“Better is a dry morsel with quiet
than a house full of feasting with strife.”
~Proverbs 17:1 (NRSV).
We’ve all perhaps been to a family lunch—maybe at Christmas time—when everything was prepared, a feast to enjoy, and then an argument starts. Before we know it all hell breaks loose and family members and friends are at each others’ throats. Times like these we want to wander away to enjoy a “dry crust” in quiet peace.
Proverbs 17 is a peculiar collection of proverbs that have loose linkages and certainly many of them speak about folly and why we should avoid behaving foolishly. Because of the apparent lack of connection, there is a selection of individual proverb themes discussed:
Testing Fires Growth (verse 3)
Verse 3 contrasts the firing of gold and silver in furnaces and crucibles to the action of God ‘testing’ the human heart.
In sum, this is a great encouragement confirming that all difficulties we face in life can be seen as processes for refining our characters; the difficulties, pains and tests are seen as the fire burning off character flaws which are the impurities de-valuing our ‘precious metal’—the gold and silver within, i.e. the notional flawless character.
God, then, is interested in our refinement, growth and healing, and this via love. Difficulties are not destined to punish us indiscriminately; they’re purposed to grow us from the motive of God’s love.
Mocking the Unfortunate is Cursed (verse 5)
As if we don’t already know this. God’s heart most of all is endeared to the poor and unfortunates of the world. Any injustice towards them raises God’s ire. We see this even in people’s disgust at this. Mocking the disabled or the intellectually impaired person, for instance, is winning no friends and it could be an example of about the most immoral of folly.
Forgiving Offenses (verse 9)
This is a vast wisdom: to, like God, be slow to anger. Effrontery is something we’re all tempted to dismiss aggressively and with swiftness; an offense begetting an offense. Hardly ever do we see in our moments of being transgressed, however, that there lies the ideal opportunity to foster friendship.
This fits with earlier and later proverbs about even enemies living at peace with the wise. The wise are not easily upset. They have patient tempers. When we refuse to return fire the fight is voided.
Accept Discipline Eagerly (verse 10)
The theme of discipline is a vein of gold funnelling its way right through the Wisdom literature, and not merely Proverbs. One rebuke is felt keener to a discerning person, it striking with good impact, than a hundred repetitive lashes, a fool.
This speaks for the truth in life that for some people we have to repeat ourselves over and over. Others, however, respond immediately. We can see who the foolish and wise are quite easily in this.
The Faithfulness in Friendship (verse 17)
Perhaps speaking further on in the process of friendship to verse 9 we find here that good friends and kin are born for pledged support during times of adversity. Friendship such as this most certainly is formed under a Wisdom alliance, for Wisdom is a morally-enacted construct for life and abundance. Friendship such as this is not buckling even under enormous odds.
Cheerful Heart – Great Medicine (verse 22)
With striking similarity to Proverbs 13:12 and 16:24, this verse further illustrates the endpoint in Wisdom; that the wise are good, ‘healing’ company to be around. Pity the reverse, however.
Descriptions of Folly
Notwithstanding the disconnectedness of this chapter, the descriptions about folly and its consequences are significant here. Verses 4, 5, 11-16, 18-21, 24 and 25 all present slightly different views on folly.
Themes here surround waywardness of speech and a lack of discipline, care and judgment generally. One of the inherent mysteries of life is, though they are capable, the foolish find it impossible to learn. Their failure to learn is due not intellectual disability, but to moral ineptitude, or the will to do it. They usually ‘know it all’ already, thinking their wisdom superior, or they don’t value Wisdom, which is accessed and enjoyed via the exercise of learning from life lessons through application.
Silence is Mastery – Wisdom and Peace
Verses 27-28 round off this collection nicely, entering the charge to wisdom through silence when a blurted out reply might generally be apt to us. Even the foolish are thought wise when they’re silent; how much better do the wise appear when they restrain their speech?
More silence will also lead to a ‘peace and quiet’ sort of life, which gets us back to the initial proverb profiled at top. Peace is accorded as an outcome for good deeds and will sown. Peace is every good thing; the perfect gift from God.
Folly destroys peace. Wisdom unites with and commends peace.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.