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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Prov. 17:1

Verse 1
Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, Than a house full of feasting with strife.

"Better a dry crust and concord with it than a house full of feasting and strife."F1 "Better a morsel of dry bread, and peace with it, than a house full of feasting, with strife."F2

Verse 2
A servant that dealeth wisely shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, And shall have part in the inheritance among the brethren.

"A wise servant shall rule over a disgraceful son, and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers."F3 "A slave who deals wisely will rule over a child that acts shamefully, and will share the inheritance as one of the family."F4 Eliezer the servant of Abraham was just such a servant (Genesis 15:2-3) as that which is spoken of here.

Verse 3
The refining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold; But Jehovah trieth the hearts.

"The smelter for silver, the furnace for gold, and the Eternal for testing the heart"!F5 "As silver is tried by fire, and gold in the furnace, so the Lord trieth the hearts."F6 The Douay rendition here appears to be the best, because it stresses the fact that God will indeed try men's hearts, even as he tried that of Abraham (Gen. 22:1ff).

Verse 4
An evil-doer giveth heed to wicked lips; [And] a liar giveth ear to a mischievous tongue.

"A bad man hearkens to the tongue of transgressors: but a righteous man attends not to false lips."F7 "Evil people listen to evil ideas, and liars listen to lies."F8 It is obvious that many renditions are paraphrases rather than translations.

Verse 5
Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker; [And] he that is glad at calamity shall not be unpunished.

"Some people make fun of poor people. They laugh at people who have problems. This shows that those bad people don't respect God who made them. These bad people will be punished."F9 "He who mocks a poor man insults his Maker, and one who makes fun of calamity will not escape punishment."F10 Most of these various versions and translations speak truth, but not always in conformity with the sacred text.

Verse 6
Children's children are the crown of old men; And the glory of children are their fathers.

This truism is illustrated by every grandfather (or grandmother) who "just happens" to have handy a picture of a grandchild.

The second clause ("And fathers are the pride of their sons")F11 is illustrated by this story:

Boys were bragging on their dads. The farmer's boy said, "My dad raised a big wheat crop, and bought a new car." The professor's son, said, "My dad was just elected president of the university." The doctor's son said, "That's nothing, my dad did a heart-transplant in one day and made $20,000.00." The lawyer's boy said, "You think that's big? My dad won a lawsuit and made $100,000.00"! The preacher's son spoke up and said, "You haven't heard anything yet. My dad preaches for a big church, He talks for a few minutes, and it takes sixteen men to carry out the money"!

Verse 7
Excellent speech becometh not a fool; Much less do lying lips a prince.

"It does not become a fool to speak loftily. How much less do lying lips a noble"!F12 "It always makes a poor impression when a vulgar, foolish man presumes to speak imperatively and presumptuously."F13 "Let fools be false, and good men true. Translate: `Honest words do not become a fool; much less do lies a man of rectitude.'"F14

Verse 8
A bribe is [as] a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it; Whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.

Both the offering and the receiving of bribes is sinful; but this proverb states a shameful truth that in our work-a-day world, "Bribes get the job done"! There is no endorsement here either of giving or receiving bribes. The many renditions and various readings indicate uncertainties in the text; but the RSV is probably dependable: "A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of him who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers."F15

Verse 9
He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; But he that harpeth on a matter separateth chief friends.

It is the glory of a righteous person not to judge and criticize others; and it is always a mark of forbearance and kindness to ignore sins and mistakes that appear in the lives of others, especially, in this context, those of a close friend or associate. "He that harpeth on a matter" refers to the mention over and over again of a close friend's alleged error. Such action is extremely irritating and should be absolutely avoided.

Verse 10
A rebuke entereth deeper into one that hath understanding Than a hundred stripes into a fool.

"A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool."F16 Deane pointed out that, "The antithesis is put more forcibly in the Septuagint."F17 "A threat breaks the heart of a wise man; but a fool, though scourged, understands not."F18

Verse 11
An evil man seeketh only rebellion; Therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.

Of course, it is true, as Deane said, that, "An evil man seeks many things that do not exactly fit the term `rebellion'; but from the viewpoint of an Eastern potentate (like Solomon), any prominent crime by a subject would have been considered rebellion."F19 The cruel messenger would be the king's response to it.

Verse 12
Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, Rather than a fool in his folly.

"Better face a she-bear robbed of her cubs than a stupid man in his folly."F20 This is an impressive warning against conflict with a foolish, wicked man.

Verse 13
Whoso rewardeth evil for good, Evil shall not depart from his house.

"If a man repays evil for good, evil will never quit his house."F21 This warning frequently expressed in Proverbs simply means, "You reap what you sow,"F22 a principle strongly reiterated in the New Testament (Galatians 6:7-8).

Verse 14
The beginning of strife is [as] when one letteth out water: Therefore leave off contention, before there is quarrelling.

Toy noted that the, "Language here is somewhat indefinite";F23 whatever the precise meaning, the passage is a warning against strife. "The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention before it be meddled with."F24 "If you start an argument, it is like breaking a hole in a dam; so stop the argument before it becomes bigger and bigger."F25

Verse 15
He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to Jehovah.

"To absolve the wicked and to condemn the innocent are equally hateful to the Lord."F26 In fact, absolving the guilty is, in the last analysis, a condemnation of the innocent. An example of this is seen in the extreme leniency of our current judicial system in the mild or even omitted punishment of vicious criminals, who promptly multiply their violent crimes against the innocent.

Verse 16
Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, Seeing he hath no understanding?

This is a down to earth recognition that teaching can be wasted on a fool. This is not a snobbish remark; because, as always in Proverbs, the fool gets himself into his situation by his own stubbornness and wickedness."F27

Verse 17
A friend loveth at all times; And a brother is born for adversity.

"A friend is friendly at all times; but a brother is born for adversity."F28 "The meaning here is that in trouble one finds out what families are for, and you also find out who are your real friends. The next verse shows that a real friend may be imposed upon."F29

Verse 18
A man void of understanding striketh hands, And becometh surety in the presence of his neighbor.

See comment on Prov. 6:1ff. Proverbs gives very stern and persistent warnings against becoming another man's guarantee or surety.

Verse 19
He loveth transgression that loveth strife: He that raiseth high his gate seeketh destruction.

"One who is fond of crime must be fond of trouble, and to make one's doorway inaccessible is to invite destruction."F30 Another rendition of the last clause is: "He who builds a lofty entrance invites thieves."F31 The idea behind this is that the thief believes the builder is protecting valuables by such an entrance.

Verse 20
He that hath a wayward heart findeth no good; And he that hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief.

The first clause here speaks of a certain type of cynical, bitter men who cannot see good in anything or any one. "The literal Hebrew regarding the `perverse tongue' in the second clause is, `He who turns himself about with his tongue'; that is, he says one thing at one time, and something quite contrary at another."F32

Verse 21
He that begetteth a fool [doeth it] to his sorrow; And the father of a fool hath no joy.

It should be continually borne in mind that the "fool" in Proverbs is generally a reference, not to the mentally retarded, but to the rascal, the sinner, the willfully wicked. "As in Ps. 14:1, `fool' in this passage does not mean mere stupidity. Ps. 14:1 means that it is the rascal who has said in his heart, `There is no God.'"F33

Verse 22
A cheerful heart is a good medicine; But a broken spirit drieth up the bones.

This says that a sunny, cheerful disposition is good for one's health; and there are convincing examples of this truth all around us.

Verse 23
A wicked man receiveth a bribe out of the bosom, To pervert the ways of justice.

Here again we have an identification of bribery with wickedness and the perversion of justice. The bribery being "out of the bosom" is a reference to its being offered and received secretly.

Verse 24
Wisdom is before the face of him that hath understanding; But the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.

"A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool's eyes wander to the ends of the earth."F34 Faithful and successful living require that one give close attention to the work at hand, that he diligently take care of the present business; but, "A fool fritters away the powers and opportunities that might have blessed him, having his attention continually diverted by a hundred different things."F35

Verse 25
A foolish son is a grief to his father, And bitterness to her that bare him.

This is another truism in slightly different words from several in the same vein that we have found in Proverbs.

Verses 26-28
Also to punish the righteous is not good, [Nor] to smite the noble for [their] uprightness. He that spareth his words hath knowledge; And he that is of a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise; When he shutteth his lips, he is [esteemed as] prudent.

"To impose a fine on the innocent is not right, or to flog the noble for their integrity."F36 "It is not fair to fine the innocent, and most unfair to scourge a noble soul."F37 In a society like our own, where not even the most vicious criminals are consistently either fined or scourged, and the latter never at all, it is hard to understand why proverbs like this were needed.

Prov. 17:27-28

He that spareth his words hath knowledge; And he that is of a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise…

Harris pointed out that, "There are two badges of a wise man: reticence, and calmness of temper."F38 This is the message of Prov. 17:27. Prov. 17:28 reveals that even a fool who exhibits reticence may be mistaken for a wise man.

Batsell Baxter, a president of A.C.C., had a favorite chapel yarn which he told more than once. A retarded little boy was told by his father, "Son, just don't talk; and they won't find out that you don't know very much." A prominent visitor came. He asked the little boy a few questions, "How old are you"? "Where do you go to school"? "What is your brother doing"? Etc. The little boy made no response; and the visitor said, "I see that you don't know very much"! Whereupon the little boy burst into tears, saying, "Daddy, they found it out anyway"!

"The implication here is that silence is nearly always a good thing."F39 "Even a fool may be counted wise if he keeps his mouth shut."F40

Footnotes for Proverbs 17
1: The New English Bible (Oxford: Cambridge University Press, 1970).
2: The Bible, an American Translation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1923).
3: New International Version of the Bible.
4: The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
5: James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible, 1929.
6: The Douay Version of the Bible (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1948).
7: The Greek Septuagint (LXX).
8: The Good News Bible.
9: The Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible (Fort Worth, Texas: World Bible Translation Center, 1992).
10: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
11: Ibid.
12: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), Vol. 6, p. 356.
13: Ibid.
14: International Critical Commentary, Vol. 17, p. 338.
15: The Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
16: Ibid.
17: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 332.
18: The Greek Septuagint (LXX).
19: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 332.
20: The New English Bible.
21: Ibid.
22: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), Vol. 5, p. 57.
23: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 345.
24: King James Version of the Bible
25: The Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible (Fort Worth, Texas: World Bible Translation Center, 1992).
26: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
27: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 722.
28: The Bible, an American Translation.
29: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 15, p. 125.
30: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
31: The New English Bible.
32: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 334.
33: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 571.
34: New International Version of the Bible.
35: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 335.
36: The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
37: James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible, 1929.
38: Harris in the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, Vol. 13, p. 531.
39: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 Edition), Proverbs, p. 52.
40: James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible, 1929.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 17". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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