Proverbs Chapter 17
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Go to Bible: Proverbs 17
|Pro 17:1||- (top)|
“servant will rule over a shameful son.” Proverbs 17:2 is one of the many “ideal” promises in the Word of God. It was always God’s intention that people would get what they deserve in this life, and that is expressed in verses such as this one. This verse would be fulfilled here on earth today if we lived in a godly world with godly people, but because there are evil people and the Devil is the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19), people do not always get what they deserve.
[For more on promises like this, see commentary on Prov. 19:5.](top)
|Pro 17:3||- (top)|
|Pro 17:4||- (top)|
|Pro 17:5||- (top)|
|Pro 17:6||- (top)|
“Eloquent speech is not fitting.” “Eloquent” is the Hebrew word yether (#03499 יֶ֫תֶר), and here it refers to excellence of speech (Waltke; Proverbs). A godless fool (Ps. 14:1) may speak very well, but what he says will lead many people to destruction. The literal is “lip,” and is the same as “lip” in the last half of the verse, but “Eloquent lip” is not smooth in English.
“godless person.” The Hebrew noun translated “godless person” is nabal (#05036 נָבָל), the term for the godless fool. Many godless people are well educated and sound very eloquent and knowledgeable when they speak, but they are leading people down the path of destruction. God’s people must compare what anyone says to the Word of God, no matter how well spoken. Beyond that, godly people must look at the fruit of a person’s life to determine the truth of their character and what they are saying.
[See Appendix 9, “Fool & Foolish.”](top)
“bribe.” The Hebrew is shachad (#07810 שֹׁ֫חַד), and it has two meanings, “gift” and “bribe.” In this context, it is clearly a bribe.
“magic stone.” The Hebrew reads “a stone of favor,” i.e., a stone that brings the favor, or grace, of the one to whom it is presented. The Hebrew word chen (#02580 חֵן) is favor, agreeableness; or charm and grace in the sense of pleasant, agreeable qualities, as we speak of someone being charming and having social grace. The Hebrew is hard to translate. A very literal reading of the stanza would be, “A bribe is a stone of favor to its owner.” In other words, the owner of a bribe is overconfident and believes that his bribe will work the way he intends it to, which sadly, much of the time, is true. Because the person who uses bribes thinks they work all the time, “like magic,” the translation “magic stone” seems to capture the sense of the Hebrew text and some modern translations use that phrase (HCSB; ESV; NRSV; RSV). Another common translation is “charm,” but saying a bribe is a “charm” to its owner did not seem to carry the sense of the test as clearly as “magic stone.”(top)
|Pro 17:9||- (top)|
“a rebuke.” The Hebrew noun is singular, not plural, making the contrast between “a single rebuke” and “100 lashes” very stark. The fool is not just acting foolish, he is convinced he is right in what he thinks and does, so 100 lashes do not drive his foolishness from him. They may make him bitter, and he may not repeat his action because he is afraid of consequences, but he remains a fool.(top)
“A rebellious person seeks evil.” The text can also be translated, “An evil man seeks only rebellion.” Scholars argue for both positions. Keil and Delitzsch point out that the rebellious man seeking only after evil is a much more natural connection than the evil man seeking only rebellion.a
“messenger.” The Hebrew is (#04397 מַלְאָך), and means, ”a messenger,” either human or divine. We call divine messengers, “angels,” and mal’ak occurs almost 200 times in the Old Testament, about half the time being translated “angel” (Gen. 19:1; 24:7), and the other half “messenger,” referring to a human messenger (Num. 21:21; Josh. 6:17). The Greek word aggelos (pronounced “'an-ge-los”) also means “messenger” and is also translated both “angel” (Matt. 1:20; 13:41), and “messenger” (Luke 7:24; James 2:25). Angels are the messengers of God, who do his bidding in heaven and on earth. Although it may seem helpful to translate human messengers as “messengers” and divine messengers as “angels,” Proverbs 17:12 is a verse where that would cause problems. The rebellious person will have cruel “messengers,” sent against him, both human messengers and spirit messengers.
Rebellion in the heart of a man opens him up to demonic attack and affliction. We could translate the verse, “a cruel angel will be sent against him,” and that would be valid, but it would exclude human messengers. Sometimes it is human messengers who squash rebellion. For example, after David died, his son Adonijah began to set himself up to rebel against Solomon, but Solomon recognized the situation and sent Benaiah, a leader of his guard, to execute Adonijah (1 Kings 2:13-25). Rebellious people open themselves up to harsh and sometimes deadly attacks by both human and divine messengers: people, angels, or demons.
[For more information on evil and ungodly behavior opening a person up to demonic attacks, see commentary on Prov. 13:21.]
Keil and Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Proverbs, 6:360-61.
“person.” The word “person” is iysh (#0376 אִישׁ), which most literally refers to a man, but it can also be used to refer to men and women, and it makes sense to translate it in a gender-neutral way in this context (see commentary on Prov. 2:12, “the one”).
“evil will not depart.” Although this could be a general principle, that a person who repays evil for good will have problems, it could also be a reference to the fact that doing evil invites “Evil,” that is, evil demons, into one’s house, i.e., into one’s life.
[For more on Evil being an actual demon, see commentary on Prov. 13:21, “Evil eagerly pursues.”](top)
“letting water flow freely.” The reference is to breaching a dam or anything else that retains a lot of water. Once the water starts flowing, it is difficult or impossible to stop, and the break usually becomes worse and worse, allowing more and more water to flow. Some versions go with the meaning of the verse, and say, “The beginning of strife is like breaching a dam” or something similar.(top)
|Pro 17:15||- (top)|
“sense.” The Hebrew word is leb (#03820 לֵב), which is often translated “heart,” but this is one of those cases where that translation would cause confusion. In modern English, the word “heart” usually refers to emotion or passion, but that is not its meaning here. The function of the brain was unknown in biblical times, so things that we generally assign to the brain, like thinking, attitudes, understanding, and good sense, were assigned to the heart.
The fool may have money to “buy wisdom,” which he might do by going to a school, paying for a tutor, purchasing books, or traveling to gain knowledge, but it is all to no avail because he does not have the leb, the common sense and understanding to translate that knowledge into godly thinking and action. The difficulty of bringing the Hebrew word leb into English in this context is revealed by the various ways translators have translated it, including “understanding” (ASV); “sense” (DBY; ESV; NASB); “doesn’t have a mind to grasp anything” (GWN; cp. NRSV; RSV); “no intention of acquiring wisdom” (NET); “no heart for learning” (NLT); and “the desire is not there” (NJB).
There are many reasons a fool might not have the sense to gain true godly wisdom. He may have assumptions on which he has built his lifestyle that are wrong but that he is unwilling to examine honestly. He may be stubborn and not willing to change his ways. He may begin to realize that if he acquires wisdom and begins to live a godly life it will require some giving and sacrifice on his part, and he may be unwilling to do that. It can be almost impossible for genuine fools to change (Prov. 17:10; 19:29; 26:3), so the Bible warns us to stay away from those people (Prov. 14:7; 17:12).(top)
|Pro 17:17||- (top)|
“shakes hands.” The Hebrew is more literally something like, “striking hands,” but it refers to a custom that was either the same as our handshake or similar to it. The custom occurs here as well as in Proverbs 6:1 and 17:18.
[For more on the custom of shaking hands, see commentary on Prov. 6:1.]
“sense.” The Hebrew word is leb (#03820 לֵב), which is often translated “heart,” but this is one of those cases where that translation would cause confusion. In modern English, the word “heart” usually refers to emotion or passion, but that is not its meaning here. The function of the brain was unknown in biblical times, so things that we generally assign to the brain, like thinking, attitudes, understanding, and good sense, were assigned to the heart. In this context, leb, “heart” refers to the activity of the mind that includes good judgment, which is why we translated it “sense” (cp. BBE; CJB; HCSB; ESV; NAB; NASB; Rotherham; RSV).
People who make unwise agreements lack good sense. While it sometimes can be very hard to say “No,” to people who want help, an unwise agreement is still an unwise agreement even if it is difficult to decline getting involved. The wise person does not make unwise agreements, which is why this verse, and others like it, are in Proverbs (cp. Prov. 6:1-5).
[For more on the Hebrew word leb and “heart,” see commentary on Prov. 15:21, “sense.”]
“solemn pledge.” The Hebrew emphasizes the seriousness of the pledge by the figure of speech polyptoton. The Hebrew reads, “pledges a pledge.” The translation “solemn pledge” catches the sense of the text, and the emphasis of the Hebrew text could also be picked up by the translation that the person, “pledges, yes, pledges” in the presence of his neighbor.
[For more on polyptoton and the form of translation that uses “yes,” see commentary on Genesis 2:16.]
Far too often people do not think through the agreements they make, or they get pressured into making agreements that they know are unwise or even one that they just do not feel good about making. Our natural human desire to please people and/or to avoid conflict often means we agree to things we really do not want to agree to. Wise believers draw inner strength from the Lord and do the right thing, including saying “No” to unwise decisions, even though they know some people will be upset by their actions.(top)
“the one who exalts his doorway seeks disaster.” In this case, the King James Version, which reads “exalteth,” seems to be more on point according to the biblical culture than the modern versions that read something such as, “builds a high gate.” Proverbs 17:19 involves a custom that is not easy for Westerners to understand. In the West, it is generally considered a mark of dignity and respectability to make one’s home as attractive as possible. Yards are neatly kept, landscaping is carefully tended, and in general, the outside of a home is tastefully painted and made as beautiful as possible. That was not at all the case in the biblical culture; in fact, it was just the opposite.
In the East, the government and authorities were almost always the enemy. They had ultimate authority and were very often unscrupulous. It was wise in the biblical culture to disguise one’s assets as best as possible. There was no advantage to showing off one’s wealth or possessions (which is also why even the women were closely shielded). Revealing one’s wealth only invited thieves from the lower classes and envy and trouble from those in positions of authority.
Thus, with rare exception, Eastern houses, no matter how wealthy the owners, were made of rough and undecorated materials: rocks, mud bricks, and wood. Nothing on the outside was decorated or presented in such a way that it revealed what was inside. Furthermore, biblical houses had no lawns or gardens outside them. The Law of Moses allowed anyone passing by to take a fruit or vegetable and eat it, so there was no reason to keep a fruit tree outside the house, it would quickly be picked clean (Deut. 23:24-25). This is why Jesus would have eaten from the fig tree he passed on the road if it had had figs (Matt. 21:19). If a person had land, he would grow his fruits and vegetables in fields outside the village or city.
Larger houses had a courtyard where some flowers, vegetables, or a fruit tree might be grown and where people could sit in the shade and enjoy the outdoors, but that courtyard was invisible to those on the outside. Larger homes also often had a kind of foyer at the door so that people could be allowed to enter through the outer door into a sheltered area but still not see what was in the house behind the second door. Privacy was very carefully protected, and to be allowed to enter a house was a gesture of great hospitality and trust.
The word “destruction” in the verse is the Hebrew sheber (#07667 שָׁ֫בֶר), and means a breaking, fracture, crushing, breach, crash, ruin, shattering, or destruction. Therefore, some versions say, “broken bones,” instead of “destruction,” but destruction or ruin is almost certainly the reading. The Hebrew word translated “exalts” is gabah (#01361 גּבהּ), and it means to be exalted, to be lifted up, to be high, or to be arrogant or haughty. The stanza could also be translated something like, “The one who adorns his doorway,” or “The one who beautifies his doorway.”
Despite the number of modern translations that speak of making the door high, that is not as clear or accurate as “exalts his door.” Why would a high door invite destruction? It is, after all, built into the wall and would never be as high as the wall itself. Of course, if a person built a high, fancy door to attract attention, he would be building a “high” door, but more to the point of the verse he would be “exalting” his door (we could almost translate the verse, “he who makes his door haughty seeks destruction”). If a person were to be so audacious as to “exalt” his door and make it “haughty,” enlarging it, decorating it, and using it to demonstrate his wealth and position, he would only be inviting his own ruin.
When the second stanza of this proverb is understood properly we can see that it fits with the general theme of the first stanza. The person who loves “transgression”—loves to break laws and overstep personal and social boundaries—will get into many fights and eventually bring his own ruin. The person who builds a “haughty” door on his house also will eventually bring his own ruin. There is a great lesson in this Proverb about living wisely and not being the cause of needless problems and strife. This verse also teaches the lesson that there are times when it is a good thing not to “stand out of the crowd” and be noticed by others. The wise person knows when to attract attention and when not to be noticed.
[For more on houses in biblical times, see commentary on Isaiah 22:1.](top)
“will not find good.” The phrase “will not find good” primarily refers to tangible prosperity, so the NIV and NRSV say, “do not prosper.” However, that is not the only meaning of “will not find good.” It also refers to the fact that those whose heart is twisted do not see the good in good things.(top)
“no joy.” This is the figure of speech, tapeinosis, “understatement.” The statement is true, but it is understated, and as such is an understated way of saying the father of a godless fool will have loads of trouble.
[See word study on “tapeinosis.”](top)
“bones.” Although Proverbs 17:22 is somewhat literal in that a broken spirit, that is “broken” emotions and attitudes, can affect a person’s bones, it is also likely true that “bones” is a metonymy for other parts of the body as well. It is well known that broken emotions and attitudes such as depression, anxiety, or a negative attitude can cause all kinds of physical problems, while in contrast, a cheerful heart can cure many bodily ailments.
In the biblical world, “wet bones” or “fat bones” were considered healthy, while dry bones were sick or even dead (Ezek. 37:1-4). Trusting in God and not in one’s own understanding will be a “refreshing drink to your bones” (Prov. 3:8). The Bible has a lot to say about what we hear and how we think affects our “bones” and our health (Prov. 3:8; 15:30; 16:24; 17:22).(top)
|Pro 17:23||- (top)|
“Wisdom is with the one who understands.” Servants stood before their masters and mistresses, waiting to serve and help (cp. 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 3:14; 5:16. Cp. also Gen. 18:8, 22; Judg. 3:19; 1 Kings 12:8). Wisdom here is pictured as the ready and willing servant to those who have understanding.
“but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.” The thoughts and attention of the fool are on distant, unseen, and unattainable goals, meanwhile, he overlooks Wisdom, which would be willing to serve him well.(top)
“the woman.” This is expressed in the text by the verb “bore” being third person feminine singular. A more literal translation would be “to she who bore him.”(top)
“to issue a fine.” The Hebrew word is `anash (#06064 עָנַשׁ), and it is in the qal aspect of the verb, so it means to issue or impose a fine (cp. NRSV). Here it is used as a synecdoche of the part for “punishment” in general.
“to beat.” The Law of Moses allowed guilty men to be flogged. Jeremiah was an example of a righteous man who was flogged by ungodly rulers (Jer. 20:2).(top)
“has attained knowledge.” The Hebrew literally reads, “knows knowledge,” but this is idiomatic.(top)
|Pro 17:28||- (top)|