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the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 17

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3004. B.C. 1000.

Verse 1

Proverbs 17:1. Better is a dry morsel “Bread with pulse, or husks,” as Bochart and Houbigant interpret it; which was the food of meaner persons; and quietness therewith Peace, love, and concord among the members of a family; than a house full of sacrifices Of the remainder of sacrifices, of which they used to make feasts; concerning which see on Proverbs 7:14: or, of slain beasts, as the same word, זבחים , is used Genesis 31:54, and elsewhere.

Verse 2

Proverbs 17:2. A wise servant shall have rule, &c. “Probity and prudence are so much better than mere riches and noble birth, that a wise and faithful servant sometimes arrives at the honour of being appointed the governor of a son, whose folly and wickedness make him a discredit to his family;” and shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren “His merits, perhaps, are rewarded with a portion of the estate, which is to be distributed among them.”

Verse 4

Proverbs 17:4. A wicked doer A malicious and mischievous man, whose practice and delight it is to bring trouble upon others; giveth heed to false lips Hebrew, שׂפת און , the lip of iniquity, to any wicked counsels or speeches; to false accusations and calumnies, which give him occasion and encouragement to do mischief. And a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue He who accustoms himself to speak what is false and wicked, delights in the like speeches of others. This proverb contains a comparison between an evil-doer and an evil-speaker, and shows their agreement in the same sinful practice of being eager to hear false and wicked speeches.

Verse 5

Proverbs 17:5. Whoso mocketh the poor See on Proverbs 14:31; and he that is glad at calamities At the miseries of other men; shall not be unpunished The cup shall be put into his hands, Ezekiel 25:6-7.

Verse 6

Proverbs 17:6. Children’s children are the crown of old men It is an honour to parents, when they are old, to leave children, and children’s children growing up, that tread in the steps of their virtues, and are likely to maintain and advance the reputation of their families, and to serve their generation according to the will of God; and the glory of children are their fathers Namely, fathers that are wise and godly. To have such parents is an honour to children, and to have them continued to them even after they are themselves grown up, and settled in the world. Those are unnatural children indeed who reckon their aged parents a burden to them, and think they live too long; whereas, if children be wise and good, it is their greatest honour, that thereby they are comforts to their parents in the unpleasant days of their old age.

Verse 7

Proverbs 17:7. Excellent speech Either, 1st, Discourse concerning difficult, high, and excellent things, far above his capacity: or, 2d, Lofty, eloquent speech, which fools often affect: or, 3d, Virtuous and godly discourse; becometh not a fool Either one properly so called, or, as the word fool is most commonly used in this book, a wicked man, whose actions give the lie to his expressions.

Verse 8

Proverbs 17:8. A gift is as a precious stone, &c. “A gift is so tempting that it can no more be refused than a lovely jewel can, by him to whom it is presented; and such is its power, that it commonly prevails over all men, despatches all business, carries all causes; and, in a word, effects whatsoever a man desires.” Bishop Patrick.

Verse 9

Proverbs 17:9. He that covereth a transgression That passes by and buries in oblivion a transgression that hath been committed against himself; or that concealeth, as far as he may, other men’s faults against their friends or neighbours; seeketh love Takes the best course to preserve friendships and to make himself universally beloved; but he that repeateth a matter Who rakes up that fault again, and objects it afresh when it was forgotten; or that publishes and spreads it abroad; separateth very friends Breaks the strictest bonds of amity, and makes an irreconcileable separation.

Verse 10

Proverbs 17:10. A reproof entereth more into a wise man Penetrates deeper into the mind of an ingenuous person, and produces a greater reformation in him, than a hundred stripes will do for the amendment of an obstinate fool.

Verse 11

Proverbs 17:11. An evil man seeketh only rebellion Seeketh nothing but his own will; and being so refractory that he hath shaken off all reverence for God and his governors, he is wholly bent upon mischief, and cannot be reclaimed; therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him Some dreadful judgment or other, as a messenger from God; angels, God’s messengers, shall be employed as ministers of justice against him, Psalms 78:49. Satan, the angel of death, and the messengers of Satan, shall be let loose upon him. His prince shall send a sergeant to arrest him, and an executioner to cut him off. He that kicks against the pricks is waited for of the sword.

Verse 12

Proverbs 17:12. Let a bear robbed of her whelps When she is most cruel and fierce; meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly That is, in the heat of his lust or passion, because the danger is greater, all things considered, and more unavoidable. A man may more easily stop, escape from, or guard against, an enraged bear than an outrageous man. It is observed by Bochart, ( de Animal Sacr., lib. 3. cap. 9,) that the female bear is more fierce than the male; that she is more fierce than ordinary when she has whelps; and that when she is robbed of them she is fiercest of all.

Verse 14

Proverbs 17:14. The beginning of strife, &c. “Those who begin a quarrel are like those who make a breach in a bank, and give an opening to the waters of a rapid river; which they can never be sure to stop before it produces the most fatal and calamitous events. This painting admirably represents the effects of lying and false reports, and supplies us with an excellent lesson to avoid the contagion, and prevent the beginnings of contentions:” see Calmet.

Verse 15

Proverbs 17:15. He that justifieth the wicked That acquitteth him as innocent by a judicial sentence, or otherwise approveth or commendeth his evil practices; and he that condemneth the just Or, contributes to his condemnation, defeats the end of government, which is to protect the good, and punish the bad; and therefore they both are abomination to the Lord Who would have justice exactly administered, and so cannot but be highly displeased at those who endeavour to confound the nature of good and evil among men.

Verse 16

Proverbs 17:16. Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool, &c. The Hebrew is literally, Wherefore is this? A price in the hand of a fool to procure wisdom, and not a heart? The question implies, that the price is unworthily placed, and that it is to no purpose, or benefit of the possessor. All the ancient translators interpret the word מחיר , here rendered price, of possessions, or riches, of which the same word is used Isaiah 55:1, and elsewhere. It comprehends all opportunities and abilities of getting wisdom; seeing he hath no heart to it Neither discretion to discern the worth of it, nor any sincere desire to get it. Observe, reader, this price, these abilities and opportunities to gain wisdom, are put into all our hands; we have rational souls, the means of grace, the aids of the Holy Spirit, liberty of access to God by prayer, time and opportunity, perhaps also we have good parents, relations, friends, ministers, books to assist us. A sufficient price, therefore, is put into our hands, wherewith to procure wisdom, a talent, or talents rather, of inestimable value; and surely we shall be inexcusable, and cannot escape condemnation and wrath, if we die without it.

Verse 17

Proverbs 17:17. A friend loveth at all times A sincere and hearty friend not only loves in prosperity, but also in adversity, when false friends forsake us; and a brother Who is so, not only by name and blood, but by brotherly affection; is born for adversity Was sent into the world for this among other ends, that he might comfort and relieve his brother in his adversity.

Verse 18

Proverbs 17:18. A man, &c., striketh hands In token of his becoming surety; of which phrase, and the thing intended by it, see notes on Proverbs 6:1; Proverbs 11:15. This proverb is fitly placed after that in Proverbs 17:17, to intimate that although the laws of friendship oblige us to love and help our friends in trouble as far as we are able, yet they do not oblige us to become surety for them rashly, and above what we are able to pay, for by that means we should make ourselves unable to do good, either to them, or to others, or to ourselves.

Verse 19

Proverbs 17:19. He loveth transgression that loveth strife Because contention is in itself a sin, and is commonly accompanied or followed with many sins, as detraction, malice, hatred, pride, &c.; and he that exalteth his gate Namely, the gate of his house, that maketh it, and consequently his house, lofty and magnificent beyond what becomes his quality, that he may overtop and outshine his neighbours; which being an effect and evidence of pride and haughtiness, is here mentioned for all other evidences thereof. So the sense is, he who carries himself loftily and scornfully; seeketh destruction Seeks those things which will expose him to destruction, because he makes himself odious both to God and men.

Verse 22

Proverbs 17:22. A merry heart Cheerfullness of mind, especially that which is solid, and ariseth from the testimony of a good conscience; doeth good like a medicine Even to the body; it contributes very much to the restoration or preservation of bodily health and vigour, as physicians observe and experience shows; but a broken spirit A spirit sad and dejected; drieth the bones Wasteth the marrow of the bones, and the moisture and strength of the body.

Verse 23

Proverbs 17:23. A wicked man Whether judge or witness; taketh a gift out of the bosom In secret, as this phrase is expounded Proverbs 21:14, being privily conveyed from the bosom of the giver into his own bosom; to pervert the ways of judgment To give or procure an unjust sentence. Bishop Patrick’s paraphrase of the verse is, “No man would willingly be known to be so wicked as to be bribed to do injustice, but there are too many that will suffer themselves to be secretly corrupted by presents, to give counsel or judgment contrary to the course of law and equity.”

Verse 24

Proverbs 17:24. Wisdom is before him Hebrew, את פני , in the face, or countenance, of him that hath understanding His wisdom appears in his very countenance, or in his gestures, or looks, which are modest, composed, and grave. Or, rather, wisdom is before him, or in his eye, he never loses sight of it; it is the mark at which he constantly aims, and the rule by which he constantly walks, and by which he orders all his steps, continually minding his present duty and business. But the eyes of the fool are in the ends of the earth He manifests his folly, as the man of understanding doth his wisdom, by his very appearance, by his light, unsteady, disorderly carriage and looks. And his mind is wavering and unsettled; he neither proposes a right and certain end to himself, nor is he constant in the use of fit means to attain it; he neglects his present business and true interest, and wanders hither and thither in the pursuit of earthly vanities, minding most those things which are most remote from him, and which least concern him.

Verses 25-26

Proverbs 17:25-26. A foolish son, &c. This was said before, Proverbs 15:20, and elsewhere; but he here repeats it, as a point of great moment and constant use, and as a powerful motive to oblige both children to conduct themselves wisely and dutifully toward their parents, as they would not be thought to be unnatural and inhuman, and parents to educate their children prudently and religiously, at least for their own comfort, if not for the public good. Also to punish, &c. The particle also, here, seems to have relation to the foregoing sentence, and to imply that, as it is a very evil thing for children to cause grief to their parents, so is it also to do what here follows. To punish the just is not good For parents, princes, or rulers, (to whom alone this power belongs,) to punish innocent and good men, is highly evil and abominable; nor to strike princes for equity Nor to smite magistrates, either with the hand or tongue, for the execution of justice, as condemned persons are apt to do. But some learned interpreters read this clause, Nor for princes to strike any man for equity, or for doing his duty, or what is just. The Hebrew will very well bear this reading, and it agrees better with the former clause than that which our translators have adopted. Besides that it belongs properly to princes, or magistrates, to punish or strike.

Verses 27-28

Proverbs 17:27-28. He that hath knowledge spareth Hebrew, חושׂךְ , restraineth, his words As at other times, so especially when he is under a provocation to anger or any other passion, in which case fools utter all their minds. And a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit Which he shows, as in various other things, so by commanding his passions, and bridling himself from hasty and unadvised speeches. But this is according to the marginal reading of the Masora; but the reading of the Hebrew text is, קר , cool, according to which, the sense of the clause is, a man of understanding is of a cool spirit, calm and moderate, not easily provoked, humble, as the Chaldee renders it, μακροθυμος , patient, or long- suffering, as the LXX. and Arabic interpreters render the words. Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise Because he is sensible of his folly, and therefore forbears to speak lest he should discover it, which is one point of true wisdom. If a fool hold his peace, men of candour will think him wise, because nothing appears to the contrary, and because it will be thought he is making observations on what others say, and gaining experience, or consulting with himself what he should say, that he may speak pertinently. Thus, he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding He gains the reputation of being a wise man, on the easy condition of restraining his tongue, or, of hearing, and seeing, and saying little.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 17". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/proverbs-17.html. 1857.
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