Be not righteous over much
This is not meant of true and real righteousness, even moral righteousness, a man cannot be too holy or too righteous; but of a show and ostentation of righteousness, and of such who would be thought to be more righteous and holy than others, and therefore despise those who, as they imagine, do not come up to them; and are very rigid and censorious in their judgment of others, and very severe in their reproofs of them; and, that they may appear very righteous persons, will do more than what the law requires of them to do, even works of supererogation, as the Pharisees formerly, and Papists now, pretend, and abstain from the lawful use of things which God has given to be enjoyed; and macerate their bodies by abstinence, fastings, pilgrimages, penance, scourges, and the like, as the Eremites among the Christians, and the Turks, as Aben Ezra on the place observes; and many there be, who, by an imprudent zeal for what they judge right, and which sometimes are mere trifles, and by unseasonable reproofs for what is wrong, expose themselves to resentment and danger. Some understand this of political and punitive justice, exercising it in too strict and rigorous a manner, according to the maxim, "summum jus saepe summa injuria est" F23; and Schultens F24, from the use of the word in the Arabic language, renders it, "be not too rigid"; and others, in a contrary sense, of too much mercy and pity to offenders. So the Midrash; and Jarchi illustrates it by the case of Saul, who had mercy on the wicked, and spared Agag. The Targum is,
``be not over righteous at a time that a sinner is found guilty of slaughter in thy court of judicature, that thou shouldest spare and not kill him;''neither make thyself over wise;
above what is written, or pretend to be wiser than others. So the Arabic version, "show not too much wisdom"; do not affect, as not to be more righteous than others, so not more wise, by finding fault with present times, or with the dispensations of Providence, or with the manners and conduct of men; setting up for a critic and a censurer of men and things; or do not pry into things, and seek after a knowledge of them, which are out of your reach, and beyond your capacity; why shouldest thou destroy thyself?
either by living too strictly and abstemiously, or by studying too closely, or by behaving in such a manner to men, as that they will seek thy destruction, and bring it on thee: or "why shouldest thou", or "whereby", or "lest, thou shouldest be stupid" F25; lose thy sense and reason, as persons who study the knowledge of things they have not a capacity for: or why shouldest thou become foolish in the eyes of all men by thy conduct and behaviour? or, "why shouldest thou be desolate" F26; alone, and nobody care to have any conversation and acquaintance with thee?
F23 Terent. Heautont. Act. 4. Sc. 4.
F24 De Defect. Hod. Ling. Heb. s. 230.
F25 (Mmwvt hml) "ut quid obstupesces?" Vatablus, Amama; "cur obstupesces?" Mercerus; "cur in stuporem te dares?" Cocceius; "qua teipsum stupidum facies?" Tigurine version; "ne obstupescas", V. L. so Sept. and Syriac versions.
F26 "Ne quid desolaberis?" Pagninus, Montanus; "quare desolationem tibi accerseres?" Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Gejerus.