Chapter 27: Commentary

Chapter 27 A continuation of the third and final section of Proverbs attributed to Solomon (25:-29:27). Typically one-verse proverbs, sometimes addressed to "my son," they tend to be loosely grouped around themes and formatting.


27:1 Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.

     I became a follower of Jesus Christ during my first year of college. The next year, I transferred to Lynchburg Baptist College (later Liberty University) and was required, as part of my coursework, to memorize a number of Bible verses. Proverbs 27:1 was one of those verses, making it among the earliest verses I ever knew (John 3:16 was the first!).
      It was a sobering thought for this 19-year old young man that I did not have any promises about or assurances for tomorrow. I felt like my whole life was before me and I could only imagine many years ahead. Yet I needed to learn that every day of this life is a gift and that I should make the most of each one. Unfortunately, it took me a couple of decades to finally begin practicing this one-day-at-a-time stuff.
      This verse was also a great primer for the wonderful insights I would later learn from the complete Serenity Prayer (link here) and the world of recovery. Learning how to actually live one day and enjoy one moment at a time has been a life changing truth for me.

                                                                       The Serenity Prayer
     God, grant me
          the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change,
          the COURAGE to change the things I can,
          and the WISDOM to know the difference;
          LIVING one day at a time;
          ENJOYING one moment at a time;
          ACCEPTING hardship as a pathway to peace;
          TAKING, as Jesus did, this sinful world, as it is, not as I would have it;
          TRUSTING that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will;
          So that I may be REASONABLY happy in this life and
          SUPREMELY happy with You forever in the next. Amen
Adapted from Reinhold Niebuhr

27:2 Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.

     Similar to 25:27, where it was not honorable to seek one's own honor, here we are told to not praise ourselves. In fact, this one little verse says it twice! Announcing my own accomplishments is just not appropriate.
      Admittedly, it's a wonderful thing to be involved in something special or to meet some important people. It is also a great feeling to be used by God in producing something meaningful. But when we focus on ourselves in telling the story, it is does not go over well.
      I acknowledge I struggle with this as much as anyone. I've been very blessed to have done some pretty cool stuff and I can get pretty excited talking about it. Unfortunately, I also do way too much name dropping and, as a result, I always seem to get around to talking way too much about me!

      So, it is generally neither appropriate nor well-received when we want to tell everybody what we did – even when we understand God did it through us. If it is really worth praising, somebody else will get around to saying so!

27:3 Stone is heavy and sand a burden, but provocation by a fool is heavier than both.

     We all know that stones are heavy to pick up and carry, so is a container of sand. This verse points out that an even greater weight or burden is the anger/vexation/grief of a fool.
      Being around a fool when he is all worked up is not a good idea. "Provocation" does not indicate a bad action or attitude in itself (the same Hebrew word is used for God's emotions toward some of our actions). But, since this is a fool's emotions, we know it won't be healthy or helpful.
      The message of this verse is a reminder that we need to stay clear of fools because when they get going, things will get ugly. Those who find themselves in the position of enabling a fool in their foolishness take on themselves a great and unnecessary burden.

27:4 Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?

     Three serious emotions are mentioned in this verse -- "anger," "fury" and "jealousy." They're all also noted as hurtful -- "cruel," "overwhelming" and, then, the question "who can stand before?"
      "Anger" and "fury" are listed together as similar emotions. We all know from personal experience the terrible qualities and results of both.
      Being the object - or even just collateral damage --- of another's anger or fury is no fun. But my own anger or fury is not a pleasant place to find myself, either! We'd all live better without either of these qualities around.
      But "jealousy" is suggested here to be even worse. While, at first glance, it might not seem as bad as anger and fury. But, above all else, jealousy is simply selfish and self-serving.
      So, the message of this verse? We would do well to recognize those people who regularly demonstrate any of these three qualities. Then we'll need to decide what we might want to do about it.
      It would be best if people whose lives revolve around anger, fury or jealousy be avoided. Admittedly, circumstances may be such that we'll need to continue dealing with them.
      So we can at least be prepared for their ways...and, hopefully, respond appropriately.
      Even better, it would be great if we can recognize any of these qualities when they appear in us! We'll just need to face it, deal with it and, then, let it go!

27:5 Better is open rebuke than hidden love.

     Another of those "better is" proverbs, this one speaks of "open" vs. "hidden" and "rebuke" vs. "love." It may be hard to imagine open rebuke as being good or better, but can be – and it really is better than hidden love. Just how much good does hidden love do anyone? None.
      The one being loved never really gets to know or appreciate hidden love, no matter how sincere it is. The one loving never gets to really communicate those feelings or feel any response. In truth, under most circumstances, we would all be better off with an honest open rebuke any day, especially when compared to hidden love that won't help either of us.

27:6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

     Who would not appreciate kisses over wounds?!?! But, after some thought, it might be suggested that it depends on the source. When we talk about this proverb in my classes at Helping Up Mission, I ask guys who has been stabbed, and there are always half a dozen or more who say they have. Then I ask who has had surgery and about the same number will raise their hands. Then I ask what's the difference between the two, they both cut you? Somebody will answer that one cuts you to hurt you and the other cuts you to help you.
      While kisses would generally be preferable, when they come from an enemy they probably are not good and should not be trusted. In the Bible, an enemy is not someone I don't like but someone who doesn't like me. So kisses from that rascal probably don't mean what they might seem. Remember Judas?
      On the other hand, wounds from a true friend can be trusted to be for my own good. In fact, they may come with what my father would say when he was going to give me a spanking, "son, this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you!" Real friends will say the hard things that are painful but helpful (see :5). Receive them for your own good.

27:7 One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.

     This wise saying discusses two different situations in which the same people might well find themselves. Neither is right or wrong, but both offer valuable insights about life.
      The first, "one who is full" or "satisfied," didn't necessarily do anything good or bad. They simply had the opportunity to do something most in the ancient world did not experience very often - they absolutely had enough to eat!
      Feeling that way wasn't wicked - they were just full. And, consequently, they couldn't even appreciate the sweetest thing they know - the chocolate of their day - fresh flowing "honey from the comb."
      On the other hand, "the hungry" are willing to eat almost anything - "even what is bitter." And, maybe even more amazing, "what is bitter tastes sweet" to them.
      We can all appreciate the opportunity to have all we want of something we like. But, it's also pretty meaningful to be in a place where we can just be happy with what we have - whether little or lots, bitter or sweet!
      Happy Thanksgiving!

27:9 Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.

     This wise saying notes what all the ancients knew, "perfume and incense" are sweet smelling compounds which "bring joy to the heart." Perfume tended to make a person smell good while incense tended to make a place smell good (or at least better!).
      "Perfume," is actually the standard word for "oil," whether sweet smelling or not. It was olive oil which was regularly used in antiquity for medicinal purposes, as well as for refreshment of the body by anointing.
      "Incense" was also a vegetable compound - generally just dried sap from myrrh or frankincense trees known to grow in the lands along both the African (west) and Arabian (east) sides of the Red Sea. Of course used for religious rituals, incense was also utilized within everyday domestic and industrial contexts to make things a bit nicer.
      In this verse, these two pleasantries of the ancient world were compared to "the pleasantness of a friend." What made interaction with this friend so pleasant was "their heartfelt advice."
      What will really add value to my life is not something that makes the outside look or smell better, but something that will make me better on the inside. "Heartfelt advice" - from the heart, to the heart - can make a real and permanent difference in me.
      Admittedly, I may not always appreciate what the heartfelt advice offers, but when that's what it is (heartfelt) and it comes from a friend - it will be good for me. So, bring it on!

27:10 Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother's house when disaster strikes you—better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.

     This verse talks about the value of relationships. The first line is about friends or neighbors – the same word in Hebrew. Their neighbors were their friends and their friends were their neighbors. It is suggested here that we should not burn any bridges in relationships with two generations of these folks – our own friends and friends of our parents.
      The second part of the verse is about family, particularly my brother. I am advised to not take my difficulties to my brother when I am going through tough times. This would seem to be curious advice, based on a modern day proverb that we all know – blood is thicker than water.
      Yet, the insight this verse offers reminds us that family will tend to feel obligated to support us – whether they want to or not. Many of us here at Helping Up Mission know this to be true. On the other hand, friends choose to support us or not.
      So, when you get a good friend in your life, be sure to nourish that relationship. You will need their help, advice or support someday – especially the day when family just doesn't want to be involved.
      If we treat people – family and friends – appropriately, they will be there on a day that we need them. And as responsible adults, we might even be there to offer them some help when they need it, as well.

27:12 The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.

     This wise saying is virtually identical to 22:3, contrasting the actions of the "the prudent" and "the simple."
      While we regularly use "prudent" almost synonymously with "wise," The term translated "prudent" here doesn't necessarily have such a positive connotation - it's the same word used for the serpent in Genesis 3:1. I'd like to suggest different modern English translation - "street-smart."
      So the "prudent/street-smart see danger and take refuge." We use a number of phrases for this person today -- they can see the lay of the land, they've been around the block a few times and this isn't his or her first rodeo!
      They may or may not be a spiritual person, but they are aware of what's going on around them and make choices accordingly.
      "But the simple keep going and pay the penalty." The term translated "simple" is not someone mentally deficient - just immature and naive. In fact, the root of the word means "wide open" or "spacious" - this person has neither a history of good judgment nor a code to follow.
      Not knowing any better, he or she also sees the danger but "keep going and pay the penalty." When we're young, others are supposed to teach us about such things and we're supposed to develop a mental data base of information we can call on for help in future difficult situations.
      Sadly the simple are old enough to know better - but don't do better. In recovery there's a couple modern phrases we use to describe this kind of thinking...
      The definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.
      If nothing changes - nothing changes!

27:14 If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.

     Pronouncing a blessing on another person would always seem to be a good thing. Yet there can be times when blessing someone else might not be a good idea. In fact, it might not be received as a blessing at all, and could even be seen as a curse.
      In this verse, at issue is not the act ("blesses") or the attitude of the blesser. Instead the problem is in its timing ("early in the morning"). Right timing is as important is right actions. Doing a good thing at a wrong time might not turn out to be a good thing at all. As a famous man once sang, "You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run."

27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

     Iron-pointed tools or weapons could best be sharpened by rubbing them against each other. In doing so, a good bit of heat and even a few sparks get generated as they sharpen each other.
      In this verse, the process is compared to the manner in which one man sharpens another man's understanding, attitudes and motivations. We really do have the ability to sharpen another by our interactions with them. But those interactions will not necessarily be fun, simple or easy. As we sharpen one another, we will inevitably generate a good bit of heat and many sparks. Not always easy, this process will definitely make us both better.

27:19 Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother's house when disaster strikes you—better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.

     This verse talks about the value of relationships. At the beginning it speaks of a "friend" or "neighbor" – the same word in Hebrew. In the ancient world people didn't get around much, so their neighbors were their friends and their friends were their neighbors. Here it suggests we should not burn any bridges in relationships with two generations – our own friends and friends of our parents.
      The second part of the verse is about family, particularly my brother. I am advised here to not take my difficulties to my brother when I am going through tough times. This seems to be curious advice, based on a modern proverb we all know – "blood is thicker than water."
      Yet, the insight this verse offers to us is the reminder that family tends to feel obligated to support us - whether they want to or not - until the day they just can't take it anymore! That's how it went for many guys here at Helping Up Mission. Friends, on the other hand, choose to support us - or not.

      So, when we get a good friend in our lives, we need to be sure and nourish that relationship. We will need their help, advice or support someday – especially the day when family has had enough of me!
      If we treat people – family and friends – appropriately, they will be there on the day we need them. And as responsible adults, we might even be there to offer some help to them some day when they need it, as well!

27:23 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds;

27:24 for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.

27:25 When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in,

27:26 the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field.

27:27 You will have plenty of goats' milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls.

     These verses are an admonition to take care of the things God has given us. With no money, stocks or bonds in the agrarian ancient world, flocks, herds and grain fields were the main representation of wealth for the average family – and that is what is mentioned here. The writer reminds us that none of those things last forever and there is no promise that they will automatically still be around for our children – so take good care of what you have today.
      He then goes on to reference the agricultural calendar so familiar to the ancient Israelite. In order to pass our wealth along to the next generation, we will need to know to do the right things at the right time to conserve and even increase what we have. He speaks of the annual spring grain harvest and the summer lamb shearing. Note that he speaks of goat's milk, but not goat or lamb chops – there animals were far more valuable on the hoof than on the dinner table.
      So what was best for the family in the long run – and thus the goal every day – was to continue to build the flock, not to eat well today. Consciously doing the right things, one day at a time, they could be confident that there should be sufficient stuff (food and clothing in this verse) for the family for one more year. When we live our lives with a longer view than just satisfying our own desires for the moment we set ourselves and loved ones up for a much better life.