Proverbs 17:1-28

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It is better to have a “dry piece of bread” (a “morsel” or a “bit” [LXX]) to eat in “quietness” or in a peaceful environment (“with enjoyment in peace” [LXX]) than to have a “house” full of the meat from “sacrifices of quarreling” or to feast in a house troubled by disputes. The Septuagint refers to a “house full of good things [or many possessions] and unrighteous sacrifices with conflict.” “Unrighteous sacrifices” could be sacrifices that would not have been acceptable to God, with meat from these sacrifices being used for a meal or banquet. The eating, in the midst of prosperity, would be marred by quarreling. (17:1)

A servant who conducts himself wisely could come to be in a position where he “rules” or exercises authority over a son who behaves shamefully, squandering resources and acting in a manner that dishonors him and his family. The son may find himself reduced to poverty, whereas the servant may “share the inheritance among brothers,” the brothers of the dissolute son. According to the Septuagint, a “sensible servant will rule over foolish masters, and he will divide portions among brothers.” (17:2)

Refining is necessary to obtain pure silver and gold. The ore must be subjected to the fire of a smelter or a furnace. Similarly, YHWH (the “Lord” [LXX]) “tests hearts” (“chosen hearts” [LXX]), allowing trials to reveal what the “heart” or the inner self of an individual truly is. As for the one who permits the trial to refine him, he can become a better person as a result. (17:3)

An “evildoer” pays attention to the “lip” that is used to express words that are false, deceptive, or injurious, and a “liar” listens to the “tongue” that functions to say things that are harmful or ruinous. Evildoers and liars give heed to words that further their unworthy objectives. The Septuagint says that an “evildoer listens to the tongue of lawless ones” but that the “righteous one does not give heed to lying lips.” (17:4)

God is the Creator of humans regardless of what their station in life may be. Therefore, the one who ridicules a lowly or afflicted person is guilty of insulting his Maker. The person who rejoices when seeing calamity befall others would not remain unpunished. His maliciousness would incur God’s anger. The Septuagint expresses the same basic thought but then says that the compassionate person will be shown mercy. (17:5)

Grandparents commonly take great delight in their grandchildren, and young children especially look up to their fathers. Accordingly, “sons of sons” (children’s children [LXX]) are the “crown of the aged,” also providing evidence that they have enjoyed a long life. Fathers are the “glory of sons” (the “boast of children”), the men in whom the sons or children take pride. (17:6; see the Notes section.)

It would not be appropriate for a senseless person to have a “lip of excess” or to speak excessively, especially since he has nothing of value to impart. The Hebrew word rendered “excess” could also mean “excellence.” Modern translations vary in their renderings. “Fine talk is out of place in a boor.” (REB) “Arrogant lips are unsuited to a fool.” (NIV) “It sounds strange for a fool to talk sensibly.” (CEV) The Septuagint refers to “faithful lips” or lips that are used to make trustworthy expressions. Such lips would not fit a fool, as his words would be senseless and deceptive. It would be even less fitting for a “noble,” a man exercising authority in the community, to have a “lip of falsehood” or a lip that is used to speak lies and deceitful words. In the Septuagint, the reference is to a righteous person. For a righteous man, “lying lips” would not be fitting. (17:7)

A “gift” or “bribe” is like a “stone [a precious jewel or a charm] in the eyes of its owner,” the one who can use it to obtain favors. Wherever he may turn, he enjoys success. The Septuagint rendering does not focus on a “gift” or “bribe.” It refers to “discipline” or “instruction” as a “favorable wage” for the ones applying it. “Wherever it [the discipline or instruction] turns, it will grant success.” (17:8)

To cover over transgression or offense relates to extending forgiveness and not broadcasting an erring one’s failings. This is identified as an act of seeking love, for it elicits an appreciative response from the one who is shielded from the humiliation or shame of public exposure as one who has caused offense and also from the possible consequence of alienation from acquaintances and friends. The individual who talks about a “matter,” a matter relating to transgressions or offenses, often contributes to the creation of rifts between the erring one and his close acquaintances. According to the Septuagint, the one who hates to conceal wrongs “separates friends and family members.” (17:9)

Those who are discerning or possess understanding respond to correction. A rebuke is sufficient for a discerning man to change his conduct for the better. The Septuagint says that a “threat shatters the heart of a prudent person.” In the case of a discerning or prudent individual, a “rebuke” or “threat” makes a far deeper impression than does severe punishment (comparable to the administering of a “hundred strokes”) in the case of a fool. Despite harsh punishment, the senseless man persists in his wayward course. (17:10)

An evildoer or corrupt man seeks rebellion. He is lawless, refusing to subject himself to God or to the norms of the community where he lives. Eventually he faces retribution for his deeds. The “messenger” sent against him will prove to be cruel, not sparing him from the severe punishment he is authorized to carry out or to have carried out against him. (17:11; see the Notes section.)

A bear bereaved of her cubs is ferocious and unpredictable. An encounter poses the risk of serious injury or death. Even more unpredictable is the outcome for one who meets a “stupid” or corrupt man while he is engaged in foolishness or senseless actions. One would find it preferable to encounter a bereaved bear, for the fool’s senseless actions can harm many more people. (17:12; see the Notes section.)

The person who repays “bad for good,” harming individuals who dealt honestly and kindly with him, will face retribution. “Bad” or calamity “will not move away from his house.” He will never be secure nor will his household. (17:13)

Once released after having been restrained by man-made means, water soon flows with destructive fury. The start of contention is comparable, for it will progressively intensify as it continues. Therefore, the advisable course is for one to leave before the quarrel has erupted. (17:14; see the Notes section.)

Unjust decisions respecting individuals are an abomination to YHWH. He detests it when wicked persons are pronounced righteous or guiltless and when righteous persons are pronounced wicked or condemned as guilty. According to the Septuagint, the person who does so is “unclean” or “impure” and “disgusting before God.” (17:15)

The question is raised as to why the “hand of a fool” would have the price to obtain wisdom (or the capacity to acquire it) although not having the “heart” or mind to do what is needed. Whereas wisdom is available and within reach of persons who truly desire it, the fool does not want it and has no inclination to put forth the effort to make it his possession. He chooses to persist living a corrupt and senseless life. (17:16; see the Notes section.)

A true companion or friend is loyal, always loving his friend. He does not distance himself from his friend when that one faces distress or falls on hard times. The concluding phrase could mean that the friend proves himself to be like a caring brother (a “brother born for adversity”). Another possible meaning is that a “brother” should be a person who is ready to help. The Septuagint rendering is more specific than is the extant Hebrew text. “For every time” or in every case, “you should have a friend,” but a “brother” should be “beneficial” or supportive “in tribulations,” for brothers are born for this purpose. (17:17)

A man “wanting in heart” or lacking good sense shakes hands to make an agreement to become surety, taking on the obligations of the debtor in case of that one’s failure to fulfill them. This is very risky, for it frees the debtor from personal responsibility for the repayment of his debts. (17:18; see the Notes section.)

For one to love transgression or offense is to love the strife, conflict, or hostility that inevitably will follow. Persons who have been wronged will be angry and want the transgressor to be punished. According to the Septuagint, a “lover of sin rejoices in conflicts.” Through his wrongdoing, the sinner invites trouble for himself and, therefore, can be represented as rejoicing in conflicts. One who is identified in the Hebrew text as making “his door high” is guilty of arrogantly elevating himself. Through proud self-exaltation, the individual is seeking his own ruin, for arrogance inevitably leads to a fall. (17:19; see the Notes section.)

One who has a “crooked heart” is corrupt in his thoughts, scheming and plotting to attain his base objectives. He is a person who will not “find good.” The ultimate outcome for his lawlessness is ruin, not good fortune or success. A man with a “perverse tongue” or one who uses his tongue to lie and deceive “will fall into calamity.” This will happen when he is exposed as a liar and a cheat. (17:20; see the Notes section.)

A father whose son turns out to be foolish (literally, “one begetting a fool”), a son who pursues a debased course of life, experiences grief, and a father does not rejoice when he ends up with a senseless son. The implication of the proverb appears to be that a son should avoid a wayward course of life and not grieve his father. (17:21; see the Notes section.)

A “cheerful heart” or a joyful and positive mental outlook can have a curative effect (makes for good health [LXX]) and promotes the well-being of the individual, but a “stricken” or downcast “spirit” or disposition (a depressed state) “dries up the bones” or has a debilitating effect on the whole body. According to the Septuagint, the “bones of a distressed” or sad “man dry up.” (17:22)

A bribe in the bosom designates a bribe that is concealed in the upper fold of a garment. “To pervert the ways of judgment” or justice, a wicked or corrupt man, in secret, accepts or gives a bribe that can be drawn from the bosom. The Septuagint refers to accepting “gifts” or bribes from the bosoms “unjustly” and indicates that the “ways” of the one doing so do not prosper or do not succeed. (17:23; see the Notes section.)

A discerning man has wisdom before his face, suggesting that wisdom is the object of his desire and guides him at all times. The eyes of a fool are at the “end of the earth” or everywhere other than where his attention should be. His gaze is far from wisdom and, therefore, he will never find it or have it in his possession. The Septuagint rendering could be understood to indicate that intelligence is apparent in the face or countenance of a wise man but that the eyes of the senseless one are directed to the “ends of the earth.” (17:24)

“To his father,” a foolish son, one who is wayward, is a cause of vexation, irritation, or “anger” (LXX), and he brings “bitterness” (“pain” or “grief” [LXX]) to his mother (literally, the one who bore him). The implication of the proverb may be that a son should avoid a course that would irritate or grieve his parents. (17:25)

“To impose a fine” or to punish a “righteous” or innocent man is an injustice and, therefore, “not good,” but evil. The striking of noble persons is wrong, for it would denote contempt for them and would be carried out without justification. According to the Septuagint, it is not devout to plot against righteous or just rulers. (17:26)

The individual who refrains from speaking (“uttering a harsh word” [LXX]), avoiding thoughtless or rash speech especially when provoked, reveals that he is in possession of knowledge — the knowledge that serves as a dependable guide for speaking or refraining from doing so. As one having knowledge, the person is intelligent or discreet. A “man of understanding” or a prudent man is “cool of spirit.” He is calm (or “patient” [LXX]), controlling himself from lashing out when faced with provocation. (17:27)

The things people say reveal whether they are wise or foolish. Therefore, one who is foolish may be considered wise if he remains silent, not saying anything that would expose him as a person lacking good sense. The man who closes his lips, not using them to express himself in a senseless manner, may be considered as having understanding. (17:28; see the Notes section.)

Notes

After wording that corresponds to the reading of the extant Hebrew text of verse 6, the Septuagint includes another proverb. A “whole world of riches [belongs] to the faithful one [or trustworthy one], but to the unfaithful one [or untrustworthy one] not even an obol” (an ancient Greek coin of little value).

In verse 11, the Septuagint rendering differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It indicates that “every bad person stirs up controversies” but that “the Lord will send a merciless messenger [or angel] against him.”

The Septuagint makes no mention of a bear in verse 12. It refers to anxious care as befalling a perceptive man and to senseless persons as devising evil things.

The wording of verse 14 in the Septuagint differs significantly from the extant Hebrew text. “Righteous rulership gives power to words,” suggesting that what is promised will be carried out. “Insurrection and conflict precede lack” or poverty.

In the Septuagint text of verse 16, the question is, “Why should the senseless one have riches or means?” The most valuable possession is beyond his reach, for the “heartless one” (the person lacking heart or sensibleness) “will not be able to obtain wisdom.” These words are followed by another proverb that is not found here in the extant Hebrew text, but the initial phrase parallels the concluding phrase in the Hebrew text of verse 19. “One who makes his own house high [or pursues a course of self-exaltation] seeks ruin, and one who is crooked [or too twisted or corrupt] to learn will fall into evils,” calamities, or misfortunes.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 18 interprets handshaking in a way that does not relate to surety. A “senseless man claps and rejoices over himself.” The concluding phrase could mean that the one becoming surety for his friend also rejoices.

In verse 19, the Septuagint does not include the reference to making the door high.

The Septuagint text of verse 20 refers to a “hard-hearted one” or a callous person as not meeting up with good things. It concludes with the words, “A man with a changeable tongue will fall into evils” or misfortunes. The designation “changeable tongue” suggests that the words the tongue is used to express cannot be trusted. Misuse of the tongue leads to ruin.

In verse 21, the wording of the Septuagint differs from that of the extant Hebrew text. “And the heart of a senseless one [is] grief to its possessor [as a consequence of his foolish actions]. A father does not rejoice over an undisciplined son [one who is unresponsive to discipline or instruction], but a wise son brings joy to his mother.”

In their renderings of verse 23, modern translations represent the corrupt individual either as giving or accepting the bribe. “A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret.” (NIV) “Under cover of his cloak a bad man takes a gift.”(NJB) “A wicked person produces a bribe from under his cloak.” (REB) The Septuagint concludes with additional words, “And the impious” or ungodly one veers from or perverts the “ways of righteousness.”

In verse 28, the Septuagint rendering indicates that wisdom will be reckoned to one who lacks good sense if he asks for it and that everyone who remains silent or speechless will seem to be prudent.