Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryProverbs 17
on the Whole Bible
1 Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an
house full of sacrifices with strife.
These words recommend family-love and peace, as conducing very much to
the comfort of human life.
1. Those that live in unity and quietness, not only free from
jealousies and animosities, but vying in mutual endearments, and
obliging to one another, live very comfortably, though they are low in
the world, work hard and fare hard, though they have but each of them
a morsel, and that a dry morsel. There may be peace and
quietness where there are not three meals a day, provided there by a
joint satisfaction in God's providence and a mutual satisfaction in
each other's prudence. Holy love may be found in a cottage.
2. Those that live in contention, that are always jarring and brawling,
and reflecting upon one another, though they have plenty of dainties,
a house full of sacrifices, live uncomfortably; they cannot
expect the blessing of God upon them and what they have, nor can they
have any true relish of their enjoyments, much less any peace in their
own consciences. Love will sweeten a dry morsel, but strife will
sour and embitter a house full of sacrifices. A little of the
leaven of malice will leaven all the enjoyments.
2 A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame,
and shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren.
1. True merit does not go by dignity. All agree that the son in the
family is more worthy than the servant
and yet sometimes it so happens that the servant is wise, and a
blessing and credit to the family, when the son is a fool, and a burden
and shame to the family. Eliezer of Damascus, though Abram could not
bear to think that he should be his heir, was a stay to the family,
when he obtained a wife for Isaac; whereas Ishmael, a son, was a shame
to it, when he mocked Isaac.
2. True dignity will go by merit. If a servant be wise, and manage
things well, he shall be further trusted, and not only have rule
with, but rule over a son that causes shame; for God and nature
have designed that the fool shall be servant to the wise in
heart. Nay, a prudent servant may perhaps come to have such an
interest in his master as to be taken in for a child's share of the
estate and to have part of the inheritance among the
3 The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but
the LORD trieth the hearts.
1. The hearts of the children of men are subject, not only to God's
view, but to his judgment: As the fining-pot is for silver, both
to prove it and to improve it so the Lord tries the hearts; he
searches whether they are standard or no, and those that are he refines
and makes purer,
God tries the heart by affliction
and often chooses his people in that furnace
and makes them choice.
2. It is God only that tries the hearts. Men may try their
silver and gold with the fining-pot and the
furnace, but they have no such way of trying one another's hearts;
God only does that, who is both the searcher and the sovereign of the
4 A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth
ear to a naughty tongue.
1. Those that design to do ill support themselves by falsehood and
lying: A wicked doer gives ear, with a great deal of pleasure,
to false lips, that will justify him in the ill he does, to
those that aim to make public disturbances, catch greedily at libels,
and false stories, that defame the government and the administration.
2. Those that take the liberty to tell lies take a pleasure in hearing
them told: A liar gives heed to a malicious backbiting tongue,
that he may have something to graft his lies upon, and with which to
give them some colour of truth and so to support them. Sinners will
strengthen one another's hands; and those show that they are bad
themselves who court the acquaintance and need the assistance of those
that are bad.
5 Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that
is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.
1. What a great sin those are guilty of who trample upon the poor, who
ridicule their wants and the meanness of their appearance, upbraid them
with their poverty, and take advantage from their weakness to be
abusive and injurious to them. They reproach their Maker, put a
great contempt and affront upon him, who allotted the poor to the
condition they are in, owns them, and takes care of them, and can, when
he pleases, reduce us to that condition. Let those that thus reproach
their Maker know that they shall be called to an account for it,
2. What great danger those are in of falling into trouble themselves
who are pleased to see and hear of the troubles of others: He that
is glad at calamities, that he may be built up upon the ruins of
others, and regales himself with the judgments of God when they are
abroad, let him know that he shall not go unpunished; the cup
shall be put into his hand,
6 Children's children are the crown of old men; and the glory
of children are their fathers.
They are so, that is, they should be so, and, if they conduct
themselves worthily, they are so.
1. It is an honour to parents when they are old to leave children, and
children's children, growing up, that tread in the steps of
their virtues, and are likely to maintain and advance the reputation of
their families. It is an honour to a man to live so long as to see his
to see his house built up in them, and to see them likely to serve
their generation according to the will of God. This crowns and
completes their comfort in this world.
2. It is an honour to children to have wise and godly parents, and to
have them continued to them even after they have themselves grown up
and settled in the world. Those are unnatural children who reckon their
aged parents a burden to them, and think they live too long; whereas,
if the children be wise and good, it is as much their honour as can be
that thereby they are comforts to their parents in the unpleasant days
of their old age.
7 Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips
Two things are here represented as very absurd:
1. That men of no repute should be dictators. What can be more
unbecoming than for fools, who are known to have little sense and
discretion, to pretend to that which is above them and which they were
never cut out for? A fool, in Solomon's proverbs, signifies a wicked
man, whom excellent speech does not become, because his
conversation gives the lie to his excellent speech. What have those to
do to declare God's statutes who hate instruction?
Christ would not suffer the unclean spirits to say that they knew him
to be the Son of God. See
2. That men of great repute should be deceivers. If it is unbecoming a
despicable man to presume to speak as a philosopher or politician, and
nobody heeds him, being prejudiced against his character, much more
unbecoming is it for a prince, for a man of honour, to take advantage
from his character and the confidence that is put in him to lie, and
dissemble, and make no conscience of breaking his word. Lying ill
becomes any man, but worst a prince, so corrupt is the modern policy,
which insinuates that princes ought not to make themselves slaves to
their words further than is for their interest, and Qui nescit
dissimulare nescit regnare--He who knows not how to dissemble knows not
how to reign.
8 A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath
it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.
The design of this observation is to show,
1. That those who have money in their hand think they can do any thing
with it. Rich men value a little money as if it were a precious
stone, and value themselves on it as if it gave them not only
ornament, but power, and every one were bound to be at their beck, even
justice itself. Whithersoever they turn this sparkling diamond they
expect it should dazzle the eyes of all, and make them do just what
they would have them do in hopes of it. The deepest bag will carry the
cause. Fee high, and you may have what you will.
2. That those who have money in their eye, and set their hearts upon
it, will do any thing for it: A bribe is as a precious stone in the
eyes of him that takes it; it has a great influence upon him, and
he will be sure to go the way that it leads him, hither and thither,
though contrary to justice and not consistent with himself.
9 He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that
repeateth a matter separateth very friends.
1. The way to preserve peace among relations and neighbours is to make
the best of every thing, not to tell others what has been said or done
against them when it is not at all necessary to their safety, nor to
take notice of what has been said or done against them when it is not
at all necessary to their safety, nor to take notice of what has been
said or done against ourselves, but to excuse both, and put the best
construction upon them. "It was an oversight; therefore overlook it. It
was done through forgetfulness; therefore forget it. It perhaps made
nothing of you; do you make nothing of it."
2. The ripping up of faults is the ripping out of love, and nothing
tends more to the separating of friends, and setting them at variance,
than the repeating of matters that have been in variance; for
they commonly lose nothing in the repetition, but the things themselves
are aggravated and the passions about them revived and exasperated. The
best method of peace is by an amnesty or act of oblivion.
10 A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred
stripes into a fool.
1. A word is enough to the wise. A gentle reproof will enter not only
into the head, but into the heart of a wise man, so as to have a strong
influence upon him; for, if but a hint be given to conscience, let it
alone to carry it on and prosecute it.
2. Stripes are not enough for a fool, to make him sensible of his
errors, that he may repent of them, and be more cautious for the
future. He that is sottish and wilful is very rarely benefited by
severity. David is softened with, Thou art the man; but Pharaoh
remains hard under all the plagues of Egypt.
11 An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel
messenger shall be sent against him.
Here is the sin and punishment of an evil man.
1. His sin. He is an evil man indeed that seeks all occasions to rebel
against God, and the government God has set over him, and to contradict
and quarrel with those about him. Quærit jurgia--He picks
quarrels; so some. There are some that are actuated by a spirit of
opposition, that will contradict for contradiction-sake, that will go
on frowardly in their wicked ways in spite of all restraint and check.
A rebellious man seeks mischief (so some read it), watches all
opportunities to disturb the public peace.
2. His punishment. Because he will not be reclaimed by mild and gentle
methods, a cruel messenger shall be sent against him, some
dreadful judgment or other, as a messenger from God. Angels, God's
messengers, shall be employed as ministers of his justice against him,
Satan, the angel of death, shall be let loose upon him, and the
messengers of Satan. His prince shall send a sergeant to arrest
him, an executioner to cut him off. He that kicks against the
pricks is waited for of the sword.
12 Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a
fool in his folly.
1. A passionate man is a brutish man. However at other times he may
have some wisdom, take him in his passion ungoverned, and he is a
fool in his folly; those are fools in whose bosom anger rests
and in whose countenance anger rages. He has put off man, and is become
like a bear, a raging bear, a bear robbed of her whelps; he is
as fond of the gratifications of his lusts and passions as a bear of
her whelps (which, though ugly, are her own), as eager in the pursuit
of them as she is in quest of her whelps when they are missing, and as
full of indignation if crossed in the pursuit.
2. He is a dangerous man, falls foul of every one that stands in his
way, though innocent, though his friend, as a bear robbed of her whelps
sets upon the first man she meets as the robber. Ira furor brevis
est--Anger is temporary madness. One may more easily stop, escape,
or guard against an enraged bear, than an outrageous angry man. Let us
therefore watch over our own passions (lest they get head and do
mischief) and so consult our own honour; and let us avoid the company
of furious men, and get out of their way when they are in their fury,
and so consult our own safety. Currenti cede furori--Give place unto
13 Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from
A malicious mischievous man is here represented,
1. As ungrateful to his friends. He oftentimes is so absurd and
insensible of kindnesses done him that he renders evil for good.
David met with those that were his adversaries for his love,
To render evil for evil is brutish, but to render evil for good is
devilish. He is an ill-natured man who, because he is resolved not to
return a kindness, will revenge it.
2. As therein unkind to his family, for he entails a curse upon it.
This is a crime so heinous that it shall be punished, not only in his
person, but in his posterity, for whom he thus treasures up wrath.
The sword shall not depart from David's house because he
rewarded Uriah with evil for his good services. The Jews stoned Christ
for his good works; therefore is his blood upon them and upon their
14 The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water:
therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.
1. The danger that there is in the beginning of strife. One hot
word, one peevish reflection, one angry demand, one spiteful
contradiction, begets another, and that a third, and so on, till it
proves like the cutting of a dam; when the water has got a little
passage it does itself widen the breach, bears down all before it, and
there is then no stopping it, no reducing it.
2. A good caution inferred thence, to take heed of the first spark of
contention and to put it out as soon as ever it appears. Dread the
breaking of the ice, for, if once broken, it will break further;
therefore leave it off, not only when you see the worst of it,
for then it may be too late, but when you see the first of it. Obsta
principiis--Resist its earliest display. Leave it off even
before it be meddled with; leave it off, if it were possible,
before you begin.
15 He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the
just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.
This shows what an offence it is to God,
1. When those that are entrusted with the administration of public
justice, judges, juries, witnesses, prosecutors, counsel, do either
acquit the guilty or condemn those that are not guilty, or in the least
contribute to either; this defeats the end of government, which is to
protect the good and punish the bad,
It is equally provoking to God to justify the wicked, though it
be in pity and in favorem vitæ--to safe life, as to
condemn the just.
2. When any private persons plead for sin and sinners, palliate and
excuse wickedness, or argue against virtue and piety, and so pervert
the right ways of the Lord and confound the eternal distinctions
between good and evil.
16 Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get
wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?
Two things are here spoken of with astonishment:--
1. God's great goodness to foolish man, in putting a price into his
hand to get wisdom, to get knowledge and grace to fit him for both
worlds. We have rational souls, the means of grace, the strivings of
the Spirit, access to God by prayer; we have time and opportunity. He
that has a good estate (so some understand it) has advantages thereby
of getting wisdom by purchasing instruction. Good parents, relations,
ministers, friends, are helps to get wisdom. It is a price,
therefore of value, a talent. It is a price in the hand, in
possession; the word is nigh thee. It is a price for getting; it
is for our own advantage; it is for getting wisdom, the very thing
which, being fools, we have most need of. We have reason to wonder that
God should so consider our necessity, and should entrust us with such
advantages, though he foresaw we should not make a right improvement of
2. Man's great wickedness, his neglect of God's favour and his own
interest, which is very absurd and unaccountable: He has no heart to
it, not to the wisdom that is to be got, nor to the price in the
use of which it may be got. He has no heart, no skill, nor will,
nor courage, to improve his advantages. He has set his heart upon other
things, so that he has no heart to his duty or the great concerns of
his soul. Wherefore should a price be thrown away and lost upon one so
undeserving of it?
17 A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for
This intimates the strength of those bonds by which we are bound to
each other and which we ought to be sensible of.
1. Friends must be constant to each other at all times. That is
not true friendship which is not constant; it will be so if it be
sincere, and actuated by a good principle. Those that are fanciful or
selfish in their friendship will love no longer than their humour is
pleased and their interest served, and therefore their affections turn
with the wind and change with the weather. Swallow-friends, that fly
to you in summer, but are gone in winter; such friends there is no loss
of. But if the friendship be prudent, generous, and cordial, if I love
my friend because he is wise, and virtuous, and good, as long as he
continues so, though he fall into poverty and disgrace, still I shall
love him. Christ is a friend that loves at all times
and we must so love him,
2. Relations must in a special manner be careful and tender of one
another in affliction: A brother is born to succour a brother or
sister in distress, to whom he is joined so closely by nature that he
may the more sensibly feel from their burdens, and be the more strongly
inclined and engaged, as it were by instinct, to help them. We must
often consider what we were born for, not only as men, but as in
such a station and relation. Who knows but we came into such a
family for such a time as this? We do not answer the end of our
relations if we do not do the duty of them. Some take it thus: A
friend that loves at all times is born (that is, becomes) a
brother in adversity, and is so to be valued.
18 A man void of understanding striketh hands, and becometh
surety in the presence of his friend.
Though Solomon had commended friendship in adversity
yet let not any, under pretence of being generous to their friends, be
unjust to their families and wrong them; one part of our duty must be
made to consist with another. Note,
1. It is a piece of wisdom to keep out of debt as much as may be,
especially to dread suretiship. There may be a just occasion for a man
to pass his word for his friend in his absence, till he come to engage
himself; but to be surety in the presence of his friend, when he
is upon the spot, supposes that his own word will not be taken, he
being deemed insolvent or dishonest, and then who can with safety pass
his word for him?
2. Those that are void of understanding are commonly taken in
this snare, to the prejudice of their families, and therefore ought not
to be trusted too far with their own affairs, but to be under
19 He loveth transgression that loveth strife: and he that
exalteth his gate seeketh destruction.
1. Those that are quarrelsome involve themselves in a great deal of
guilt: He that loves strife, that in his worldly business loves
to go to law, in religion loves controversies, and in common
conversation loves to thwart and fall out, that is never well but when
he is in the fire, he loves transgression; for a great deal of
sin attends that sin, and the way of it is down-hill. He pretends to
stand up for truth, and for his honour and right, but really he loves
sin, which God hates.
2. Those that are ambitious and aspiring expose themselves to a great
deal of trouble, such as often ends in their ruin: He that exalts
his gate, builds a stately house, at least a fine frontispiece,
that he may overtop and outshine his neighbours, seeks his own
destruction and takes a deal of pains to ruin himself; he makes his
gate so large that his house and estate go out at it.
20 He that hath a froward heart findeth no good: and he that
hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief.
1. Framing ill designs will be of no advantage to us; there is nothing
got by them: He that has a froward heart, that sows discord and
is full of resentment, cannot promise himself to get by it sufficient
to counterbalance the loss of his repose and reputation, nor can he
take any rational satisfaction in it; he finds no good.
2. Giving ill language will be a great disadvantage to us: He that
has a perverse tongue, spiteful and abusive, scurrilous or
backbiting, falls into one mischief or other, loses his
friends, provokes his enemies, and pulls trouble upon his own head.
Many a one has paid dearly for an unbridled tongue.
21 He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow: and the
father of a fool hath no joy.
This expresses that very emphatically which many wise and good men feel
very sensibly, what a grievous vexatious thing it is to have a foolish
wicked child. See here,
1. How uncertain all our creature-comforts are, so that we are often
not only disappointed in them, but that proves the greatest cross in
which we promised ourselves most satisfaction. There was joy when a
man-child was born into the world, and yet, if he prove vicious,
his own father will wish he had never been born. The name of Absalom
signifies his father's peace, but he was his greatest trouble.
It should moderate the desire of having children, and the delights of
their parents in them, that they may prove a grief to them; yet it
should silence the murmurings of the afflicted father in that case that
if his son be a fool he is a fool of his own begetting, and therefore
he must make the best of him, and take it up as his cross, the rather
because Adam begets a son in his own likeness.
2. How unwise we are in suffering one affliction (and that of an
untoward child as likely as any other) to drown the sense of a thousand
mercies: The father of a fool lays that so much to heart that he
has no joy of any thing else. For this he may thank himself;
there are joys sufficient to counterbalance even that sorrow.
22 A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken
spirit drieth the bones.
1. It is healthful to be cheerful. The Lord is for the body, and has
provided for it, not only meat, but medicine, and has here told us that
the best medicine is a merry heart, not a heart addicted to
vain, carnal, sensual mirth; Solomon himself said of that mirth, It is
not medicine, but madness; it is not food, but poison; what doth
it? But he means a heart rejoicing in God, and serving him with
gladness, and then taking the comfort of outward enjoyments and
particularly that of pleasant conversation. It is a great mercy that
God gives us leave to be cheerful and cause to be cheerful, especially
if by his grace he gives us hearts to be cheerful. This does good to
a medicine (so some read it); it will make physic more efficient.
Or it does good as a medicine to the body, making it easy and
fit for business. But, if mirth be a medicine (understand it of
diversion and recreation), it must be used sparingly, only when there
is occasion, not turned into food, and it must be used medicinally,
sub regimine--as a prescribed regimen, and by rule.
2. The sorrows of the mind often contribute very much to the sickliness
of the body: A broken spirit, sunk by the burden of afflictions,
and especially a conscience wounded with the sense of guilt and fear of
wrath, dries the bones, wastes the radical moisture, exhausts
the very marrow, and makes the body a mere skeleton. We should
therefore watch and pray against all melancholy dispositions, for they
lead us into trouble as well as into temptation.
23 A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the
ways of judgment.
1. What an evil thing bribery is: He is a wicked man that will
take a gift to engage him to give a false testimony, verdict, or
judgment; when he does it he is ashamed of it, for he takes it, with
all the secresy imaginable, out of the bosom where he knows it
is laid ready for him; it is industriously concealed, and so slyly
that, if he could, he would hide it from his own conscience. A gift
is taken out of the bosom of a wicked man (so some read it); for he
is a bad man that gives bribes, as well as he that takes them.
2. What a powerful thing it is. It is of such force that it perverts
the ways of judgment. The course of justice is not only obstructed,
but turned into injustice; and the greatest wrongs are done under
colour of doing right.
24 Wisdom is before him that hath understanding; but the eyes
of a fool are in the ends of the earth.
1. He is to be reckoned an intelligent man that not only has wisdom,
but has it ready when he has occasion for it. He lays his wisdom
before him, as his card and compass which he steers by, has his eye
always upon it, as he that writes has on his copy; and then he has it
before him; it is not to seek, but still at hand.
2. He that has a giddy head, a roving rambling fancy, will never be
fit for any solid business. He is a fool, and good for nothing, whose
eyes are in the ends of the earth, here, and there and every
where, any where but where they should be, who cannot fix his thoughts
to one subject nor pursue any one purpose with any thing of steadiness.
When his mind should be applied to his study and business it is filled
with a thousand things foreign and impertinent.
25 A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to
her that bare him.
1. Wicked children are an affliction to both their parents. They are
an occasion of anger to the father (so the word signifies),
because they contemn his authority, but of sorrow and bitterness
to the mother, because they abuse her tenderness. The parents, being
joint-sufferers, should therefore bring mutual comfort to bear them up
under it, and strive to make it as easy as they can, the mother to
mollify the father's anger, the father to alleviate the mother's grief.
2. That Solomon often repeats this remark, probably because it was his
own case; however, it is a common case.
26 Also to punish the just is not good, nor to strike
princes for equity.
In differences that happen between magistrates and subjects, and such
differences often arise,
1. Let magistrates see to it that they never punish the just,
that they be in no case a terror to good works, for that is to
abuse their power and betray that great trust which is reposed in them.
It is not good, that is, it is a very evil thing, and will end
ill, whatever end they may aim at in it. When princes become tyrants
and persecutors their thrones will be neither easy nor firm.
2. Let subjects see to it that they do not find fault with the
government for doing its duty, for it is a wicked thing to strike
princes for equity, by defaming their administration or by any
secret attempts against them to strike at them, as the ten tribes that
revolted reflected upon Solomon for imposing necessary taxes. Some read
it, Nor to strike the ingenuous for equity. Magistrates must
take heed that none suffer under them for well doing; nor must parents
provoke their children to wrath by unjust rebukes.
27 He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of
understanding is of an excellent spirit.
28 Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise:
and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of
Two ways a man may show himself to be a wise man:--
1. By the good temper, the sweetness and the sedateness, of his mind:
A man of understanding is of an excellent spirit, a precious
spirit (so the word is); he is one that looks well to his spirit,
that it be as it should be, and so keeps it in an even frame, easy to
himself and pleasant to others. A gracious spirit is a precious spirit,
and renders a man amiable and more excellent than his neighbour.
He is of a cool spirit (so some read it), not heated with
passion, nor put into any tumult or disorder by the impetus of
any corrupt affection, but even and stayed. A cool head with a warm
heart is an admirable composition.
2. By the good government of his tongue.
(1.) A wise man will be of few words, as being afraid of
speaking amiss: He that has knowledge, and aims to do good with
it, is careful, when he does speak to speak to the purpose, and says
little in order that he may take time to deliberate. He spares his
words, because they are better spared than ill-spent.
(2.) This is generally taken for such a sure indication of wisdom that
a fool may gain the reputation of being a wise man if he have but wit
enough to hold his tongue, to hear, and see, and say little. If a fool
hold his peace, men of candour will think him wise, because nothing
appears to the contrary, and because it will be thought that he is
making observations on what others say, and gaining experience, and is
consulting with himself what he shall say, that he may speak
pertinently. See how easy it is to gain men's good opinion and to
impose upon them. But when a fool holds his peace God knows his
heart, and the folly that is bound up there; thoughts are words to him,
and therefore he cannot be deceived in his judgment of men.