HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain
The word “favour” is the Hebrew word for “grace.” In this verse, the word “grace” is speaking of a woman’s outward appearance and form. It is paralleled with the word “beauty,” and both words carry the same idea.
Webster, in his original 1828 dictionary, has numerous definitions for grace, one of which is “beauty, whatever adorns and recommends to favour.” Gesenius defines the Hebrew word to mean “gracefulness, beauty.”
In Nahum 3:4 the word is used of a well-flavoured (beautiful) harlot. In the book of Proverbs 5:19 it is used of a graceful doe (roe).
In Proverbs 17:8 the word “grace” is used to describe a stone. It is a beautiful or precious stone, pleasant and agreeable to the eyes. Precious stones are usually brightly coloured and beautiful in outward appearance. So also, a woman of grace is one who is pleasant and agreeable to the eyes, a beautiful woman.
The word “beauty” in the parallel phrase is similar in meaning. It is the common Hebrew word for beauty. It describes that which is fair and pleasing to the eyes. It is used of the outward beauty of Sarah (Genesis 12:11), of Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1), of Abishag (1 Kings 1:3-4) and of Vashti (Esther 1:11).
It is even used of the physical beauty of men, such as in the case of Joseph (Genesis 39:6) and Absalom: “But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty; from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him” (2 Sam. 14:25). Absalom’s outward form and beauty covered a deep-seated rebellion which destroyed him in the end. His beauty was surface only.
In the book of Proverbs 6:25 a strong warning is given concerning a wicked harlot: “Lust not after her beauty in thine heart, neither let her take thee with her eyelids.” The beauty of this woman is only skin deep. It’s like “a beautiful garment on a body covered with loathsome sores” (George Lawson, Commentary on Proverbs, p. 86). Under the surface is great ugliness.
“As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair [beautiful] woman who is without discretion” (Proverbs 11:22). The beautiful gold piece of jewellery does not go well with the beast that wears it, whose nose delights in shovelling mud. The beauty that covers vileness is not true beauty.
In verse 30 we are told two things about outward gracefulness and external beauty:
- Favour is deceitful;
- Beauty is vain.
External beauty is deceitful. The Hebrew term refers to that which deceives and disappoints. What you see is not really what you get. It seems that you are looking at a very beautiful person, a very special person, but the surface appearance belies the inner person. The woman’s outer charm covers up her inner deformity. It would be like a nut with a fine looking shell, but when you crack it open you find that the nut inside is rotten and undesirable. Beautiful actresses and supermodels are often known for their broken marriages, substance abuse, personal problems, etc. indicating that under the external shell there lives a sinful and very troubled person who needs God’s transforming grace.
External beauty is vain. “Vain” describes that which is evanescent (tending to vanish like vapour). It is used of that which soon vanishes away, like vapour, breath, or a bubble. The term “vain” is used of the vanity of idols. It is used in Psalm 39:5,11, “man at his best state is altogether vanity.” It is the keyword in the book of Ecclesiastes and is used to describe the meaninglessness and emptiness of life under the sun apart from God (“vanity” is used 31 times in Ecclesiastes). External beauty is not long lasting. It is here today and gone tomorrow.
There is a great emphasis in our day on external beauty. Makeup is used in such abundance that Jezebel would feel right at home in our society (2 Kings 9:30). All kinds of supplements and health products are offered to try to help people look young and attractive, and to slow down nature’s natural deterioration. Surgical procedures are offered which can change and improve a person’s outward appearance. Diet programs and exercise programs garner millions of dollars from people who want to look beautiful and feel good. Television shows are devoted to showing how a plain or unattractive person can be transformed and made over into an outwardly attractive person by means of makeup, hair styling, weight loss, exercise, surgery, etc. There is no end to the attempts of mankind to beautify the body and to try to preserve the external.
The real beauty in the sight of God is not the product of cosmetics but the outshining of the indwelling Christ. A lady was once asked the secret of her beautiful complexion. She said, “I use truth for my lips; for my voice, prayer; for my eyes, pity; for my hands, charity; for my figure, uprightness; and for my heart, LOVE.” These heavenly cosmetics are worthy of trial and are supplied free to every applicant at the Throne of Grace.
External improvement and transformation projects can only last so long. A beautiful woman may win a beauty contest, but she is not going to win one thirty years later! Beautiful actresses grow old and in spite of all they do to preserve their youth, they lose the battle with time and their beauty deteriorates. External beauty can be marred and scarred by injury, serious burns, disease, etc., and this can happen even to those who are young. Time will always win, and all humanity will ultimately decline, and end up as dust (Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Psalm 39:4-5; 103:14; 104:29).