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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Proverbs 17

The Proverbs of Solomon:


Here begin the PROVERBS proper, the “nucleus of the book.” What has preceded is the introductory discourse or lecture. There is no difficulty in regarding the first nine chapters as one composition. If actually read, it would not be too long for one occasion, and the various parts are about as well connected as in the most of our modern lectures. Indeed, the unities are well preserved. It is possible that the first six verses of chapter first, which contain the title and preface, may have been prefixed subsequently to the composition of that admirable introductory discourse, and of the whole work. The remainder of the book is of a different character and form, especially from Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16. We have no longer a train of continued thought running on from verse to verse, but nearly every verse is independent of that which precedes and of that which succeeds. They might in general be inverted and transposed at pleasure, without any material injury to the sense, or diminution of the effect of the whole. They were divinely intended to form the Hebrew character to prudence and integrity by the principles of universal morality, and so are suitable for all times and peoples.

It, is not probable that all these Proverbs were original with Solomon. Many of them were, doubtless, the results of his own observation and experience; but others, perhaps long in use, were gathered from other sources; being, however, such as his judgment approved, he gave them a place in his collection.

It is the opinion of some critics that Solomon did not write, but spoke the proverbs, and that they were taken down in writing by others, at different times; that from the various collections thus made by different scribes of the three thousand proverbs which he spake, (compare 1 Kings 4:32,) those contained in this book are what were deemed worthy of preservation for after ages. They seem to have been arranged, by Solomon or others, chiefly according to their form, in two separate volumes, rolls, or memoranda, one of which extends from chapter x to chapter xv, inclusive, and which consists almost exclusively of antithetic parallelisms; the other, from chapter 16 to Proverbs 22:16, which consists chiefly of synthetic parallelisms. Every verse, in both parts, makes a complete sentence. There is rarely even a similarity of subject in two successive verses. Even the two parts of the same verse seldom so run into each other as to form a compound sentence, in which one number is dependent on the other. There are a few exceptions to this in the 20th chapter. This is altogether different from the method of the first nine chapters, and is not so rigidly observed in what follows Proverbs 22:16.

1. A wise son… glad father Gladdens his father.

A foolish son כסיל , ( kesil.) The radical idea is that of dullness, stiffness, grossness, rudeness; when applied to the mind, as here, it is the opposite of that refinement, culture, and intelligence, or the capability of them, which חכם , ( hhakham,) wise, implies. It has been suggested that the idea lies half concealed in the verse, that a father, in general, is better qualified to appreciate the mental qualities of a good and wise son, and the mother is more affected by the grossness and rudeness of an evil and foolish one.

This is not wholly improbable, yet too much stress is not to be laid on these niceties, which seem to overlook the nature of the Hebrew parallelism. Comp. Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 15:20; Proverbs 17:0; Proverbs 25:23-24. For the expression heaviness, compare Proverbs 14:13; Proverbs 17:21; Psalms 119:22.

Verse 1

1. A dry morsel As we say, a dry crust; that is, without any of the usual accompaniments of butter, drink, or anything to moisten or flavour it.

A house full of sacrifices Or, slaughterings; slaughtered beasts.

With strife Or, of strife. The expression may mean such slaughtered beasts as were obtained by strife, or were eaten with strife. Probably the latter is here intended. It is possible for both to be combined in the same feast. The allusion, probably, is to a feast upon the sacrifices, part being consumed on the altar, the remainder by the worshipper, his friends, and the priest. On first clause, compare Ruth 2:14; on second clause, Genesis 43:16; Proverbs 7:14; Proverbs 9:2; Isaiah 34:6. For general meaning, see Proverbs 15:16-17; Proverbs 16:18.

Verse 2

2. A son that causeth shame By his base conduct; “a degenerate son.” Zockler.

Among the brethren The brothers of the family; that is, among the heirs. Servitude among the Orientals, particularly among the Hebrews, was different in its spirit and conditions both from our modern slavery and from modern hired service. The servant, whether bought with money, (as they frequently were,) or born in the house, was regarded as a member of the family; not, indeed, as being naturally the equal of the son and heir, (comp. Genesis 21:10,) but as capable of becoming so in certain circumstances; as where there was no legitimate heir, (Genesis 15:2-3,) or where the heir or heirs acted basely, and brought upon themselves the displeasure of the father or patriarch, and were disinherited. The trusty, loyal, life-long servant then became heir; in some cases a sole heir, in others a co-heir with the brothers. Comp. 2Sa 9:10 ; 2 Samuel 16:4. Such were the customs and laws. Furthermore, as a person by misconduct, or poverty, which is frequently the result of misconduct, might be sold into servitude, the unworthy son, disinherited for his baseness, might also be sold into servitude, and purchased by the man once the servant of his father. Though exactly this cycle of events could not occur in our modern society, yet substantially the same thing does occur. A person brought up in a family as a dependent by his prudence and good conduct frequently rises to distinction in life, while the sons with whom he was reared, by imprudence, folly, improvidence, intemperance, or crime, are reduced to want, or dependence on the former menial of the family. Compare Proverbs 14:35. Miller renders the first clause, “the son of one who causeth shame.”

Verse 3

3. The fining pot Better: The cupel for silver, and the furnace for gold; but the prover of hearts is Jehovah. He tries and purifies. On the first clause compare Proverbs 27:21; on the second clause Proverbs 15:11; Proverbs 16:2; Proverbs 21:2; Proverbs 24:12; Malachi 3:23; 1 Peter 1:7; Psalms 26:2; Jeremiah 17:10.

Verse 4

4. Wicked doer… giveth heed to false lips He is an evil doer, a bad man, who gives heed to an iniquitous lip corrupt speech; and he is a false man, whatever he feigns, that listens with pleasure to a pestilent tongue. That is, a bad man may be known by the pleasure he takes in the wicked utterances of others. When Murrell, “the land pirate,” wished to test a man whom he casually met, to ascertain whether he would make a suitable tool for his rapacious purposes, his usual course was to tell stories involving shrewd mischief, wickedness, and crime, beginning with the less aggravated. If he found his auditor took evident pleasure in these, he proceeded to tell tales of robbery and murder. If the man showed abhorrence of the wickedness, he dropped him as unsuited to his purpose:

but if he evinced sympathy with the criminal rather than with the victim, he deemed him fit for his use. This was a wicked man’s way of proving the heart, and was temporarily successful: but he was finally caught in his own trap. That prurient taste which revels in police reports, and tales of licentiousness and murder, is a sure mark of a depraved mind, and of a strong bias to evil.

Verse 5

5. Mocketh the poor Derides, laughs at, treats them with disrespect and contempt, because of their low estate. See Proverbs 14:31.

Reproacheth his Maker God, who is Maker of the poor as well as of himself.

Calamities איד , edh. The word means a heavy, wearisome burden of any kind; a misfortune. He that takes pleasure in the ill-fortune of others shall not be unpunished: literally, shall not be innocent, a common figure of speech, by which more is meant than is expressed. Comp. Proverbs 11:21; Proverbs 16:5. Our version gives the sense. Compare Job 31:13; Job 31:29; Proverbs 14:31.

Verse 6

6. Crown of old men He has had an illustration of this proverb who has met, as the writer has, a venerable patriarch, honoured both for his piety and his intelligence, who counted his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren by scores if not by hundreds, and to whom they all looked up with that veneration and affection which were becoming his years and character. He was as particular about his ספר תולדות , ( sepher toledhoth,) book of genealogy family record as one of the patriarchs of old, and enjoined on every branch of his family to report the birth of every child, to be entered in its appropriate place in the family register. Compare on first clause Psalms 127:5; Psalms 128:3.

Verse 7

7. Excellent speech Hebrew, lips of excellence.

A fool Several different words in this book are rendered by our word fool. They all seem to imply some bad qualifies, moral as well as intellectual. In the Hebrew mind the idea of folly and that of wickedness were so intimately blended as to find expression by the same word. The word used here is nabhal, which is about equivalent to our word dunce, or stupid fallow; one of no learning or intellectual culture, and impliedly incapable of it. Psalms 14:1. The clause may be read thus: Not suitable (or agreeable) to a dunce is the lip of excellence, that is, cultivated, elevated language; or, as some think, assuming, imperious speech.

A prince נדיב , ( nadhibh,) a nobleman, one of liberal culture. The passage may be rendered, much less is the lip of falsehood suitable to a man of cultivated mind. The idea seems to be, that his freer culture liberates him from the ordinary temptations to falsehood. He ought to know better, and does. Plato justifies lying in princes, but others must abstain. “He who knows not how to dissemble, knows not how to reign,” has been a royal maxim. But much better is that of Louis IX., of France: “If truth be banished from all the rest of the world, it ought to be found in the breast of princes.”

Verse 8

8. A gift This is supposed to mean that kind of gift which is given to a judge or rider to secure favour, or escape punishment a bribe. Zockler thinks it is not a bribe, but a lawful present, as Proverbs 18:16. Precious stone Hebrews, a stone of grace (Proverbs 1:9) or beauty; a precious stone.

Him that hath it Literally, its possessor, the person to whom it is given.

Whithersoever it turneth it prospereth Or, it looks well, appears beautiful; that is, in the eyes of him that sees it. The verb, as is common, has a variety of significations, and possibly more than one of them may be intended here. One of them is, to succeed in the design for which it was given. This it does by appearing desirable in the eyes of its receiver. Some suggest this thought: A diamond reflects a great deal of light when viewed on this side and on that. Turn it as you will, it never fails to reflect lustre. So a bribe, or even a lawful present, will influence in many ways, perhaps without a consciousness of its power on the part of the receiver. Turn which way he will, its influence will follow him. Conant renders the last clause, “To whomsoever it turns.” Comp. Proverbs 18:16.

Verse 9

9. Seeketh love That is, in effect. Some say, seeks to exercise love to others.

Repeateth a matter Or, reporteth what he ought to have kept to himself. Compare Proverbs 16:28.

Separateth very friends The same word, אלו , ( alluph,) as is rendered “chief friends” in Proverbs 16:28. It is perhaps to be here regarded as a use of the abstract noun for the concrete noun. The exact force of the expression is about this causes a breach of friendship or intimacy. He causes persons to break off friendship with himself. On “covering transgression,” see on Proverbs 10:12. Some understand it thus: Frequently reiterating old complaints, or “repeating an offence,” (Miller,) separates friends; or, the noun being singular, a friend that is, from himself.

Verse 10

10. A reproof entereth more into a wise man Takes firmer hold of his judgment and conscience, and so affects more his habits of thought and life, and does more to correct any evil, than a hundred stripes into a fool: than “a hundred stripes” would benefit a perverse, wayward, wicked man. The foolishness is moral opposition to God and his laws.

Verse 11

11. An evil man An evil citizen.

Seeketh… rebellion Endeavours to promote disorders in society and insubordination to law. A cruel messenger, etc. Such men may expect, sooner or later, the vengeance of the government. See on Proverbs 6:11; Proverbs 24:24. Some interpreters transpose the subject and predicate in the first clause, and render, “Rebellion seeks only evil;” or, the rebellious seek, etc. Critics and versions are about equally divided here. Conant sustains the common version. Miller reads, “Only rebellion goes in search of evil, and has a cruel messenger sent by its very self.”

Verse 12

12. Let a bear robbed of her whelps At which time she is particularly dangerous.

Rather than (Hebrew, but not) a fool in his folly That is, a man had better encounter a ferocious she bear than a wicked fool. So the versions and critics generally. On the bereaved bear, compare 2 Samuel 17:8; 2 Kings 2:24; Hosea 13:8.

Verse 13

13. Rewardeth evil for good, etc. This probably implies that the example of ingratitude in the head of a family will be followed by his offspring, and thus be returned upon himself and his household continuously. Compare 1 Samuel 25:21; 2 Samuel 3:29; Romans 12:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9.

Verse 14

14. Strife Discord, contention.

As when one letteth out Better, as a breaking forth of, water. There may, at first, be but a small leak, but, unrepressed, it will widen and spread until it become difficult to control.

Leave off Do not begin it; avoid it.

Before it be meddled with The critics are by no means agreed about the exact sense of התגלע , ( hithgalla’h,) rendered “meddled with.” Many give it the sense of pouring or rushing forth, or rolling onward. The metaphor of water confined in dams or reservoirs (so common in the East) breaking forth, at first by a small aperture, which, by the action and force of the water, still widens and deepens, is very striking and instructive. In such a case a little effort at first would arrest it, but, after it has attained full headway, it becomes uncontrollable, and, like a deluge, spreads desolation around. The general sentiment of the proverb is this: The less we have to do with contention the better, and, when it is begun, the sooner we can arrest it or desist from it, the better. See Hebrews 12:18.

Verse 15

15. Justifieth the wicked… condemneth the just This proverb refers especially to judicial justification and condemnation, but may have its applications also in other cases, as when one in conversation defends bad men or condemns good ones. The Judge of all the earth strongly condemns such confounding of good and evil, or making light the distinction between vice and virtue.

Abomination to the Lord Exceedingly hateful to him. Compare Exodus 23:9; Proverbs 24:24; Isaiah 5:23.

Verse 16

16. A price, etc. The ancient interpreters understood מחיר , ( mehhir,) price, in the sense of wealth, estate. Taken in this sense the proverb might be translated: “Why is this? an estate in the hands of a fool, to acquire wisdom! and he no heart!”

Heart Possibly in the sense of taste or capacity. It sometimes happens that men of no intellectual culture or taste become rich, and, having an indefinite notion of the excellence and value of learning as securing respect in society, would be willing to pay a large sum for it if money could buy it. But their age, and previous want of culture, render them incapable of obtaining it. So, also, a man of wealth is willing sometimes to expend large sums on a son or daughter to secure for them the accomplishments of an education, for which they have neither taste nor capacity. Money will not buy brains. There must be “heart” taste, capacity, application. Comp. Psalms 32:9; Jeremiah 5:21.

Verse 17

17. A friend… brother The critics differ as to the sense of the latter part of this verse. One interpretation is: A brother, according to the ties and interests of consanguinity, is born to support and comfort a brother in distress, (so Clarke, Stuart, Conant, etc.;) that is, in distress a blood relation is in general more to be relied upon than any other friend. Another interpretation is: A true friend (the same as mentioned in a preceding clause) is as a born brother in adversity; that is, the true friend becomes a brother in the time of adversity. So, substantially, the Speaker’s Commentary, Zockler, and others. This last interpretation tacitly assumes that the “brother” is the natural friend in adversity, inasmuch as it advances the “friend” to the relation of brother, because of his kindness in distress. Miller says, “At all times the ‘friend’ loves, and a ‘brother’ is born for straitness;” and interprets in his allegorizing way thus: “The friend is God, the brother is Christ,” “A faithful friend is the medicine of life.”

Verse 18

18. Striketh hands Becomes surety. (See note on Proverbs 6:13; Proverbs 11:15)

In the presence of his friend That is, in behalf of, or to, his friends for some third person. Thus the Speaker’s Commentary, which thinks the reappearance of this warning is suggested by the previous verse.

Verse 19

19. He loveth transgression Or sin: or, a lover of rebellion is a lover of war. It is uncertain which is subject and which is predicate.

He that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction That is, in effect. The imagery of the clause is supposed to come from the custom of making low gates, in order to guard against the incursions of predatory horsemen. A high gate, often made so at great expense for ornament and the gratification of the owner’s vanity, enabled them to dash in, without dismounting, to drive or carry off their booty hastily. The application is easy. He that makes a splendid display, especially in magnificent buildings beyond his means to erect, is, in effect, seeking financial ruin, or, as we say, “breaking up.”

Many a business man, by an outlay of this kind, has involved himself in bankruptcy. The proverb may be applied more generally to the effects of haughtiness. “Pride will have a fall.” Compare Proverbs 16:18.

Verse 20

20. A froward heart A perverse, crooked disposition, which hinders his finding good.

A perverse tongue Literally, he whose tongue is turned; hence an untruthful tongue.

Falleth into mischief Trouble. Truly such a tongue is “an unruly member.”

Verse 21

21. A fool A boor; a dolt. Two different words are rendered “fool” in the text. They are akin in sense, but there is a shade of difference between them. The first contains the idea of impiety joined with coarseness; the second, of impiety joined with dullness. Comp. Proverbs 10:1, and the converse, Proverbs 23:24; Proverbs 15:20.

Verse 22

22. A merry heart doeth good… medicine Makes a good medicine “a happy cure.” Gesenius.

Broken spirit A heart so smitten as to be devoid of gladness drieth the bones. The proverb recognises the well-known fact in psychology, that a happy frame of mind and a joyous temperament contribute greatly to health of body, and that nothing has a more powerful tendency to injure it than grief, anxiety, fretfulness, and bad temper. Compare Proverbs 15:25; Proverbs 15:13; Proverbs 3:8; Hosea 5:13.

Verse 23

23. A gift A bribe.

Out of the bosom The Asiatics carry their purse in their bosom above their girdle.

To pervert the ways of judgment To deflect, turn aside, or influence, the course of a judicial decision. The language implies that this is done secretly. Compare Proverbs 21:14; Proverbs 18:15.

Verse 24

24. Wisdom… before him Present with him or before him, as a mark at which he looks. “Wisdom is in the face of him that hath understanding;” that is, is seen in his clear, steadfast look.

Eyes of a fool… ends of the earth His garish, wandering eyes fix on nothing that will avail to his good; they mind those things which least concern him. Patrick.

Verse 25

25. Foolish son Comp, Proverbs 17:21; Proverbs 10:1.

Verse 26

26. To punish the just The upright. The passage may be translated thus: To amerce (or punish) the righteous is not good. The latter clause presents an aggravation of the offence.

Not good A meiosis, in which more is meant than is expressed. It is bad, wrong, so to do.

Verse 27

27. Hath knowledge Literally, knoweth knowledge.

Spareth… words Is not voluble, but when he speaketh, uttereth words of weighty meaning.

Excellent spirit קר רוח , ( kar ruahh,) cool of spirit; so written, but the Masorites read יקר , ( yekar,) precious or excellent of spirit. Many critics prefer the former, taking it in the sense of gentle, quiet.

Some would read, A man of calm spirit is a man of discernment. Compare Proverbs 10:19; Psalms 39:3; James 1:19.

Verse 28

28. Is esteemed a man of understanding Of discernment, discreetness. Miller renders freely, but neatly, “Even a fool is counted wise if he hold his peace; a man of discernment if he shut his lips.” Compare Job 13:5; Proverbs 10:19. It is observable that through this book a prudent restraint in speaking is highly commended. How often, in deliberative bodies, do men forfeit all respect, and loose all influence, by too much talking. The overweening vanity of some men prompts them to speak on every subject, as though nothing could be rightly done without the light of their wisdom.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Proverbs 17". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.