Verse 14. There was a little city, and few men within it- Here is another proof of the vanity of sublunary things; the ingratitude of men, and the little compensation that genuine merit receives. The little history mentioned here may have either been a fact, or intended as an instructive fable. A little city, with few to defend it, being besieged by a great king and a powerful army, was delivered by the cunning and address on a poor wise man; and afterwards his townsmen forgot their obligation to him.
Those who spiritualize this passage, making the little city the CHURCH, the few men the APOSTLES, the great king the DEVIL, and the poor wise man JESUS CHRIST, abuse the text.
But the Targum is not less whimsical: "The little city is the human body; few men in it, few good affections to work righteousness; the great king, evil concupiscence, which, like a strong and powerful king, enters into the body to oppress it, and besieges the heart so as to cause it to err; built great bulwarks against it-evil concupiscence builds his throne in it wheresoever he wills, and causes it to decline from the ways that are right before God; that it may be taken in the greatest nets of hell, that he may burn it seven times, because of its sins. But there is found in it a poor wise man-a good, wise, and holy affection, which prevails over the evil principle, and snatches the body from the judgment of hell, by the strength of its wisdom. Yet, after this deliverance, the man did not remember what the good principle had done for him; but said in his heart, I am innocent," &c.
What a wonderful text has this been in the hands of many a modern Targumist; and with what force have the Keachonians preached Christ crucified from it! Such a passage as this receives a fine illustration from the case of Archimedes saving the city of Syracuse from all the Roman forces besieging it by sea ana land. He destroyed their ships by his burning-glasses, lifted up their galleys out of the water by his machines, dashing some to pieces, and sinking others. One man's wisdom here prevailed for a long time against the most powerful exertions of a mighty nation. In this case, wisdom far exceeded strength. But was not Syracuse taken, notwithstanding the exertions of this poor wise man? No. But it was betrayed by the baseness of Mericus, a Spaniard, one of the Syracusan generals. He delivered the whole district he commanded into the hands of Marcellus, the Roman consul, Archimedes having defeated every attempt made by the Romans, either by sea or land: yet he commanded no company of men, made no sorties, but confounded and destroyed them by his machines. This happened about 208 years before Christ, and nearly about the time in which those who do not consider Solomon as the author suppose this book to have been written. This wise man was not remembered; he was slain by a Roman soldier while deeply engaged in demonstrating a new problem, in order to his farther operations against the enemies of his country. See Plutarch, and the historians of this Syracusan war.
When Alexander the Great was about to destroy the city Lampsacus, his old master Anaximenes came out to meet him. Alexander, suspecting his design, that he would intercede for the city, being determined to destroy it, swore that he would not grant him any thing he should ask. Then said Anaximenes, "I desire that you will destroy this city." Alexander respected his oath, and the city was spared. Thus, says Valerius Mancimus, the narrator, (lib. vii. c. iii., No. 4. Extern.,) by this sudden turn of sagacity, this ancient and noble city was preserved from the destruction by which it was threatened. "Haec velocitas sagacitatis oppidum vetusta nobilitate inclytum exitio, cui destinatum erat, subtraxit." A stratagem of Jaddua, the high priest, was the means of preserving Jerusalem from being destroyed by Alexander, who, incensed because they had assisted the inhabitants of Gaza when he besieged it, as soon as he had reduced it, marched against Jerusalem, with the determination to raze it to the ground; but Jaddua and his priests in their sacerdotal robes, meeting him on the way, he was so struck with their appearance that he not only prostrated himself before the high priest, and spared the city, but also granted it some remarkable privileges. But the case of Archimedes and Syracuse is the most striking and appropriate in all its parts. That of Anaximenes and Lampsacus is also highly illustrative of the maxim of the wise man: "Wisdom is better than strength."
Verse 16. The poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard. - I cannot help pursuing this illustration a little farther. The soldier who found Archimedes busily employed in drawing figures upon the sand, put to him some impertinent question, withal rudely obtruding himself on his operations. To whom this wonderful mathematician replied, "Stand off, soldier, and do not spoil my diagram;" on which the bloody savage struck him dead!
Verse 17. The words of wise men are heard in quiet - In the tumult of war the words of Archimedes were not heard; and his life was lost.
Verse 18. Wisdom is better than weapons of war - So proved in the case of Archimedes.
But one sinner - Such as the Roman butcher above mentioned.
Destroyeth much good - Such as were the life and skill of the Syracusan mathematician. One sinner has often injured the work of God; one stumbling-block has sometimes destroyed a revival of religion. Sin acts like a ferment; whatever comes in contact with it, it assimilates to itself.