 179, 246;
  Greek, 25, 166;
  humanism of, 19f, 22, 162, 227, 280;
  Indian 51f;
  Italian and Spanish, 23f, 141;
  New Testament, 194, 212;
  numerical, 46ff;
  Scotch, 25;
  Rabbinic, 41, 49, 55, 206f, 218, 243, 247, 253, 259, 262;
  wandering of, 51f.

Providence, 276ff.

Ptolemy, 91, 97, 101, 103.

Rabbis, 119.

Receptivity, 142, 171, 266.

Religion, 157f, 220f, 272.

Ruskin, 30.

Rutherford, Mark, 35.

Scribe(s), 116f, 160, 198n.

Seleucus, 91, 97.

Sheol (see Death).

Slander, 122f, 154.

Slaves, 86, 150f.

Sluggard, 127ff, 140, 242.

Solomon, 37, 71f, 231, 243.

Solon, 99, 189.

Suffering, 187ff, 270, 275.

Synagogues, 197f.

Temperance (see Wine).

Theophrastus, 126.

Universalism, 108f, 111.

Utilitarianism, 29, 167ff.

Wealth, 119f, 154, 256f.

Wine, 138, 153, 161, 184.

Wisdom, Greek, 99, 106.

---- personified, 174f, 282.

Wisdom of Solomon, 39, 175, 281.

Woman, 146, 154, 186, 241f.

Headley Brothers, 18, Devonshire Street, Bishopsgate, E.C.2.; and
Ashford, Kent.


Edited by

Professor JOHN E. MCFADYEN, B.A. (Oxon), D.D.

(United Free Church College, Glasgow),



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       *       *       *       *       *

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Edited by PROFESSOR JOHN E. MCFADYEN, B.A. (Oxon), D.D. (United Free
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=Studies in Life from Jewish Proverbs.= By W. A. L. ELMSLIE, Fellow of
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College, Nagpur, India.


Edited by FRANK KNIGHT SANDERS, Ph.D., Woolsey Professor of Biblical
Literature in Yale University, and CHARLES FOSTER KENT, Ph.D., Professor
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Abbey Mill, The, 22

Advent Sermons, 8

America in the East, 5

Animal Fancy-land, 30

Animal Gambols, 30

Animal Happyland, 30

Animal Playtime, 30

Animal Picture-Land, 30

Animals in Fun-Land, 30

Apocalyptical Writers, The Messages of the, 13

Apostles, The Messages of the, 13

Appeal of Jesus, The 15

Around the Guns, 26

Aspects of the Spiritual, 14

Asquith, The Right Hon. H. H., M.P., 10

Astronomy Simplified, 16

Atonement and Progress, 20

Atonement in Modern Thought, The, 11

Augustinian Revolution in Theology, 18

Aunt Agatha Ann, 29

Authority and the Light Within, 20

Beads of Tasmer, The 15, 22

Beatitudes and the Contrasts, The 18

Between Two Loves, 22

Birthday of Hope, The, 30

Black Familiars, The, 21

Border Shepherdess, A, 15

Bow of Orange Ribbon, The, 31

Britain’s Hope, 25

Brudenelle of Brude, The 22

Burning Questions, 25

Canonbury Holt, 22

Challenge, The, 19

Chats with Women on Everyday Subjects, 24

Children’s Paul, The, 21

Chosen Twelve, The, 15

Christ and War 23, 26

Christ in Everyday Life, 18

Christ of the Children, The, 21

Christ or Chaos?, 9

Christ that is To Be, The 12

Christ, The Private Relationships of, 6

Christ’s Pathway to the Cross, 23

Christ’s Vision of the Kingdom of Heaven, 4

Christian Certitude, 10

Christian of To-day, The, 10

Christian Union in Social Service, 16

Christian World Album of Sacred Songs, The, 25

Christian World Album of Sacred and Standard Compositions
         for the Pianoforte, 25

Christian World Pulpit, The, 7

Christianity in Common Speech, 29

Chronicle of the Archbishops of Canterbury, A, 4

Chrystabel, 22

Church and Modern Life, The, 11

Church and the Kingdom, The, 25

Church and the Next Generation, The, 20

Common Life, The, 14

Concerning Conscience, 9

Conquered World, The, 25, 28, 30

Conquering Prayer, 18

Constructive Christianity, 17

Constructive Natural Theology, 8

Crucible of Experience, The 28

Dante for the People, 7

Darwin, Charles, and other English Thinkers, 6

Daughter of Fife, A, 31

Days of Old, 9

Debt of the Damerals, The, 22

Divine Satisfaction, The,  28

Dutch in the Medway, The, 12

Earlier Prophets, The Messages of the, 13

Ecce Vir, 27

Effectual Words, 8

Emilia’s Inheritance, 22

England’s Danger, 30

Esther Wynne, 22

Eternal Religion, The, 14

Eucken and Bergson, 17

Evangelical Heterodoxy, 10

Everychild, 27

Evolution, Life and Religion, 6

Evolution of Old Testamen Religion, The, 11

Exposition, The Art of, 9

Ezekiel, The Book of, 3

Facets of Faith, 23

Faith and Form, 24

Faith and Verification, 6

Faith of a Wayfarer, The, 24

Faith’s Certainties, 14

Family Prayers for Morning Use, 12

Father Fabian,  22

Fifty Years’ Reminiscences of a Free Church Musician, 17

Fighters and Martyrs for the Freedom of Faith, 9

First Christians, The, 11

First Things of Jesus, 11

Flowers from the Master’s Garden, 27

For Childhood and Youth, 23

Fortune’s Favourite, 22

Fortunes of Cyril Denham, The, 22

“Freedom of Faith” Series, The, 23

Friend Olivia, 5

Gamble with Life, A, 15

Garrisoned Soul, The, 27

Getting Together, 6

Glorious Company of the Apostles, The, 21

God, Humanity and the War, 26

Good New Times, The, 20

Gospel of Grace, The, 10

Great Embassy, The, 26

Great Unfolding, The, 7

Grey and Gold, 22

Grey House at Endlestone, The 22

Growing Revelation, The, 7

Hampstead, Its historic houses; its literary and artistic associations, 4

Happy Warrior, 26

Health and Home Nursing, 28

Health in the Home Life, 19

Heaven and the Sea, 9

Heavenly Visions, 9

Heirs of Errington, The, 22

Helga Lloyd, 5

Helps to Health and Beauty, 29

His Next of Kin, 22

History of France, 1180-1314, 20

History of the United States, A, 4

Holidays in Animal Land, 30

Holy Christian Empire, 31

Homes and Careers in Canada, 16

Horne, C. Silvester, 30

House of Bondage, The, 22

House of the Secret, The, 5

How to Cook, 27

How to Read the Bible, 28

“Humanism of the Bible” Series, 12

Husbands and Wives, 22

Ideals for Girls, 21

Ideals in Sunday School Teaching, 24

Illustrations from Art for Pulpit and Platform, 8

Immanence of Christ in Modern Life, The, 19

Imperishable Word, The, 17

Impregnable Faith, An, 17

Individuality of S. Paul, The. 12

Inspiration in Common Life. 23

Interludes in a Time of Change, 10

In the Father’s House, 7

Invisible Companion, The, 24

Israel’s Law Givers, The Messages of, 13

Jan Vedder’s Wife, 31

“J.B.” J. Brierley, his Life and Work, 7

Jesus and His Teaching, 11

Jesus and Human Life, 13

Jesus or Christ?, 25

Jesus: Seven Questions, 11

Jesus, The Messages of, According to the Gospel of John, 13

Jesus, The Messages of, According to the Synoptists, 13

Joan Carisbrooke, 22

Joshua, The Book of, 4

Jowett, J. H., M.A., D.D., 24

Joy Bringer, The, 26

Judges of Jesus, The, 20

Judges, The Book of, 4

Kaiser or Christ, 26

Kingdom of th., 21

King George and Queen Mary, 18

Kit Kennedy: Country Boy 5, 21

Lady Clarissa, 22

Last of the MacAllisters, The 15

Later Prophets, The Messages of the, 13

Leaves for Quiet Hours, 19

Led by a Child, 16

Letters of Christ, The, 23

Letters to a Ministerial Son, 18

Liberty and Religion, 19

Life and Teaching of Jesus, Notes on the, 24

Life and the Ideal, 14

Life in His Name, 10

Life of the Soul, 14

Life’s Beginnings, 18, 24

Life’s Little Lessons, 23

Lifted Veil, A, 17

Looking Inwards, 17

Lynch, Rev. T. T.: A Memoir, 5

Lyrics of the Soul, 18

Making of a Minister, The, 15

Making of Heaven and Hell, The, 24

Man on The Road, The, 23

Margaret Torrington, 22

Marprelate Tracts, The 3

Meaning and Value of Mysticism, 5

Merry Animal Picture Book, The, 30

Merry Times in Animal Land, 30

Messages of Hope, 17

Messages of the Bible, The, 13

Millicent Kendrick, 22

Miss Devereux, Spinster, 22

Model Prayer, The, 21

Modern Minor Prophets, 17

Modern Theories of Sin, 10

More Tasty Dishes, 29

Morning Mist, A, 22

Morning, Noon, and Night, 29

Mr. Montmorency’s Money, 22

My Belief, 11

My Daily Meditation for the Circling Year, 8

Nature and Message of the Bible, The, 15

New Evangel, The, 20

New Mrs. Lascelles, The, 22

New Testament in Modern Speech, The, 19, 22

Nobly Born, 22

Old Testament Stories in Modern Light, 24

Oliver Cromwell, 28

Oliver Westwood, 22

Our City of God, 14

Our Life Beyond, 27

Our Protestant Faith, 16

Ourselves and the Universe, 14, 31

Outline Text Lessons for Junior Classes, 28

Overdale, 22

Passion for Souls, The, 23

Paton, J. B., M.A., D.D, 7

Paul, The Messages of, 13

Person of Christ in Modern Thought, The, 5

Personality of Jesus, The, 15

Pessimism and Love in Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, 12

Peter in the Firelight, 17

Phyllistrata and Other Poems, 16

Pilot, The, 19

Poems. By Mme. Guyon, 15

Poets, The Messages of the, 13

Polychrome Bible, The, 3, 4

Popular History of the Free Churches, The, 23

Portrait Preaching, 7

Prayer, 23

Preaching to the Times, 12

Price of Priestcraft, The, 27

Pride of the Family, The, 22

Problem of Paris, The, 13

Problems and Perplexities, 17

Problems of Immanence, 17

Problems of Living, 14

Prophetical and Priestly Historians, The Messages of, 13

Psalms, The, In Modern Speech and Rhythmical Form, 7

Psalmists, The Messages of the 13

Pulpit Manual, A, 16

Purpose of the Cross, The, 20

Quaint Rhymes for the Battlefield, 26

Quickening of Caliban, The, 12

Reasonable View of Life, A, 23

Reasonableness of Jesus, The, 24

Reasons Why for Congregationalists, 25

Reasons Why for Free Churchmen, 27

Recollections of Newton House, 30

Reconstruction, A Help to Doubters, 7

Reform in Sunday School Teaching, 25

Religion and Experience, 14

Religion and Miracle, 10

Religion in Song, 13

Religion and To-day, 14

Religion: The Quest of the Ideal, 18

Religion that will Wear, A, 28

Resultant Greek Testament, The, 20

Robert Wreford’s Daughter, 22

Romance of Preaching, 6

Rome from the Inside, 28

Rosebud Annual, The, 7, 15

School Hymns, 15, 31

Scourge of God, The, 22

Sculptors of Life, 17

Secret of Living, The, 14

Seed of the Kingdom, The, 26

Selections from Brierley, 7

Self-Realisation, 16

Seriousness of Life, The, 16

Sermon Illustration, The Art of, 10

Sermons on God, Christ and Man, 8

Sharing His Sufferings, 24

She Loved a Sailor, 22

Shepherd, Ambrose, D.D., 15

Ship’s Engines, The, 30

Short Talks to Boys and Girls, 28

Sidelights on Religion, 14

Simon Peter’s Ordination Day, 15

Simple Cookery, 21

Simple Things of the Christian Life, The, 23

Singlehurst Manor, 22

Sir Galahad, 26

Sissie, 22

Small Books on Great Subjects 25, 30

Smith, John, the Se-Baptist, Thomas Helwys, and the
         First Baptist Church in England, 6

Social Salvation, 7

Song of the Well, The, 8

Spoken Words of Prayer and Praise, 9

Squire of Sandal Side, The, 15, 22

St. Beetha’s, 22

St. Paul and His Cities, 8

St. Paul’s Fight for Galatia, 8

Storehouse for Preachers and Teachers, 25

Stories of Old, 21

Story of Clarice, The, 5

Story of Congregationalism in Surrey, The, 11

Story of Joseph the Dreamer, The, 20

Story of Penelope, The, 22

Story of the English Baptists, The, 11

Story of the Twelve, 16

Studies in Christian Mysticism, 16

Studies in Life from Jewish Proverbs, 13

Studies of the Soul, 14, 31

Sunday Afternoon Song Book 27, 31

Sunny Memories of Australasia, 25

Sweet Peas and Antirrhinums, 26

Tale of a Telephone, A, 29

Talks to Little Folks, 29

Tasty Dishes, 29

Theology and Truth, 6

They that Wait, 30

Things Most Surely Believed, 18

Things that Matter Most, 8

Thornycroft Hall, 22

Thoughts for Life’s Journey, 18

Through a Padre’s Spectacles, 15

Through Eyes of Youth, 16

Through many Windows, 23

Through Science to Faith, 5

Town Romance, A, 22

Transfigured Church, The, 9

Translation of Faith, The, 16

True Christ, The, 18

Unfettered Word, The, 9

Ungilded Gold, 19, 25

Universal Over-Presence, The, 18

Until the Day Dawn,  8

Unveiled Glory, The; or, Sidelights on the Higher Evolution, 17

Uplifting of Life, The, 16

Value of the Apocrypha, The, 23

Value of the Old Testament, 20

Violet Vaughan, 22

Voice from China, 11

Voices of To-day: Studies of Representative Modern Preachers, 9

Waiting Life, The; By the Riverof Waters, 16

War and Immortality, 15

Warleigh’s Trust, 22

Way and the Work, The, 23

Wayfarer at the Cross Roads, The, 24

Way of Prayer, The, 24

Way of Remembrance, The, 26

Wayside Angels, 28

Week with the Fleet, A, 26

Well by Bethlehem’s Gate, The, 23

Westminster Sermons, 10

What is the Bible?, 9

Who was Jesus, 16

Who Wrote the Bible?, 25

Why We Believe, 19

Winning of Immortality, The, 10

Wisdom of God and the Word of God, The, 9

Woman’s Patience, A, 22

Women and their Saviour, 27

Women and Their Work,  25

Words by the Wayside,  25

Working Woman’s Life, A, 10

Woven of Love and Glory, 15

Young Man’s Ideal, A, 17

Young Man’s Religion, A, 20



Abbott, Lyman, 11

Adeney. W. F., 11, 28

Allin, T., 18

Angus, A. H., 24

Antram, C. E. P., 27

Barr, Amelia E., 5, 15, 22, 31

Barrows, C. H., 15

Begbie, H., 27

Bennett, Rev. W. H., 4

Betts, C. H., 16, 18, 23

Birch, E. A., 23

Black, J., 26

Blake, J. M., 23, 24

Blomfield, Elsie, 30

Blue, A. W., 23

Bosworth, E. I., 18

Bradford, Amory H., 6

Brierley, J., 7, 14, 31

Brown, C., 9, 23

Bulcock, H., 16

Burford, W. K., 16

Burgess, W. H., 6

Burns, David, 8

Burns, Rev. J., 8, 16, 26

Burns, J. Golder, 15

Cadman, S. P., 6, 26

Cairncross, T., S. 15

Campbell, R. J., 11

Carlile, J. C., 11, 16, 28, 29

Cave, Dr., 11

Caws, Rev. L. W., 17

Chaplin, Gauntlett, 6

Cleal, E. E., 11

Clifford, John, 26

Collins, B. G., 20

Compton-Rickett, Sir J., 12, 29

Cowper, W., 15

Crockett, S. R. 5, 21

Cuff, W., 25

Cuthbertson, W., 26

Davidson, Gladys, 28

Dodd, A. F., 20

Dods, Marcus, 11

Dyson, W. H., 16

Elias, F., 9, 10

Ellis, J., 25

Elmslie, W. A. L., 13

Evans, H., 27

Farningham, Marianne, 10, 18, 25, 27

Farrar, Dean 11

Finlayson, T. Campbell, 30

Fiske, J., 4

Forsyth, P. T., 11, 31

Foston, H., 16, 18

Fremantle, Dean, 11

Furness, H. H., 3

Gibberd, Vernon, 23

Gibbon, J. Morgan, 10

Giberne, Agnes, 22

Gladden, Washington, 7, 11, 25

Godet, Professor, 11

Gordon, George A., 10

Griffis, W. E., 5

Griffith-Jones, E. 6, 26

Grubb, E., 20, 24

Gunn, E. H. M., 15, 31

Guyon, Madame, 15

Hall, T. C., 13

Hampden-Cook, E., 19

Harnack, Professor, 11

Harris, Rendel 23, 26

Hartill, I., 30

Harvey-Jellie, W. 9

Haupt, P., 3

Haweis, H. R., 21

Heddle, Ethel F., 22

Henderson, Alex. C., 16

Henson, Dean H. Hensley, 10, 12

Hermann, E. 5, 17

Hill, F. A.  4

Hocking, S. K.  15

Hodgson, J. M.  18

Holborn, Alfred  16

Horne, C. Silvester 6, 11, 23

Horton, R. F. 7, 11, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31

Humphrey, F.  23

Hunter, John  11

Hutton, J. A.  26

“J. B.” of _The Christian World_, 28

J. M. G.,  12

Jeffs, H., 7, 9, 10, 16, 17, 20

John, Griffith, 11

Jones, J. D., 9, 10, 18, 21, 23, 25, 27, 30

Jones, J. P., 8

Jordan, W. G., 13

Jowett, J. H., 8, 9, 23, 24, 30

Jude, J. H., 25

Kennedy, H. A., 27, 31

Kent, C. F., 13

Kenyon, Edith C., 24

Kirk, E. B., 6

Knight, W. A., 17, 23

La Touche, E. D. 5, 10

Lee, E., 5

Leggatt, F. Y., 24

Lewis, E. W., 24

London, Bishop of, 26

McEvoy, Cuthbert, 26

Macfadyen, D., 15

McFadyen, J. E., 7, 12, 13, 24

McFayden, J. F., 13

Macfarlane, Charles, 12

M‘Intyre, D. M., 10

McKilliam, A. E., 4

Maconachie, D. H., 16

Manners, Mary E., 29

Man of the World, A,  18

Marchant, Bessie, 22

Marchant, J., 6

Mark, Thistelton, 23

Marshall, J. S., 27

Marshall, N. H.,  6, 20

Mason, E. A., 29

Mather, Lessels, 28

Matheson, George, 17, 18, 19, 25

Maxwell, A.,  4

Meade, L. T., 22

Metcalfe, R. D., 27

Michael, C. D., 21

Minshall, E., 17

Moore, G. F., 4

Morgan, G. Campbell, 23, 26

Morison, F., 24

Morrow, H. W., 15

Morten, Honnor, 19

Munger, T. T., 11

Neilson, H. B., 30

Orchard, W. E., 8, 10, 11, 17

Palmer, Frederic, 10

Peake, A. S., 25

Pharmaceutical Chemist, A., 29

Pierce, W., 3

Piggott, W. C., 17

Porter, F. C., 13

Pounder, R. W., 8

Pringle, A., 24

Reid, Rev. J.,  8, 11, 16

Ridgway, Emily, 26

Riggs, J. S., 13

Roberts, E. Cecil, 16, 26

Roberts, R., 20

Roose, Rev. J. S., 16

Russell, F. A., 23

Rutherford, J. S., 16

Sabatier, A., 11

Sanders, F. K., 13

Schmidt, N., 13

Schrenck, E. von, 11

Scott, D. R., 14

Scottish Presbyterian, A,  28

Selbie, W. B., 15

Shepherd, E., 15

Shepherd, J. A., 30

Shillito, Edward, 17

Sinclair, H., 9

Smyth, Newman, 5, 8

Snell, Bernard J., 11, 20, 23

Someren, J. Van, 7

Souper, W., 17

Stevens, G. B., 13

Stevenson, J. G., 17, 19, 20, 21

Stewart, D. M., 17, 27

Stirling, James, 4

Storrow, A. H., 16

Strachan, R. H., 12

Street, J., 27

Studd, C. D., 26

Sutter, Julie, 25

Swan, F. R., 19

Swetenham, L., 18

Tarbolton, A. C., 20

Tipple, S. A., 9

Toy, Rev. C. H., 3

Tymms, T. V., 6

Tynan, Katharine, 5

Tytler, S., 22

Varley, H., 24

Veitch, R., 10, 11

Wain, Louis, 29, 30

Walford, L. B., 21

Walker, W. L., 18

Walmsley, L. S., 9

Warschauer, J., 9, 11, 17, 20, 25

Warwick, H., 18

Waters, N. McG., 20

Watkins, C. H.,  8, 26

Watkinson, W. L., 23

Watson, E. S.. 9

Watson, W. 17, 23

Weymouth, R. F., 19, 20, 22

White, W., 5

Whiton, J. M., 6, 10, 12, 28

Williams, T. R., 24

Wilson, P. W., 19

Wilson, W. E., 23, 26

Wimms, J. W., 23

Winter, A. E., 27

Wood, T., 26

Worboise, Emma J., 22

Yates, T., 17

Headley Brothers, Printers, Ashford, Kent; and Bishopsgate, E.C.


[1] _The Spectator_, Sept. 11, 1915.

[1a] See the discussion in Abelson, _The Immanence of God in Rabbinical
Literature_, pp. 199ff.

[2] Le Fabre, _Life of the Spider_, Ch. ix. (Eng. trans. by Teixeira de
Mattos, 1912).

[2a] Cp. G. A. Smith, _Modern Criticism and the Preaching of the Old
Testament_, p. 288.

[3] R. J. Moulton, _Modern Reader’s Bible_, p. 1456.

[4] Cf. such sayings as “Coals to Newcastle”--a proverb that has a
parallel in many countries, for example, the Greek phrase, “Owls to

[5] Trench, _Proverbs and their Lessons_, first published in 1857: a
learned and brilliant little volume to which the present chapter is
indebted for several suggestions.

[6] χαλεπὰ τὰ καλὰ.

[7] κοινὰ τὰ τῶν φίλων.

[8] A version, doubtless, of _Proverbs_ 10^{22}.

[9] John Morley, _Aphorisms: An Address to the Edinburgh Philosophical
Institution_ (1887) p. 7.

[10] As a text-book it was at least memorable. A distinguished man of
letters tells me that one of its injunctions, taught him in his first
school, he might claim never to have forgotten: _Let thy foot be seldom
in thy neighbour’s house, lest he be weary of thee and hate thee_ (Pr.
25^{17}). His friends bear regretful and emphatic witness that the
facts completely justify his claim.

[11] Mark Rutherford, _The Revolution in Tanner’s Lane_, p. 238.

[12] In the final form of the Book thus gradually evolved it is
sometimes very easy, sometimes difficult or impossible, to distinguish
with exactitude the earlier from the later ‘sources’ out of which
it has been composed; but the main stages of the compilation can
generally be determined with a high degree of accuracy, just as in
an old cathedral through the varying modes of architecture employed
the general history of the building is clearly visible to the trained

[13] Evidence for the statements here given is omitted, partly because
they are matters of general agreement among modern students of the
Bible, but still more because the full evidence has been repeatedly set
forth in works accessible to any who may have inclination to consider
the subject in detail. Reference may conveniently be made to C. H.
Toy, _Proverbs_, or to the same writer’s article _Book of Proverbs_,
in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_ (11th edition); or to G. F. Moore,
_Literature of the Old Testament_, ch. xxii. (Home University Library).

[14] Cp. also 10^{1} _The proverbs of Solomon_; 22^{17} _Words of the
Wise_; 24^{23}, _These are also words of the Wise_; 25^{1} _These are
also proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah,
copied out_; 30^{1}, _Sayings of Agur, son of Jakeh_; 31^{1}, _Sayings
of Lemuel, king of Massa_. The last two of these titles rest on an
uncertain Hebrew text. For the allusion to Solomon see pp. 71, 72.

[15] Perhaps almost all, in their present polished form. Thus Toy
(_Proverbs_, p. xi.) declares that “none of the aphorisms are popular
proverbs or folk-sayings. They are all reflective and academic in tone,
and must be regarded as the productions of schools of moralists in a
period of high moral culture.” This observation is generally true, and
of great importance; but it is not to be understood as meaning that
the Book, or even the several sections, sprang out of nothing. In and
behind the finished product there may well be a great deal of earlier

[16] _i.e._, any subsequent changes were of a minor character,
introduced occasionally by some scribe or copyist. The year 200
B.C. may reasonably be taken as the lower limit of
date, partly because _Proverbs_ has features (notably its attitude
to the Mosaic Law) which suggest that it was finished earlier
than _Ecclesiasticus_, a work composed about 190 B.C. This
argument, though strong, is not conclusive; but in any case the
peaceful, comfortable, tone which pervades _Proverbs_ indicates that
it is not later than the years of persecution preceding the Maccabean
revolt in 167 B.C.

[17] See for _Ecclesiastes_ the volume _Pessimism and Love_ by D.
Russell Scott; and for _Job_, _The Problem of Pain_, by J. E. McFadyen.

[18] _N.B._ =Hereafter the abbreviation “E,” will constantly be used
for Ecclesiasticus, and “Pr.” for Proverbs.=

[19] The dots indicate words missing from the Hebrew text or of unknown

[20] Cp. also E. 25^{1, 2}; 26^{5}.

[21] lit. “the character of Sodom.”

[22] _i.e._, He thinks the world requires nothing more than the
interchange of commodities. As to the way of putting it, be it
remembered that in the Orient business transactions are, politely,
“gifts”; cp. Gen. 23^{10-16}.

[23] A. R. Wallace, _Natural Selection_.

[24] G. A. Smith, _Early Poetry of Israel_, p. 33; and cp. Kinglake,
_Eothen_, ch. 17.

[25] Cohen, _Ancient Jewish Proverbs_, 88.

[26] _op. cit._ 13.

[27] Fulleylove and Kelman, _The Holy Land_, pp. 103, 104. Note the
“Scriptural” language. Such talk, when we find it in the Bible, is
neither pedantic nor is it a “religious” dialect. To a Western it seems
affected, but let us remember that to an Eastern our manner of speech,
with its tortuous sentences, might savour of an unholy cunning.

[28] Appius Planius, 188 (McKail’s translation).

[29] e.g., _Hosea_ 5^{10}, _Isaiah_ 5^{8}, _Deut._ 27^{17}, _Job_

[30] Cp. _Joshua_ 7^{24, 25}. The earliest form of the narrative
clearly implies that all, and not Achan alone, were destroyed by
burning or stoning.

[31] Not but what the belief is at least as old as the Hebrew Law,
_I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the
fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them
that hate Me, and shewing mercy unto the_ thousandth _generation of
them that love Me and keep My commandments_.

[32] A _study_, not a half-hearted perusal of the text in the English

[33] Cp. _Numbers_ 21^{27}, _Wherefore they that speak in proverbs say_
“_Come ye to Heshbon_,”...

[34] For these titles see Chapter II., p. 37. That such a phrase as
_The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel_ (Pr. I^{1})
at the head of a section does not necessarily imply or even claim
authorship, may seem astonishing to those unacquainted with ancient
literature, but it is easily understood by those who have made so
much as a moderate study of the subject. The ancient title in modern
parlance would be represented by some such heading as the following,
“A collection of sayings representative of Hebrew wisdom dedicated to
the memory and example of that royal lover of Wisdom, King Solomon.” To
suppose that the propriety of the ancient procedure ought to be judged
by modern canons of literary right and wrong would be both unjust and
foolish. Similarly from the heading prefixed to Pr. 25-29, _These also
are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah,
copied out_; it does not follow that the proverbs in those chapters
were old in Hezekiah’s time. Probably Hezekiah, like Solomon, showed
special interest in literary work, and it may be that a collection of
proverbs formed in his reign is the nucleus of the present chapters
25-29 (So Volz, _Weisheit_, p. 95). On the other hand it is possible
that nothing more should be inferred than that, there being a tradition
of literary activity in Hezekiah’s reign, the compilers of the Book of
Proverbs made use of the tradition in order to indicate (by this title)
that in their opinion the proverbs of chaps. 25-29 were later than or
secondary to the “Solomonic” proverbs which precede in chs. 1-24 (So
Toy, _Proverbs_, § vi., and p. 457); and see also Driver, _Literature
of the Old Testament_, p. 405.

[35] Detailed proof is impossible, and the question must be argued
on general evidence, which any modern commentary on the Book of
Proverbs will supply. Toy, _Proverbs_, § vi. is emphatic in his view
that no authority whatever attaches to titles ascribing proverbs to
Solomon. Volz (p. 95) is non-committal: “Whether small fragments of
Solomon’s work have been transmitted to us cannot be determined.”
Driver, _Literature of the Old Testament_, p. 406f, is of much the same
opinion; but, remarking that the “proverbs in 10^{1{ff}} exhibit great
uniformity of type,” he remarks that “perhaps this type was set by

[36] Compare the way in which the Greeks tended to associate all fables
with the name of Æsop.

[37] _Ephesians_ 6^{12} (Weymouth’s translation).

[38] Cp. the similar but more poetic description in _Psalm_ 1.

[39] What follows is without reference to the ancient civilisation
of the far East, India or China. The “world” we are here considering
means the civilisation of the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea. A
few pages later, the terms “Eastern” and “Western” will be used with
similar latitude: “Eastern” or (“Oriental”) denoting the peoples of
Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia; and “Western” the peoples
of Greece, Macedonia, and the old Greek colonies of the Ægean islands
and the coast of Asia Minor.

[40] _Amos_ 5^{21f}.

[41] Simonides (MacKail’s translation, _Greek Anthology_, pp. 149, 151.)

[42] Bevan, _Jerusalem under the High Priests_, p. 35.

[43] Bevan, _Stoics and Sceptics_, pp. 25, 26.

[44] Stoicism, whilst it offered the thinker immunity from the fears of
life, was also adapted to the needs of the generality of men whom it
sought to provide with principles for the stable and successful conduct
of ordinary life. Bevan (op. cit.) points out that the system shows
signs of hasty construction, reflecting the urgency of the problems
it sought to meet. Its strongly practical character is seen in the
tendency to find expression in brief, pointed, _formulæ_, catch-words,
and maxims, evidently designed to make its doctrines easy for the
average man to comprehend. The resemblance to Hebrew Wisdom-teaching is
interesting and obvious.

[45] We have to use the term “worldly-wisdom” and not “wisdom,” because
the Greeks also had their seekers after true wisdom at this period, as
may be seen in the gnomic verses of Solon, Phocylides and Theognis,
many of whose maxims, as well as the sayings of Stoic philosophers,
might be quoted to show that Hellenism was not without the protest from
within itself of noble souls. The contrast suggested above is therefore
not one between Greek and Hebrew Wisdom-teaching, but between the
Hebrew Wisdom and the _general_ “unwisdom” of ordinary Hellenic life.

[46] See G. A. Smith, _Jerusalem_, vol. i., ch. i., where a beautiful
description of night and dawn in Jerusalem may be found.

[47] Mishna, _Yoma_, 3.^{1}

[48] See p. 174 and 198. Of the _Book of Proverbs_ Toy remarks that “if
for the name Jehovah we substitute ‘God,’ there is not a paragraph or
a sentence which would not be as suitable for any other people as for
Israel” (_Proverbs_, p. xxi.)

[49] The Jews seem to have had an unusual aptitude for confining
themselves to particular points of view. Mark to what an extent the
Prophets ignore the Priests, and the Priests the Prophets. This makes
it less surprising to find that the Proverbialists should ignore both.

[50] Further reference may be made to Delitzsch, _Jewish Artisan Life
in the time of Christ_, and also Büchler, _Der galilaische ‘Am-ha-’
Arets des zweiten Jahrhunderts_. Some of the trades then reckoned
ignoble seem by no means so to us; for example, tanners, weavers, and
hairdressers were particularly despised. One Rabbi quaintly remarks:
“Ass-drivers are mostly wicked, camel-drivers mostly honest, sailors
mostly pious, the best of physicians is destined for Gehenna, and the
most honourable of butchers is a partner of Amalek.”

[51] It is good to feel that, whatever the Christian centuries have
not yet achieved for the regeneration of society, the “poor man’s
neighbour” has redeemed his reputation from this terrible charge.

[52] Cp. Matt. 6^{11}, _Give us this day our daily bread_.

[53] Lyman Abbott, _Life and Literature of the Ancient Hebrews_, p. 278.

[54] _i.e._, his slanders, which scorch his victims.

[55] Compare the unintentionally funny passage in E. 31^{12ff}. _If
thou sittest at a great man’s table, be not greedy at it, nor say,
“What a lot of things are on it!”... Stretch not your hand wheresoe’er
your glance wanders, nor thrust yourself forward into the dish. Eat
like a man_ [_i.e_., do not gnaw or gobble as an animal would do] _what
is set before thee, and do not bolt your food, lest you be loathed. Be
first to leave off for the sake of good manners, and be not insatiate
lest you offend._ Cp. E. 8 which also treats of “How to behave.”

[56] The Hebrew text of the first two lines is uncertain.

[57] Theophrastus, _Characters_ (Jebb’s translation), pp. 82, 83.

[58] In Hebrew, _Pethāīm_.

[59] Hebrew, _Lētsīm_.

[60] Sometimes the whole point of a saying lies in the use of different
terms. Thus Pr. 17^{21} seems merely redundant in the R.V., “He that
begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow; and the father of a fool hath
no joy.” But the “fool” of the first clause is in the Hebrew _Kesīl_, a
coarse fool, and the “fool” of the second is _Nabal_; _i.e._, to have
the first as a son will involve some regrets, but the second robs his
father of all joy.

[61] Horton, _Proverbs_ (Expositor’s Bible), p. 347.

[62] See below, ch. X., p. 184f.

[63] Toy justly remarks, “The motive here assigned--fear of Jehovah’s
displeasure--belongs to the ethical system of _Proverbs_. But this
motive does not impair the dignity of the moral standard presented.
Jehovah’s displeasure is the expression of the moral ideal: it is one’s
duty, says the proverb, not to rejoice at the misfortunes of enemies.
This duty is enforced by a reference to compensation, but it remains a

[64] “The antithesis is ethical, not merely intellectual. The
meaning is not that the righteous speaks cautiously, the wicked
inconsiderately; but that the good man takes care to speak what is true
and kind, whilst the bad man, feeling no concern on this point, follows
the bent of his mind and so speaks evil.” (Toy _ad. loc._).

[65] cp. _Romans_ 12^{10}, and also p. 268.

[66] _Wise Men of Israel_, p. 158.

[67] (Pr. 31^{10-29}). The poem is in the Hebrew an alphabetical
acrostic, which accounts for certain repetitions and roughnesses in the
movement of the thought.

[68] Cp. _Luke_ 16^{3} (see Oesterley in _The Expositor_ for April,

[69] Oesterley, _Ecclesiasticus_, p. xviii.

[70] E. 42, 43.

[71] See Skinner in the _Jewish Quarterly Review_, Jan., 1905, p. 258.

[72] A proverb which does _not_ come from the Bible, though many people
have supposed it does.

[73] See further pp. 191f.

[74] _i.e._, such proverbs as “A burnt child dreads the fire,” or “He
that is down need fear no fall.”

[75] Gordon, _Poets of the Old Testament_, p. 296.

[76] Gordon’s translation, _op. cit._, p. 296.

[77] Gordon, _op. cit._, p. 298. Observe the touch of national
sentiment which is characteristic of Ben Sirach. His view is that God
intended good to every nation (not an easy doctrine to reach in face of
the enormities of which some of the heathen nations surrounding Israel
were capable), but, although God had offered wisdom to all, only Israel
had responded to the offer and so received the divine gift.

[78] Gordon’s translation, _op. cit._, p. 304.

[79] At Olympia in the year 212 B.C. Aristonicus was the
_protegé_ of King Ptolemy, and champion of the Egyptian gymnasia.

[80] The Hebrew text seems to have read, “Headache, shame and disgrace
are the effect of wine drunk in provocation and wrath.”

[81] _Judaism_ (second series), p. 57.

[82] Cp. Pr. 2^{16-19}; E. 9^{3-9}, 19^{2}, 41^{20}; and refs. on p.

[83] See especially chaps. vii., viii., and xviii.

[84] This maxim was familiar among the Greeks, and is quoted by
Æeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and other writers. Tradition ascribed
its origin to Solon, the statesman of early Athens, who was reckoned
one of the seven Sages of Greece. Its occurrence in _Ecclesiasticus_ is
an interesting illustration of the cosmopolitan aspect of the Wisdom

[85] Pr. 14^{32}, _The righteous hath hope in his death_ ... comes
nearest to the idea of immortality; but the accuracy of the Hebrew
text is doubtful. Pr. 15^{24} and 23^{17, 18} are to be understood as
referring to the character of the good man’s life on earth (see Toy’s
notes on these passages).

[86] “The influence of the synagogue as a religious factor, even in
the times of Ben Sirach, was felt more deeply than the scarcity of
references to it in the contemporary literature would lead us to
believe”, Schechter, _Judaism_ [Second Series], p. 65; cp. J. Abrahams,
_Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels_, pp. 1ff.

[87] The reader familiar with the Gospels should guard against the
notion that the Scribes were always guilty of the worst qualities that
legalism is apt to foster. A class ought not to be equated with its
less worthy representatives, unless we are willing, for example, to
condemn the first Christians for the sins of certain orders in the
Mediæval Church, or to saddle the eager pioneers of the Reformation
with the shortcomings of their followers in the eighteenth century.

[88] See the article _Hasideans and Hellenism_ (_Jewish Encyclopædia_,
Vol. VI.).

[89] Commonly referred to by the abbreviation LXX.

[90] See Dr. Taylor’s edition (Cambridge, 1877).

[91] _Aboth_, iv. 2.

[92] _Aboth_, i. 3.

[93] _Aboth_ ii. 13.

[94] _Aboth_ v. 30.

[95] _Aboth_ iv. 26.

[96] N.B.--C.55=Cohen, _Ancient Jewish Proverbs_, No. 55. Quotations of
these later Rabbinical Jewish proverbs will be given in this manner,
as a reference to Mr. Cohen’s handbook is likely to be of more use to
readers than a citation of original Rabbinic sources.

[97] Jew and Christian, too often ignorant of the virtues each
possesses, are painfully conscious of one another’s defects. Better
knowledge of history would do much to relieve or lessen mutual
prejudices. How seldom do Christians realise that some of the less
amiable qualities found in certain classes of modern Jews (Are there
no objectionable Gentiles?) are the logical result of regulations
decreed by our mediæval Christian forefathers. For example, the Jews
were once as catholic as any other nation in the arts and industries
they followed for a livelihood, until legal restrictions were
multiplied against them. “Even in Spain,” writes Mr. Abrahams, “Jews
were forbidden to act as physicians, as bakers or millers; they were
prohibited from selling brass, wine, flour, oil or butter in the
markets; no Jew might be a smith, carpenter, tailor, shoemaker, currier
or clothier for Christians ... he might neither employ nor be employed
by Christians in any profession or trade whatsoever.... In other parts
of England these restrictions were far more rigidly enforced than in
Spain. In England money-lending was absolutely the only profession
open to the Jews. On the Continent Jews were taxed when they entered
a market and taxed when they left it; they were only permitted to
enter the market place at inconvenient hours, _and the Church ended by
leaving the Jews nothing to trade in but money and second-hand goods,
allowing them as a choice of commodities in which to deal new gold or
old iron_.” (_Jewish Life in the Middle Ages_, p. 241).

[98] Abrahams, _Jewish Life in the Middle Ages_, p. 68.

[99] The argument is worked out at greater length by C. F. Kent, (_Wise
Men of Israel_, pp. 176ff), in an essay to which this brief review of
the theme is much indebted. See also p. 268.

[100] Cp. Marvin, _The Living Past_, pp. 2, 3.

[101] Deut. 30^{11-14}.

[102] _The Ultimate Belief_, p. 2.

[103] Professor D. K. Picken, in the _Australasian Intercollegian
Magazine_, _Dec._, 1916.

[104] “I know no teachers who lay more stress upon the cultivation of
the mental power of attention.” G. A. Smith, in _Modern Criticism and
the Preaching of the Old Testament_, ch. VIII.

[105] Pindar, _Olympian_ VI., 54^{ff}.

[106] St. John, 13^{26ff}.

[107] The _moon_ once (Pr. 7^{20}) but merely in indication of time.

[108] He was gratefully remembered for his work in strengthening the
defences of Jerusalem and executing repairs to the Temple about 190

[109] For allusions to the heat and thirst of the reapers, cp. _Ruth_
2^{7-9}, ^{14}, and 2 Kings 4^{18, 19}.

[110] The Greek text is no less effective--_And when the frost is
congealed it is as points of thorns_, but it is only a misreading of
the Hebrew.

[111] “The Holy Land,” pp. 209ff.

[112] Pr. 27^{17}

[113] Pr. 27^{6}.

[114] Pr. 15^{1}; cp. 16^{32}.

[115] Pr. 25^{28}.

[116] Pr. 26^{12}.

[117] Pr. 16^{18}

[118] Pr. 28^{1}, cp. Shakespeare’s “Conscience does make cowards of us

[119] Pr. 24^{16}.

[120] E. 19^{1}.

[121] Pr. 3^{7}.

[122] Pr. 13^{12}.

[123] E. 2^{12-14}.

[124] Pr. 21^{30, 31}.

[125] C. 78.

[126] L. P. Jacks, _From the Human End_, p. 16.

[127] Bacon, _Essay on Riches_.

[128] Bacon is referring to Pr. 18^{11}.

[129] E. 11^{2}.

[130] E. 6^{35, 36}.

[131] Pr. 25^{17}.

[132] Pr. 26^{4}.

[133] Pr. 18^{13}.

[134] E. 18^{19}; cp. _First learn, then form opinions_ (C. 217).

[135] Pr. 24^{27}.

[136] C. 181.

[137] Pr. 27^{1}.

[138] E. 7^{18}.

[139] E. 7^{11}.

[140] E. 8^{5-7}.

[141] E. 7^{1-3}.

[142] Pr. 24^{1}.

[143] Pr. 23^{17}.

[144] E. 15^{11, 12}.

[145] E. 7^{9}.

[146] Pr. 4^{23}.

[147] E. 7^{10}.

[148] Pr. 16^{3}.

[149] Cp. _James_ 4^{6}; _1 Peter_ 5^{5}.

[150] A verse which, as Oesterley observes, affords an interesting
combination of the doctrines of Grace and Free-will; cp. _John_ 7^{17}.

[151] The quotation in _Hebrews_ is taken from the Greek (LXX) text of
_Proverbs_: the Hebrew text of _Proverbs_ now reads “Even as a father
the son in whom he delighteth,” but the original text probably had “and
paineth” instead of the words “Even as a father”--the difference in
Hebrew is very slight (cp. p. 192).

[152] Arnot, _Laws from Heaven_, p. 130f.

[153] From a letter quoted in Holmes, _Walter Greenway, Spy; and
Others, Sometime Criminal_.

[154] Horton, _Proverbs_ (_Expositor’s Bible_), p. 318.

[155] See the articles by Dr. Rendel Harris on _The Origin of the
Prologue to St. John’s Gospel_ in the _Expositor_, Aug. 1916-Jan. 1917.
Note also the acknowledgment of Christ as Wisdom, implied in the story
of the homage of the Wise Men at His birth, _Matt._ 2^{12}.

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