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Proverbs 17:7-21

Context

17:7 Excessive 1  speech 2  is not becoming for a fool; 3 

how much less are lies 4  for a ruler! 5 

17:8 A bribe works like 6  a charm 7  for the one who offers it; 8 

in whatever he does 9  he succeeds. 10 

17:9 The one who forgives 11  an offense seeks 12  love,

but whoever repeats a matter separates close friends. 13 

17:10 A rebuke makes a greater impression on 14  a discerning person

than a hundred blows on a fool. 15 

17:11 An evil person seeks only rebellion, 16 

and so 17  a cruel messenger 18  will be sent against him.

17:12 It is better for a person to meet 19  a mother bear being robbed of her cubs,

than 20  to encounter 21  a fool in his folly. 22 

17:13 As for the one who repays 23  evil for good,

evil will not leave 24  his house. 25 

17:14 Starting a quarrel 26  is like letting out water; 27 

stop it before strife breaks out! 28 

17:15 The one who acquits the guilty and the one who condemns the innocent 29 

both of them are an abomination to the Lord. 30 

17:16 Of what 31  use is money in the hand of a fool, 32 

since he has no intention 33  of acquiring wisdom? 34 

17:17 A friend 35  loves at all times,

and a relative 36  is born to help in adversity. 37 

17:18 The one who lacks wisdom 38  strikes hands in pledge, 39 

and puts up financial security 40  for his neighbor. 41 

17:19 The one who loves a quarrel loves transgression; 42 

whoever builds his gate high seeks destruction. 43 

17:20 The one who has a perverse heart 44  does not find good, 45 

and the one who is deceitful in speech 46  falls into trouble.

17:21 Whoever brings a fool 47  into the world 48  does so 49  to his grief,

and the father of a fool has no joy. 50 

1 tn The word יֶתֶר (yeter) could be rendered either “arrogant” (cf. NIV) or “excellent” (cf. KJV, NASB; NLT “eloquent”) because the basic idea of the word is “remainder; excess,” from the verb “be left over.” It describes “lofty” speech (arrogant or excellent) that is not suited for the fool. The Greek version, using pista, seems to support the idea of “excellent,” and makes a contrast: “words that are excellent do not fit a fool.” The idea of arrogance (NIV) fits if it is taken in the sense of lofty, heightened, or excessive language.

2 tn “a lip of excess.” The term “lip” is a metonymy for what is said.

3 sn The “fool” proper, described by the term נָבָל (naval), occurs only here, in v. 21, and in 30:22 in the book. It describes someone who is godless and immoral in an overbearing way (e.g., 1 Sam 25:25; Ps 14:1). A fool should restrain his words lest his foolishness spew out.

4 tn Heb “speech of falsehood”; NRSV “false speech.”

5 sn This “ruler” (KJV, NASB “prince”; NAB “noble”) is a gentleman with a code of honor, to whom truthfulness is second nature (W. McKane, Proverbs [OTL], 507). The word describes one as “inclined, generous, noble” (BDB 622 s.v. נָדִיב). It is cognate to the word for the “free will offering.” So for such a noble person lies are not suited. The argument is from the lesser to the greater – if fools shouldn’t speak lofty things, then honorable people should not lie (or, lofty people should not speak base things).

6 tn The phrase “works like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied for the sake of clarity.

7 tn Heb “a stone of favors”; NAB, NRSV “a magic stone.” The term שֹׁחַד (shokhad, “bribe”) could be simply translated as “a gift”; but the second half of the verse says that the one who offers it is successful. At best it could be a gift that opens doors; at worst it is a bribe. The word שֹׁחַד is never used of a disinterested gift, so there is always something of the bribe in it (e.g., Ps 15:5; Isa 1:23). Here it is “a stone that brings favor,” the genitive being the effect or the result of the gift. In other words, it has magical properties and “works like a charm.”

8 tn Heb “in the eyes of its owner.”

9 tn Heb “in all that he turns”; NASB, NIV “wherever he turns.”

10 sn As C. H. Toy points out, the sage is merely affirming a point without making a comment – those who use bribery meet with widespread success (Proverbs [ICC], 341). This does not amount to an endorsement of bribery.

11 tn Heb “covers” (so NASB); NIV “covers over.” How people respond to the faults of others reveals whether or not they have love. The contrast is between one who “covers” (forgives, cf. NCV, NRSV) the fault of a friend and one who repeats news about it. The former promotes love because he cares about the person; the latter divides friends.

12 sn The participle מְבַקֵּשׁ (mÿvaqesh) means “seeks” in the sense of seeking to secure or procure or promote love. There can be no friendship without such understanding and discretion.

13 sn W. G. Plaut notes that harping on the past has destroyed many friendships and marriages (Proverbs, 188). W. McKane observes that this line refers to the person who breaks up friendships by his scandalous gossip, even if it is done with a kind of zeal for the welfare of the community, for it will destroy love and trust (Proverbs [OTL], 508-9).

14 tn Heb “goes in deeper” (cf. NASB, NRSV). The verb נָחֵת (nakhet) “to go down; to descend” with the preposition בְּ (bet) means “to descend into; to make an impression on” someone.

15 tn The form is the Hiphil infinitive of נָכָה (nakhah) with the comparative מִן, min. The word “fool” then would be an objective genitive – more than blows to/on a fool.

16 sn The proverb is set up in a cause and effect relationship. The cause is that evil people seek rebellion. The term מְרִי (mÿri) means “rebellion.” It is related to the verb מָרָה (marah, “to be contentious; to be rebellious; to be refractory”). BDB 598 s.v. מְרִי translates the line “a rebellious man seeketh only evil” (so NASB).

17 tn The parallelism seems to be formal, with the idea simply continuing to the second line; the conjunction is therefore translated to reflect this. However, the proverb could be interpreted as antithetical just as easily.

18 sn Those bent on rebellion will meet with retribution. The messenger could very well be a merciless messenger from the king; but the expression could also figuratively describe something God sends – storms, pestilence, or any other misfortune.

19 tn Heb “Let a man meet” (so NASB); NLT “It is safer to meet.” The infinitive absolute פָּגוֹשׁ (pagosh, “to meet”) functions as a jussive of advice. The bear meeting a man is less dangerous than a fool in his folly. It could be worded as a “better” saying, but that formula is not found here.

20 tn The second colon begins with וְאַל (vÿal), “and not.” This negative usually appears with volitives, so the fuller expression of the parallel line would be “and let not a fool in his folly [meet someone].”

21 tn The words “to meet” are not in the Hebrew text, but are implied by the parallelism and are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.

22 sn The human, who is supposed to be rational and intelligent, in such folly becomes more dangerous than the beast that in this case acts with good reason. As R. L. Alden comments, “Consider meeting a fool with a knife, or gun, or even behind the wheel of a car” (Proverbs, 134). See also E. Loewenstamm, “Remarks on Proverbs 17:12 and 20:27,” VT 37 (1967): 221-24. For a slightly different nuance cf. TEV “some fool busy with a stupid project.”

23 tn The sentence begins with the participle מֵשִׁיב (meshiv, “the one who repays”). The whole first colon may be taken as an independent nominative absolute, with the formal sentence to follow. Some English versions have made the first colon a condition by supplying “if” (NAB, NIV, TEV, NLT).

24 tn The verb מוּשׁ (mush) means “to depart; to remove.” The Kethib is a Hiphil, which would yield a meaning of “to take away”; so the Qere, which is the Qal, makes more sense in the line.

25 sn The proverb does not explain whether God will turn evil back on him directly or whether people will begin to treat him as he treated others.

26 tn Heb “the beginning of a quarrel”; TEV, CEV “The start of an argument.”

27 tn The verse simply begins with “letting out water.” This phrase is a metaphor, but most English versions have made it a simile (supplying “like” or “as”). R. N. Whybray takes it literally and makes it the subject of the clause: “stealing water starts a quarrel” (Proverbs [CBC], 100). However, the verb more likely means “to let out, set free” and not “to steal,” for which there are clearer words.

sn The image involves a small leak in a container or cistern that starts to spurt out water. The problem will get worse if it is not stopped. Strife is like that.

tc The LXX has “The outpouring of words is the beginning of strife.” This would make it a warning against thoughtless talk.

28 tn The temporal clause is formed with the prepositional “before,” the infinitive construct, and the following subjective genitive. The verb גָּלַע (gala’) means “to expose; to lay bare,” and in the Hitpael “to disclose oneself; to break out.”

29 tn Heb “he who justifies the wicked and and he who condemns the righteous” (so NASB). The first colon uses two Hiphil participles, מַצְדִּיק (matsdiq) and מַרְשִׁיעַ (marshia’). The first means “to declare righteous” (a declarative Hiphil), and the second means “to make wicked [or, guilty]” or “to condemn” (i.e., “to declare guilty”). To declare someone righteous who is a guilty criminal, or to condemn someone who is innocent, are both abominations for the Righteous Judge of the whole earth.

30 tn Heb “an abomination of the Lord.”

31 tn Heb “why this?” The term זֶּה (zeh) is an enclitic use of the demonstrative pronoun for emphasis: “why ever” would this happen?

32 sn The sense seems to be “What good is money” since what the fool needs cannot be bought? The verse is a rhetorical question stating that money would be wasted on a fool.

33 tn Heb “there is no heart”; NASB “he has no (+ common TEV) sense”; NLT “has no heart for wisdom.”

34 sn W. McKane envisions a situation where the fool comes to a sage with a fee in hand, supposing that he can acquire a career as a sage, and this gives rise to the biting comment here: Why does the fool have money in his hands? To buy wisdom when he has no brains? (Proverbs [OTL], 505).

35 sn The verse uses synonymous parallelism, so “friend” and “relative” are equated. Others, however, will take the verse with antithetical parallelism: W. G. Plaut argues that friendship is a spiritual relationship whereas a brother’s ties are based on a blood relationship – often adversity is the only thing that brings brothers together (Proverbs, 189).

36 tn Heb “a brother.”

37 tn Heb “is born for adversity.” This is not referring to sibling rivalry but to the loyalty a brother shows during times of calamity. This is not to say that a brother only shows loyalty when there is trouble, nor that he always does in these times (e.g., 18:19, 24; 19:7; 27:10). The true friend is the same as a brotherly relation – in times of greatest need the loyal love is displayed.

38 tn Heb “heart”; KJV, ASV “a man void of understanding”; NIV “a man lacking in judgment.”

39 tn The phrase “in pledge” is supplied for the sake of clarification.

40 tn The line uses the participle עֹרֵב (’orev) with its cognate accusative עֲרֻבָּה (’arubah), “who pledges a pledge.”

41 sn It is foolish to pledge security for someone’s loans (e.g., Prov 6:1-5).

42 tn Heb “the one who loves transgression the one who loves a quarrel.” There is some ambiguity in the first line. The meaning would not differ greatly if either were taken as the subject; but the parallelism suggests that the proverb is about a quarrelsome and arrogant person who loves sin and invites destruction.

43 tn Some have taken this second line literally and interpreted it to mean he has built a pretentious house. Probably it is meant to be figurative: The gate is the mouth (the figure would be hypocatastasis) and so to make it high is to say lofty things – he brags too much (e.g., 1 Sam 2:3; Prov 18:12; 29:23); cf. NCV, TEV, NLT. C. H. Toy (Proverbs [ICC], 348) wishes to emend פִּתְחוֹ (pitkho, “his gate”) to פִּיו (piv, “his mouth”), but that is unnecessary since the idea can be obtained by interpretation.

44 tn The verse parallels two descriptions of the wicked person: “crooked/perverse of heart” (genitive of specification), and “turned away in his tongue” (deceitful). The first phrase describes twisted intentions. The second, using the Niphal participle (“one turned away”) with “tongue,” the metonymy of cause, describes one who has turned away from speaking truth. Cf. NLT “the twisted tongue tumbles into trouble.”

45 tn The phrase “does not find good” is a figure (tapeinosis) meaning, “will experience calamity.” The wicked person can expect trouble ahead.

46 tn Heb “tongue”; NIV “whose tongue is deceitful.”

47 sn Here the Hebrew terms כְּסִיל (kÿsil) and נָבָל (naval) are paired. The first one, which occurs about fifty times in the book, refers to a dullard, whether it be in spiritual, intellectual, or moral matters. The second word, rare in the book, primarily focuses on religious folly – it refers to the practical atheist, the one who lives as if there is no God.

48 tn The form simply means “bears” or “gives birth to,” but since it is masculine it could be rendered “fathers” (cf. NASB “he who begets a fool”; NIV “To have a fool for a son”). The form for “fool” is masculine, but the proverb is not limited only to male children (cf. NCV “It is sad to have a foolish child”).

49 tn The phrase “does so” is supplied for the sake of clarification.

50 sn Parents of fools, who had hoped for children who would be a credit to the family, find only bitter disappointment (cf. TEV “nothing but sadness and sorrow”).



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