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Thursday, May 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 17

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-28


Proverbs 17:1

(Comp, Proverbs 15:16, Proverbs 15:17; Proverbs 16:8.) Better (sweeter) is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith. Dry bread was soaked in wine or water before it was eaten. Thus Boaz bid Ruth "dip her morsel in the vinegar" (Ruth 2:14); thus Jesus gave the sop to Judas when he had dipped it (John 13:26). The Septuagint is pleonastic, "Better is a morsel with joy in peace." Aben Ezra connects this verse with the last two of ch. 16, confining the application to the patient man; but the sentence seems rather to be independent and general. Than an house full of sacrifices with strife. Of the thank or peace offerings part only was burnt upon the altar, the rest was eaten by the offerer and his family; and as the victims were always the choicest animals, "a house full of sacrifices" would contain the materials for sumptuous feasting (see on Proverbs 7:4). The joyous family festival often degenerated into excess, which naturally led to quarrels and strife (see 1 Samuel 1:5, 1 Samuel 1:6, 1Sa 1:13; 1 Samuel 2:13, etc.). So the agapae of the early Church were desecrated by licence and selfishness (1 Corinthians 11:20, etc.). Septuagint, "than a house full of many good things and unrighteous victims with contention." With this verse compare the Spanish proverb, "Mas vale un pedazo de pan con amor, que gallinas con dolor."

Proverbs 17:2

A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame. Here is intimated the supremacy of wisdom over folly and vice. The contrast is better emphasized by translating, A servant that dealeth wisely shall have rule over a son that doeth shamefully; i.e. a son of his master. (For similar contrast between "wise" and "shameful," comp. Proverbs 10:5; Proverbs 14:35.) Slaves were often raised to high honour, and might inherit their master's possessions. Thus Abraham's servant, Eliezer of Damascus, was at one time considered the patriarch's heir (Genesis 15:2, Genesis 15:3); Ziba, Saul's servant, obtained the inheritance of his lord Mephibosheth ("the Shameful," 2 Samuel 16:4); Joseph was advanced to the highest post in Egypt. Ecc 10:1-20 :25, "Unto the servant that is wise shall they that are free do service; and he that is wise will not grudge when he is reformed." Septuagint, "A wise household servant shall rule over foolish masters." "I have seen," says Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 10:7), "servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth." Shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren; shall share on equal terms with the sons of the house. This innovation on the usual disposition of property could happen only in the case of an abnormally intelligent and trusted slave. In 1 Chronicles 2:34, etc; mention is made of a case where a master, having no son, gave his daughter in marriage to a slave, and adopted him into the family. Delitzsch understands the clause to mean that the slave shall have the office of dividing his master's inheritance among the heirs, shall be the executor of his deceased master's will; but this explanation hardly seems to do justice to the merits of the "wise servant," and takes no account of the idea involved in "shameful son." But the Septuagint appears to countenance this view, rendering, "and among the brethren he shall divide the portions."

Proverbs 17:3

The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold. The word matsreph, "fining pot," occurs also in Proverbs 27:21. It is not certain what is meant by it. There is no evidence that the Israelites were acquainted with the use of acids in the manipulation of impure or mixed metals; otherwise the "pot" and the "furnace" would represent the two usual modes of reduction; but it is most probable that both allude to the same method of smelting the ore in crucibles, for the purpose of separating the pure metal from the dross. That silver and gold were plentiful in Solomon's time is abundantly evident; indeed, the amount of the precious metals collected by David and his son is almost incredible (see 1Ch 22:14; 1 Chronicles 29:2, etc; from which and similar passages it is inferred that the sums enumerated equalled more than nine hundred millions of pounds sterling). But the Lord trieth the hearts (Proverbs 15:11; Proverbs 24:12). That which fire does for the metals, the Lord does for men's hearts; he purifies them from dross, brings forth the good that is in them, purged from earthly infirmities. God's process is the application of sorrow, sickness, temptation, that, duly meeting these, the soul may emerge from the trial as pure gold, fit for the Master's use (comp. Jeremiah 12:3; Malachi 3:2; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18).

Proverbs 17:4

A wicked doer giveth heed to false (evil) lips. A bad man delights in and hearkens to evil words; he takes pleasure in those who counsel wickedness, because they are after his own heart. Like mates with like. And a liar giveth ear to a naughty (mischievous) tongue. One who is himself mendacious listens with avidity to any tale that may injure a neighbour. however monstrous and improbable it may be. Septuagint, "A wicked man listens to the tongue of transgressors; but a just man heedeth not false lips." The Greek adds here, or in some manuscripts, after Proverbs 17:6, a paragraph which is not found in the Hebrew, Syriac, or Latin: "To him who is faithful the whole world wealth belongs; but the unfaithful is not worth an obole." On this the Fathers have frequently commented (see Corn. a Lapide, in loc.).

Proverbs 17:5

Whoso mocketh the poor (see Proverbs 14:31, which is nearly identical). He that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished (Proverbs 11:21; Proverbs 24:17, Proverbs 24:18). The particular calamity primarily intended seems to be that which reduces a person to poverty. Delight in others' misfortunes, even those of enemies, is a most detestable form of selfishness and malice. Job, testifying to his own integrity, was thankful to think that he was free from this vice (Job 31:29). The Greeks had a name for it, and called it ἐπιχαιρεκακία, which is used by Aristotle ('Eth. Nic.,' 2.6. 18). The pious author looks for retributive punishment on such spitefulness. The LXX. tries to improve the contrast by resorting a gloss, "He who rejoices at one who perishes shall not go unpunished; but he who hath compassion shall obtain mercy," which is remarkably like Christ's sentence, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."

Proverbs 17:6

Children's children are the crown of old men (comp. Psalms 127:1-5; Psalms 128:1-6). (For the term "crown," comp. Proverbs 16:18.) Thus St. Paul calls his converts his "joy and crown" (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19) In the East a large number of children is considered a great blessing, being a guarantee of the stability of the family. Thus writes Euripides ('Iph. Taur.,' 57)—

Στύλοι γὰρ οἴκων παῖδες εἰσιν ἄρσενες

"Male children are the pillars of the house."

The glory of children are their fathers. A long line of good or celebrated ancestors is the glory of their descendants, and brings a blessing on them (see 1 Kings 11:13; 1 Kings 15:4). Hereditary nobility, based on descent from some eminent progenitor, may be a source of not unseemly pride, and a spur to a life worthy of such excellent ancestry.

Proverbs 17:7

Excellent speech becometh not a fool. שְׂפַת יָתֶר; verba composita, Vulgate, i.e. studied, complicated, expressions; χείλη πιστά, "faithful lips," Septuagint. Others translate, "arrogant," "pretentious." It is literally, a lip of excess or superabundance, and is best taken in the above sense, as arrogant or assuming. A nabal, a "vicious fool," ought not to flaunt his unwisdom and his iniquities before the eyes of men, but to keep them hidden as much as possible. As such presumptuous behaviour is incongruous in the case of a fool, much less do lying lips [become] a prince; a noble person, such a one as is called in Isaiah (Isaiah 32:8) "liberal," where the same word, nadib, is used. This is an illustration of the saying, "Noblesse oblige." Thus the Greek gnome—

Ἐλευθέρου γὰρ ἀνδρὸς ἀλήθειαν λέγειν

"A free man's part it is the truth to speak."

To John the Good, King of France, is attributed the noble maxim which well became his chivalrous character, "Si la bonne foi etait bannie du reste du monde, il faudrait qu'on la retrouvat dans le coeur des rois" (Bonnechose, 'Hist. de France,' 1.310). "My son," says the rabbi in the Talmud, "avoid lying first of all; for a lie will tarnish the brightness of thy honour." For "prince," the Septuagint has, "a just man," which makes the maxim a mere truism.

Proverbs 17:8

There is a breath of satire in this verse. A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it. "A precious stone" is literally "a stone of grace" (Proverbs 1:9). The gnome expresses the idea that a bribe is like a bright jewel that dazzles the sight and affects the mind of him who receives it (see on Proverbs 15:27; comp. Deuteronomy 16:19; 1 Samuel 12:3). Ovid, 'Art. Amat.,' 3.653—

"Munera, crede mihi, capiunt hominesque deosque;

Placatur donis Jupiter ipse datis."

It is possible that the gnome may have a more general application, and apply to gifts given to appease anger or to prove friendship (Proverbs 19:6; Proverbs 21:14). Septuagint, "A reward of graces is discipline to those who use it;" i.e. moral discipline brings an ample reward of graces to those who practise it. Whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth. The Authorized Version refers these words to the gift. Delitzsch points out that the words are more properly taken of the person who receives the gift, so that they should be rendered, "Wheresoever he turneth himself he dealeth wisely." Inflamed by sordid hopes and the love of gain, he acts with all possible skill and prudence in order to work out his wages and show that he was rightly selected to receive the present. The verse merely states a common trait among unscrupulous men, and pronounces no judgment upon it.

Proverbs 17:9

He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; i.e. strives to exercise, put in practice, love (comp. Zephaniah 2:8; 1 Corinthians 14:4). Thus Nowack. One who bears patiently and silently, extenuates and conceals, something done or said against him, that man follows after charity, obeys the great law of love (comp. Proverbs 10:12). Some explain the clause to mean, "procures love for himself;" but the second member certainly is not personal, therefore it is more natural to take the first in a general sense. He that repeateth (harpeth on) a matter separateth very friends (Proverbs 16:28). He who is always dwelling on a grievance, returning to it and bringing it forward on every occasion, alienates the greatest friends, only embitters the injury and makes it chronic. Ecclesiasticus 19:7, etc; "Rehearse not unto another that which is told unto thee, and thou shalt fare never the worse. Whether it be to friend or foe, talk not of other men's lives; and if thou canst without offence, reveal them not. For he heard and observed thee, and when time cometh he will hate thee. If thou hast heard a word, let it die with thee; and be bold, it will not burst thee." So the rabbis said: "Abstain from quarrels with thy neighbour; and if thou hast seen something bad of thy friend, let it not pass thy tongue as a slander" (Dukes, § 61). The Mosaic Law had led the way to this duty of forbearance: "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18). Septuagint, "He who concealeth injuries seeketh friendship; but he who hateth to conceal them separateth friends and households."

Proverbs 17:10

A reproof entereth more (deeper) into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool. A deserved rebuke makes a deeper impression upon a man of understanding than the severest chastisement upon a fool. Hitzig quotes Sallust, 'Jug.,' 11, "Verbum in pectus Jugurthae altius, quam quisquam ratus est, descendit." Quint. Curt; 54.7, "Nobilis equus umbra quoque virgae regitur, ignavus ne calcari quidem concitari potest." The antithesis is put more forcibly in the Septuagint, "A threat breaks the heart of a prudent man; a fool even scourged feels it not."

Proverbs 17:11

An evil man seeketh only rebellion. So the Greek and Latin Versions; but, as Nowack intimates, a bad man seeks many other things which do not come directly in the category of rebellion; and it is better to take meri, "rebellion," as the subject, regarding it as put for the concrete, thus: "A rebellious man striveth only for what is evil." From the point of view of an Eastern potentate, this is true enough. Absolute government looks upon any rising against constituted authority, any movement in the masses, as necessarily evil, and to be repressed with a high hand. Hence the succeeding clause. Therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him. The "cruel messenger" (Proverbs 16:14) is the executioner of the king's wrath. He is called "cruel" because his errand is deadly, and he is pitiless in its performance. This seems to be the sense intended. The LXX. gives a different notion, derived from the ambiguous term malak, like the Greek ἄγγελος: "The Lord will send forth a pitiless angel against him." The verse then becomes a statement concerning the retribution inflicted by God on obstinate sinners, such as Pharaoh and the Egyptians. These are delivered over to "the tormentors" (Matthew 18:34), the angels that execute the wrath of God, as in Psalms 78:49 and Revelation 8:6, etc. As all sin is rebellion against God, it is natural to read into the passage a religious meaning, and for homiletical purposes it is legitimate to do so. But the writer's intention is doubtless as explained above, though his language may be divinely directed to afford a further application.

Proverbs 17:12

Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man. The Syrian bear was once common throughout Palestine; it is now found in but few localities, such as the hills of Hermon and Lebanon, and in the hills east of the Jordan, the destruction of wood and forest having deprived these animals of the shelter necessary to their existence. The ferocity of the bear when deprived of its young had become proverbial (see 2 Samuel 17:8; Hosea 13:8; Hart, 'Animals of the Bible,' 28, etc.). Rather than a fool in his folly; i.e. in the paroxysm of his passion. Compare Saul's ungoverned language to Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:30), and Herod's murder of the children (Matthew 2:16). So we read of the people being filled with ἄνοια against Jesus (Luke 6:11). Oort supposes that this proverb arose from the riddle, "What is worse to meet than a bear?" Septuagint, "Care will fall upon a man of understanding; but fools imagine evils." The Greek translators take "bear" as us d metaphorically for terror and anxiety, but go far astray from the Hebrew text.

Proverbs 17:13

Whoso rewardeth evil for good. This was David's complaint of the churlish Nabal (1 Samuel 25:21). Ingratitude shall surely he punished. Evil shall not depart from his house. Terribly has the ingratitude of the Jews been visited. They cried in their madness, "His blood be on us and on our children!" and their punishment is still going on. Injunctions on this subject are frequent in the New Testament (see Matthew 5:39; Romans 12:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9). The Talmud says, "Do not throw a stone into the well whose waters you have drunk." The Greeks felt the sting of ingratitude. Thus Leiodes complains to Ulysses ('Od.,' 22.319)—

Ὡς οὐκ ἔστι χάρις μετόπισθ εὐεργέων

Two sayings of Publius Syrus are quoted: "Ingratus unus omnibus miseris nocet;" "Malignos fieri maxime ingrati docent."

Proverbs 17:14

The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water. The small rift in the bank of a reservoir of water, if not immediately secured, is soon enlarged and gets beyond control, occasioning widespread ruin and destruction; so from small and insignificant causes, which might at first have been easily checked, arise feuds and quarrels which extend in a wide circle, and cannot be appeased. Palestine was largely dependent upon its reservoirs for the storage of water, perennial springs being of rare occurrence. The three pools of Solomon in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem, which were connected by channels with Jerusalem, are still to be seen in all their massive grandeur; and, indeed, every town had its reservoir, or tank, as we find in India at the present time. These receptacles had to be kept in good repair, or disastrous consequences might ensue. On the tendency of a quarrel to grow to a dangerous extent, a Bengal proverb speaks of "going in a needle and coming out a ploughshare." Vulgate, Qui dimittit aquam, caput est jurgiorum, which seems to mean that the man who needlessly lets the water of a cistern run to waste gives occasion to quarrels. But St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 5.13), commenting on the passage, interprets differently: "It is well said by Solomon, 'He that letteth out water is a head of strife.' For the water is let out when the flowing of the tongue is let loose. And he that letteth out water is made the beginning of strife, in that, by the incontinency of the lips, the commencement of discord is afforded" (Oxford transl.). Probably, however, in the Latin, as in the Hebrew, the particle of comparison is suppressed, so that the clause means, "As he who lets out water, so is he who gives occasion to strife." Therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with. The last word חַתְגַּלַּע is of doubtful interpretation. It occurs in Proverbs 18:1 and Proverbs 20:3, and is variously translated, "before it rushes forward," "before it grows warm," "before a man becomes wrathful." But Hitzig, Nowaek, and others take it to signify, "before men show their teeth," like angry dogs snarling at one another. The moralist advises men to subdue angry passions at once before they become exacerbated. The Vulgate seems to have quite mistaken the clause, translating, Antequam patiatur contumeliam, judicium deserit, which seems to mean that a patient, peace-loving man (in contrast with the irascible) avoids lawsuits before he is involved in a lasting quarrel. Septuagint, "The beginning (ἀρχὴ) of justice gives power to words; but discord and contention lead the way to want." The Greek commentators see here an allusion to the clepsydra, the water clock which regulated the length of the speeches in a court of law; but the reference is by no means clear.

Proverbs 17:15

He that justifieth—in a forensic sense, declares righteous, acquits—the wicked, etc. Two forms of the perversion of justice are censured, viz. the acquittal of a guilty person and the condemnation of an innocent one (comp. Proverbs 24:24; Isaiah 5:23).

Proverbs 17:16

Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom? A fool thinks that there is a royal road to wisdom, and that it, like other things, is to be purchased with reentry. Vulgate, Quid prodest stulto habere divitias, cum sapientiam emere non possit? The rabbis in later time were not allowed to take fees for teaching; but it was customary to make offerings to seers and wise men, when their services were engaged or their advice was asked (see the case of Saul and Samuel, 1 Samuel 9:7, 1 Samuel 9:8). The last clause gives the reason why it is useless for a fool to try to learn wisdom even at a large expenditure on teachers. Seeing he hath no heart to it; i.e. no capability for receiving it; his mental digestion cannot assimilate it. The heart, as we have already noticed, is regarded as the seat of the understanding. Thus the LXX; "Why doth a fool have wealth? for a man without heart cannot acquire wisdom." In the Gospel Christ calls his disciples "fools and slow of heart to believe what the prophets had written, and himself opened their mind (τὸν νοῦν), that they might understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:25, Luke 24:45). The Septuagint and Vulgate here introduce a distich derived from portions of Proverbs 17:19, Proverbs 17:20, "He who raises his house high seeketh destruction; and he who perversely declineth from learning (ὁ δὲ σκολιάζων τοῦ μαθεῖν) shall fall into evils."

Proverbs 17:17

A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Some find a climax in the two clauses, and translate the last as Revised Version margin, "And is born as a brother for adversity," the same person being meant in both members of the sentence. A real friend loves his friend in prosperity and adversity; yea, he is more than a friend in time of need—he is a brother, as affectionate and as trusty as one connected by the closest ties of relationship (comp. Proverbs 18:24). Siracides gives a very cruel version of this proverb, "A friend cannot be known in prosperity; and an enemy cannot be hidden in adversity. In the prosperity of a man enemies will be grieved; but in his adversity even a friend will depart" (Ecclesiastes 12:8, etc.). Cicero had a truer notion of the stability of friendship when he quoted Ennius's dictum, "Amicus certus in re incerta cernitur" ('De Amicit.,' 17.). Misfortune, says our maxim, is the touchstone of friendship; and one Greek gnome enjoins—

Ἰδίας νόμιζε τῶν φίλων τὰς συμφοράς

"Thy friend's misfortunes deem to be thine own;"

while another runs—

Κρίνει φίλους ὁ καιρὸς ὥς χρυσὸν τὸ πῦρ.

"The crisis tests a friend, as fire the gold."

Septuagint, "Have thou a friend forevery crisis, and let brethren be useful in adversities; for for this they are made." Commenting on the expression, "is born," Wordsworth fancifully remarks, "Adversity brings him forth. He comes, as it were, out of the womb of calamity, and seems to be born for it."

Proverbs 17:18

A man void of understanding (Hebrew, heart) striketh hands; clinches the bargain which makes him responsible (see on suretyship, Proverbs 6:1, etc.; and note, Proverbs 20:16). Becometh surety in the presence of his friend; to his friend for some third party. What is here censured is the weakness which, for the sake of perhaps worthless companions, lets itself be hampered and endangered by others' obligations. For, as our adage runs, he that is surety for another is never sure himself. The Septuagint takes the "striking of hands" to be a sign of joy (Vulgate, plaudet manibus), "The foolish man claps (ἐπικροτεῖ) and rejoices in himself, so also he who pledges himself for his friend."

Proverbs 17:19

He loveth transgression that loveth strife, because strife leads to many breaches of the commandments (comp. Proverbs 29:22; James 1:20). Septuagint, "He who loveth sin rejoices in battles." And he that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction. He who builds a sumptuous house and lives in the way that his magnificent surroundings demand draws ruin on himself, either because he affects a state which he is unable to support, or acts so as to provoke reprisals and injurious consequences. The entrance to a Palestinian house would usually be of humble dimensions and sparse ornamentation; any doorway of great architectural pretensions would be uncommon, and would be regarded as a token of extraordinary wealth or reprehensible pride. Aben Ezra, taking "gate" as a metaphor for "mouth," explains the hemistich of the danger of random or excessive speech. This makes a good parallel with the first clause; but it is doubtful whether the words will bear this interpretation (see Hitzig); and the two clauses may present two forms of selfishness, captiousness and ostentation, both of which lead to quarrels and ruin (comp. Proverbs 16:18).

Proverbs 17:20

He that hath a froward heart findeth no good. (For "froward," see on Proverbs 11:20; for "find good," on Proverbs 16:20.) The perverse, wilful man shall not prosper, shall win no blessing in his worldly matters, much less in spiritual things. Septuagint, "He who is hard of heart meeteth not with good things." He that hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief; literally, he who turns himself about with his tongue, saying one thing at one time and something quite contrary at another. Vulgate, qui vertit linguam; Septuagint, ἀνὴρ εὐμετάβολος γλώσσῃ, "easily changed in tongue" (comp. Proverbs 8:13; Proverbs 10:31, where the word is different). "Mischief" (ra) "is trouble," "calamity," as in Proverbs 13:17. Speaking of the various aspects which words may assume, Cato ('Dist.,' 4.20) says—

"Sermo hominum mores et celat et indicat idem."

"Man's words his character reveal,
But often they his mind conceal?

Proverbs 17:21

He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow (comp. Proverbs 17:25). The words for "fool" in the two clauses are different. Here it is kesil, which implies bold, self-confident folly, the worst form of the vies; in the second hemistich it is nabal, which rather denotes dulness and stupidity, a want of mental power. A conceited, offensive fool causes infinite trouble to his father, both from his need of constant correction, and the watchfulness required to repair the consequences of his foolish actions. There is also the grief at seeing instruction and warning thrown away on a worthless object. Septuagint, "The heart of a fool is a pain to him who possesseth it." The father of a fool hath no joy. The contrast in the ease of a good son is seen in Proverbs 15:20 and Proverbs 23:24. The LXX. adds a clause from Proverbs 10:1, with the view of improving the parallelism, "But a prudent son rejoiceth his mother."

Proverbs 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine. So Aben Ezra, understanding the particle of comparison, which is not in the Hebrew. The ward translated "medicine" (gehah) occurs nowhere else, and probably means "healing" "relief." The clause is better rendered, a cheerful heart maketh a good healing (comp. Proverbs 15:13; Proverbs 16:25). Vulgate, aetatem floridam facit; Septuagint, εὐεκτεῖν ποιεῖ, "makes one to be in good case." A cheerful, contented disposition enables a men to resist the attacks of disease, the mind, ms every one knows, having most powerful influence over the body. Ec 30:22, "The gladness of the heart is the life of man, and the joyfulness of a man prolongeth his days." A broken spirit drieth the bones; destroys all life and vigour (comp. Proverbs 3:8; Psalms 22:15; Psalms 32:4). We all remember the distich—

"A merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad tires in a mile-a."

So the rabbis enjoin, "Give ears no room in thine heart, for care hath killed many". Religious gladness is a positive duty, and "low spirits," as Isaac Williams says, "are a sin." Asks the Greek moralist—

Ἄρ ἐστὶ συγγενές τι λύπη καὶ βίος

And Lucretius (3.473) affirms—

"Nam dolor ac morbus leti fabricator uterque est."

"Workers of death are sorrow and disease."

Proverbs 17:23

A gift out of the bosom; i.e. secretly from the fold of the garment, and not from the purse or bag wherein money was ostensibly carried. A corrupt judge "taketh," i.e. receives a bribe conveyed to him secretly (Proverbs 21:14). To pervert the ways of judgment. The judges had no appointed salaries; hence the unprincipled among them were open to bribery. The strict injunctions of the Law, and the stern denunciations of the prophets, were alike ineffectual in checking corruption (see Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; Isaiah 1:23; Jeremiah 22:17; Ezekiel 13:19; Hosea 4:18, etc.). Septuagint, "The man that receiveth gifts in his bosom unjustly, his ways shall not prosper." For, as Job avows (Job 15:34), "Fire shall consume the tabernacles of bribery." The LXX. adds, "The impious turns aside from the ways of righteousness."

Proverbs 17:24

Wisdom is before [the face of] him that hath understanding. The idea is that the intelligent man directs his look towards Wisdom, and therefore she beams upon him with all her light; as the Vulgate puts it, "In the face of the prudent wisdom shines." He has one object to which he directs all his attention (Proverbs 15:14). The Septuagint rendering is not so satisfactory: "The countenance of a prudent man is wise;" he shows in his look and bearing the wisdom that guides him. Thus Ecclesiastes 8:1, "A man's wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the hardness of his face is changed." The eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth. A fool has no one definite object in view; he pursues a hundred different things, as they happen to come in his way, but misses the most important quest of all and fritters away the powers which might have aided him to obtain wisdom.

Proverbs 17:25

This verse is more or less a repetition of Proverbs 17:21; Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 15:20; and comp. Proverbs 19:13. A grief (kaas). The Vulgate and Septuagint translate, "anger." A foolish son provokes the wrath of his father, and is bitterness to her that bare him, "Bitterness" (memer) oesurs nowhere else; mar and marar are common enough.

Proverbs 17:26

Also (gam). This may be intended to connect this verso with what was said above (Proverbs 17:23) about the perversion of justice; or, as is more probable, it is used to emphasize what is coming, To punish the just is not good. Damnum inferre justo, Vulgate; ζημιοῦν, Septuagint; and the word has a special reference to punishment by fire. Nor to strike princes for equity; the expression, "is not good," being understood from the former clause. "Princes" are the noble in character rather than in position only. Two forms of evil are named, viz. to punish the innocent, and to visit with contumely and injury the man of high character who cannot be induced to pervert justice. Revised Version, nor to smite the noble for their uprightness. So virtually the Vulgate, Septuagint, and Syriac. Another rendering is, "to strike the noble is against right," which seems feeble and less suitable to the parallelism.

Proverbs 17:27

He that hath knowledge spareth his words; Revised Version, he that spareth his words hath knowledge; he shows his common sense, not by rash talk or saying all he knows, but by restraining his tongue (comp. Proverbs 10:19; James 1:19). 'Pirke Aboth' (Proverbs 1:18), "All my days I have grown up amongst the wise, and have not found aught good for a man but silence; not learning but doing is the groundwork, and whoso multiplies words occasions sin" Say the Greek gnomes—

Ἐνίοις τὸ σιγᾷν ἐστὶ κρεῖττον τοῦ λέγειν
Κρεῖττον σιωπᾷν ἢ λαλεῖν ἂ μὴ πρέπει

And Theognis (5.815) writes—

Βοῦς μοι ἐπὶ γλώσσης κρατερῷ ποδὶ λὰξ ἐπιβαίνων
Ἴσχει κωτίλλειν καίπερ ἐπιστάμενον

"Speech for a shekel, silence for two; it is like a precious stone" ('Qoheleth Rabbah,' 5.5). Septuagint, "He who spareth to utter a harsh speech is prudent" (ἐπιγνώμων). A man of understanding is of an excellent spirit; Revised Version, he that is of a coot spirit is a man of understanding; i.e. he who considers before he speaks, and never answers in hot haste, proves that he is wise and intelligent. Septuagint, "The long suffering man is prudent." The above is the reading of the Khetib, followed by most interpreters. The Keri gives, "of a precious spirit" (pretiosi spiritus, Vulgate), that is, one whose words are weighty and valuable, not lavishly thrown about, but reserved as costly jewels.

Proverbs 17:28

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise. Not betraying his ignorance and incapacity by words, a foolish man is credited with possessing sense (comp. Job 13:5). Proverbs to this effect are found in all languages. Thus the Greek—

Πᾶς τις ἀπαίδευτος φρονιμώτατος ἐστὶ σιωπῶν.

Cato, 'Dist.,' 1.3—

"Virtutem primam esse puta compescere linguam;

Proximus ille Deo qui scit ratione tacere."

Talmud, "Silence becomes the wise, much more feels." The Dutch have appropriated this maxim, "Zweigen de dwazen zij waren wijs, …. Were fools silent, they would pass for wise." "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses." "Silence," says the Sanskrit gnome, "is the ornament of the ignorant." "Talking comes by nature," say the Germans, "silence of understanding." The LXX. gives a different turn to the first clause: "A foolish man inquiring of wisdom will have wisdom imputed to him;" the expressed desire of knowledge will be taken as a proof of intelligence. The second clause is coordinate with the former. He that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding; Revised Version, when he shutteth his lips, he is esteemed as prudent; Septuagint, "A man making himself dumb will seem to be prudent." Theophrastus is said to have thus addressed a guest who was very silent at table: "If you are a fool, you act wisely; if you are wise, you act foolishly." "Let every man," says St. James (James 1:19), "be swift to hear, slow to speak."


Proverbs 17:5

Mocking the poor

The terrible inequality of human lots was never more apparent than it is in the present day. England is renowned for her wealth; yet England is a haunt of hungry misery. It is nothing but selfish hypocrisy to justify this condition of affairs by quoting the words of our Lord, "The poor always ye have with you" (John 12:8). If they are always with us in abject need and distress, so much the worse for the condition of society. The statement of a distressing fact is no justification for it. Meanwhile, if the huge evil of pauperism cannot be abolished at once, it is our duty to lessen, not to aggravate it.


1. When their condition is disregarded. There are thousands of people living in affluence who simply ignore the fact that they have needy brethren. Dives at his feast does not give a thought to Lazarus pining at his gate. Surely it is a mockery to the awful misery of the East End that the West End feasts and fetes itself with undisturbed complacency.

2. When their rights are neglected. This happens in many ways, even in an age and a country that boasts of its administration of justice.

(1) The so called "sweating system" is nothing better than robbery, by means of which the strong take advantage of the necessities of the weak.

(2) It is hard for poor people to avail themselves of the law courts; so that the cry is raised that "there is one law for the rich and another for the poor."

(3) Poor men have the natural rights of their manhood treated with contempt. The courtesy which is offered to the well to do is denied to them. Rough treatment is meted out to them. Common politeness is refused to a man with a threadbare coat.

3. When their deficiencies are ridiculed. The poor man is generally illiterate, his "speech bewrayeth him." He has never learnt the manners of good society. So the classes above him put up their eyeglasses to inspect him, as though he were some strange, repulsive animal.

4. When their merits are ignored. There is honest, poverty. There are brave men fighting against adverse circumstances with the courage of heroes. Are these people to be mucked at simply because they cannot put money in their purses? The kindness of the poor to the poor is a rebuke to the cynicism of the rich. Yet how difficult it is for poor men to be duly recognized! Dr. Johnson spoke from experience when he said—

"This mournful truth is everywhere confess'd
Slow rises worth by poverty depressed."

The world mocks the poor when it judges people by the fashion of their clothes and the size of their houses, instead of looking to their character and lives.

II. CONSIDER THE GREAT SIN OF MOCKING THE POOR. He who does this "reproacheth his Maker." For the God who made the rich man also made the poor man. The reproach of the child is a reproach of his Father. We do more than wrong our brethren when we treat the unfortunate with contempt; we insult our God. He is the God of the poor, and he takes their wrongs as injuries to himself. This is no slight, shadowy offence. It is an awful sin in the sight of Heaven. The only reason that is suggested why Dives should be writhing in torments of fire is that he was a rich man who gave no heed to the misery of his neighbour. Here is an awful prospect for the careless comfortable classes of England! The evil is aggravated with us, because we profess that religion which preaches a gospel to the poor. In the Church of Christ rich and poor meet together. For the rich man to despise his fellow Christian, then, is for him to deny his Master, "who had not where to lay his head." Let it be remembered that Christ, who was rich, "for our sakes became poor." He is the Friend and Brother of the poor.

Proverbs 17:10

The wisdom of accepting a reproof

I. IT IS DIFFICULT TO ACCEPT A REPROOF. Only the wise man will take it. Many difficulties stand in the way.

1. It is hard to believe that the reproving counsellor is a true friend. He appears to be censorious. We think he takes a pleasure in finding fault with us. We accuse him of a Pharisaic self-satisfaction in comparing his own virtue with our fault.

2. It is difficult to admit the application of the accusation to ourselves. David is indignant at Nathan's recital of the parable of the ewe lamb. Yet he fails to see that the moral of it comes home to himself till the prophet exclaims," Thou art the man!"

3. It is not easy to confess our own humiliation. When we see that we are accused, pride rises up to defend us. It is possible for a large amount of pride to lodge with a great quantity of folly. Indeed, the more a person is emptied of real worth the more room is there in him for self-inflation.

4. It is troublesome to yield to a reproof. To do so we must not merely admit our fault, but consent to mend our ways. We must allow the reproof to work actively in us if it is to be of any use. The drunkard is often ready to confess his sin, but he is not so eager to renounce the cause of it.

5. It is distressing to bear the reproof of God. In reading the Bible people are tempted to appropriate the promises to themselves and to leave the threatenings for their brethren. It needs a divinely inspired wisdom to help us to profit by the warnings of Scripture.

II. IT IS WISE TO ACCEPT A REPROOF. Many as are the obstructions that stand in the way of our receiving and acting upon it, we should do well to conquer them. He is but a foolish person who despises correction. The wise man may shrink from it, but he will not reject it.

1. A true reproof is justly due. We have earned it by our own fault. It is foolish to kick against the consequences of our own conduct.

2. A reproof is a wholesome corrective. It is not a judge's sentence, but a friend's counsel, Its object is not condemnation, but salvation.

3. A reproof is a mild substitute for harder treatment. While we foolishly rail at its harshness, we should be thankful for the lenity of the most stern well deserved reproof. It might have been dispensed with, and we might have received condign punishment. The reproof is not so hard to bear as the "hundred stripes" that may follow if it is disregarded. It is wise to close with the earlier counsel.

4. A reproof is an element of Divine grace. Christ sends the Comforter to convict the world of sin as well as of righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). It is to our own cost that we receive this gracious Guest with resentful discourtesy. But, on the other hand, we plainly need Divine grace to accept a reproof in a meek and humble spirit. The wisdom to receive a reproof well is so difficult to attain that we need to seek it as an inspiration from God.

Proverbs 17:14

The beginning of strife.

I. STRIFE MAY HAVE A SMALL BEGINNING. It is not necessary to intend great mischief if a quarrel is to be started. One word of an unfriendly character may be enough to mar the peace of brethren. A single act of unkindness may be the beginning of discord, provoking retaliation, and so originating a long continued state of war. A quarrel may arise among very insignificant persons. It may be concerned with very unimportant questions. It may appear as a very slight affair—"a tempest in a teacup."

II. STRIFE CROWS WINES. The small hole in the dyke through which a little water oozes is worn by the escaping stream so that it becomes larger, and the larger it is the more water pours through it; and this, in turn, will tear still greater pieces from the banks. A little rift within the lute is the commencement of the mischief that will silence all the music. A dispute between two frontier officers may lead to a war between two nations. Thus the strife between a few grows into a quarrel between many persons.

III. STRIFE GROWS MORE INTENSE. It not only involves more persons; it also becomes aggravated in its violence. Increasing in volume, it also grows in vehemence. The flood rushes with alarming velocity. The misunderstanding becomes a war. The coldness between friends turns into the bitterness of enmity. Anger degenerates into hatred.

IV. STRIFE BECOMES UNCONTROLLABLE. It might be arrested in its early stage. A boy pressing his knee against the small hole in the dyke could hold back the trickling stream. But if the mischief is not checked in an early stage, "all the king's horses" cannot arrest the mad career of the escaping river. An insignificant person may start a quarrel, which many wise and strong men will fail to allay. It is easier to be a war maker than a peace maker. Events grow too strong for the moat powerful energies of man.

V. STRIFE ISSUES IN INCALCULABLE RESULTS. The flood pours down through the valley and over the plain, uprooting trees, devastating fields, deluging homesteads, drowning men and cattle. The mischief is enormous, and the course and extent of it cannot be measured beforehand. No one can tell what harm may grow out of his meddlesome mischief making. A foolish person may mean to do no real harm, only to show a little passing spite. But he has let out the waters; the flood gates are open; the huge army of destruction is scouring the country. Amazed and aghast at the unexpected consequences of his folly, he would fain undo the reckless deed or stay its fatal consequences. But it is too late. Those consequences have passed beyond his reach. He can never tell how far the evil effects of what he has done may extend.

VI. STRIFE SHOULD BE CHECKED IN ITS EARLIEST STAGE. It is best to avoid the very beginning of it. But if, unhappily, it has been started, it should be stayed at once. To nurse a quarrel is worse than to cherish a viper in one's bosom. Fling it away and crush it, before it spawns a deadly brood of evil. The great human quarrel with heaven, begun in Eden, was like the letting out of waters. So is the soul's quarrel with God. It is best to make peace at once, through repentance and contrition.

Proverbs 17:17

The true friend

I. THE PORTRAIT OF THE TRUE FRIEND. We must study its lineaments that we may know the original. The word "friend" is used so loosely, often as a term of mere politeness, that some such inquiry is necessary if we would disentangle it from frivolous associations and affix it to its worthy object.

1. The essential note of true friendship is invariability of affection. The friend "loveth at all times." This does not mean that he is always displaying his affection. Effusiveness is no proof of sincerity. "Still waters run deep." Neither are we to suppose that the affection must be always shown in the same way. The manifestation of it must vary according to the moods and feelings of the friend, and also according to the circumstances and behaviour of the object of affection. There are times when friendship must be angry, when love must frown. Still the love must remain.

(1) True friendship is independent of time. It does not wear out with years. The true friend of youth is the friend of manhood.

(2) It is independent of circumstances. It survives the loss of social delights. It holds on through poverty

(3) It is not shaken by slander.

(4) It even outlives unworthy treatment.

2. The great test of true friendship is adversity.

(1) Then the friendship is most valuable. If it will not serve then it is of little use. We want friends to whom we can go in the hour of need.

(2) Then its quality is proved. The shallow, selfish man cuts his acquaintances in their trouble. Poverty severs the cords of pretended friendship. But real friendship is proved and comes out at its best under adverse circumstances. Then its brotherly character is revealed. The friend of prosperous days becomes the brother in days of trouble.

3. The secret of true friendship is love. Love is stronger than death, and love can survive the loss of all things. It endures through time and change, and in spite of violent strains upon its strength.

II. THE DISCOVERY OF THE TRUE FRIEND. The portrait is ideal. Do we ever see the ideal realized? In a measure, yes, and that repeatedly. The cynical pessimism that disbelieves in any generous, unselfish friendship is false to the nature of man, and false to the noble tale of good lives. Generosity is not dead. Friendship is possible. But every human friend is imperfect. Surely the portrait of the true friend must suggest to us One who alone perfectly answers to its noble features. We discover the true Friend in Christ.

1. He gives us the note of true friendship in invariability of affection. His love to the race endures through the ages. His love to each individual of his people is ever-abiding and constant. It outlasts many provocations, frequent unfaithfulness, great unworthiness on their part. Christ did not cease to love St. Peter when the apostle denied his Master.

2. He is a Brother in affliction. The Companion of our joys, he is especially our Helper in trouble; he came expressly to save from the terrible evil of sin. He is the sympathizing Friend for all sorrow.

3. The secret of his friendship is love. It is not our claim or attractiveness, but the love of Christ, that makes him our abiding, faithful Friend. If we would measure the durability of his friendship, we must gauge the greatness of his undying love,

Proverbs 17:22

The healing effects of cheerfulness

I. CHEERFULNESS IS COMMENDED IN SCRIPTURE. The Bible does not put a premium on sombreness. It never suggests that there is a merit in gloom. It urges the need of repentance, calls upon men to grieve for their sins, threatens the wrath of God against impenitence, and so brings up occasions for distress of soul; it also rebukes "the laughter of fools," the empty merriment of frivolity and the riot and revelry of dissipation (Ecclesiastes 7:6). But it does not commend sorrow on its own account. On the contrary, it brings joy and encourages gladness. Christ gave his joy to his people (John 15:11). St. Paul emphatically reiterated his advice to his readers to rejoice (Philippians 4:4). God loves his children and delights in their happiness. God is blessed, therefore happy; and he desires for his children a share in his blessedness, which must involve a participation in his gladness.

II. CHEERFULNESS EXERTS A HEALING INFLUENCE OVER THE INDIVIDUAL SOUL. Too much indulgence in sorrow induces a morbid condition. It is not healthy in itself, for man is not meant to be a perpetual incarnation of pain. The natural merriment of children is not only innocent; it is positively helpful to the sane growth of their minds. Cheerful Christians are strong Christians; for "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). It is easier to bear disappointment when the spirit is free and buoyant. Temptation is less powerful against a contented soul than against one that is enfeebled by fretful dissatisfaction. We can do our work best when we do it gladly. In a cheerful mood we take the widest, wisest, healthiest views of truth. Sour feelings lead to false estimates of the world. Even after sin and repentance, when the sinner is pardoned, a sober, humble cheerfulness is healthier than perpetual lamentation. Therefore the fatted calf is killed, etc.

III. CHEERFULNESS IS A SOURCE OF HEALTHY INFLUENCE FOR OTHERS. The gloomy saint cultivates his own sombre sanctity at the expense of his neighbours. He should be helping them and attracting them into the way of life. But he is repelling and hindering them. Children are best won by a cheerful presentation of religion. The indifferent are made to see that the cross of Christ does not mean perpetual distress and trouble to the Christian. The lost and fallen have hopes inspired within them when they are approached with hopes of better things. The gospel is goodness; it should be preached with a cheerful spirit; its "glad tidings of great joy" speak healing to the nations.

IV. CHEERFULNESS IS TO BE BEST ATTAINED IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. The merry soul may be only superficially glad, or even sinfully delighted, when it should be humbled in repentance. But after repentance and pardon God gives his own deep, sure joy. This joy rests on the love of God and fellowship with him. It is confirmed by service. When one can say, "I delight to do thy will, O my God" (Psalms 40:8), he has reached the true fountain of a cheerful spirit. Such a joy can master adversity and rejoice in tribulation (2 Corinthians 6:10). It was when engaged in an apostolic mission that Paul and Silas were able to sing in prison (Acts 16:25).


Proverbs 17:1-9

Traits of outward dad inward happiness. Happiness depends more on the inward state than on the outward condition


I. CONTENTMENT AS AN ELEMENT OF HAPPINESS. (Proverbs 17:1.) The dry morsel, with rest and quiet in the spirit, is better, says the preacher, than the most luxurious meal; the allusion being to slaughtered sacrificial animals as the chief constituents of a rich repast (Proverbs 9:2; Genesis 43:16). It suggests the picture of "holy love, found in a cottage" (Matthew Henry). The secret of happiness lies rather in limiting our desires than in increasing our substance.

II. PRUDENCE AND THRIFT. (Proverbs 17:2.) The prudent servant may rise, and probably not seldom did rise in ancient times, to superiority over the idle and dissipated son of the house. In this light Abraham looked upon Eliezer—that he might probably step into the place of a son in his house. How much more depends, in reference to power and influence in this world, upon sense and prudence than upon birth and every external advantage!

III. THE TRUE HEART. (Proverbs 17:3.) The heart which has been tried in the scales of Jehovah, assayed by the tests of an infallible truth. We need to remind ourselves how little we know of the depths of human character. Our inquiries and our teachings are inadequate and deceptive. The search of the human heart is a royal privilege of God. Without the true, the divinely approved heart, there is no real root of good or bliss.

IV. A SINCERE TEMPER. (Proverbs 17:4.) This is suggested, as often, by the hideous contrast of the wicked, inwardly corrupt heart, which willingly takes note of and inclines to lying words, to the tempter and his wishes. It takes pleasure in the "naughty words" it dares not, perhaps, utter itself; is glad to borrow words from another to fit its own evil thoughts. In contrast to this, the spirit of the candid and sincerely good man is that expressed by Bishop Hall, "If I cannot stop other men's mouths from speaking ill, I will either open my mouth to reprove it, or else I will stop my ears from hearing it, and let him see in my face that he hath no room in my heart."

V. COMPASSION, PITY, AND SYMPATHY. (Proverbs 17:5.) Contempt of the poor is contempt of the majesty of God. The greater part of poverty is not wilful; it is in the course of the providence of God. "To pour contempt on the current coin with the king's image on it is treason against the sovereign." There is something worse than even this, viz. to rejoice in the calamities of others. It is a peculiarly inhuman view, and is certain to be punished in the remorse of the conscience, in the closing up of the way to God's heart in the time of one's own need.

VI. FAMILY JOYS. (Proverbs 17:6.) To leave out these would be to leave out that which gives to life its chief fragrance and charm. As children are the pride and ornament of the parents, so the sons, on the other hand, so long as they themselves are not fathers, can only fall back upon the father. The family tree, the higher it rises and the more widely it extends, increases the honour of the race.

VII. NOBLENESS Of SPEECH. (Proverbs 17:7.) The first element of this is, as so often insisted upon, truthfulness in the inward parts. The second is appropriateness, regard to what is becoming. Thus a high assuming tone ill befits the fool; much less falsity, affectation, hypocrisy, a noble mind. To recollect what is becoming in us is a great safeguard to morality and guide to conduct. In the common affairs of life we should not seek to rise above our station, nor should we fall below it. In religion there is also a just mean—the recollection of what it is to be a Christian; and the effort not to rise above the humility of that position, as not to fall below its grandeur and nobility. "If truth be banished from all the rest of the world," said Louis IX. of France, "it ought to be found in the breast of princes." Let us substitute the word "Christians."

VIII. THE VALUE OF GIFTS. (Proverbs 17:8.) There seems to be no reason for taking this only in the bad sense with reference to bribery. Lawful gifts and presents have their charm as well as unlawful. The power of gold to corrupt; the saying of Philip of Macedon, that there was no fortress so strong but that it might be stormed if an ass laden with gold were driven to the gate;—all this is well known. But equally true is it that honest gifts of kindness, having no impure purpose in view, are like jewels. They sparkle with the lustre of human love when turned in any light, and win friends and good will for the giver wherever he goes. It is the generous freedom to give, not necessarily of silver and gold, but of "such things as we have," which is here commended and noted as one of the secrets of happiness. The deepest joy is, in all true gifts, to be expressing the one great gift of the heart to God.

IX. CONCEALING AND FORGIVING LOVE. (Proverbs 17:9.) Let us remind ourselves that in the Law the word for forgiving or atoning is "cover." And frequently we read of God covering the sins of the penitent. This relation is for the imitation of Christians, "followers of God as dear children." "Love covers a multitude of sins." Like the healing hand of Nature, which we see everywhere busy concealing unsightliness, veiling the old ruin with the beautiful ivy and other creeping plants. On the contrary, the talebearer has an eye forevery crack and seam in the structure of society; tears open and causes to bleed the wounds that might have been healed. Be true, be gentle, be generous, be God-like and Christ-like,—such are the main lessons of this section.—J.

Proverbs 17:10-15

Dark phases of human character

We may take Proverbs 17:10 as an introduction to what follows. Exhortations are to be given, and the preacher would prepare us to receive them. On the sensitive mind the censure of the good makes a deeper impression than a hundred blows on the back of the fool. Sincerity, love of truth and tender sympathy, become the exhorter, and humble docility the object of his warnings or rebukes. "Let the righteous smite me, and it shall be a kindness" (Psalms 141:5).

I. THE CONTENTIOUS SPIRIT. (Proverbs 17:11.)

1. His temper. He seeks rebellion. In private life he may be the man who revolts from the established usages of society, delights in singularity for its own sake, in defying opinion, showing disrespect to names of authority. In public life he may become the heartless demagogue and pest of the commonwealth.

2. His doom. A cruel angel shall be sent against him by God; that is, generally, his offence will be visited upon him severely. The curse upon the contentious spirit is the counterpart of the great evangelical blessing on the peacemakers, who shall be called "the children of God."

3. His dangerous qualities. (Proverbs 17:12.) Rage is the principle of his action, the motive of his life. To irritate him, to thwart him, is like bringing on one's self the fierce attack of the bear robbed of her whelps. Rage united with intelligence is the most fearful combination of deadly force known in the world. From so dread a picture we turn with the prayer, "From hatred and malice, good Lord, deliver us!" "Oh, may we live the peaceful life!"

II. THE UNGRATEFUL MAN. (Proverbs 17:13.)

1. His conduct. He requites good with evil. As there is no virtue so natural, so spontaneous, so pleasurable, as gratitude, so there is no mere negative vice so odious as ingratitude. But the positive reversal of gratitude in returning evil for good—for this there is no one word in our (nor probably in any) language. It is a wickedness indeed unutterable.

2. His doom is punishment from God. And the severity of the punishment teaches by contrast how dear is gratitude to God. As evil shall ever haunt the house of the dark rebel against light and love, so shall joy and peace attend the steps of the peaceful child of God.

III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF MISCHIEF INCALCULABLE. (Proverbs 17:14.) A homely figure impresses the truth in a way not to be forgotten. Similarly, James compares the progress of mischief to the sparks which may be easily fanned into a great conflagration (James 3:5). How great the service that may be rendered by those who, in the interests of peace, at once trample out the sparks or seal up the avenues of the flood. These rules are good for the avoidance of strife. Consider:

1. Whether the dispute is not about. words rather than things.

2. Whether we really understand, the subject.

3. Whether it is worth disputing about.

IV. MORAL INDIFFERENCE. (Verse 15.) To speak the bad man fair, to justify or excuse his evil, and to censure or criticize or condemn the good, from prudence or other motive,—this shows a blindness to moral distinctions, a wilful insensibility which is incompatible with religion, and incurs the deep disapproval and judgment of Jehovah. We have examples in Ezra 4:1-16; Acts 24:1-9. Religion teaches us to distinguish between things that differ; if we have not learnt that lesson, we have learned nothing. If, having learned it, we disregard it, our profession of religion becomes converted into an hypocrisy and an abomination.—J.

Proverbs 17:16-20

Light in the head, love in the heart

I. MONEY USELESS WITHOUT SENSE. (Proverbs 17:16.) The true view of money is that of means to ends. But if the ends are not seen, or, being seen, are not earnestly desired, of what avail the means? If our heart be set upon the right objects of life, opportunities will always present themselves. If blind to life's meaning, no advantages wilt seem to be advantages.


1. In general. It is constant; it is unvarying; it is adapted to all the various states and vicissitudes of life.

2. In particular. It takes new life out of sorrow. In distress, the friend is developed into the "brother," and is taken close to the heart. True friendship gladdens at the opportunity of self-devotion for the beloved one's good. It is the distress of our sin which makes us acquainted with him "that sticketh closer than a brother." But thank God for all those who are newborn to us in the freshly revealed grace and goodness of their hearts amidst the scenes of suffering.

III. THE STRICT DUTY OF CAUTION IN REFERENCE TO RESPONSIBILITY. (Proverbs 17:18.) The consequences of becoming bail for a defaulter were in ancient life very terrible. Nowadays there are prudent men who will never set their hand to an acceptance. Although all moral duties are not equally amiable in their aspect, it must be remembered that the ability to do good to others rests upon strict prudence with reference to one s self. We may be maimed or destroyed by imprudence.

IV. RESISTANCE TO THE BEGINNINGS OF EVIL. (Proverbs 17:19.) Contention or tempers and passion in general leads on to graver sin. Open the way to one sin, and others will immediately troop forward in its rear. Again, contentiousness and pride are in close connection; the latter is generally the spring of the former. And both are ruinous in their tendency. High towers invite the lightning; but he that does not soar too loftily will suffer the less by a fall. A modest way of life, within our means, is the only truly Christian life.

V. THE TRUE HEART AND THE GUILELESS TONGUE. (Proverbs 17:20.) There is no health, no salvation for self or others, in the false heart and the tongue that flickers and wavers between opposing impulses. Old Homer has the sentiment that he who speaks one thing and thinks another in his heart is hateful as the gates of hell.

1. There is no true light in the head without love in the heart.

2. There is no dualism in our moral character.

3. There is a correspondence between our outward lot and our inward choice.—J.

Proverbs 17:21-28

Varied experiences of good and evil in life

We may divide them into the sorrowful, the joyous, and the mixed experiences.

I. SAD EXPERIENCES. The sorrow of thankless children. (Proverbs 17:21, Proverbs 17:25.) To name it is enough for thereto who have known it. It has its analogue in Divine places. How pathetically does the Bible speak of the grief of God over the rebellious children he has nourished and brought up! and of Christ's lamentation as of a mother over Jerusalem! Let us remember that our innocent earthly sorrows are reflected in the bosom of our God.

II. JOYOUS EXPERIENCES. (Proverbs 17:22.) The blessing of a cheerful heart, who can overprize it in relation to personal health, to social charm and helpfulness? Contrasted with the troubled spirit, like a parching fever in the bones, it is the perpetual sap of life and source of all its greenness and its fruit. A simple faith is the best known source of cheerfulness. It was a fine remark of a good friend of Dr. Johnson's, that "he had tried to be a philosopher, but somehow always found cheerfulness creeping in."


1. The briber. (Proverbs 17:23.) How strongly marked is this sin in the denunciations of the Bible! and yet how little the practice seems affected in a land which boasts above others of its love for the Bible! The stealth and so the shame, the evil motive, the perverse result, all are branded here. "He that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, he shall dwell on high" (Isaiah 33:15).

2. The quick perception of wisdom and the warning glance of folly. The one sees before him what is to be known or done at once; the other is lost in cloudy musings. The more a man gapes after vanity, the more foolish the heart becomes. In religion we see this temper in the restless roving to and fro, the constant query, "Who will show us any good?" "He is full of business at church; a stranger at home; a sceptic abroad; an observer in the street; everywhere a fool."

3. Harshness in judges. (Proverbs 17:26.) Fining and flogging are mentioned. The writer had observed some such scene with the horror of a just man. Inequity or inhumanity in the judge seems an insult against the eternal throne of Jehovah.

4. The wisdom of a calm temper and economy of words. (Proverbs 17:27, Proverbs 17:28.) An anxiety to talk is the mark of a shallow mind. The knowledge of the season of silence and reserve may be compared to the wisdom of the general who knows when to keep his forces back and when to launch them at the foe. The composed spirit comes from the knowledge that truth will prevail in one way or another, and the time for our utterance will arrive. Lastly, the wisdom of silence, so often preached by great men. Even the fool may gain some credit for wisdom which he does not possess by holding his tongue; and this is an index of the reality. Our great example here is the silence of Jesus, continued for thirty years; out of that silence a voice at length proceeded that will ever vibrate through the world.—J.


Proverbs 17:3

Divine proving and purifying

Heat, like water, is a very bad master but a very excellent servant. It proves whether our acquisition has or has not any value, whether it should be carefully preserved or be "trodden underfoot;" and it refines that which has any worth at all, separating the dross and securing for us the pure metal which we want for use or ornament. What we do with our materials God does with ourselves; but the fires through which he sends us are of a very different kind from those we kindle.

I. THE FIRES THROUGH WHICH GOD PASSES US. These are the disciplinary experiences through which, in his holy providence and in his fatherly love, he causes us to pass. And of them we may say that their name is legion, for "they are many." They vary as do the histories of human life. It may be

(1) a change for the worse, sudden or gradual, permanent or transient, in our temporal conditions, affluence sinking into competence, or competence into pecuniary embarrassment, or into hard toil and scant enjoyment; or

(2) bereavement and consequent loneliness of spirit, the loss of some near companion whose fellowship was sweet beyond expression, or whose guidance was incalculably helpful; or

(3) disappointment, the going out of some bright hope in the light of which our path had been trodden and the extinction of which throws the future into thick darkness; or

(4) the loss of health and strength, when we are taken away from activities which were congenial or apparently necessary to us, and are shut in to an enforced idleness, from which we long to be delivered; or

(5) the endurance of pain; or

(6) our failure to accomplish some good work on which we had set our heart and put our hand.

II. HIS TRIAL OF OUR SPIRIT. God thus proves us. Theme troubles are trials; they show to our Creator and to ourselves what manner of men we are, what is "the spirit we are of." They prove to him and to us whether we care more about our circumstances than we do about ourselves and our character; they prove whether we have a deep spirit of submission and of trustfulness, or whether our subjection to the will of God is very shallow and departs as soon as it is tested; they prove whether in the hour of need we look above us for strength and succour, or whether we have recourse only to those persons and things which are around us, or whether we descend to props and stays that are positively beneath us. They prove the quality of our Christian character; they sometimes demonstrate its actual unreality.

III. GOD'S REFINING GOODNESS AND WISDOM. God tries our hearts, not merely that he or we may see what is in them, but that they may be purified (see Isaiah 48:10). Many purifying, practical lessons we learn in affliction which we are very slow to receive, and which, but for its discipline, we might never gain at all. They are these, among others.

1. The unsatisfying character of all that is earthly and human.

2. The transitoriness of the present, and the wisdom of laying up treasures in heaven.

3. The secondariness of all claims to those that are Divine, and our consequent obligation to give the first place to the will and the cause of our Redeemer.

4. Our deep need of Christ as the Lord whom we are to be faithfully serving and the Friend in whose fellowship we are to spend our days. With these great spiritual truths burnt into our souls by the refining fires, we shall have our worldliness and our selfishness expelled, and be vessels of pure gold, meet for the Master's use.—C.

Proverbs 17:6, Proverbs 17:21, Proverbs 17:25

Fatherhood and sonship

Certainly, some of our very greatest mercies are those that come to us in our domestic relationships.

I. THE JOY AND CROWN OF FATHERHOOD AND OF GRANDFATHERHOOD. Our Lord speaks of the mother forgetting her anguish "for joy that a man is born into the world" (John 16:21). The joy of parentage is keen, and it is common; it may, indeed, be said to be universal. And it is pure and good; it elevates and enlarges the soul, taking thought and care away from self to another, and by so doing it distinctly benefits and blesses the nature. And, like all pure joys, it is lasting; it does not evaporate with time; on the other hand, it grows and deepens as the child of its affection develops and matures. Moreover, in the kind providence of God, it is renewable in another generation; for the grandfather has almost as much delight in his grandson as the father in his child (text; Genesis 50:23; Psalms 128:6). Fatherhood (motherhood) is:

1. A natural desire of the human heart.

2. Often the reward which God gives to patient industry and virtue in earlier days; for the setting up of a home is, in many if not in most cases, the attainment of a hope for which the young have striven and waited.

3. Sometimes a source of grievous disappointment and saddest sorrow (Proverbs 17:21, Proverbs 17:25). There is no one in the world who can pierce our souls with such bitter anguish as can our own child when he or she goes astray from wisdom and righteousness.

4. Always an entail of the most serious responsibility; for what we are in spirit and in character it is most likely that our children will become.

5. Therefore a noble opportunity; for it is in our power, by wisdom and virtue, by kindness and piety, to lead our sons into the gates of privilege and up to the gates of the kingdom of Christ.

6. And therefore usually a source of profoundest gratitude and gladness, and the means by which we can hand down our principles and our influence, through our own direct endeavours, to the second and the third generation.

II. THE GLORY OF CHILDHOOD. "The glory of children are their fathers."

1. It is the greatest of all earthly heritages to have parents that can be esteemed and loved. Happy is the son who, as his judgment matures, can honour his father with an undiminishing or even a growing regard and deepening joy.

2. It is a very real delight to be able to look back, through all the later years of life, and recall the memories of the beloved and revered parents who have "passed into the skies"

3. It is the duty of childhood to make the very best response it can make for the love, care, pains, patience, prayerful solicitude, its parents have expended upon it.

4. It will remain a lasting, source of thankfulness and joy that every possible filial attention was paid that could be paid; lighting and smoothing the path of the parents to the very door of heaven.—C.

Proverbs 17:9

(with Proverbs 16:28)

Friendship; the silence that saves and the speech that separates it

We may learn—

I. THE GOODLINESS OF FRIENDSHIP. "Very friends," or "chief friends," points to intimate friendship. This is one of the very fairest and worthiest things under the sun. The man to whom God gives a lifelong faithful friendship is rich in a treasure which wealth cannot buy and the excellency of which it does not equal. It should be:

1. Founded on common attachment to the same great principles, and on mutual esteem.

2. Independent of the changes that occur in circumstances and conditions.

3. Strengthened by adversity.

4. Elevated by piety.

5. Lasting as life. Then it is something which, for intrinsic beauty and substantial worth, cannot be surpassed.

II. THE SILENCE THAT MAY SAVE IT. There is a speech that saves it. Often the interposition of a few words of explanation, removing an offence which would have grown into seriousness, will save a rupture. Sometimes a kindly word of counsel or remonstrance to the imprudent or to the mistaken may have the same happy effect. But, at other times, silence will save it. We are often tempted, even strongly tempted, to say that which would come between two human hearts. To say what we know would only be to speak the truth; it would gratify the curiosity of those present; it would be a pleasant exercise of power or the use of an advantage we happen to possess. The words rise to our very lips. But no; it is not always our duty to say all that we know; it is often our duty to be silent. There are times when to "cover transgression" is an act of wisdom, of kindness, of generosity, of Christ-likeness (see John 8:1-11). Let the fact remain untold; let the hearts that have been united remain bound together; seek and secure the permanence of "love."

III. THE SPEECH THAT WILL SEPARATE IT. A whisperer, one that repeats a matter, does separate friends.

1. There is always some occasion for silence in every man's life. No man is so correct in thought and speech that he could afford to have every utterance repeated to any one and every one. We all want the kindly curtain of silence to be drawn over some sentences that pass our lips.

2. There are always some thoughtless speakers—men and women who will carry injurious reports from house to house, from heart to heart; there are some who are cruelly careless what things they promulgate; there are some who consciously and guiltily enlarge and misrepresent, who form the dangerous and deadly habit of exaggeration, of false colouring, and who end in systematic falsehood. Those who idly and foolishly report what is true are, indeed, less guilty than they who enlarge and pervert. But they are far from guiltless. We are bound to speak with sufficient caution to save ourselves from the charge of circulating evil and spreading sorrow. We are responsible to God not only for the carefully prepared speech, but also for the casual interjection; that is the meaning of our Lord in his familiar words (Matthew 12:36). It behoves us to remember that our brother's reputation, usefulness, happiness, is in our charge, and one slight whisper may destroy it all. One breath of unkindness may start a long train of sad consequences which we have no power at all to stop. A very few unconsidered and unhappily uttered words may sever hearts that have been beating long in loving unison, may disunite lives that have been linked long in the bonds of happy love.—C.

Proverbs 17:14

The growth of strife

Experience shows us that—

I. STRIFE IS A GROWTH. It is as when one letteth out water; first it is the trickling of a few drops, then a tiny rill, then a stream, etc. So with strife; first it is a disturbing thought; then it becomes a warm or a hot feeling; then it utters itself in a strong, provoking word which leads to an energetic resentment and response; then it swells into a decided, antagonistic action; then it grows into a course of opposition, and becomes a feud, a contention, a war.


1. It is the source of untold and incalculable misery to many hearts.

2. It betrays several souls into feelings and into actions which are distinctly wrong and sinful.

3. It presents a moral spectacle which is grievous in the sight of Christ, the Lord of love.

4. It rends in twain that which should be united in one strong and happy circle—the home, the family connection, the Church, the society, the nation.

5. It arrests the progress which would otherwise be made in wisdom and in worth; for it causes numbers of men to expend on bitter controversy and contention the energy and ingenuity they would otherwise expend on rendering service and doing good.

III. OUR DUTY, OUR WISDOM, IS TO ARREST IT AT ITS BEGINNING. You cannot extinguish the conflagration, but you can stamp out the spark; you cannot stop the flow of the river, but you can dam the rill with the palm of your hand. You cannot heal a great schism, but you can appease a personal dispute; or, what is better, you can recall the offensive word you have yourself spoken; or, what is better still, you can repress the rising thought, you can call in to your aid other thoughts which calm and soothe the soul; you can remember him who "bore such contradiction of sinners against himself," who "as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth," and you can maintain a magnanimous silence. When this is no longer possible, because the first inciting word has been uttered and resented, then let there be an earnest and determined effort to quell all heat in your own heart, and to pacify the one whose anger has been aroused. "Blessed are the peacemakers," etc. (see also Matthew 5:25; Romans 12:18).—C.

Proverbs 17:16, Proverbs 17:24

Use and neglect

"There is everything in use," we say. And certainly a man's position at any time depends far less upon his bestowments and advantages than upon the use he has made of them. The wise man, in these verses, laments the fact that the price of wisdom should so often be in the hand of a man who fails to turn it to account (Proverbs 17:16), and that the foolish man wastes his capacities by directing them to things at a distance instead of giving his attention to that which is within his reach. The facts of human life abundantly justify the lament.

I. THE PRESENCE OF OPPORTUNITY. The price of wisdom, and also of worth and of usefulness, is "in our hand." It is not afar off, that we should ask—Who will ascend to the height or travel across the sea to find and fetch it? Opportunity is amongst and even "within us." We find it in:

1. Our natural capacities; here represented by the eyes of a man (Proverbs 17:24). We have the power of vision, not only bodily, but mental and spiritual. God has given us the faculty of perception, of observation, of intuition; we can see what is before us—our interest, our duty, our possibilities.

2. Our various advantages; the education we receive, the friends and kindred who surround us, the literature which is at our command, the resources we inherit, the openings and facilities that are offered us as we move on into life. These are "the price" wherewith we may "buy wisdom" and happiness, usefulness and power. "The gift of God" is a valuable opportunity (see John 4:10).

II. OUR FOOLISH AND GUILTY NEGLECT OF IT. Those who have the very fairest chance of attaining to wisdom and usefulness sometimes wantonly throw it away. The foolish boy, at the best school in the land, will refuse to learn, and comes out a dunce. The foolish apprentice, with the best sources of technical or professional knowledge at his command, wastes his hours in frivolity, and when his time is up is utterly unfit for the occupation of his life. Information of what is happening all over the world may now be had for a penny a day, and, what is far more precious, the knowledge of the will of God as revealed in the life and by the lips of Jesus Christ may be had for twopence; but, with "the price of wisdom" at these figures, there are those who know nothing of the hopes or struggles of mankind, and nothing of the way to eternal life. Duty, secular and sacred, is immediately before the eyes of the foolish, but their gaze is fixed upon anything and everything else; they are dreaming, by day and by night, of impossible or of hopelessly improbable fortune, and while they might be patiently and successfully building up a good estate, the chances of life are slipping through their hands. Such neglect of God-given opportunity is:

1. A most serious sin. It is the act of hiding our talent in the earth which calls forth the strong condemnation, "Thou wicked and slothful servant" (Matthew 25:24-26).

2. The greatest possible folly. It is a practical renunciation of the fair heritage of life which our heavenly Father offers us; it is the act of flinging the price of wisdom "into the waste."

III. OUR WISE USE OF IT. The wise man is he who makes the most and the best he can make of that which is within his reach, that which is "before his face." He does not spend time in looking and longing for that which is "at the ends of the earth;" he sets himself to cultivate the patch of ground, however small and poor, that is just outside his door. He puts out his talents, however mean they may be. He works his capital, however small it may be. He reads well his books, however limited his library may be. He tries to serve others, however narrow his sphere may be. So doing, he is in the way of constant growth and of a large reward (Matthew 25:20-24).—C.

Proverbs 17:17

The friend in need

However we read this passage (see Exposition), we have before us the subject of true and lasting friendship. As is stated in a previous homily (see on Proverbs 17:9), this is founded on a common attachment to the same great principles, moral and religious; and also on a mutual esteem, each heart holding the other in a real regard. When such intelligent esteem ripens into strong affection, we have a result that deserves to bear the beautiful and honourable name of friendship. The true friend is one that "loves at all times," and he is a "brother born for adversity." A false or a weak friendship will not bear the strain which the changeful and hard experiences of life will put upon it; it will break and perish. But a true friendship, well founded and well nourished upon Christian truth, will bear all strains, even those of—


II. CHANGE OF VIEW AND OF OCCUPATION. Friendship usually beans in youth or in the earlier years of manhood; then will come, with maturity of mind and enlargement of knowledge and change of occupation, difference of view on things personal, political, literary, social. But true friendship will endure that strain.

III. REDUCTION. The loss of health; of property or income, and the consequent reduction in style and in resources; mental vigour with the lapse of time or from the burden of oppressive care and overwork. But faithfulness will triumph over this.

IV. PROSPERITY. One may ascend in circumstances, in social position; may be attended and even courted by the wealthy and the powerful; may have his time much occupied by pressing duties; and the friendship begun years ago, in a much lower position, may be threatened; but it should not be sacrificed.

V. DISHONOUR. It does occasionally happen to men that they fall into undeserved reproach. They are misunderstood or they are falsely accused; and the good name is tainted with some serious charge. Neighbours, casual acquaintances, those associated by the slighter social bonds, fall away; they "pass by on the other side." Then is the time tot the true friend to make his faithfulness felt; then he is to show himself the man who "loves at all times," the "brother born for adversity." Then he will not only remember where his friend is living, but he will identify himself with him in every open way, will stand by him and walk with him, and honour him, not reluctantly and feebly, but eagerly and energetically.

VI. DECLENSION. It may happen that one to whom we have given our heart in tender and loyal affection, between whom and ourselves there has existed a long and intimate friendship, will yield to temptation in one or other of its seductive and powerful forms. It may be that he will gradually decline; it may be that he will fall with some sad suddenness into serious wrong doing. Then will come to him compunction, humiliation, desertion, loneliness. All his ordinary companions will fall from him. It will be the extreme of adversity, the lowest deep of misery. Then let true friendship show its hand, offer its strong arm, open its door of refuge and of hope; then let the friend prove himself a "brother born for adversity."

1. Be worthy to love the best, that you may form a true friendship.

2. Ennoble your life and yourself by unwavering fidelity in the testing hour, when your friend is most in need of your loyalty.

3. Secure the abiding love of that Friend who is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever."—C.

Proverbs 17:21, Proverbs 17:25

(See homily on Proverbs 10:1.)—C.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/proverbs-17.html. 1897.
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