Proverbs 27:17

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man the countenance of his friend.
– Proverbs 27:17

This saying is one of the famous sayings in Proverbs. The word for sharpeneth means to make sharp, as in sharpening a knife, but it can also have a more figurative meaning of making fierce, i.e., a sharp face. Some have keyed on the negative connotation of the figurative usage to give the saying a negative gloss. The saying in its natural meaning fits well with the various Proverbs on friendship, and I take it that way.

Iron to iron depicts a clash that creates friction, heat, and perhaps sparks, but the result of the process is making something sharper and more useful. A dull blade is made better by sharpening and that is the intent of the saying. Man to man, or friend to friend clashes produce friction but also result in sharpening, being made better. This understanding puts the saying in the category of the benefits of good counsel in Proverbs. Pair this saying with Proverbs 27:9 and you get a double-sided picture of true friendship—encouragement and constructive criticism.




Proverbs 27:10

Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbor that is near than a brother far off.
– Proverbs 27:10

Family connections are presented as the strongest bonds and form a standard for comparisons of the friendship of neighbors and friends (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24). Overall, this saying is about cultivating relationships. The image of a near neighbor suggests relationships with those who are close at hand spatially. Even if they are not blood relation, they are near and better than blood relation far away in times of calamity. Wisdom cultivates community.




Proverbs 19:7

All the brethren of the poor do hate him: how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursueth them with words, yet they are wanting to him.
– Proverbs 19:7

The kin of the poor are said to hate him. His friends have even less reason or attachment and so abandon him as well. The word for pursueth means to run after, and he has nothing to offer them but his words, or pleadings (Proverbs 18:23). The poor man has no leverage or natural attraction for people, so he is hated by all (Proverbs 14:20). This proverb furthers the observations of Proverbs 19:4, 6.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 19:6

Many will entreat the favor of the prince: and every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts.
– Proverbs 19:6

Commentators vary whether this proverb is negative or positive. The word for many means abundant, indicating a large number. Generally, having many friends in Proverbs is negative (see commentary on Proverbs 18:24). The prince and him that giveth gifts both have a power to give and do for others, so men naturally are drawn to them (Proverbs 29:26). The poor have fewer friends because they have no power to draw to themselves (Proverbs 19:4). The emphasis on friendship in Proverbs doesn’t have to do with being poor or rich, but it is better to have fewer and truer friends (Proverbs 17:17).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 18:24

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
– Proverbs 18:24

The Hebrew here is difficult and the interpretations vary. The word for friends in the first phrase is a general term than can mean neighbor, companion, or close friend. The word for friend in the second phrase is a stronger term indicating a bond of affection. We also note the first term is plural and the second singular, meaning the proverb moves from many to one. This indicates a contrast in the parallel making the first phrase have a negative gloss and the second a more positive one. The words must show himself friendly translate one Hebrew word, raw-ah’. This word appears 83 times in the Old Testament and is most often translated evil, evildoer, hurt, wickedly, etc. The word has a negative connotation and supports the interpretation of the first phrase negatively. Solomon’s point is that having a true, close friend is better than having many looser friends, or associates (Proverbs 17:17; 27:10).

This understanding agrees with the general tenor of Proverbs concerning many friends. Having multiplied friends increases the likelihood of having fickle friends (Proverbs 14:20; 19:4, 6-7), and the bother of having inconsiderate friends (Proverbs 25:17, 20; 26:18-19; 27:14; 29:5). Having fewer, but truly good friends means we are more likely to have the benefit of loyalty (Proverbs 17:17), loving honesty (Proverbs 27:6), good advice (Proverbs 27:9), and a mutual bettering through differences of personality or understanding (Proverbs 27:17).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 14:20

The poor is hated even of his own neighbor: but the rich hath many friends.
– Proverbs 14:20

This proverb is a wise observation of reality. The poor are those without resources and means (Proverbs 10:15; Luke 14:13-14). Consequently, they don’t have so many friends as the rich do. We would call these sorts of friends as belonging to the fair-weather class (Proverbs 19:4, 6).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series