Proverbs 17 – “Assorted Sayings”

fourgenerationsHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Proverbs 17 is a collection of twenty-eight individual wisdom sayings. While various verses might speak of similar topics, the sayings do not seem to have a single theme.

II. Photo
One saying speaks about inter-generational pride, “Grandchildren are the crown of their elders, And the glory of children is their parents.” (v. 6)

III. Important Verses
v. 1: Better a dry crust with peace Than a house full of feasting with strife.
v. 5: He who mocks the poor affronts his Maker; He who rejoices over another’s misfortune will not go unpunished.
v. 6: Grandchildren are the crown of their elders, And the glory of children is their parents.
v. 9: He who seeks love overlooks faults, But he who harps on a matter alienates his friend.
v. 10: A rebuke works on an intelligent man More than one hundred blows on a fool.
v. 12: Sooner meet a bereaved she-bear [robbed of her cubs] Than a fool with his nonsense.
v. 14: To start a quarrel is to open a sluice; Before a dispute flares up, drop it.
v. 17: A friend is devoted at all times; A brother is born to share adversity.
v. 22: A joyful heart makes for good health; Despondency dries up the bones.
vv. 27-28: A knowledgeable man is sparing with his words; A man of understanding is reticent. Even a fool, if he keeps silent, is deemed wise; Intelligent, if he seals his lips.

IV. Outline
1. Peace
2. A wise servant
3. Omniscience
4. Listening to evil speech
5. Rejoicing over others’ misfortune
6. Grandparents, parents, children
7. Speech
8. Bribes
9. Avoiding strife
10. Rebuke
11. An evil man
12. Avoid the fool
13. An evil man
14. Avoiding strife
15. Judging
16. The fool and his wealth
17. Friends and brothers
18. Going surety
19. The outcome of sin
20. An evil man
21. A foolish child
22. Emotions
23. Bribes
24. The wise/foolish
25. A foolish son
26. Judging
27-28. Keeping quiet

V. Comment
Proverbs 17 is an assorted collection of wisdom sayings. The sayings do not seem to have an order; they aren’t juxtaposed on account of catchwords or a shared message (but see vv. 27-28). While many of the sayings employ synonymous parallelism (e.g. vv. 4, 20, 21, 27-28), the use of antithetical parallelism continues to diminish (but see vv. 7, 9, 22). Seeing that there isn’t much to speak of in terms of structure, the rest of the comment will focus on the subjects found in this chapter and their use in the rest of the book.

V. 5 says, “He who mocks the poor affronts his Maker; He who rejoices over another’s misfortune will not go unpunished.” The idea that one’s treatment of the poor is related to one’s treatment of God is found elsewhere as well. For example, 14:31 says, “He who withholds what is due to the poor affronts his Maker; He who shows pity for the needy honors Him.” Indeed, it seems as if God plans for the rich to meet the poor: “Rich man and poor man meet; The LORD made them both” (22:2). God will pay back anyone who helps the poor: “He who is generous to the poor makes a loan to the LORD; He will repay him his due” (19:17).

One of the light motifs in the chapter is family, especially children. V. 6 says, “Grandchildren are the crown of their elders, And the glory of children is their parents.” Murphy writes (p. 129), “The relationship between three generations is described (“sons” occurs three times) in an ideal fashion: grandparents to grandchildren, and children to fathers. The grandparents are honored in that they have lived a long life and are able to behold their descendants who are a prolongation of themselves, their immortality, as it were. The children find a reflection of themselves in their worthy fathers; the honor of a son lies in the honor of his father.” Other verses in the chapter speak about children, but in a less positive tone. V. 21 says, “One begets a dullard to one’s own grief; The father of a villain has no joy,” and v. 25 says, “A stupid son is vexation for his father And a heartache for the woman who bore him.”

V. 9 speaks about holding a grudge, “He who seeks love overlooks faults, But he who harps on a matter alienates his friend.” The person who “lets things go” is praised in 19:11, “A man shows intelligence by his forebearance; It is his glory when he overlooks an offense.” This “wisdom teaching” is actually found as a command in Lev. 19:18, albeit with different vocabulary: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.”

V. 14 has a related message, namely to avoid strife: “To start a quarrel (madon) is to open a sluice; Before a dispute flares up, drop it.” This message is repeated often in Proverbs, albeit in variegated ways. For example, 26:21 gives a metaphor, “Charcoal for embers and wood for a fire And a contentious man (‘ish medonim) for kindling strife.” Prov. 15:8 is more forthright, “A hot-tempered man provokes a quarrel (madon); A patient man calms strife.” Some verses speak about a bickering wife. For example, 21:29 emphatically states, “It is better to live in the desert Than with a contentious, vexatious wife (‘eshet medanim).” How can one avoid strife? Vv. 27-28 offer a possible answer, “A knowledgeable man is sparing with his words; A man of understanding is reticent. Even a fool, if he keeps silent, is deemed wise; Intelligent, if he seals his lips.” Indeed, there is a recommendation in the book of Job along these lines, “If you would only keep quiet It would be considered wisdom on your part” (Job 13:5).

Two of the chapter’s sayings use excessive figures of speech to make a point about the foolish. The first is v. 10, “A rebuke works on an intelligent man More than one hundred blows on a fool.” Given that the maximum number of lashes for a crime was 40 (cf. Deut 25:3), it seems that the number “100” is an exaggeration. The verse’s message seems to be like that of 13:18, “Poverty and humiliation are for him who spurns discipline; But he who takes reproof to heart gets honor,” i.e. “be wise and accept reproof.”

V. 12 is the second verse to employ an excessive analogy, “Sooner meet a bereaved she-bear Than a fool with his nonsense.” While we have seen warnings to stay away from fools (e.g. 14:7, “Keep your distance from a dullard, For you will not learn wise speech”), our verse is quite extreme in its analogy. The analogy of a bereaved bear is used elsewhere in Tanach. For example, Hushai tells Abshalom in 2 Sam 17:8 that “… your father and his men are courageous fighters, and they are as desperate as a bear in the wild robbed of her whelps…” Also, God describes himself as a fierce bear in Hos. 13:8, “Like a bear robbed of her young I attack them And rip open the casing of their hearts; I will devour them there like a lion, The beasts of the field shall mangle them.” The analogy of a bear (albeit not a bereaved one) is taken up again in Prov. 28:15, “A roaring lion and a prowling bear Is a wicked man ruling a helpless people.”

V. 22 speaks of a psychomatic phenomenon, “A joyful heart makes for good health; Despondency dries up the bones.” This is seen elsewhere in Proverbs, especially 14:30: “A calm disposition gives bodily health; Passion is rot to the bones.”

Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

Murphy, Proverbs (Word Biblical Commentary)

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