Proverbs 17
William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.
Proverbs Chapter 17

The blessing of quietness at home, the value of wisdom there and elsewhere, the hearts tried by Jehovah, the evildoer's heeding wicked lips, and falsehood listening to mischief, the reproach done to the Maker by mocking the poor, the mutual honour of parents and children in their due place, and the congruity of speech with those who speak, are here (Proverbs 17:1-7) severally dealt with.

"Better [is] a piece of dry bread and quietness therewith than a house full of the sacrifices of strife.

"A servant that dealeth wisely shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part in the inheritance among the brethren.

"The crucible [is] for silver and the furnace for gold; but Jehovah trieth the hearts.

"An evil-doer heedeth iniquitous lips; falsehood listeneth to a mischievous tongue.

"Whoso mocketh a poor [man] reproacheth his Maker; he that is glad at calamity shall not be held innocent.

"Children's children [are] the crown of old men; and the glory of children [are] their fathers.

"Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince!" vv. 1-7.

The opening word contrasts the immense superiority of a peaceful household with hard fare, over one where plenty is found, embittered by contention, or, as is here energetically said, "full of the sacrifices of strife." Love and peace may abound through Christ where is little else; only unhappiness abides where He is unknown, were all there that wealth can supply.

Then again, who has not known one from the lowliest place promoted for his wisdom over a son that bringeth shame, and even to share the inheritance of the family? A son crushes the family with his disgrace; a wise servant, especially in such circumstances, acquires love, respect, and honour with his full share.

But there is a moral government ever carried on by Him who is alone capable of trying the hearts, with a goodness and wisdom and patience not wanted for refining silver and gold, which man can do. For the Christian it is as Father; for the Jew it was and will be Jehovah, the one true God.

There is also no small trial from those who wish and do evil; and we are here shown how close is the connection between malice and falsehood. If an evildoer heeds false and unjust lips, falsehood listens to a mischievous tongue. Such is mankind without God, each in his own way, but all astray and malicious.

Nor is Jehovah indifferent to the pride that mocks the poor out of an overweening value for the passing advantages of this life. It is to reproach, if not to blaspheme, his Maker. There is another ill feeling hateful to God - gladness at calamities not our own. He that indulges in such heartlessness shall not remain unpunished.

Quite different from these is what follows, where family relations are maintained as Jehovah intended. "Children's children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children are their fathers." How blessed when the aged feel their descendants an honour, and they no less delight in their parents!

The last of these verses glances at a twofold moral incongruity: when a fool (in the serious light of that word according to Scripture) utters "excellent speech" out of all harmony with his character and life; and when a prince or noble, instead of being a pattern of probity in his exalted position, gives himself up to shameless deception. Yet such stumbling blocks occur in this evil day. What a contrast with Christ who is the truth, and came to do the will of God!

But it is not a question of speech only, excellent or deceptive. Acts are still more serious and influential; and to this we are now led on.

"A gift [is] a precious stone in the eyes of the possessor; whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.

"He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that bringeth a matter up again separateth chief friends.

"A reproof entereth more deeply into him that hath understanding than a hundred stripes into a fool.

"The evil seeketh only rebellion; but a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.

"Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man rather than a fool in his folly.

"Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house.

"The beginning of contention is [as] when one letteth out water; therefore leave off strife before it become vehement." vv. 8-14.

The law and the later Old Testament writings, the gospels and the epistles, bear ample witness to God's love of liberal and cheerful giving. But there may be a gift when it becomes a bribe, and even the law loudly warns in this case. Accordingly here its influence is asserted to be as a precious stone in the eyes of him that obtains it, as the giver too knows its power, where Jehovah was not before the soul.

But in a world of contrariety and evil, there is a mightier power and of a higher source. "He that covereth transgression seeketh" not a bribe, but "love"; as on the other hand, "He that bringeth up a matter again," without any motive higher than idle talk, with no positive aim of edification, "separateth chief friends." Love is not at work.

There might be error or evil, and this continued. In such a case to be indifferent for the sake of peace is a sin; and reproof is called for, especially where a man of sense was concerned. For a reproof penetrates such a one more than a hundred stripes would a fool. How timid even Christians are in this office of love, even when a worldly mind does not make them unfeeling!

It is an evil man that indulges a spirit of revolt; for rebellion is hateful to God, and His Word gives it no quarter. Circumstances on earth yield constant opportunity, and hence such a one "seeketh only rebellion." It gives an unhappy self-importance, which to vanity is irresistible. But God is not mocked, though it be the acceptable year, and not yet the day of His vengeance; and a "cruel messenger" will not fail to be "sent against him." Even now is there moral government.

But a fool in his folly goes a great deal farther and bursts through all bounds. To be met by a she-bear robbed of her cubs is a dangerous thing for any man; but a fool in his folly is worse still, as not the wise alone know to their cost. It is difficult also for the considerate to conceive what a fool may dare in his folly.

Ingratitude too is an evil of no small magnitude, and the face of God is set against such sheer baseness as rewarding evil for good. If one be thus guilty, evil shall not depart from his house. Even if it were but the snare of Satan for the highest in the land, himself most generous habitually, Jehovah did and could not overlook it; the sword departed not from his house, who gratified his passion at the cost too of a faithful servant's blood to hide his own sin. How Solomon must have felt as he remembered this!

And who has not seen to what a blaze a little spark may come, if godliness and grace do not role? It is as the letting out of water when one begins contention; mere drops trickling at first till the opening enlarges for a flow that sweeps all before it. "Therefore leave off strife before it become vehement."

There is an evil still worse than the selfish love of contradiction or contest, bad as this is in itself and its consequences. Unrighteousness is ungodly.

"He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the righteous, even they both are abomination to Jehovah.

"Wherefore [is there] a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing [he is] void of sense (or, hath no heart)?

"The friend loveth at all times and is a brother born for adversity.

"A man void of sense striketh hands, becoming surety for his friend.

"He loveth transgression that loveth a quarrel: he that raiseth high his gate seeketh destruction.

"He that hath a perverse heart findeth no good; and he that shifteth about with his tongue falleth into evil.

"He that begetteth a fool [doeth it] to his sorrow; and the father of a vile [man] hath no joy." vv. 15-21.

On either side the guilt described in verse 15 is grievous in Jehovah's eyes. Not only is it sympathy with evil men and heartlessness as to the righteous, but direct antagonism to every principle of divine government. For men are put to the test in this life by the concrete facts of the wicked man here and the righteous there. To judge only in the abstract is to deceive oneself, injure others, and be an abomination to Jehovah on both sides.

Jehovah is a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy, even when man is under law. Thus He does not fail to put purchase money in a fool's hand. How kind to the unthankful and the indifferent, the infatuated and evil! To what purpose is it but that such may acquire wisdom? Seeing he is devoid of sense draws out his pity. What folly to frustrate all goodness by slighting Him who alone is good, and trusting the old serpent, the evil one!

Fine is the description of the friend and precious just as far as it is realized. He loves at all times; sad the blank of not having one uncapricious and constant, whatever the changes of this passing scene, nearer still of a brother born for adversity, where the strain is greatest! None fills up the sketch to perfection but our Lord Jesus, who indeed in His infiniteness went beyond what lips can utter or heart conceive.

Man's capacity and resources are so limited, and the changes of human life so frequent and fast, that it would be hard to name a more dangerous error than a rash pledge or suretyship. Grace no doubt is free to lose indefinitely for another, but not thereby to dishonour the Lord by one's own debt, or to injure others, whether one's family or strangers. This were indeed to play the part of a senseless man, not of a brother born for adversity.

How blind men are to their own spirit that love a quarrel under the plea of faithfulness to truth, right, or custom! He loves transgression that loves a quarrel, says the Word. It betrays itself in little and outward things, and stops not of ending in the ditch. Near akin to it is the aspiring spirit which seeks self-exaltation, or, as is here the figure, raiseth high his gate. In God's sight it is to seek destruction. So was the angel that, inflated with pride, fell, and became the devil.

Again, it is the just lot of him who has a perverse heart, so that, as he looks for evil, he finds no good; and he whose tongue shifts about in like perversity is doomed to fall into real evil. God is not mocked by bad thoughts or words, and he that indulges in either will surely have to eat the bitter fruit of his own ways.

Solomon had not to look beyond his father's house or his own in order to prove the truth of verse 21. Jehovah took pleasure in the families of His people. So we read in a well-known Song of degrees, "Lo, children are an heritage from Jehovah, the fruit of the womb a reward. As arrows in a mighty man's hand, so are the children of youth. Happy the man that hath his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate." Yet did David taste of bitter sorrow when he set his heart overmuch on them. What irony in the issue of him whom he called "Father of peace," who rose up as a vain and unscrupulous pretender against himself and to his own destruction? Nor was he by any means the only one that yielded a crop of sin and shame and blood. Yes, "he that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow: and the father of a vile man hath no joy." Whether the father of such a one be prince or pauper makes little difference, save that the eminence of degree makes the grief more conspicuous and perhaps more poignant. Only he who is begotten of God has life everlasting.

In verses 21-28, folly, wisdom, and righteousness are compared in their effects on the heart and life of man.

"He that begetteth a fool [doeth it] to his sorrow; and the father of a fool hath no joy.

"A joyful heart causeth good healing; but a broken spirit drieth up the bones.

"A wicked [person] taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.

"Wisdom [is] before the face of him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool [are] in the ends of the earth.

"A foolish son [is] a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bore him.

"Also to punish the righteous [is] not good; [nor] to strike nobles for uprightness.

"He that hath knowledge spareth his words; a man of understanding [is] of a cool spirit.

"Even a fool when he holdeth his peace is reckoned wise, he that shutteth his lips is prudent."

The inspired writer has seen, without looking far afield or minutely, the humbling truth of which verse 21 reminds us. It received a manifest verification among his own brethren, especially those two who wrought sin and folly in Israel, and came to an end no less violent than disgraceful to themselves, and full of anguish to his father and theirs. He was spared the witness of its repetition in his own son and successor, whose folly rent the kingdom, never to be reunited till He comes to reign, who is the repairer of breaches, the bearer of sins upon the tree, whose name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Father of eternity, Prince of peace. For increase of the government and peace shall be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and uphold it with judgment and with righteousness henceforth and forever. The zeal of Jehovah will perform this.

It is His purpose to glorify the Christ who at all cost glorified Him to His own shame and suffering, but moral glory, and this on earth, and especially the land where He was put to the death of the cross. It was God's wisdom in Christ, the blessed contrast of sin-stricken man, even in the highest place, who has so often to endure the pain of a fool begotten to his sorrow. But if here the responsibility is traced, and the father knew the reverse of the joy that a man was born into the world, because of his foolish son, the rejected Christ to his faith turns the temporary sorrow into a joy that never ends, though this was not the place or season to speak of it.

On the other hand, a joyful (not a vain or thoughtless) heart is an excellent medicine in this world of aches and bruises; as surely as a spirit shattered by affliction and charged with grief and fear dries up the bones, making one a skeleton rather than a human being (v. 22). Man lives not by bread alone, still less bitter herbs, but by God's Word that reveals His grace in Christ.

A gift to pervert the ways of judgment blinds the eyes, and betrays as a wicked man him who takes it, no less than him that gives it (v. 23). To take it "out of the bosom" ought to be a signal of danger. No other eye of man sees, but God who abhors the wrong is not mocked.

The wisdom here spoken of (v. 24) is that of a single eye, and is before the face of him that has understanding; for he has God in his thoughts, not persons or things to govern him, but all subjected to divine light. On the contrary, the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth and liable to fluctuation under every breeze of influence. How blessed those to whom Christ is made to us wisdom from God, not the least of Christian privileges for present need, saving, and joy.

Again, in verse 25, is "a foolish son" brought before us; but here it is not only a grief to the father, but a bitterness to her who bore him; the father's authority thwarted and despised, the mother's affection tried and abused. How little such a son feels their anguish!

The next maxim bears on more public matters, and supposes a totally different fault, to which "also" appears to be the link of transition. Those who bear the character of just men must incur obloquy, and should be esteemed. To punish such in any respect is not good; to smite the noble for uprightness exhibits an unworthy spirit; it is a man forsaking his own mercy, and base enough to lower what is above himself. Men, not some only but as a class, are senseless, as we read in 1 Peter 2:15. Sin breeds independence, which chafes and blames, rails and rebels, against excellence and authority, formal or moral.

The chapter closes with two verses which show the value of that silence which is said to be golden, and even of that which is but leaden, not positive but merely negative or seeming. He that has knowledge spares his words, aware of what is far better; the man of understanding is of a cool spirit, knowing the mischief of inconsiderateness and impetuosity. And this is so true, that even a fool, when by his experience of many a buffet profits to hold his tongue, gains credit for wisdom he does not deserve; as he that shuts his lips habitually is counted prudent. The day is not yet come for the earth when a king, the King, shall reign in righteousness, and princes rule in judgment. Then a man, for indeed there is but One on whose shoulder the weight of such government rests, shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. Then the fool shall no more be called noble, nor the crafty said to be bountiful. But the day is at hand, dark as its dawn must be and terrible for the ungodly, Jews, Gentiles, and above all those that now name the Lord's name in vain.

A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren.
The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts.
A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue.
Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.
Children's children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers.
Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince.
A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.
He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.
A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.
An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.
Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly.
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.
He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.
Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?
A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
A man void of understanding striketh hands, and becometh surety in the presence of his friend.
He loveth transgression that loveth strife: and he that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction.
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.
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.
Wisdom is before him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.
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.
He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.
Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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