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Deeper Commentary

Pro 17:1
Better is a dry morsel of bread with quietness, than a house full of feasting with strife-
Proverbs 17 is one of the best examples of where the Proverbs appear to be a muddled collection of true sayings but lacking any structure. Are the Proverbs really like precious stones that must be emptied out of the bag and rearranged by theme? In which case, why didn't God do so at the start when inspiring the book? My comments are as follows:
- Some of the Proverbs are basic truisms and maxims which have equivalents in any culture. Solomon wrote the book at the start of his reign when God gave him his wisdom.
But Solomon loved Egyptian and Gentile women right from the start of his reign. There are strong similarities both in content and genre between Proverbs and e.g. the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope . It could be that Solomon took various things from the literature of his father in law in Egypt... or of course it could be that Solomon's book
of Proverbs was designed to preach to the Egyptians and surrounding nations in their own terms and in a familiar genre. Much is written by Solomon about the establishment of the throne on the basis of truth and justice; and this is commonly found in Egyptian literature about the Pharaohs.
- The text hangs together far better in the original Hebrew. Most people were illiterate, and so the book was designed to be memorized.  There are many patterns in the book which
depend upon the alliteration and rhyming of words and ideas to enable memorization. This was typical of wisdom literature of the time. There are similar initial syllables of words and verses, or beginning with the same letter. There's much word play, similar sounds repeat between verses if read out loud. Thus the root sdq [righteousness] occurs in various words which connect various proverbs which appear unrelated to each other in English translation. These sound patterns form a chain which enables memorization. Thus Prov. 16:27-29 all begin with the word 'ish', 'a man'. Catchwords link adjacent verses.
- Watch out for clusters of verses which do have the same theme; the verses which don't appear to be in a cluster are likely connected by alliteration etc. for easy memorization.  
- My own hunch is that although the Proverbs are inspired by God, they were also presented by Solomon with a strong hint of self-justification. He wrote them when he had just inherited the throne from his father David, whom he idolized and was obsessed with. He sought to justify his father against all the various factions who were in Israel who were not sympathetic to David and therefore to Solomon. Almost every other verse in the book appears to have some such sideways swipe at the likes of Saul, Nabal, Absalom or Joab- whilst presenting Solomon as the wise son with whom alone David was pleased. Solomon should've sought his self-worth and value in God's opinion of him; and he should've trusted the promises to David of God establishing his throne and line, rather than seeking to as it were fulfill them for himself by using God's Truth and Wisdom to establish himself at others' expense. Chapter 17 is a parade example of this.

Pro 17:2 A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who causes shame, and shall have a part in the inheritance among the brothers-
The son who causes shame would be a reference to Absalom and other half brothers of Solomon who had contended with him for the throne. I have suggested that the book of Proverbs was written early in Solomon's reign, when he was first given wisdom from God with which to govern Israel. The servant who is to be exalted would then refer to Jeroboam, who was Solomon's servant whom he trusted and exalted at the start of his reign, although he later rebelled against Solomon (1 Kings 11:26-29).  

Pro 17:3 The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but Yahweh tests the hearts-
The idea is that Yahweh seeks purified hearts, spiritual mindedness, more than anything else; and the fire of affliction is used to purify our thinking. Purified hearts or spirits is the aim of the work of the Holy Spirit as taught in the New Testament. Yet a man must use the refining pot when he receives praise (Prov. 27:21). We have some election over this refining process, we are to work together with God in it; but the end result is the purification of the heart / mind / spirit.  

Pro 17:4 An evildoer heeds wicked lips; a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue-
Saul promised to no more 'do wickedly' to David (1 Sam. 26:21). The wicked doer is therefore an allusion to Saul, who listened to lies against David from the likes of Doeg. Note how "false" is the same word in as in 1 Sam. 15:23 about Saul's iniquity; "give heed" is s.w. "hearken" in 1 Sam. 15:22.
 "Destructive" or "wickedness" is the word used of the wickedness of Ahithophel and Absalom (Ps. 55:11). Solomon's Proverbs seem in places a justification of himself as king over his brother Absalom. He uses the same word to speak of "transgressors are taken in their own wickedness / destructiveness" (Prov. 11:6); how a liar [Absalom] listens to a 'destructive' tongue [in taking advice from Ahithophel] (Prov. 17:4); and how a foolish son [Absalom] is the calamity or destruction of his father (Prov. 19:13).

Pro 17:5 Whoever mocks the poor reproaches his Maker. He who is glad at calamity shall not be unpunished-
Yet Solomon's teachings about poverty do very often mock them and draw caricatures about them (e.g. Prov. 20:4), for he implies at several points that poverty is due to unwisdom and laziness, and the blessing of wisdom is wealth (:6 LXX). Yet again we see Solomon failing to personalize his wisdom; he disobeyed it because he seems to have reasoned that mere possession of Divine truth was all that was required for acceptability with God. And the same mistake is seen in so many.

Pro 17:6 Children’s children are the crown of old men; the glory of children are their parents-
This is only true if the parents and children are righteous and not the "son who causes shame" and not glory (:25). So Solomon doesn't have every child and every parent in view. Rather is he clearly alluding to his own constant glorification (and whitewashing) of his parents. LXX adds "The faithful has the whole world full of wealth; but the faithless not even a farthing". Solomon was given his wealth by God as a gift, as grace; and not because he was faithful. But he abuses that grace and assumes that gift was some kind of reward for his faithfulness. And again he argues that poverty is a result of lacking faith.

Pro 17:7 Arrogant speech isn’t fitting for a fool, much less do lying lips fit a prince-
LXX has "faithful lips" for "arrogant speech". The contrast is between a fool and a prince; not a fool and a wise man. Solomon assumes that a prince is the wise man. And we see here his problem; he assumed that because he was David' son and was on the throne, that therefore he was wise- because he was a prince. But the wisdom given to him was a gift, by grace, just as is any Divine truth which we hold. But Solomon came to see that gift as having been deserved by him, and thinks that his position is of itself a sign that he must be wise.

Pro 17:8 A bribe is a precious stone in the eyes of him who gives it; wherever he turns, he apparently prospers-
"Prospers" is a word commonly used about David being wise and prospering wherever he turned during his period at the court of Saul (s.w. 1 Sam. 18:5,14,15,30). The words are also those used by David to Solomon when he charged Solomon to follow God's word so "that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn" (1 Kings 2:3). It could be argued that the "evil" and "foolish" man in Proverbs is often alluding to Saul and Nabal ['fool'- s.w., the former husband of David's wife Abigail], and the wise and righteous to David and Solomon- confirming the impression that whilst all that is said is true and inspired, it was also spoken by Solomon to the end of justifying both himself and his father David, whose name was under a cloud in some parts of Israel. There are probably many more allusions to David's life in Proverbs which we don't pick up on because we don't know all that happened in David's life.

Pro 17:9 He who covers an offence promotes love; but he who repeats a matter separates best friends-
The idea of 'covering sin' is surely an allusion to the words of David, Solomon's father, who wrote a song he wished all Israel to sing- the 'maschil' Psalm 32: "Blessed is he whose transgression... is covered... I acknowledged my sin, my iniquity I did not hide [s.w. "cover"]' I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord" (Ps. 32:1,5). Because David did not cover his sin, God covered it. This is clearly in Solomon's mind in Prov. 28:13: "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy". So in  line with Solomon's obsession with David, it's likely he also has David in view here in 17:9. In which case, the One seeking love by covering sin is God. Love is to be our response to the covering of our sins. And yet the words also apply to us- we are to cover others sins in forgiving them, and gossiping to others about them [the second half of the Proverb] is therefore rooted in our unforgiveness. This is a helpful thought in analyzing why we gossip or repeat others' sins to others- it's because we've not forgiven the sin. See on 17:13.

Pro 17:10 A rebuke enters deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred lashes into a fool-
If 17:9 alludes to David's sin with Bathsheba, this verse would allude to Nathan's rebuke of David being accepted by him.
Solomon seems to comment upon God's arrows piercing or 'entering' (s.w.) David (Ps. 38:2). True as this is, Solomon was all the same justifying his father's response to the rebuke of Nathan and the Divine arrows which 'entered deep' to David. By the end of his reign, Solomon was whipping his people (1 Kings 12:11); he came to consider that most of God's people were fools, and had refused the rebuke of his wisdom, and therefore he could lash them. Those who are lifted up with pride at their possession of "truth" often come to despise and abuse others.

Pro 17:11 An evil man seeks only rebellion; therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him-
The "evil man" is often an allusion to Saul, and the Proverb related to it is often a justification of Solomon's father David. The Hebrew for "rebellion" is exactly that used about Saul in 1 Sam. 15:23. The "cruel malak / Angel" sent by God would then refer to the evil spirit / Angel from the Lord sent upon Saul (1 Sam. 16:14; 19:9).

Pro 17:12 Let a bear robbed of her cubs meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly-
An allusion to Nabal, 'fool', going out to meet David. "A bear robbed of her whelps" is exactly how David is described in 2 Sam. 17:8. LXX "Care may befall a man of understanding; but fools will meditate evils".

Pro 17:13 Whoever rewards evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house-
This is another of the many references by Solomon in the Proverbs to the life of his father David. The Hebrew words for "requite evil for good" are found in 1 Sam. 25:21 concerning how Nabal requited evil for David's good. The impression that the Proverbs are merely isolated sayings is somewhat ameliorated when we consider that many of them are a running commentary upon David's life, and they are connected by the common theme of allusion to David rather than a semantic connection between them.

Pro 17:14 The beginning of strife is like breaching a dam, therefore stop contention before quarreling breaks out-
Blaming strife and "contention" upon sinners is a common theme in Proverbs. But the same root word is used in 2 Sam. 19:9 regarding the "strife" and division which there was amongst Israel after Absalom's rebellion. Rather than seeing this as all part of the consequence of David's sin, Solomon instead justifies his father and blames his half brothers by saying that that "strife" was the result of their unwisdom. It could be argued that Solomon is making rather a crude allusion to this period by saying it is like urination... and the problem was with the person who began it, an allusion surely to Absalom, whom Solomon would've blamed for it all, rather than seeing it as partly the promised judgment upon David for his sin with Bathsheba.

Pro 17:15 He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to Yahweh-
This seems to be Solomon condemning his rival brother Absalom. 2 Sam. 15:4  records how "Then Absalom would say, "Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice"". The Hebrew for "justice" is the noun of the verb used here in Prov. 17:15. The implication is that Solomon blamed the 'time of strife' in Israel upon Solomon and his followers, whom Solomon is claiming were wicked men whom Absalom wrongly justified. "The just" is how Saul described David (1 Sam. 24:17 s.w.). Verse 16 may be an allusion to some unrecorded incident in Absalom's life where he showed himself as having no interest in wisdom and thought it could be purchased with money.

"Abomination" is the common word for idols (e.g. Dt. 7:25,26). Idolatry is here interpreted as things like pride and telling lies (:17). These seven things are the essence of idolatry. There is a recurring nature to them, just as idols got a grip on the mind of the worshipper. Solomon often uses the word for quiet, secret sins, words and the matters of the heart, internal attitudes and judgments (Prov. 11:1,20; 12:22; 13:19; 15:26; 16:5; 17:15; 20:10,23; 24:9; 26:25; 28:9; 29:27). And this of course is the essence of idolatry in our age; this is the practical force to us of all Biblical teaching about idolatry.

Pro 17:16 Why is there money in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, since he has no understanding?-
This may be Solomon's comment upon the various ambassadors who came to him from other nations with gifts and money in their hands, wanting to as it were buy wisdom. LXX "Why has the fool wealth? for a senseless man will not be able to purchase wisdom. He that exalts his own house seeks ruin; and he that turns aside from instruction shall fall into mischief". The one who exalted or 'lifted up' his own house would refer to the various attempted coups against David and Solomon (e.g. 2 Sam. 18:28; 20:21; 1 Kings 11:26).

Pro 17:17 A friend loves at all times; and a brother is born for adversity-
There could be a reference here to David's 'friends' during the wilderness years (s.w. 1 Sam. 30:26; 2 Sam. 16:17) who were faithful to him even in his hard times, perhaps especially Solomon is alluding to Hushai, David's "friend" who was so loyal to him (2 Sam. 16:17). The same Hebrew word is used about Hushai in 1 Chron. 27:33, where it seems he was given an official title of "The King's Friend". The same Hebrew words "all times" is used in the eulogy of David in 1 Chron. 29:30 about "all the times" of David's life. See on :18.

Pro 17:18 A man without understanding strikes hands, and becomes collateral in the presence of his neighbour-
"Strikes hands" are the same two Hebrew words used about Joab 'thrusting his hand' into Absalom to kill him (2 Sam. 18:14). Joab later turned against David, and so again we see Solomon establishing his father's name and dynasty by using his 'wisdom' to conveniently condemn all the parties who were politically against him. Likewise 17:19 speaks of the man who is "exalted", but the same word is in 1 Sam. 10:23 about how Saul was "taller" than his brethren- it is an allusion to Saul, but rather indirectly, couched within the wisdom and truth being spoken. We can likewise so easily use God's Truth and wisdom in order to fuel our own petty self justification and family politics.

The law of Moses didn't forbid giving or taking collateral for loans, it accepted this would happen (Ex. 22:25-27). But Solomon in the Proverbs is quite obsessed with forbidding it in very strong terms (Prov. 6:1-3; 11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26; 27:13- all quite some emphasis). Perhaps Solomon recalled some bad experience in his family because of this. There is the otherwise curious statement in 1 Sam. 17:18 that David's brothers, Solomon's uncles, were to return a collateral. Perhaps this ruined the family and Solomon's wisdom has some human element in it, reflecting his own bad experiences in his family life. But there is nothing wrong with giving or taking collateral for a loan; what is condemned in God's law is the abuse of the debtor and the abuse of the situation. Indeed David and Hezekiah ask God to be collateral for their needs and debts in various ways (Ps. 119:122; Is. 38:14). And God gives the Holy Spirit in our hearts as collateral on His debt, as He sees it, to save us (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14); and in response we give our hearts as a pledge to Him (Jer. 30:21 Heb.). So forbidding the practice seems out of step with the spirit of grace. It would mean asking of God what we are unprepared to do for others. Solomon had not known need, neither material nor spiritual, and it shows in his attitude to this matter. It makes hollow all Solomon's exhortations to be generous to your poor neighbour and to be a brother in adversity to your neighbour (Prov. 14:21; 17:17). Solomon is here reasoning from the viewpoint of secular wisdom.

Pro 17:19 He who loves disobedience loves strife. One who builds a high gate seeks destruction-
Again this is true, but so often Solomon's Proverbs include his own. He is implying that all the strife about his being the one to have the throne merely came from pride (Prov. 13:10) or disobedience, and the wise will accept Solomon's kingship. Those who build their own gate, i.e. set themselves up for the kingship, will be destroyed.

Pro 17:20 One who has a perverse heart doesn’t find prosperity, and one who has a deceitful tongue falls into trouble-
Solomon rightly emphasizes that the "perverse" or "wayward" are wayward in their hearts (Prov. 11:20; 17:20), leading to wayward tongues and ways in practice (Prov. 2:15); but he repeats his father's mistake, in saying he will have nothing to do with those who are wayward in their hearts (s.w. Ps. 101:4). The mistake was in assuming that he could judge human hearts. It continues the far over simplified view of people which Solomon has; the righteous have pure hearts, always obedient; and wicked have bad hearts. But the Bible warns that all of us have hearts which are fountains of evil thoughts (Mk. 7:15,21-23 etc.). 

Pro 17:21 He who becomes the father of a fool grieves; the father of a fool has no joy-
Perhaps this is a commentary upon David's sorrow at the death of his foolish son Absalom (as :25).

Pro 17:22 A cheerful heart makes good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones-
Solomon's criticism of the melancholy are likely intended allusions to Saul. Solomon teaches that a broken spirit is a curse (Prov. 15:13; 17:22; 18:14), and an indication that something is wrong with the core of a person; because an unbroken spirit will "make a cheerful face" (Prov. 15:13), and external appearance and having joy in this life was of primary importance to Solomon. He fails to realize that his father David had a broken spirit (Ps. 31:12; 38:8; 44:19; 51:8,17; 69:20- all a fair emphasis), and had thereby understood that Yahweh is especially close to those with a broken spirit (Ps. 34:18; 147:13), indeed the Gospel is for the broken spirited, and the broken hearted are not to be mocked (Ps. 109:16).

Pro 17:23 A wicked man receives a bribe in secret, to pervert the ways of justice-
Solomon's criticism of unjust judges surely looks back to how Absalom judged the cases of the men of Israel and by his injustice built up support for his rebellion against David and Solomon. There were few judges in Israel, and Solomon's condemnation of how others judge was therefore only really relevant to himself and a few others, it was not wisdom for the masses; and it was a kind of self-justification.

Pro 17:24 Wisdom is before the face of one who has understanding, but the eyes of a fool wander to the ends of the earth-
The idea may be that wisdom affects the outward appearance of a person's face; hence LXX "The countenance of a wise man is sensible; but the eyes of a fool go to the ends of the earth". Again, wisdom is seen to be advantageous because of the image it gives to those who possess it. Solomon never seems to emphasize that the real intention and blessing of wisdom is to lead us to God's eternal Kingdom in the future. He sees the reward of wisdom as solely in this life, because he considered his kingdom to be God's Kingdom, and himself to be the Messiah figure.

Pro 17:25 A foolish son brings grief to his father, and bitterness to her who bore him-
A reference to David's grief over the foolish Absalom, whose supporters were contenders for David's throne and wished to displace Solomon from it. Always Solomon seems to be harnessing these Divine truths to his own agenda and self justification, just as we can.

Pro 17:26 Also to punish the righteous is not good, nor to flog officials for their integrity-
This was totally disobeyed by Solomon, for he became famed for flogging his people (1 Kings 12:11). Likewise what he writes in Proverbs about foreign women was personally disobeyed by him. It was almost as if the more he knew Divine truth, and thought he was justified by mere possession of it, the more he disobeyed it. This perverse feature of human nature is widely observable.

Pro 17:27 He who spares his words has knowledge. He who is even tempered is a man of understanding-
LXX "He that forbears to utter a hard word is discreet, and a patient man is wise". But possession of knowledge does not of itself mean that a person controls their words. Solomon again gives far too much power to the idea of mere possession of knowledge. 

Pro 17:28 Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is counted wise. When he shuts his lips, he is thought to be discerning
The very same words used about Saul, whom Solomon saw as the archetypical "fool", wisely holding his peace when despised at the start of his reign (1 Sam. 10:27). Always Solomon seems to be 'having a go' at his father's opponents, whose children now in the next generation were his competitors for the throne.