Proverbs 17 – Wisdom, Justice, and Family
Better is a dry morsel with quietness,
Than a house full of feasting with strife.
a. Better is a dry morsel with quietness: There is nothing appealing about a dry morsel. Yet the blessing of quietness and peace is so great, that it can make a dry morsel seem better than the alternative presented.
i. “Peace and contentment, and especially domestic peace, are beyond all other blessings.” (Clarke)
ii. “Ponder every thought that may disturb contentment. If you have fewer comforts than you used to have, or fewer comforts than other people have, or fewer comforts than you desire, do you not still have more than you deserve?” (Bridges)
b. Than a house full of feasting with strife: A home full of feasting would be wonderful; but not with constant strife. Peace and quietness in the home are so valuable that they make up for many other comforts denied.
i. “Its precise antithetic parallels contrasts a dinner party consisting of a dry bite of bread that had not been dipped into a dish of savory sauce of oil, vinegar or the like (cf. Proverbs 19:24), but nevertheless enjoyed in security, with an unlimited royal banquets but plagued with strife.” (Waltke)
ii. “Abundance often brings a deterioration of moral and ethical standards as well as an increase in envy and strife.” (Ross)
A wise servant will rule over a son who causes shame,
And will share an inheritance among the brothers.
a. A wise servant will rule over a son who causes shame: It is natural that a son should rule; the trust one has in family is often greater than the trust one has in servants. Yet, should a son cause shame, God knows how to replace that son with a wise servant. The son has his natural place, but God does not see that natural place as giving absolute right to lead and may give leadership to a wise servant instead.
b. And will share an inheritance among the brothers: Should the son prove to cause shame and if it is in God’s will, God is able to even lift up a wise servant to a place of leadership and inheritance among the brothers.
i. “Contrary to judicial law and custom, one’s virtue, not the privilege of birth, ultimately counts for more in social and economic standing.” (Waltke)
The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold,
But the LORD tests the hearts.
a. The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold: There are appropriate places where things are tested and purified. Silver and gold each have their place of refining and purification.
b. The LORD tests the hearts: The most appropriate place for the human heart to be tested and purified is with the LORD Himself. His word and His truth give a wise, loving standard that will both examine and refine the inner man or woman.
i. “Two important thoughts are suggested by this proverb. First, that the heart will yield to no force other than that of God. Dross in metal may be discovered and expurged by fire, but evil in the heart can be discovered and dealt with only by God. Second, Jehovah does try the heart.” (Morgan)
ii. “He therefore tries us, that he may make us know what is in us, what dross, what pure metal; and that all may see that we are such as, for a need, can ‘glorify him in the very fires,’ [Isaiah 24:15].” (Trapp)
An evildoer gives heed to false lips;
A liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue.
a. An evildoer gives heed to false lips: When it comes to lies spoken by false lips, evil people not only spread them, they also receive them. They seem to love to embrace a lie.
i. “It is an ill sign of a vicious nature to be apt to believe scandalous reports of godly men. If men loved not lies, they would not listen to them.” (Trapp)
ii. “An evil heart is disposed and ever ready to receive evil; and liars delight in lies.” (Clarke)
iii. “Evil words die without a welcome; and the welcome gives us away.” (Kidner)
b. A liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue: Those who lie love to listen to lies as well as speak them. It should concern us if we love to hear lies and gossip about others.
i. “This proverb contains a comparison between an evil-doer and an evil-speaker, and showeth their agreement in the same sinful practice of being greedy to hear false and wicked speeches.” (Poole)
ii. “Both the liar and his willing audience have no taste for truth.” (Waltke)
iii. “Taking gossip seriously is itself a form of malice practiced by those who have no respect for the truth.” (Garrett)
He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker;
He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.
a. He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker: Some people find it easy to mock the poor. They love to think of themselves as better than those who have less than they do. Such people should understand that when they mock the poor, they despise (reproach) the One who made both the poor and themselves. The fact that both the poor and the well-off have the same Maker should give the richer person greater sympathy and greater sense.
i. “The first part of this proverb does not teach, as is so often stated, that poverty is from God. Rather, it recognizes the inherent rights of every man in God, notwithstanding his poverty.” (Morgan)
b. He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished: To be glad at anyone’s calamity shows an unloving, unsympathetic heart. Anyone who despises their fellow man this way should expect God to answer and defend the weaker one.
i. “He who is pleased to hear of the misfortune of another will, in the course of God’s just government, have his own multiplied.” (Clarke)
ii. John Trapp relates in his commentary how cruelly some take joy in the persecution, suffering, and death of innocent people – and how certainly judgment will come upon such.
Children’s children are the crown of old men,
And the glory of children is their father.
a. Children’s children are the crown of old men: Grandchildren are like a crown of glory for a grandparent. They can give an almost indescribable sense of pleasure and satisfaction.
i. “The proverb pictures them gathered around the aged parent like a crowning diadem.” (Waltke)
b. The glory of children is their father: This is true both as a fact and as an aspiration. It is natural for children to glory in their father, and fathers should live and parent in such a way that would cause their children to glory in them.
i. “Behind this apparently innocuous proverb is a profound assertion of the psychological interdependence of the generations. Elders derive a sense of pride from their descendants, and children get their self-worth from parents. On the other hand, one generation can cause shame and a sense of worthlessness in another.” (Garrett)
ii. “These fine family fruits need cultivating and protecting. A neglected crop, riddled with mutual antipathy, is seen in Isaiah 3:5; Micah 7:6; 2 Timothy 3:2-4.” (Kidner)
Excellent speech is not becoming to a fool,
Much less lying lips to a prince.
a. Excellent speech is not becoming to a fool: It isn’t that excellent speech is not desired from the fool, but that it is such an unexpected surprise. Since people usually express their wisdom or folly by what they say, it seems strange and almost inappropriate if a fool should say something wise and eloquent.
i. “God likes not fair words from a foul mouth. Christ silenced the devil when he confessed him to be the Son of the most high God.” (Trapp)
b. Much less lying lips to a prince: Any leader (a prince) should be so known for truthfulness that it is regarded as a strange surprise that they would lie. This is a lofty and rarely reached standard among leaders, especially political leaders.
i. “A dishonest leader is worse than an arrogant fool. A comparison shows which of two things is worse.” (Ross)
A present is a precious stone in the eyes of its possessor;
Wherever he turns, he prospers.
a. A present is a precious stone in the eyes of its possessor: It is human nature to regard a present as something precious. In this context the present may be a bribe, because the same Hebrew word is used. This proverb may simply state the fact that a bribe usually works.
i. “The proverb is expressing this reality from the viewpoint of the one giving the bribe—it works.” (Ross)
b. Wherever he turns, he prospers: The gain one receives from a gift (or bribe) so delights them that it accomplishes the purpose of the gift.
i. “In the latter clause there is an evident allusion to cut stones. Whithersoever you turn them, they reflect the light, are brilliant and beautiful.” (Clarke)
He who covers a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates friends.
a. He who covers a transgression seeks love: There is a time and a place for the exposure of sin (Ephesians 5:11), but often the sins of others should be tactfully and lovingly covered. The exposure of all belongs to God, not man (Luke 12:3).
b. He who repeats a matter separates friends: To uncover someone’s sin by repeating it to others will ruin relationships and divide friendships.
i. Repeats“…may indicate either tale-telling or…harping on a matter.” (Kidner)
Rebuke is more effective for a wise man
Than a hundred blows on a fool.
a. Rebuke is more effective for a wise man: Because a wise man or woman will respond to rebuke and learn from it, it can be truly effective for him or her.
b. Than a hundred blows on a fool: Correction may be administered deeply and repeatedly to the fool, yet they will not receive it. The problem is not in the correction itself (though the fool will likely blame it); the problem is in the fool.
i. “The finer the disposition, the less is needed to correct it.” (Morgan)
An evil man seeks only rebellion;
Therefore a cruel messenger will be sent against him.
a. An evil man seeks only rebellion: The instinctive response of rebellion belongs to the evil, not to the wise. Those who seek only rebellion can offer nothing wise and good to replace that which they rebel against.
b. A cruel messenger will be sent against him: Repeated rebellion invites cruel retaliation. The evil man should not be surprised when it comes.
i. “This expression could refer to a pitiless messenger that the king would send; but it also could refer to storms, pestilence, or any misfortune that was God’s messenger of retribution.” (Ross)
Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs,
Rather than a fool in his folly.
a. Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs: A mother bear is notoriously angry and dangerous when she is robbed of her cubs. No sensible person would want to meet a mother bear under such conditions.
b. Rather than a fool in his folly: A foolish man in the midst of his foolish actions can be more dangerous than a mother bear who lost her cubs. The wise man or woman will stay away from such a fool in his folly.
i. “The human, who is supposed to be intelligent and rational, in such folly becomes more dangerous than the beast that in this case acts with good reason.” (Ross)
Whoever rewards evil for good,
Evil will not depart from his house.
a. Whoever rewards evil for good: It is plainly wrong to give evil to those who deserve good. It discourages those who do good and encourages those who do not. It upsets God’s moral order to have good punished.
i. “To render good for evil is divine, good for good is human, evil for evil is brutish, evil for good is devilish.” (Trapp)
b. Evil will not depart from his house: God sees when His moral order is offended and will answer it. The one who gives evil to the good can expect their own home to be troubled by evil.
i. “As many persons are guilty of the sin of ingratitude, and of paying kindness with unkindness, and good with evil, it is no wonder we find so much wretchedness among men; for God’s word cannot fail; evil shall not depart from the houses and families of such persons.” (Clarke)
ii. “This proverb was very near the bone: both parents of Solomon had so repaid the devoted Uriah, and had duly received the sentence of line 2: see 2 Samuel 12:10ff.” (Kidner)
The beginning of strife is like releasing water;
Therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts.
a. The beginning of strife is like releasing water: The nature of liquid water makes it difficult to restrain. Once it is released it will go in unexpected and uncontrolled ways. This is like the beginning of strife. Once an argument or battle has begun, it is difficult to control its course, and like uncontrolled water, it can cause great damage.
i. “The verse likens the beginning of a bitter conflict involving the pent up arrogance and anger of a fool to a person who digs a hole in a dam or opens a sluice. The seepage starts from a small aperture, but under built up pressure it quickly bursts open and the small leak turns into a raging, uncontrolled cataclysm that gets out of hand and does irreparable damage.” (Waltke)
ii. “Opening such a sluice lets loose more than one can predict, control or retrieve.” (Kidner)
b. Therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts: Because strife and contention are difficult to control and cause great damage, wisdom sees that it is much better to stop contention before it ever starts.
i. “Do therefore here as the Dutchmen do by their banks; they keep them with little cost and trouble, because they look narrowly to them, and make them up in time. If there be but the least breach, they stop it presently, otherwise the sea would soon flood them.” (Trapp)
He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.
a. He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just: This is the same kind of upset of God’s moral order as mentioned previously in Proverbs 17:13. Justice requires the opposite outcome – that the wicked are condemned and that the just are justified.
b. Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD: God sees the violation of justice on both sides. God never thinks that all should be equally condemned or justified; but that the appropriate answer be given to both the wicked and the just.
i. “A self-evident statement, and yet one that needs to be made, for in every age there have been those who fall into both forms of wrong.” (Morgan)
ii. “The proverb corrects the popular misconception that it is better to set free ten guilty persons than to condemn one innocent person. Both are an abomination to the Lord.” (Waltke)
Why is there in the hand of a fool the purchase price of wisdom,
Since he has no heart for it?
a. Why is there in the hand of a fool the purchase price of wisdom: Wisdom has a price, and Solomon imagined a fool who was ready to pay that price. We might say that the price of wisdom begins with the fear of the LORD. The price of wisdom also involves humility and willingness to receive correction.
i. “The fool has no interest in obtaining wisdom in the way that it must be obtained.” (Ross)
b. Since he has no heart for it: It would be strange to find the price of wisdom in the hand of a fool, because then that person would no longer be a fool. The nature of the fool requires that they have no heart to pay the price of wisdom.
A friend loves at all times,
And a brother is born for adversity.
a. A friend loves at all times: A true friend will not only love when it is easy, but at all times. What used to be called fair-weather friends – those who are friends only when the weather is pleasant and fair – are not true friends at all.
i. “Ahithophel has deserted David, and Judas has sold his Lord. The greatest of kings who have been fawned upon by their courtiers while in power, have been treated as if they were but dogs in the time of their extremity.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “That eminent servant of God, Jonathan Edwards, when he was at his last, said, ‘Where is Jesus of Nazareth, my old and faithful friend? I know he will be with me now that I need his help,’ and so he was, for that faithful servant died triumphant.” (Spurgeon)
b. A brother is born for adversity: A true brother (here used in a sense beyond the literal blood relation) will show himself in a time of adversity.
i. Morgan on the principle of this proverb: “Let it be applied. Then two startling questions will arise. First, a question as to whether I am really a friend to anyone; and second, a question as to how many real friends I have.”
ii. Charles Bridges had an even better application: “We must look to our Lord for the best example in this matter. We see the Son of God taking on our nature so that he might be our friend and brother (Hebrews 2:14). The mystery of this friendship is beyond our imagination.”
iii. “The ancient Jews applied this proverb to Christ, adducing it as a testimony that the divine Messiah would by his incarnation become the Brother of man.” (Bridges)
A man devoid of understanding shakes hands in a pledge,
And becomes surety for his friend.
a. A man devoid of understanding shakes hands in a pledge: Wisdom guards us against foolish partnerships.
b. And becomes surety for his friend: It is responsibility enough to honor our own debts. Wisdom warns us against taking responsibility for the debts of others.
He who loves transgression loves strife,
And he who exalts his gate seeks destruction.
a. He who loves transgression loves strife: There are those who love both transgression and strife. They love it when God’s laws are sinfully transgressed and when there is conflict.
b. He who exalts his gate seeks destruction: Those who exalt the leadership of those who love transgression and strife are promoting destruction. Such people should never sit in the gate of respect, leadership, and authority.
i. “The man who builds a high gate exalts himself above his neighbor and assumes a lifestyle beyond his rank.” (Bridges)
ii. “Possibly gate is here taken for the mouth; and the exalting of the gate may mean proud boasting and arrogant speaking, such as has a tendency to kindle and maintain strife. And this interpretation seems to agree better with the scope of the context.” (Clarke)
He who has a deceitful heart finds no good,
And he who has a perverse tongue falls into evil.
a. He who has a deceitful heart finds no good: The one filled with deceit will only find corruption and deceit in others.
b. He who has a perverse tongue falls into evil: Wicked and foolish words not only display the evil of someone’s heart, they also lead them into greater evil.
He who begets a scoffer does so to his sorrow,
And the father of a fool has no joy.
a. He who begets a scoffer does so to his sorrow: To be the parent of a foolish scoffer (one who foolishly doubts and rejects the truth) is to have sorrow. Parents should do all they can to not raise scoffers, beginning with believing and living out the truth themselves.
b. The father of a fool has no joy: There is no pleasure in seeing that your child is a fool. There is both the pain of the consequences of the child’s folly and the regret of wondering if one parented effectively.
i. “No more than William the Conqueror had in his ungracious children, or Henry II, who, finding that his sons had conspired against him with the king of France, fell into a grievous passion, cursing both his sons, and the day wherein himself was born; and in that distemperature departed the world, which himself had so oft distempered.” (Trapp)
A merry heart does good, like medicine,
But a broken spirit dries the bones.
a. A merry heart does good, like medicine: It has been said – no doubt based on this proverb – that laughter is the best medicine. Truly, a cheerful and merry heart is good for more than the personality; it is good for the body.
b. A broken spirit dries the bones: Those who are defeated and broken in spirit will see the effect in their health and experience of life. It will feel to them that their life has withered and dried up. This was the feeling David described in Psalm 32:1-4.
i. “‘Bones’ figuratively represents the body (encased in the bony frame): fat bones means a healthy body (Proverbs 3:8; 15:30; 16:24), but dry bones signify unhealthiness and lifelessness (cf. Ezekiel 37:1-14).” (Ross)
ii. “A broken spirit in an evangelical sense is God’s precious gift. It is stamped with his special honor. But here a crushed spirit describes a brooding spirit of despondency that always looks on the dark side of things. If this is linked to religion, it flows from a narrow and perverted view and a spurious humility centered on the self. It has the effect of drying up the bones.” (Bridges)
A wicked man accepts a bribe behind the back
To pervert the ways of justice.
a. A wicked man accepts a bribe behind the back: It is wrong to receive a bribe, an illegal and unjust payment to get around normal laws and procedures and to buy favor from officials. This shows a fundamental corruption and lack of integrity.
i. “The corrupt official defies God who has placed him over the community to protect the poor. He shows he is conscious of his guilt by accepting the sly bribe, which is concealed from public scrutiny and opprobrium, but it is not concealed from God.” (Waltke)
b. To pervert the ways of justice: When favor and a desired outcome depends on bribe money and not fairness and righteousness, justice is perverted. Then, no one can or should have confidence in the system of laws and ways of justice.
Wisdom is in the sight of him who has understanding,
But the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.
a. Wisdom is in the sight of him who has understanding: The sense seems to be that the wise see things in the light of their wisdom. Their wisdom makes everything else clearer and able to be understood.
b. The eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth: The fool doesn’t see things with the eyes of wisdom. They have their eyes everywhere (the ends of the earth) except where they should be.
i. “Wisdom is within the sight and reach at every man: but he whose desires are scattered abroad, who is always aiming at impossible things, or is of an unsteady disposition, is not likely to find it.” (Clarke)
ii. “The contrast here is between ‘before the face of him’ and ‘the ends of the earth.’ While it is a sure sign of weakness to see only the things that are near, it is a yet surer sign of folly to be forever looking at far-off things, to the neglect of those close at hand.” (Morgan)
iii. “As a student who is hearing nothing of what his teacher says might let his eyes rove to every corner of the classroom, so the fool who is inattentive to the instruction of Wisdom is said to have his eyes on the ends of the earth.” (McKane, cited in Ross)
iv. “His eyes are on the ends of the earth, rolling and wandering from one object to another. His thoughts are scattered. He has no definite objective, no certain way of life. Talent, cultivation of mind, and improvement of opportunity are all frittered away. He cares about those things that are furthest from him and with which he has the least concern.” (Bridges)
v. “This diversion is a great friend to the enemy. Our enemy’s great object is to turn the mind away from what is immediate to what is indefinite, from what is plain and important to what is unsearchable, from what is personal to what is irrelevant. Many trifles take the place of the one thing that is needful.” (Bridges)
A foolish son is a grief to his father,
And bitterness to her who bore him.
a. A foolish son is a grief to his father: The thought in this proverb is similar to that in Proverbs 17:21. Parents may find great grief in the foolish character of their children.
b. And bitterness to her who bore him: Because of the maternal instinct and bond, there is a special pain and bitterness that belongs to the mother of a foolish son or daughter.
Also, to punish the righteous is not good,
Nor to strike princes for their uprightness.
a. To punish the righteous is not good: God’s moral order insists that the righteous be rewarded and the wicked be punished. To upset this or reverse it is not good.
b. Nor to strike princes for their uprightness: If a leader is upright, he should never be punished – especially by striking. Uprightness should be rewarded and honored, not punished.
He who has knowledge spares his words,
And a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.
a. He who has knowledge spares his words: Both wisdom and folly are often revealed by one’s words. Yet, in the case of wisdom, it may be revealed by the knowledge of when to keep quiet. We should never think that the wise man or woman reveals their wisdom by talking a lot.
b. A man of understanding is of a calm spirit: The peace and contentment that properly come to the wise is described here as a calm spirit. To be constantly agitated and upset is a mark of folly, not wisdom.
Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace;
When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.
a. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace: This continues the idea from the previous proverb. There is a wonderful way that even a fool can be considered wise – to not speak.
i. Is counted wise: “The dry advice of 28 is not purely ironical: the fool who takes it is no longer a complete fool.” (Kidner)
b. When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive: If the fool cared about being considered perceptive, this gives an easy way for it to happen.
i. One is reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s witty saying: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and let them think you a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org