Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
In Palestine there is commonly hardly any rain from the early showers of spring to October. Hence, "rain in harvest" became sometimes (see the marginal reference) a supernatural sign, sometimes, as here, a proverb for whatever was strange and incongruous.
i. e., "Vague as the flight of the sparrow, aimless as the wheelings of the swallow, is the causeless curse. It will never reach its goal." The marginal reading in the Hebrew, however, gives" to him" instead of "not" or "never;" i. e., "The causeless curse, though it may pass out of our ken, like a bird's track in the air, will come on the man who utters it." Compare the English proverb, "Curses, like young chickens, always come home to roost."
Two sides of a truth. To "answer a fool according to his folly" is in Pro 26:4 to bandy words with him, to descend to his level of coarse anger and vile abuse; in Pro 26:5 it is to say the right word at the right time, to expose his unwisdom and untruth to others and to himself, not by a teaching beyond his reach, but by words that he is just able to apprehend. The apparent contradiction between the two verses led some of the rabbis to question the canonical authority of this book. The Pythagoreans had maxims expressing a truth in precepts seemingly contradictory.
Cutteth off the feet - Mutilates him, spoils the work which the messenger ought to fulfill.
Drinketh damage - i. e., "has to drink full draughts of shame and loss" (compare Job 15:16).
Or, Take away the legs of the lame man, and the parable that is in the mouth of fools: both are alike useless to their possessors. Other meanings are:
(1) "The legs of the lame man are feeble, so is parable in the mouth of fools."
(2) "the lifting up of the legs of a lame man, i. e., his attempts at dancing, are as the parable in the mouth of fools."
i. e., "To give honor to the fool is like binding a stone in a sling; you cannot throw it." In each case you misapply and so waste. Others render in the sense of the margin: To use a precious stone where a pebble would be sufficient, is not less foolish than to give honor to a fool.
Better: "As a thorn which is lifted up in the hand of the drunkard" etc. As such a weapon so used may do mischief to the man himself or to others, so may the sharp, keen-edged proverb when used by one who does not understand it.
The word "God" is not in the original, and the adjective translated "great" is never used elsewhere absolutely in that sense. The simplest and best interpretation is: As the archer that woundeth everyone, so is he who hireth the fool, and he who hireth every passerby. Acting at random, entrusting matters of grave moment to men of bad repute, is as likely to do mischief as to shoot arrows at everyone.
Compare the marginal reference note. Here there is greater dramatic vividness in the two words used:
(1) A roaring one,
(2) a lion, more specifically.
Grieveth him - Better, wearieth him.
Seven - The definite number used for the indefinite (compare Pro 24:16).
Reason - Better, a right judgment.
The teacher cuts off the plea which people make when they have hurt their neighbor by lies, that they "did not mean mischief," that they were "only in fun." Such jesting is like that of the madman flinging firebrands or arrows.
Coals - Charcoal.
Compare the marginal reference note.
Burning lips - i. e., "Lips glowing with, affection, uttering warm words of love," joined with a malignant heart, are like a piece of broken earthenware from the furnace, which glitters with the silver drops at stick to it, but is itself worthless.
Seven abominations - Compare Pro 26:16 note. Here "seven" retains, perhaps, its significance as the symbol of completeness. Evil has, as it were, gone through all its work, and holds its accursed Sabbath in the heart in which all things are "very evil."
Better, "Hatred is covered by deceit, but in the midst of the congregation his wickedness will be made manifest," i. e., then, in the time of need, the feigned friendship will pass into open enmity.
Rolleth a stone - The illustration refers, probably, to the use made of stones in the rough warfare of an earlier age. Compare Jdg 9:53; Sa2 11:21. The man is supposed to be rolling the stone up to the heights.
The lying tongue hates its victims.