Proverbs 17:15-28: Read, Learn, and Inwardly Digest
August 25, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
More acute, timely, and timeless wisdom from Proverbs. Read, learn, and inwardly digest!
We start with a proverb about justice:
“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (17:15).
It is as bad to excuse those who do evil as it is to accuse those who do good. In leadership, it is important that we cut the cloth of commendation or criticism to suit the situation. Some are tempted by the fear of man to “justify the wicked”; others by jealousy are tempted to “condemn the righteous.” Either way, the right path instead is to seek to speak truly about the situation we are called upon to discern.
Now a proverb about fools and money:
“Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom when he has no sense?” (17:16).
The English proverb is slightly different but bears a parallel thought: “a fool and his money are soon parted.” The proverb in verse 16 is instead encouraging us to realize that one of the things you cannot buy is not just love but also wisdom. You might be able to buy your way into a place in some educational establishments, but true wisdom is something that money cannot buy.
Next come two proverbs about friendship:
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (17:17).
“One who lacks sense gives a pledge and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor” (17:18).
The word for friend and neighbor is the same in the original. Verse 17 exalts friendship and family, but from two slightly different perspectives. A friend is someone who loves at all times: this is one way to tell whether someone is really your friend. If someone only likes you when you are doing well, then you know that you do not have a friend. A friend who is someone who likes you, not what they can get out of you. A brother may not always be as emotionally close as a friend, but a brother is “born for adversity.” When the going gets tough, brothers stick together.
But if friendship is so special, is there no limit to the commitment that it entails? Yes, verse 18, it is foolish to “give a pledge” or “put up security” in the presence of a neighbor; there are people who it is not wise to loan money to—sometimes such people may even be a neighbor or a friend. If a friend is in need and you can help, and if they are not the kind of person who is likely to be able to repay you, it is probably better just to give them the money and save the relational tension that is likely to come from them being unable to repay you.
Then comes a proverb about arguments:
“Whoever loves transgression loves strife; he who makes his door high seeks destruction” (17:19).
We sometimes think of sin as only a private matter, just between us and God. But even personal sins have relational impact: “whoever loves transgressions loves strife.” But then you can also invite “destruction,” or someone trying to attack you and oppose you, by making your door “high.” In other words, if you set yourself up and put yourself on a pedestal and prune your feathers and make yourself high and mighty, in all likelihood someone will want to tear you down. Humility, thinking better of others than yourself, is a more sure road to relational community.
Now a proverb about destiny:
“A man of crooked heart does not discover good, and one with a dishonest tongue falls into calamity” (17:20).
Why is it that some people always seem to discover what is bad or fall into traps and calamity? It is not always because of some hidden sin. Job was righteous and yet suffered. But sometimes the reason why someone discovers bad, not good, and falls into calamity, not joy, is because they have a crooked heart and a dishonest tongue. If you want to discover good and fall into a path of peace and joy, then seek Christ himself with all your heart, and confess with your lips the truth that he is Lord!
Now two proverbs about sorrow and joy:
“He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy” (17:21).
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (17:22).
One reason why people are sad is because they are disappointed about their children. It is sometimes said that a parent is never happier than their saddest child. Children have a way to maximize both our joys and our sorrows. What is the solution? The next proverb tells us: a joyful heart is good medicine. In other words, we need to find our joy not in circumstances, but in our relationship with the Lord. Someone with a joyful heart can be joyful in prison, in poverty, and in all kinds of disorder and disappointment. For it is their heart relationship with God, that is the source of their joy.
A proverb about bribery:
“The wicked accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice” (17:23).
Elsewhere Proverbs sometimes describes bribery as being effective; but here Proverbs provides proof that that is not because it thinks bribery is a “good thing.” No, the wicked accept a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice. Bribery is like a cancer to justice.
Two proverbs about folly and wisdom:
“The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth” (17:24).
“A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him” (17:25).
We are often told today that “you’ve gotta have a dream.” But as helpful as it is to set goals and aspirations, that is different from being all dream-y or having our eyes set on “the ends of the earth.” We need to discipline ourselves, if we are of the romantic type, to keep our mind on the here and now. Then, verse 25 is another proverb about the impact that a child who is not walking wisely can have upon their parents. See comment on verse 22 for the solution.
A proverb about justice:
“To impose a fine on a righteous man is not good, nor to strike the noble for their uprightness” (17:26).
If we are in a position whereby we can impose fines or give remuneration or take away financial incentives, it is important that we do so in a way that is actually coordinate with real character. There is little more discouraging to initiative than taking away the incentive to do what is right. Incentivize right behavior.
Finally, two proverbs about speech:
“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (17:27).
“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (17:28).
Sometimes we think the cleverer we are, the more we will talk. Not so, says proverbs. A wise man is someone who restrains his words and particularly avoids heated or overly emotive language. Wisdom, by the perspective it gives you about life and truth, tends to leave behind a disposition that avoids verbal diarrhea and the harangue language of the street. If this is the case, then, there is good news for all of us in verse 28: keep silent, say little, and you will be considered wise!
More acute, timely, and timeless wisdom from Proverbs. Read, learn and inwardly digest!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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