Proverbs 25:20, As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.
Again the wise man gives us comparisons to study before we are able to get the fullest meaning of this proverb.
He wants us to think about a man singing songs to a person with a heavy heart.
He does not say that the singer is a bad singer so we can assume that the quality of the singing is not a problem.
Apparently there is something wrong about singing to a person with a heavy heart and he wants us to know about it ahead of time so we will not do such a thing.
By itself there is nothing inherently wrong in singing songs.
Solomon wrote 1005 songs. Songs are an important part of Israel and the church of Jesus Christ.
David asked to be compassed about with songs of deliverance.
We are to speak to each other with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord.
We are to teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord.
So why does the wise teacher appear to caution us in singing.
Perhaps the answer is found in Ecclesiastics 3:4, There is, A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
So perhaps the key in this wisdom is timing. There are proper times to sing and there are proper times not to sing.
The wise person knows the time. The wise person knows the proper response to a heavy heart.
The wise person knows what will help a heavy heart and the wise person knows what will cause further pain to a heavy heart.
Laban said to Jacob in Gen. 31:27 when he fled away secretly:
Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp?
Laban knew the time for singing.
A farewell was to be with mirth and with songs and with instruments.
It was to be a time of pleasure and enjoyment.
The ransomed of the Lord will sing songs returning to Zion at the beginning of the Millennium as we read in Isaiah 35:10, And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Singing will accompany that great and grand time of rejoicing.
But there are times when singing is not called for.
There are times when singing is a curse; when singing adds to the heaviness of the heavy heart; when singing does not lift but weighs down.
Remember the lament of Psalms 137:1-4, By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
How could they sing with such a heavy heart.
The time was not right! The heart was not right for singing.
So the wise man in this proverb asks us to think about this subject so we can know the proper time for certain behavior.
The wise man compares the man who sings to a person with a heavy heart, with a man who takes another man's coat in cold weather.
He also compares the singing man with a mixture of vinegar with nitre.
Both comparisons are situations where a need is being satisfied but something interferes in that satisfaction.
The man puts on his coat and goes outside in the cold.
He is happy in his coat and he is warmed by his coat. But someone comes along and steals his coat.
He is doubly cold now because he was used to being warmed by the coat and is now, all of a sudden, cold.
He now feels colder than if he had gone out without the coat.
He not only lost the blessing of being warm, but he has been cursed by the one who took his coat.
He needed that coat to stay warm and now he is cold and suffering not only from the cold but from the loss of the coat.
The principal here is that the man who took his coat added to his suffering.
The second comparison that the wise man wants us to ponder is the placing of vinegar on nitre.
Before we study this comparison we will look at two definitions: What is vinegar and what is nitre?
Vinegar - From the french, vinaigre, from vin, wine, and aigre, sour. So vinegar means sour wine. It is a vegetable acid; an acid liquor obtained from wine, cider, beer or other liquors, by the second fermentation.
Nitre - native soda, natron; In chemistry a white crystalline salt, KNO3; saltpeter; potassium nitrite. It is of great use in the arts, is the principal incredient in gunpowder and in fireworks and is useful in medicine, and in preserving
The word nitre is used twice in the King James version. It is used in this proverb in connection with vinegar and it is used in Jeremiah 2:22 in connection with soap.
For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD.
In both this verse and our proverb today nitre was selected by the translators to take the place of the hebrew word, Nimrah, nim-raw', which is the name of a place E. of the Jordan River, it means clear water.
The place Nimrah, may have been known for its clear waters.
Nimraw is only used three times in the Bible, twice translated as nitre and once used as the name of the place Nimrah, in Num 32:3
So if nimrah is a place known for its clear waters, why nimrah is translated into nitre in the english, I do not know.
But if the word nitre should instead be "clear water" the sense in both the Jeremiah reference and our proverb in my opinion is clearer than a word which means soda or potassium nitrite.
For the purpose of our study and based upon the support of the Hebrew let us use clear water in place of nitre in both verses.
Our proverb, As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon clear water, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.
Jer 2:22, For though thou wash thee with clear water, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD.
Picture then a thirsty soul. Water, cool water, refreshing water, parched and cracked lips in need of water.
Only pure water will satisfy.
Picture the sour bitter taste of vinegar poured upon that cool refreshing water.
If taken instead of the pure water the thirst is not quenched and in addition a sour taste is left in the mouth.
Instead of the water being a blessing it is now a vehicle to bring a curse.
Thirst is not quenched and a sour taste is left.
The principle that the wise man is giving us is that where a heavy heart is, don't add to the heavy heart by your behavior.
Be a blessing to a heavy heart and not a curse.
You may even have to go against your conscience and follow the scriptures of Proverbs 31:6, Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.
Romans 12:15, Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
Measure your response by the need of those with heavy hearts and not your own need.