Proverbs 17 begins with a reversal of expectations and value. We place value on the outward show of opulence and Solomon was able to speak about wealth and feasting from experience. However, he says that he would rather settle for a bit of dry bread if it meant peace at home than enjoy rich feasting and merry making when the family and community are torn apart by conflict.
This whole section challenges us to think about what we value. Verse 3 tells us that:
Fire tests the purity of silver and gold,
but the Lord tests the heart.
This encourages us to think about what God values and priorities as he tests us and refines us. Discipline and suffering are used by God not just to find out what our hearts are made of but to refine our lives so that the dross of selfishness, pride, jealousy and bitterness are removed so that we have the pure gold of a heart devoted to Jesus and his Gospel.
This world values the wrong things so that there is likely to be gossip and slander as we seek to be in the know and to put others down (v4) but Solomon warns us against mocking and belittling them because they do not measure up to our sinful values. To mock the poor, is to mock God (v5).
The things that we should value then are peace (v1), family (v5), love (v9), friendship, loyalty (v17) and wisdom (v27). Love, friendship and loyalty are characterised by forgiveness (v9). Too often we prioritise our own honour and so we hold onto grudges, losing the benefit of friendship (v9).
We can see how putting other things first in our lives can wreck relationships and kill love. So, Solomon writes that:
A bribe is like a lucky charm;
whoever gives one will prosper!
If we read that as a command or promise, we’ll come unstuck. Bribes are not good things, so it would be strange if Scripture was commending them. However, Proverbs helps us to understand what is going on in the world around us, it makes observations about what is generally true. Bribes, generally speaking seem to benefit those who use them but at what cost? A financial transaction has been brought into the relationship and in order to facilitate it. With this comes manipulation and deception. What is lost when we use bribes? The answer surely is love and loyalty. Solomon is clear that it is the wicked who use bribes (v23).
Similarly, Solomon warns about dangers when financial calculations come into play between friends. Loyalty and love between friends and family mean that we will step into help out where needed (v17), however look at verse 18, when we get into loans and transactions then it becomes a calculation again and the friendship is put in danger.
It is important for us as Christians to ask ourselves what we are prioritising, especially when it comes to relationships with others. Will the thing we prioritise here and now enable better Gospel conversations and encourage discipleship or might we gain some kind of benefit but lose the joy of seeing someone come to faith in Christ and go on in him?
In what ways can we allow our relationships with others to be distorted?
Coming back to verse 5, we can’t avoid the way that this points to Christ. Our world’s twisted values means that when the world looked at Jesus on the Cross, it saw foolishness, shame, a stumbling block, failure. The people of Jesus’ day saw the poverty of the Cross and mocked him, not realising that they were insulting the creator himself.
In Jesus, God’s true wisdom, we see what is of true value. We see loyalty and faithfulness to the Father, love and forgiveness for us.
- What themes can we see running through this chapter? A big clue is found in v3
- Read verse 8. This seems a rather surprising claim to find in Proverbs.
- Are there any other clues in the chapter to protect us from treating it as a promise or command (see especially v23)
- What do you think the point is that Solomon is making here? How doe this fit with the overall theme we’ve identified?
- Go back to verse 5. Meditate on how this helps us to see the chapter as pointing to Christ.