Withdraw Thy Foot
by Glenn Conjurske

It is the general character of the book of Proverbs not merely to give us commandments to make us righteous, but to give us advice to make us wise—-to teach us how to act in such a way as to secure our own good, sometimes in spiritual and eternal things, but very often in the earthly and temporal. To state the matter another way, the motive given to us for the things prescribed in this book is not generally because it is right, but rather because it is wise—-because by attending to these things I will secure my own good. Read almost anywhere at random in the book of Proverbs, and you will find this to be true.

Take one example (the first that met my eye upon opening the book): “These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgement. He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him.” (Prov. 24:23-24). No doubt to say to the wicked, Thou art righteous, is wrong, and he that does so will forfeit the blessing of God, yet it is not the scope of this verse to enforce that, but rather to persuade us that the thing is unwise, and that he that does it will forfeit the good will of the people.

This is exactly the character of Proverbs 25:17, which reads in the English version, “Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour’s house, lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee.” It is for your own good, for your own happiness and well-being, that your neighbor should love you. But it is in your power to procure the opposite of his love. You may drive him even to hate you, by putting your foot in his house more than he desires to have it there. He may not be so enamored with you as you are with yourself. Little as you may be able to understand it, he may tire of your company. He may quite rightly resent your invasion of his privacy, your interruption of his plans, and your theft of his time. Social decorum and politeness may keep him from showing you to the door, but the more you keep your foot in his house, the more weary he may become of you, until you have driven him to loathe the very sight of you. Withdraw your foot, therefore, for your own good.

Such is the general scope and meaning of this scripture. But a more detailed exposition and application is called for.

“Withdraw thy foot.” This is a paraphrase of the original, and as strong as it may appear to be, the original is stronger. The first complete Bible printed in the English language (the version of Myles Coverdale, published in 1535) was not translated from the Hebrew original, but from the Latin and German versions. The Latin Vulgate in this verse reads Subtrahe pedem tuum de domo proximi tui, which exactly answers to Coverdale’s “Withdrawe thy foote from thy neighbours house,” and this was followed by the subsequent revisions of the English Bible, down to the King James Version. The margin of the King James Version, however, gives a rendering closer to the original: “Let thy foot be seldom in thy neighbour’s house.” But this also is a paraphrase.

A more literal translation will be found in the version of Isaac Leeser (Jewish, 1853), which says, “Make thy foot scarce.” This is followed by I. M. Rubin (also Jewish, 1928). The word means to be precious, and is so translated most of the time in the English version. In the Hiphil it is “to make precious,” and this is the form used here, as it is also in Isaiah 13:12, where the English version has “I will make a man more precious than fine gold.” The meaning of this is that the Lord will make men precious by making them scarce, “in the day of his fierce anger” (vs. 13). And this is precisely the meaning in Prov. 25:17. We are to make our foot precious in our neighbor’s house by making it scarce. This would be well expressed by “Make thy foot dear” in an old sense of the word “dear”—-costly or precious because scarce, as in “Corn and oats were dear that year.” The English word “rare” contains this meaning, and Alexander Harkavy’s version (also Jewish, 1936) renders it, “Make thy foot rare.”

“And who is my neighbor?” It may be that some will suppose the advice of this verse to be well taken where it concerns a neighbor, but safely ignored where it concerns a friend. Such is not the case, however, for though the Hebrew word is most often rendered “neighbor,” it also properly signifies a friend. It is used to designate Job’s three “friends,” who were certainly not neighbors, for they came to him “every man from his own place,” a Temanite, a Shuhite, and a Naamathite (Job 2:11). These were personal friends, and nothing less. So likewise where the word is used of Hushai, David’s “companion” (I Chron. 27:33), and twice where Absalom said to Hushai, when David fled from him, “Is this thy kindness to thy friend? Why wentest thou not with thy friend?” (II Sam. l6:17). Isaac Leeser therefore renders the verse, “Make thy foot scarce in the house of thy friend,” and is followed in this by I. M. Rubin. It is not only in your neighbor’s house, then, but also in the house of your friend, that you may be in danger of “wearing out your welcome.”

But understand, I would not pen one line to discourage or dampen real friendship. Just the contrary, in fact. I believe in friendship—-warm, personal friendship, close friendship, deep friendship—-a real knitting of two souls together in the strong bonds of understanding and confidence and sympathy and love. For years I have defined a friend as someone you can drop in on at any time and be welcome. I am not writing now to dampen or discourage such friendship, but precisely to encourage and preserve it. Suppose you have a friend at whose house you are always welcome, and who is likewise always welcome at your house. Suppose that you have a standing invitation, and a welcome which you cannot wear out. You did not gain such a friendship in a day. There probably was a time (before your friendship was as deep and strong as it is now) when you could have wearied your friend of your company, and if you had done so, you would not likely now have the friendship which you do have. And if such a friendship is only in the process of development, it is your wisdom to withdraw your foot. If you give your friend less of your company than he desires, his desire for it will be strengthened. If you give him more of it than he desires, his desire for it will be weakened. Even if you have a standing invitation, that is a privilege which has been granted to you, not a right to be expected, and privileges which are abused may be revoked.

“Thy neighbor’s house.” “Every man is king in his own house,” an old proverb says, and we all feel instinctively that so he ought to be. But you deprive him of his sovereignty when you enter his house without his invitation. He may like your personality and conversation well enough, but he dislikes being deprived of the control of his own house and person. Thus he may tire of your company more quickly at his own house, if you are there without his invitation, or if you stay too long or too late, than he would at your house, or some other place. It is simple wisdom, therefore, to make your foot scarce in your neighbor’s house. Go there when you are invited there. Stay a reasonable time. If you go there often, but are seldom or never invited, it is probable that you have done much to wear away your welcome already.

And by the way, it is quite possible to weary your neighbor by your intrusions without ever going to his house, by means of the modern machine called the telephone. There may in fact be more danger of this than of the other. You may instinctively feel a little restraint and reserve about actually putting your foot in your neighbor’s house. Indeed, you may even be too lazy to do so. But it is a much easier thing to pick up the telephone.

“Lest he be weary of thee.” This is the only place in the Old Testament where this Hebrew word is rendered “be weary.” Its meaning is to be filled, satisfied, sated or satiated, to have had enough, in either a good sense or a bad.

In a good sense:

“And he reached her parched corn, and she did eat, and was sufficed.” (Ruth 2:4.)

“The meek shall eat, and be satisfied.” (Ps. 22:26.)

“My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness.” (Ps. 63:5.)

In a bad sense:

“The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.” (Prov. 14:14.)

“I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.” (Is. 1:11.)

The word is used in both the good and the bad sense in Prov. 28:l9: “He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread, but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough.”

It is of course the bad sense with which we have to do in Prov. 25:l7. “Lest he be sated with thee,” the Jewish Publication Society version has it, and I. M. Rubin’s, “lest he have too much of thee.” The same word is used in the immediately preceding verse, and the two verses should be taken together:

“Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it. Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour’s house, lest he be filled with thee, and so hate thee.”

It is a simple matter of too much of a good thing. A man may like carrots well enough, but if he is forced to eat them too often, he may soon have his fill of them, and be weary of the things. If they are then still forced upon him, he may in time actually loathe them, so much so that he may never be able to enjoy them again. How much more if some food he never cared for in the first place is thus forced upon him. And it is just the same with human souls. Though some are naturally drawn together, and easily take a liking to each other, others find no such natural attraction. The latter sort may easily tire of each other, and even the former sort may do so if one forces himself too much upon the other.

Yet I believe that friendship can be deepened and strengthened to the point that two souls cannot tire of each other, though they live in the same house. This is obviously the case in a proper marriage, and it is an interesting fact that the bride in the Song of Solomon says of her husband, “this is my beloved, and this is my friend,” (Song of Sol. 5:16), using the same word as is translated “neighbor” in our text. Here is clearly a case where there could be no occasion for withdrawing the foot from the house of this “friend.” We may safely assume that such a friendship existed also between David and Jonathan, for Jonathan, we are told, loved David “as his own soul,” and David said of Jonathan, “thy love was wonderful to me, passing the love of women.” (I Sam. 18:1 & II Sam. 1:26). Men are not known to tire of their own souls, nor, I suppose, of the love of women, either.

But observe: I do not suppose it to be possible for such a friendship to subsist between every two souls on earth, nor (even where it is possible) that it is likely to be quickly or easily established. And until it is established it will remain your wisdom to “Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbor’s house, lest he have enough of thee.” You will be wiser to invite him to your own house, leaving him free to come if he pleases, and leave when he pleases. But caution is in order here also. Some folks may feel some kind of obligation to accept such invitations, and at that rate a man may as readily tire of your company at your house as at his own. If you often invite a friend to your house, and are seldom or never invited in return, you may suspect that something is amiss, and might do well not to invite him so often. Friendship and fellowship must be reciprocal, or someone will be weary of it sooner or later.

“And so hate thee.” “What! Hate me? This is not right. It is sin. Folks have no right—-my brothers and sisters in Christ have no right—-to hate me.” True enough. And you therefore have no right to tempt them or provoke them to do so. If a child has no right to indulge wrath against his father, then a father has no right to provoke his child to wrath. If a man has no right to look upon a woman to lust after her, then a woman has no right to dress so as to provoke him to lust. If your friends have no right to hate you, then you have no right to weary them by putting your foot, uninvited, in their house. In all such matters you must deal with the weakness of the flesh as it is, for your own good and your neighbor’s.

But understand, a true saint of God will not be moved to actually hate you, in the strictest sense of the term. “Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” (I Jn. 3:10.) “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now.” (I Jn. 2:9.) This is one of the lines of demarcation between those who know God and those who know him not. But this is not to say there is no danger when you are dealing with the godly. They are human beings the same as you are. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh may be weak. You may not provoke them actually to hate you, but you may surely weaken their love. You may put an effectual obstacle in the way of the love which might otherwise be. You may cause a cold frost to descend upon the tender bud of fellowship which could blossom into a warm and satisfying friendship, and so destroy the good thing before it has a chance to exist. In the like manner might you destroy the precious flower after it has blossomed forth.

Here is wisdom, therefore: “Make thy foot scarce in the house of thy friend, lest he have enough of thee, and so hate thee.”

Glenn Conjurske