Proverbs 17:28

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.
– Proverbs 17:28

This proverb is a companion to the previous one about the restraint of the tongue. Solomon noted elsewhere, “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7), but fools are “full of words” (Ecclesiastes 10:14) and ready to pour out their speech (Proverbs 15:2). Solomon’s point is made with irony that a fool can appear wise if he holds his tongue. He gives a different angle on the value of silence and restraint. He doesn’t intend to teach fools how to put on a good show.

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Proverbs 17:27

He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
– Proverbs 17:27

The word for spareth means restrain, as you would expect. The proverb commends careful speech. The sparing of words is not an effort to appear to have knowledge, or to acquire it. The word for knowledge means discernment and skill. Knowledge controls the tongue, rather than spewing out what comes to mind (Proverbs 15:28). The person without control of the tongue invites destruction (Proverbs 13:3). Control of the tongue can keep us from damaging relationships and even sin (Proverbs 11:12-13; 10:19). The second phrase expands the control to the temper (Proverbs 16:32). Wisdom is seen in appeasing and dampening strife, but folly excites it, and often through the tongue (Proverbs 14:29; 15:18; 19:11).

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Proverbs 17:26

Also to punish the just is not good, nor to strike princes for equity.
– Proverbs 17:26

The word for just means lawful, or righteous. The word for equity means upright, or straight, and it is used for what is right, or due. The word for punish means to fine and the word for strike means to beat, i.e., to flog as punishment. The proverb makes the point by juxtaposing an absurdity with a greater absurdity. Fining, or punishing, those who are doing what is right is not good in any sense. It is an abomination (Proverbs 17:15). Princes are rulers of some sort and it’s beyond absurd to envision their beating for executing their office justly. They’re being punished for not miscarrying justice through the respecting of persons (Proverbs 18:15).

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Proverbs 17:25

A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him.
– Proverbs 17:25

All children start out the same way, with foolishness “bound in the heart” (Proverbs 22:15). Parents are to bring up their children in the way of wisdom (Proverbs 22:6). The way of wisdom is the way of correction and instruction (Proverbs 13:24; 19:18; 29:17). A foolish son can be the result of neglect (Proverbs 29:15), the active folly of the parents (Proverbs 14:1), or the incorrigible pride of the son or daughter (Proverbs 17:10; 27:22). The last case is most likely to bring “heaviness,” “sorrow,” and “calamity” (Proverbs 10:1; 17:21; 19:13).

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Proverbs 17:24

Wisdom is before him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.
– Proverbs 17:24

Solomon repeatedly told his son to hear instruction of wisdom, in order to gain wisdom, in the opening fatherly addresses of Proverbs. A man of understanding pursues wisdom and keeps it before him in the sense of concentrating on instruction (Proverbs 15:14; 18:15). The fool is not fixed on the instruction of wisdom. He has no sense of the value of it, nor the patient and diligent search required to obtain it (Proverbs 17:16; 2:3-5).

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Proverbs 17:23

A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.
– Proverbs 17:23

The word for gift means a present, or donation. The word most often refers to a bribe. The bosom refers to the folds of a garment that held a purse, or other valuables. We would similarly say from inside the vest. One can imagine the subtle movements to take out from the inside pocket and discreetly hand to another. The man is wicked because his gift is used to pervert the ways of judgment. The word for pervert means to bend away, and here to bend away from what is just. Bribes are contrary to wisdom and righteousness (Exodus 23:8), though they often bring success (Proverbs 17:8; 18:16).

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Proverbs 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
– Proverbs 17:22

The word for merry means glad, or joyful. The word for medicine means a cure, or healing. The word for heart generally means the mind as elsewhere in Proverbs. Our state of mind affects the state of our bodies (Proverbs 14:30). This can be reflected in more severe cases of dealing with diseases, but also in ongoing cases of poor health. There is “a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4), in other words, a time and place for lightheartedness. The lifting of spirits can come in various ways, but it is beneficial (Proverbs 12:25; 15:13; 18:14). Fat bones are an image of health and vitality (Proverbs 3:8; 15:30; 16:24). Dry bones are obviously the opposite picture.

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Proverbs 17:21

He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow: and the father of a fool hath no joy.
– Proverbs 17:21

Two words are used for fool here. The first denotes a dullard or simpleton, and the second denotes wickedness. This proverb is opposite Proverbs 23:24, which acknowledges the joy of having a wise child (Proverbs 10:1; 15:20; 23:15-16). Life experience and the first nine chapters of Proverbs should convince us we cannot make our children wise. We can instruct, correct, train, discipline, exhort, and even plead like Solomon, but we cannot make a son or daughter have wisdom if they refuse instruction (Proverbs 1:7; 8:33; 13:1; 15:5). A child who refuses correction and instruction is a continual grief to father and mother (Proverbs 17:25; 19:13).

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Proverbs 17:20

He that hath a froward heart findeth no good: and he that hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief.
– Proverbs 17:20

The wicked are described as having a froward heart (Proverbs 3:32; 6:12-15; 11:20). This means a perverse mind, bent toward folly and away from wisdom. All their plans are plans of wickedness and abominations before the Lord. The wicked are also described as having a perverse tongue (Proverbs 8:13; 10:10; 18:6-7). The word for perverse means to turn about or over. This refers to a false tongue, saying one thing and doing another. One who thinks and talks this way cannot expect to find good and can expect to find mischief, or evil (Proverbs 10:31; 13:17).

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