Proverbs 17

We are carried back to Proverbs 15:16-17 as we take up the first verse of the wise sayings of this chapter.


The word sacrifice (kjv) refers to the peace offerings, portions of which were eaten by the offerer and his friends. Such a feast was supposed to indicate great piety on the part of the host and his intimate associates; but if marred by discord and contention, it lost all its precious character. A dry morsel with peace and quietness was much to be preferred to a celebration with controversy.

Similarly the Corinthians had misused the Lord’s supper, making it an occasion for a common feast, where strife and party spirit raged. The apostle, rebuking them, admonished them to eat their own meals in quietness at home and not come together to condemnation (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).


A dependable servant is better than a misbehaving son. The latter can blame only himself if his wronged father gives him an insignificant allowance or cuts him off altogether. But the servant who has been faithful in the performance of his duties is remembered as one of the household. Yet no hired servant can give the joy to the heart of a father that is afforded by an obedient son. See Eliezer (Genesis 15:2-3).


Trials and afflictions for the saints of God are what the fining pot and furnace are in the purifying of precious metals.

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).

The refiner of silver and the purifier of gold know just what heat is necessary to purge away all dross. They will take care that just the right amount is permitted. So it is with our God and Father. He desires to free us from the base things of earth, and He allows us to pass through the fires of affliction for that end. But it is precious indeed to know that He sits by the fining pot, waiting until His own image is reflected in the soul; and He walks in the furnace with His persecuted children. See the sons of Levi and the three Hebrew children (Malachi 3:3; Daniel 3:19-27).


When the heart cherishes iniquity, the ear easily listens to lying lips and a malicious tongue. The upright in heart learn to know the voice of the deceiver and to refuse his words; but the unjust and false soul readily falls in with those who are like himself. See the people of Judah and the lying priests and prophets (Jeremiah 5:30-31).


Compare with Proverbs 14:21. The Lord has left the poor always with us that we might be stirred to kindness and consideration for those in less agreeable circumstances than our own. To mock and disregard the poor because of their poverty is to reproach Him who has permitted our circumstances to be so diverse.

When calamity comes on another, we should respond with loving sympathy. If instead we cherish gladness in our hearts because of their griefs, an impartial Judge is looking on who will be avenged in time. God judged Edom for rejoicing over Israel’s punishment. As a result, Edom too was punished. See Obadiah 12-16.


God sets the individual in families. The aged find their youth renewed in their children’s children; while the young respect their fathers and honor them by obedience to their instructions. This is the ideal household, where order is administered according to God’s standards and love rules all hearts. Happy the home where the divine pattern is exemplified. See Jacob and the sons of Joseph (Genesis 48:8-22).


Good words from the mouth of an evil man are distasteful and out of place, for the life fails to back them up. There is a lack of sincerity about them that is very repugnant to an upright soul. On the other hand, noblesse oblige (“rank imposes obligation”). Falsehood coming from one who is respected as a leader of the people is even more to be denounced. Men feel instinctively that he who leads others should be real himself. They will overlook lack of ability and an absence of brilliancy or of natural or acquired talent; but deceitfulness will never be forgiven. It was this sense of the responsibility of those in position that made men ask in derision, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” when his lips uttered “excellent speech” (1 Samuel 10:10-12). The same feeling has caused the unconverted to remember with scorn Abraham’s denial of his wife. The very fact of his exalted position made his sin more noticeable (Genesis 20:1-13).


A gift presented as a token of pure affection and respect will be highly valued by its possessor. It will pave the way for a deeper relationship. He who would find love should be a giver not just a receiver. Jonathan’s gifts to David cemented their friendship by expressing the love that was in his heart (1 Samuel 18:3-4).

Spiritually, we are reminded that Christ has ascended on high and given gifts to men (Ephesians 4:8)—not to be used for self-aggrandizement, but for service to the church. Rightly employed, the gift truly will be a store of grace, giving its possessor acceptance among those who value spiritual gifts. But beware of the danger expressed in Proverbs 17:23.


See remarks on 10:12; 11:13; and 25:23. He who forgives and forgets the sins of another is an imitator of God and will be loved by all. He who repeats a matter to the detriment of another is following the example of that evil spirit who is called “the accuser of our brethren.”

To cover a transgression, however, does not mean to make light of sin and allow iniquity to go unrebuked in another. On the contrary, it is to go to the erring one personally in tenderness and brotherly kindness; this is done to activate his conscience concerning that which is bringing dishonor to his Lord. If such a mission is successful, the sin should never again be mentioned. It is covered and none other need know of it.

Unfortunately this is seldom carried out among us! Evil is spread abroad; backbiting goes on in secret; and thus many are defiled, love wanes, and fellowship is destroyed. The one who goes about repeating things unnecessarily is in a wretched business indeed. He separates true friends by his detestable practices and casts reproach on the name of the Lord. It is a pity the people of God are not more awake to the evil character of the gossiper. He should be shunned as a polluted leper who will defile all who listen to him.

God alone can safely hear the sad story of a brother’s shame. Into His ear it can all be poured, coupled with earnest prayer for the restoration of the one who has gone astray. To persist in repeating accounts of evil-doing to fellow saints only distresses and injures those who are persuaded to listen. Few indeed are the men who will take a brother’s wrongdoing to heart and make it an occasion for self-judgment and confession of their own sin to the Lord.

Someone has said that when tempted to relate unsavory things of an absent person three questions should be asked: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? To these a fourth might well be added: Have I told him about it personally? Asking these questions of ourselves would stop an immense amount of sinful gossiping.

Nathan did not spread the sin of David abroad but reproved him in the fear of God (2 Samuel 12). In Sanballat we see the typical whisperer endeavoring to separate Nehemiah and his brethren by shaking their confidence in his integrity (Nehemiah 6).


Chastise the fool severely and he still maintains his self-complacency; but gently reprove a wise man and he will take it to heart. The fool is so thoroughly enamored of his own poor judgment that he can conceive of none more capable than himself. The other realizes his own limitations and is thankful for advice and correction. Contrast Abimelech and Herod (Genesis 21:25-26; Luke 3:19).


Nothing irritates a proud, insubordinate man more than to be held in restraint by lawful authority. He breathes the air of treason and rebellion; therefore he must be dealt with in severity. To contend with him is like battling with an enraged beast that has been robbed of its offspring. He will repay good with evil; therefore evil will not depart from his house. “He that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons” (Colossians 3:25). Note the ways and doom of Joab when he became exalted in his own eyes (1 Kings 2:28-34).


A leak in a dike could be stopped with a pebble if noticed at the beginning. But if neglected, it will grow greater and greater until, at last, the inrushing waters will carry away everything in front of them. So it is with strife. How many a lifelong contention has begun with a few hasty words. If repented of and apologized for at once, the quarrels would have ceased immediately and years of sorrow averted. The Spirit of God has said, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26). If this simple rule were literally obeyed, untold heartaches would be avoided! Happy the man who lays his head on his pillow nightly with the knowledge that he has no unrepented, hasty actions or angry words to his account. When days and weeks of charges and counter-charges are succeeded by months of crimination and recrimination, reconciliation is hard and difficult. It is far better to humble oneself and admit the wrong at the beginning. The alternative is to grieve the Holy Spirit of God and lacerate the hearts of beloved saints by a long period of un-Christlike wrangling. This disputing will leave wounds that never can be healed or scars that never can be erased. See Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:35-40).


To justify the wicked and to condemn the righteous is to call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Jehovah would have truthful judgment. What is opposed to justice is an abomination. Observe that to justify necessarily means to declare righteous, not, as some theologians would have it, to make righteous. God justifies the ungodly on the basis of Christ’s finished work—that is, He clears guilty sinners of every charge when they trust His Son, turning to Him in repentance. This is very different from making sinners to be practically upright in their living. Their upright behavior is a result of justification, but it is not justification in itself. This is an important distinction if we would understand correctly the Christian doctrine of grace as set forth in the letters to the Romans and the Galatians.

In this verse, to justify the wicked is to wink at their sin and to pass by iniquity without a suitable atonement; while to condemn the just is to charge them with evil unfairly. To do so is intolerable in the sight of Him who is the righteous Judge. This was Pilate’s dreadful sin when, in order to please the people, he released Barabbas and condemned Jesus, even though he had declared him innocent a few moments before (Matthew 27:24-26).


It is useless for one who has not set his heart on the acquisition of wisdom to endeavor to learn it by rote. No price can purchase wisdom if the senses are not exercised to discern between good and evil. A fool may grasp certain forms of knowledge through study and intellectual application; but this is very different than having the innermost being controlled by understanding. We only know truth as we walk in it. See Simon Magus (Acts 8:18-22).


In reading this verse the Christian’s heart involuntarily turns to the one Friend whose love the many waters of judgment could not quench, neither could the floods of wrath drown it. Our Lord Jesus Christ is that Friend. His love does not change, and He is preeminently a Brother born for adversity. No human example, however true and devoted can fulfill this verse.

Nevertheless, this thought does not support the sickening sentimentality that forgets His divinity and calls Him our “Elder Brother” or other similar unscriptural titles. But as a devoted brother can be depended on in the day of adversity, so He can be counted on in the hour of need and trial. “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1).

His is an unchanging love,
Higher than the heights above;
Deeper than the depths beneath,
True and faithful, strong as death.

It is unspeakably precious for the soul to abide in His love. If one doubt obscures the full splendor of His undying affection, joy and peace will give place to gloom and foreboding. But when nothing is permitted to hinder the enjoyment of that perfect love that casts out fear, life is sweet indeed. Communion with Him is dearer far than any human friendship can afford.

Many saints have trusted Christ as their Savior who do not really know Him as a living, loving friend—One who enters into all their griefs and would share all their joys. When He is known this way, the difficulties of life can be faced with calmness, and the heart can confide in Him in every hour of trial. See Proverbs 18:24.


See notes on 6:1-5; 11:15. Lack of sound judgment leads one to accept liability for another in light of the repeated warnings of the Word of God. It is not wise to pledge security for another unless one is quite prepared to lose and can well afford it. Paul pledged the security for Onesimus, as Judah did for Benjamin; but each had counted the cost and was ready to pay to the last penny (Philemon 18-19; Genesis 42:37; 44:32).


There are those who delight in contention and are impatient of restraint, demonstrating their love for their own ways. In their haughtiness, they build up their gates, thus inviting destruction; for by exalting themselves, they are near to a fall. Having a wicked heart, they find only evil. Their perverse tongues continually stir up mischief. Hanun, proud and defiant, proved this fully, as narrated in 2 Samuel 10.


Such a verse requires no comment. It is an unhappy fact that is very evident to all. David’s grief over Absalom is proof of the truth of this proverb (2 Samuel 18:33). See also Proverbs 17:25.


See 15:13,15. Nothing breaks the body’s systems like gloom and melancholy. When the heart is filled with joy, it refreshes the whole being. The merriment of the Christian is far more real than the mere frivolity of the unsaved. The Christian is able in all circumstances to rejoice in the Lord and be lifted above circumstances that would depress and weigh down the soul. Then, in place of showing his happiness in the empty ways of the world, he can sing and make melody in his heart to the source and object of his gladness. “Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (James 5:13). The man of the world has to resort to various devices to relieve his uneasiness and rouse his spirits. He eagerly participates in all kinds of diversions in order to forget his sorrow. On the contrary, it is when the child of God remembers his place and portion in Christ that his joy overflows. Contrast the different attitudes of the unknown writer of Psalm 116, first when occupied with himself and then when his faith soared up to God.


The lawbreaker, conscious of his evildoing, secretly endeavors to bribe with a gift those who are called to sit in judgment on his crimes. Such a course is a tacit acknowledgment of guilt. It is hard indeed to deal fairly with a man to whom one is indebted for a favor. Therefore it is necessary to sternly refuse anything from those who are bent on a sinful course. It was when the king of Babylon sent letters and a present to godly king Hezekiah that he was taken off his guard. He acted without seeking counsel of Jehovah, as he had so readily done when it was a letter of blasphemy he had received (contrast Isaiah 39:1 with 37:14).


The wise man concentrates on gaining the knowledge of the Lord and walking with Him. The fool wanders aimlessly here and there with no settled purpose. He tastes various theories, getting a smattering of everything, but all to no purpose. Paul warned Timothy against such men who “heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3). But they have no desire for the truth of God which alone is wisdom. Instead they follow fables, “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). The very opposite attitude characterized the great apostle himself, who could say, “One thing I do!” (Philippians 3:13.)


See Proverbs 10:1, and 17:21. The young man is not the only, nor by any means the greatest, sufferer when he throws discretion to the winds and plunges into foolishness and vice. The poignant grief of his father’s heart and the bitter disappointment of his mother are sorrows too deep for words to express. To have brought into the world one who despises their love and disobeys all their authority is terrible indeed. Sadly it little affects the haughty, stubborn heart of the wayward youth who plunges recklessly on, adding grief to grief and heartache to heartache! See the stubborn and rebellious son of Deuteronomy 21:18-20.


The ruler who punishes the good man and the subject who strikes the upright ruler display the same perversion of justice. Neither is rare in this world. It is not unusual to take vengeance on innocent men in order to shield guilty ones and to revolt against God-fearing rulers because their peaceable ways were opposed to the lawless, restless spirit of the age. See the account of Ishmael’s assassination of the upright prince, Gedaliah. Then read how he massacred the fourscore men from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria, lest they reveal his crime (Jeremiah 41:1-7).


See notes on Proverbs 12:23 and 15:2. The simpleton is always babbling. The man who has knowledge will not be continually airing what he knows. He is of a quiet spirit and can bide his time. A man who must always be talking is usually one whose grasp of things in general is very slight. Among Christians, an ever-running tongue is certainly no evidence of a discerning person. He whose knowledge is limited is esteemed wise when his words are few. One who lives in the fear of God sets a value on words that the careless soul cannot understand; for he remembers that for “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). Even his experiences of God’s love and favor are not always to be told lightly to others. Paul seems to have kept the secret of his having been caught up to the third heaven for fourteen years until the right time came to relate it (2 Corinthians 12:1-7). Note the self-control of Elisha in this respect when going out after Elijah (2 Kings 2:3).