Proverbs 17
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.
1. sacrifices with strife] Lit. sacrifices of strife, but better rendered, good cheer with strife, A.V. marg.; or, feasting with strife, R.V. text. This rendering, however, may be arrived at in either of two ways, (1) We may suppose that the ordinance of feasting on part of a sacrifice Leviticus 7:16; Leviticus 19:6-8) appealed so to the popular mind, that the restriction to “the place which the Lord their God should choose” (Deuteronomy 12:4-14) came to be neglected, and as is too commonly the case, with Christmas, for example, in our own day, the word which should have denoted a religious act before God, sank down to mean a mere worldly feast at home. (2) But it may be doubted whether the Heb. for sacrifice is not used here in the sense of animals slain or killed for eating, as in Deuteronomy 12:15; 1 Samuel 28:24; 1 Kings 19:21; and Ezekiel 39:17, compared with Revelation 19:17, where θυσία of the LXX. becomes δεῖπνον. See also Matthew 22:4.

A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren.
2. a wise servant] or, a servant that dealeth wisely, R.V., in contrast with a son who causeth shame, or dealeth shamefully. Comp.

“Free men shall minister unto a wise servant.”

Sir 10:25, R.V.

The proverb is exemplified in Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2), and Ziba (2 Samuel 16:4 with 1 Chronicles 2:34-35), and in Jeroboam, Solomon’s “servant” (1 Kings 11:26), who, being “industrious,” shared the inheritance with Rehoboam, “a son that dealt shamefully.”

The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts.
3. trieth the hearts] q.d. man can try the precious metals, but only God the hearts (Jeremiah 17:9-10). The thought that He tries them to refine them, which is suggested here by the parallelism, is elsewhere expressed clearly. (Psalm 66:10-12; Malachi 3:3-4; 1 Peter 1:7. Comp. Sir 2:5.)

A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue.
4. false] Rather, wicked, R.V., in a wider sense.

Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.
5. his Maker] Comp. Proverbs 14:31.

glad at calamities] “It belonged to the Greek mind in its fertility of combination, to express it (the temper here spoken of) by the single word ἐπιχαιρεκακία (Arist. Eth. Nicom. ii. 6), well rendered by the German ‘schadenfreude’.” Dean Plumptre, Speaker’s Comm.

The connecting link of thought between the two clauses of the verse is that poverty and calamity proceed alike from God, so that to mock at the one, or be glad at the other, is to reproach Him and to incur His displeasure.

Children's children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers.
6. “A beautiful family picture of linked and mutually blessed “generations.” Horton.

Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince.
7. Excellent] Or, arrogant, R.V. marg.

A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.
8. him that hath it] Lit. its lord or possessor. This may mean either the giver, or the receiver of it. The former sense seems preferable. He who has a gift to bestow counts himself the possessor of that with which he can secure success in any direction he pleases, as though he turned in this direction or in that a precious gem or talisman to attract and conciliate the beholder. Maurer quotes the familiar lines of Ovid (de art. am. 3. 653),

“Munera, crede mihi, capiunt hominesque deosque;

Placatur donis Jupiter ipse datis.”

Comp. Proverbs 18:16.

He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.
9. repeateth] i.e. brings it up again and again, harpeth on it, as R.V. happily renders. Comp. Proverbs 26:11, “a fool repeateth his folly,” R.V.; “Heb. iterateth his folly,” A.V. marg.

very friends] Rather, chief friends, as the word is rendered, Proverbs 16:28.

A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.
10. more] Rather, deeper, R.V.; as we say, makes a deeper impression. See Proverbs 18:8, Proverbs 26:22. Maurer compares “altius in pectus descendit” (Sall. Jug. 11), “curam in animos descensuram” (Liv. 2. 52); and for the sentiment, “nobilis equus umbra quoque virgæ regitur, ignavus ne calcari quidem concitari potest” (Curt. 7. 4): “a noble steed is ruled even by the shadow of the whip; a sluggish one cannot be roused even by the spur.”

An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.
11. rebellion] This, in its highest reference, is an anticipation of the divine philosophy of St John, “sin is lawlessness” (ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία). “Sin is lawlessness. Sin and lawlessness are convertible terms. Sin is not an arbitrary conception; it is the assertion of the selfish will against a paramount authority. He who sins breaks, not only by accident or in an isolated detail, but essentially, the law which he was created to fulfil,” Westcott on 1 John 3:4.

a cruel messenger] The stern, implacable minister of the rebel’s doom. Comp., for illustration, 1 Kings 2:25; 1 Kings 2:34. The LXX. refer the sending of the merciless messenger, whether human or angelic, to Jehovah, against whom ultimately all rebellion is aimed: ὁ δὲ κύριος ἄγγελον ἀνελεήμονα ἐκπέμψει αὐτῷ.

Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly.
12. a bear &c.] “The Syrian bear is fiercer than the brown bears to which we are accustomed. It attacks flocks (1 Samuel 17:34), and even oxen (Plin. viii. 64). The fierceness of the she-bear, bereaved of her whelps, became a proverb (2 Samuel 17:8).” Pusey on Hosea 13:8.

rather than] Lit. and not.

Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house.
The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.
14. letteth out water] by making ever so small a hole or fissure in a dam, or in the bank of a reservoir, such as Solomon himself constructed (Ecclesiastes 2:6).

“aggeribus ruptis cum spumeus amnis

Exiit, oppositasque evicit gurgite moles,

Fertur in arva furens cumulo, camposque per omnes

Cum stabulis armenta trahit.”—Virg. Aen. ii. 496–499.

be meddled with] The Heb. word occurs only here and in Proverbs 18:1, Proverbs 20:3, in which places the rendering of A.V. is: be meddled with, intermeddleth with, will be meddling. We must, however, render, there be quarrelling, R.V. or, it waxeth warm, Gesen.

He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.
15. Comp. Isaiah 5:23.

Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?
16. heart] i.e. understanding, R.V.; see Proverbs 15:32, note. We might almost render, capacity. Wisdom cannot be bought for a price: it can only be assimilated by a wise, or wisdom-loving heart. Its words are φωνᾶντα συνετοῖσι; its teachers teach, πνευματικοῖς πνευματικὰ συγκρίνοντες, “interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men” (as some translate 1 Corinthians 2:13). So was Incarnate Wisdom wont to cry, “Who hath ears to hear let him hear” (Matthew 13:9 ff.; comp. Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 2:29; Revelation 3:6; Revelation 3:13; Revelation 3:22).

A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
17. a brother is born] Or (making a friend the subject clauses) is born as a brother, R.V. marg. A friend love friend’s love always, but with the love of a born brother in adversity. So was it with Jonathan and David (1 Samuel 18-20.); but the proverb admits of the highest application. See Introd. p. 30.

A man void of understanding striketh hands, and becometh surety in the presence of his friend.
18. understanding] Lit. heart, as in Proverbs 17:16.

surety] See Proverbs 6:1 note.

He loveth transgression that loveth strife: and he that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction.
19. exalteth] Or, raiseth high, R.V. Comp. Proverbs 16:18. See for illustrations of such “raising high the gate” and of the “destruction” that follows it, Jeremiah 22:13-19, and the case of Haman in the Book of Esther.

The relation of pride to strife (Proverbs 13:10) supplies a connecting link between the two clauses of this verse.

He that hath a froward heart findeth no good: and he that hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief.
He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow: and the father of a fool hath no joy.
21. a fool … a fool] The Heb. word so rendered is not the same in the two clauses of the verse. The first word in the first clause describes the fool as dull or senseless, or as some think obstinate. The second word points him out as shameless, like Nabal, whose name (the Heb. word here) was descriptive of his character (1 Samuel 25:25). There is a third Heb. word, used more commonly than either of these in this Book, which regards a fool as one who is perverse, or as some render, weak.

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
22. doeth good like a medicine] Rather, is a good medicine, R.V. “Heb. causeth good healing,” R.V. marg.; giveth a happy healing, Gesen.; εὐεκτεῖν ποιεῖ, LXX.

A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.
23. out of the bosom] i.e. the fold of the garment in which it had been concealed; denoting the stealthy action either of the suitor who proffers, or more probably of the judge who receives the bribe. Comp. Proverbs 21:14.

Wisdom is before him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.
24. before] More literally and forcibly, before the face of, R.V., as the object of his stedfast contemplation and pursuit, whereas “the eyes of a fool” seek the world over and find not. Comp. Proverbs 4:25.

A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him.
Also to punish the just is not good, nor to strike princes for equity.
26. Also] beside other things that are “not good”; as “also” is used in Proverbs 19:2.

punish] Lit. mulct, or (as R.V. marg.) fine.

strike] i.e. inflict the severer punishment of scourging. Deuteronomy 25:1-3.

princes] Rather, the noble, R.V. The Heb. word properly denotes character, liberal, free-handed (Gesen. Lex. s.v.), and so comes to be applied to rank or office. See Proverbs 19:6, where the same word is rendered the prince, A.V., but, in keeping with the parallelism, the liberal man, R.V. text. For illustration of the proverb comp. John 18:23.

He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
27. excellent] Rather, cool, A.V. marg. and R.V.; μακρόθυμος ἀνὴρ, LXX.

It is better with LXX. and R.V. to invert the order of subject and predicate in this verse and render:

He that spareth his words hath knowledge:

And he that is of a cool spirit is a man of understanding.

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.
28. he that shutteth &c.] Or, with R.V. text, when he (i.e. the fool of the former clause of the verse) shutteth … he is esteemed as prudent. Mr Horton (Book of Proverbs, p. 177) quotes the old Norse proverb,

“An unwise man when he comes among the people

Had best be silent: no one knows

That he nothing knows, unless he talks too much.”

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

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