21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. 23 Like a north wind that brings unexpected rain is a sly tongue– which provokes a horrified look. 24 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. 25 Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land. 26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked. 27 It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honourable to search out matters that are too deep. 28 Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. (Prov. 25:21-28 NIV)
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.
At a time of war, the enemy is likely clearly identified as the opposing group or nation. It is a God-given command that we should provide the basic essentials for life to our enemy. During normal times the enemy is a little harder to identify. We may feel ‘enemy’ is too strong a term to describe someone we don’t get on with, or someone who has offended us in some way. This command would extend to making life awkward or difficult for someone just because we can. A petty would-be bureaucrat can easily delve into the minutia of a rulebook to find justification for being difficult and hide behind the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. It is this attitude that the Teacher is speaking out against.
Rather than seek revenge, it is better to do a kindness and this may cause the person to reflect on their ways which could lead to repentance. The Lord rewards this kind of behaviour.
23 Like a north wind that brings unexpected rain
is a sly tongue– which provokes a horrified look.
It is not clear why the North wind might bring unexpected rain. Some say that the North wind did not usually bring rain to the land of Palestine. Whether this explanation is well founded in metrological terms or not, or whether the Hebrew requires a different translation, is not so important, as the meaning is clear. The wind blows from the North and normally you wouldn’t expect rain, so when the rain comes it takes us by surprise. The emphasis is not on the simile but the tongue or the words we speak. The sly tongue describes someone who surreptitiously tries to sow discord and dissent. These clandestine efforts are eventually discovered, and people are horrified by what the person was attempting to do.
24 Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.
We have seen this one before. While we applied this to both husband and wife, we have to acknowledge that despite the rise of feminism and the ‘calling out’ of anything that appears misogynistic, there still remains in society the idea of a wife being ‘vocal’ and for the sake of peace or out of laziness the husband gives in. Male popular columnists will sometimes humorously refer to their wives as ‘she who has to be obeyed’ and that usually brings a smile and a knowing nod from most people. When this becomes an extreme behaviour, it is no longer humorous. This is not acceptable behaviour for a couple. The one who is vocally bullying needs to desist and the one who is being verbally dominated needs to resist this behaviour.
25 Like cold water to a weary soul
is good news from a distant land.
Any of us who have had or still have family overseas, know the truth of this Proverb. Having family overseas, makes bad news seem worse and good news seem better. Distance is an added burden. We may be helpless to change anything, but it is good to be helpless together. Just to hug, to cry, to laugh or just be there in person to listen helps to share the burden. The Teacher says that good news from a distant land is like a glass of cold water to a weary and thirsty person.
26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted well
are the righteous who give way to the wicked.
It is difficult for us to grasp the impact of the simile. When you lived a nomadic life and had to move your livestock to find grazing and water, life depended upon the knowledge of springs and wells. After travelling large distances to arrive at a muddied spring or polluted well could mean losing a high percentage of the livestock, so good water supplies were precious. It was an unwritten code to leave the water supply in good condition for the next group who would depend upon it. The shock of coming upon a polluted water supply is like the shock of finding the righteous giving way to the wicked. When the church fails to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, then we have given in to the ways of the wicked. We lament the state of our nation but how culpable is the church in allowing this to happen?
27 It is not good to eat too much honey,
nor is it honourable to search out matters that are too deep.
The first line is easy to understand, the second line has some translation difficulties and the NIV like all other translations has engaged in some interpretation here to try and provide something that makes sense. The first line warns against the overindulgence of eating too much honey. This sets the boundary for how we understand the second line, it warns against overindulgence or an obsession with one particular topic or investigation into a person’s behaviour. The purpose of the research is to gain a reputation for being an authority on that topic. There is a group of people, mostly in America, who have a view on how the law of Moses should be applied to every nation today. If you disagree with them, they will pursue you with their argument until you can no longer cope with the volume of correspondence that you get into. It is not that the matter is too deep to be understood, it is the depth to which a person goes, consuming all their time and conversation to the point that you avoid them because you know you are going to get dragged into a conversation about their well-researched topic.
28 Like a city whose walls are broken through
is a person who lacks self-control.
We don’t depend upon city walls to keep us safe, but in the time that the Teacher was writing, the people understood the safety of the city walls and having the city gates closed at night to keep out intruders both of the human and wild animal kinds. When the wall is broken down the residents of the city are not protected. This is like a person who has no self-control. Their guard is let down and they can become the victim to any sinful influence.
Lord help us not to become obsessed about studying obscure topics. Rather, help us to invest our time and study skills to understand what You have clearly revealed in Your word. When we become distracted by obscure topics, we fail to implement the instructions that lead to godly living. Lord give us the wisdom to discern what is important and to save our energies for the pursuit of that which leads to godliness, because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.