Proverbs Chapter 31
This chapter is added to Solomon’s proverbs, some think because it is of the same author, supposing king Lemuel to be king Solomon; others only because it is of the same nature, though left in writing by another author, called Lemuel; however it be, it is a prophecy, and therefore given by inspiration and direction of God, which Lemuel was under in the writing of it, and putting it into this form, as his mother was in dictating to him the matter of it. Here is, I. An exhortation to Lemuel, a young prince, to take heed of the sins he would be tempted to and to do the duties of the place he was called to, ver. 1-9. II. The description of a virtuous woman, especially in the relation of a wife and the mistress of a family, which Lemuel’s mother drew up, not as an encomium of herself, though, no doubt, it was her own true picture, but either as an instruction to her daughters, as the foregoing verses were to her son, or as a direction to her son in the choice of a wife; she must be chaste and modest, diligent and frugal, dutiful to her husband, careful of her family, discreet in her discourse, and in the education of her children, and, above all, conscientious in her duty to God: such a one as this, if he can find her, will make him happy, ver. 10-31.
1 The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him. 2 What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows? 3 Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings. 4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: 5 Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. 6 Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. 7 Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. 8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. 9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
Most interpreters are of opinion that Lemuel is Solomon; the name signifies one that is for God, or devoted to God; and so it agrees well enough with that honourable name which, by divine appointment, was given to Solomon ( 2 Sam. xii. 25), Jedediah–beloved of the Lord. Lemuel is supposed to be a pretty, fond, endearing name, by which his mother used to call him; and so much did he value himself upon the interest he had in his mother’s affections that he was not ashamed to call himself by it. One would the rather incline to think it is Solomon that here tells us what his mother taught him because he tells us (ch. iv. 4) what his father taught him. But some think (and the conjecture is not improbable) that Lemuel was a prince of some neighbouring country, whose mother was a daughter of Israel, perhaps of the house of David, and taught him these good lessons. Note,
1. It is the duty of mothers, as well as fathers, to teach their children what is good, that they may do it, and what is evil, that they may avoid it; when they are young and tender they are most under the mother’s eye, and she has then an opportunity of moulding and fashioning their minds well, which she ought not to let slip.
2. Even kings must be catechised; the greatest of men is less than the least of the ordinances of God.
3. Those that have grown up to maturity should often call to mind, and make mention of, the good instructions they received when they were children, for their own admonition, the edification of others, and the honour of those who were the guides of their youth.
Now, in this mother’s (this queen mother’s) catechism, observe,
I. Her expostulation with the young prince, by which she lays hold of him, claims an interest in him, and awakens his attention to what she is about to say (v. 2): “What! my son? What shall I say to thee?” She speaks as one considering what advice to give him, and choosing out words to reason with him; so full of concern is she for his welfare! Or, What is it that thou doest? It seems to be a chiding question. She observed, when he was young, that he was too much inclined to women and wine, and therefore she found it necessary to take him to task and deal roundly with him. “What! my son? Is this the course of life thou intendest to lead? Have I taught thee no better than thus? I must reprove thee, and reprove thee sharply, and thou must take it well, for,”
1. “Thou art descended from me; thou art the son of my womb, and therefore what I say comes from the authority and affection of a parent and cannot be suspected to come from any ill-will. Thou art a piece of myself. I bore thee with sorrow, and I expect no other return for all the pains I have taken with thee, and undergone for thee, than this, Be wise and good, and then I am well paid.”
2. “Thou art devoted to my God; thou art the son of my vows, the son I prayed to God to give me and promised to give back to God, and did so” (thus Samuel was the son of Hannah’s vows); “Thou art the son I have often prayed to God to give his grace to (Ps. lxxii. 1), and shall a child of so many prayers miscarry? And shall all my hopes concerning thee be disappointed?” Our children that by baptism are dedicated to God, for whom and in whose name we covenanted with God, may well be called the children of our vows; and, as this may be made a good plea with God in our prayers for them, so it may be made a good plea with them in the instructions we give them; we may tell them they are baptized, are the children of our vows, and it is at their peril if they break those bonds in sunder which in their infancy they were solemnly brought under.
II. The caution she gives him against those two destroying sins of uncleanness and drunkenness, which, if he allowed himself in them, would certainly be his ruin.
1. Against uncleanness (v. 3): Give not thy strength unto women, unto strange women. He must not be soft and effeminate, nor spend that time in a vain conversation with the ladies which should be spent in getting knowledge and despatching business, nor employ that wit (which is the strength of the soul) in courting and complimenting them which he should employ about the affairs of his government. “Especially shun all adultery, fornication, and lasciviousness, which waste the strength of the body, and bring into it dangerous diseases. Give not thy ways, thy affections, thy conversation, to that which destroys kings, which has destroyed many, which gave such a shock to the kingdom even of David himself, in the matter of Uriah. Let the sufferings of others be thy warnings.” It lessens the honour of kings and makes them mean. Are those fit to govern others that are themselves slaves to their own lusts? It makes them unfit for business, and fills their court with the basest and worst of animals. Kings lie exposed to temptations of this kind, having wherewith both to please the humours and to bear the charges of the sin, and therefore they ought to double their guard; and, if they would preserve their people from the unclean spirit, they must themselves be patterns of purity. Meaner people may also apply it to themselves. Let none give their strength to that which destroys souls.
2. Against drunkenness, v. 4, 5. He must not drink wine or strong drink to excess; he must never sit to drink, as they used to do in the day of their king, when the princes made him sick with bottles of wine, Hos. vii. 7. Whatever temptation he might be in from the excellency of the wine, or the charms of the company, he must deny himself, and be strictly sober, considering,
(1.) The indecency of drunkenness in a king. However some may call it a fashionable accomplishment and entertainment, it is not for kings, O Lemuel! it is not for kings, to allow themselves that liberty; it is a disparagement to their dignity, and profanes their crown, by confusing the head that wears it; that which for the time unmans them does for the time unking them. Shall we say, They are gods? No, they are worse than the beasts that perish. All Christians are made to our God kings and priests, and must apply this to themselves. It is not for Christians, it is not for Christians, to drink to excess; they debase themselves if they do; it ill becomes the heirs of the kingdom and the spiritual priests, Lev. x. 9.
(2.) The ill consequences of it (v. 5): Lest they drink away their understandings and memories, drink and forget the law by which they are to govern; and so, instead of doing good with their power, do hurt with it, and pervert or alter the judgment of all the sons of affliction, and, when they should right them, wrong them, and add to their affliction. It is a sad complaint which is made of the priests and prophets (Isa. xxviii. 7), that they have erred through wine, and through strong drink they are out of the way; and the effect is as bad in kings, who when they are drunk, or intoxicated with the love of wine, cannot but stumble in judgment. Judges must have clear heads, which those cannot have who so often make themselves giddy, and incapacitate themselves to judge of the most common things.
III. The counsel she gives him to do good.
1. He must do good with his wealth. Great men must not think that they have their abundance only that out of it they may made provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts of it, and may the more freely indulge their own genius; no, but that with it they may relieve such as are in distress, v. 6, 7. “Thou hast wine or strong drink at command; instead of doing thyself hurt with it, do others good with it; let those have it that need it.” Those that have wherewithal must not only give bread to the hungry and water to the thirsty, but they must give strong drink to him that is ready to perish through sickness or pain and wine to those that are melancholy and of heavy heart; for it was appointed to cheer and revive the spirits, and make glad the heart (as it does where there is need of it), not to burden and oppress the spirits, as it does where there is no need of it. We must deny ourselves in the gratifications of sense, that we may have to spare for the relief of the miseries of others, and be glad to see our superfluities and dainties better bestowed upon those whom they will be a real kindness to than upon ourselves whom they will be a real injury to. Let those that are ready to perish drink soberly, and it will be a means so to revive their drooping spirits that they will forget their poverty for the time and remember their misery no more, and so they will be the better able to bear it. The Jews say that upon this was grounded the practice of giving a stupifying drink to condemned prisoners when they were going to execution, as they did to our Saviour. But the scope of the place is to show that wine is a cordial, and therefore to be used for want and not for wantonness, by those only that need cordials, as Timothy, who is advised to drink a little wine, only for his stomach’s sake and his often infirmities, 1 Tim. v. 23.
2. He must do good with his power, his knowledge, and interest, must administer justice with care, courage, and compassion, v. 8, 9.
(1.) He must himself take cognizance of the causes his subjects have depending in his courts, and inspect what his judges and officers do, that he may support those that do their duty, and lay those aside that neglect it or are partial.
(2.) He must, in all matters that come before him, judge righteously, and, without fear of the face of man, boldly pass sentence according to equity: Open thy mouth, which denotes the liberty of speech that princes and judges ought to use in passing sentence. Some observe that only wise men open their mouths, for fools have their mouths always open, are full of words.
(3.) He must especially look upon himself as obliged to be the patron of oppressed innocency. The inferior magistrates perhaps had not zeal and tenderness enough to plead the cause of the poor and needy; therefore the king himself must interpose, and appear as an advocate,
[1.] For those that were unjustly charged with capital crimes, as Naboth was, that were appointed to destruction, to gratify the malice either of a particular person or of a party. It is a case which it well befits a king to appear in, for the preserving of innocent blood.
[2.] For those that had actions unjustly brought against them, to defraud them of their right, because they were poor and needy, and unable to defend it, not having wherewithal to fee counsel; in such a case also kings must be advocates for the poor. Especially,
[3.] For those that were dumb, and knew not how to speak for themselves, either through weakness or fear, or being over-talked by the prosecutor or over-awed by the court. It is generous to speak for those that cannot speak for themselves, that are absent, or have not words at command, or are timorous. Our law appoints the judge to be of counsel for the prisoner.
– Matthew Henry Commentary