Review of Proverbs 17
by Pastor Ola Joseph Kolawole
I will point out the conflict some of us have rightly noted in verse 8 and then I will dwell on the very last verse.
1. BRIBERY & ‘PROSPERITY’?
So here is Proverbs 17:8 from a few translations.
AMPC — A bribe is like a bright, precious stone that dazzles the eyes and affects the mind of him who gives it; [as if by magic] he prospers, whichever way he turns.
KJV — A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.
TLB — A bribe works like magic. Whoever uses it will prosper!
MSG — Receiving a gift is like getting a rare gemstone; any way you look at it, you see beauty refracted.
NCV — Some people think they can pay others to do anything they ask. They think it will work every time.
NLT — A bribe is like a lucky charm; whoever gives one will prosper!
TPT — Wise instruction is like a costly gem. It turns the impossible into success.
VOICE — A bribe is like an enchanting charm to one who counts on it — everywhere he looks he sees the illusion of success.
How do we make sense of this? I will share my thoughts in numbers.
1. Verses like this highlight the beauty in having multiple translations. It broadens your scope of understanding in very interesting ways. If you read only one translation which uses the word ‘gift’ in that verse (like the KJV), you will never realize the beauty hidden in the seeming conflict that the verse carries. In other words, as often as you have the chance, engage the use of more than one translation. (You may revisit the video link I sent on understanding how Bible Translations actually work.)
2. The wisdom in Proverbs — be it indigenous proverbs or proverbs in ‘The Book of Proverbs’ — find expression based on their CONTEXT OF USAGE, otherwise, many Proverbs will seem to contradict one another. Let me give a glaring example in Proverbs 26:4-5 (NKJV). It says:
“4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
Question: Should you answer a fool according to his folly?
If you look at it superficially, the correct answer may not emanate clearly immediately. (It does when you begin to see how other translations put those two verses.)
So you will find proverbs encouraging you to ignore offences just as much as you will find proverbs encouraging you to address offences. There is a time for both. You will find proverbs telling you ‘money answers all things’ — and there is a time to use that kind of proverb — but we all know that money don’t actually answer all things, right?
3. Specifically in Proverbs 17:8, the word translated ‘gift’ or ‘bribe’ here, in the Hebrew, could actually mean either of those. It was used 23 times in the KJV (7 times, it was translated as ‘rewards’, 6 times as ‘gift’, 4 times as ‘gifts’, 3 times as ‘bribe’, 2 times as ‘present’, and 1 time as ‘bribery’). This is where translators’ bias comes in. If one single word could mean all of those, how do you decide which one is being referred to at a particular point of usage? You go with your understanding of the context.
4. The context in Proverbs 17:8 clearly speaks of BRIBERY. But to take the verse literally as wisdom will be harmful. So, TLB, for instance says A bribe works like magic. Whoever uses it will prosper! — this does not mean that bribery is right. In fact, few verses down the line, we come to verse 23 which says ever-so-clearly (TLB) “It is wrong to accept a bribe to twist justice.”
So how do we make sense of Proverbs 17:8? The next point sums up three helpful tips.
5. The Power of PREFACES, FOOTNOTES, & MULTIPLE TRANSLATIONS
You see, for most of us, we just pick a bible translation and go with it because we have read few verses from it and love how it ‘sounds’ in them. That’s not how to use a bible translation. If you want to get the most from a bible translation, start from the PREFACE. When you get a new Bible, that must be the first thing you go and read. Why? That’s where the translators help you understand how they approached their translation. They will even give specific examples to buttress what they are saying. Without opening my NCV bible right now, I can tell you categorically that any verse that has a rhetorical question (e.g. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” in Mark 8:36) will be translated not as a question in NCV. Every rhetorical question you find in KJV would be translated as a statement in NCV. So Mark 8:36 in NCV says “It is worthless to have the whole world if they lose their souls.” How did I know that? Because when I read the preface to NCV over 10 years ago, I saw that. The translators clearly stated it.
Besides the preface, depending on the Bible you are using, many versions actually have footnotes and endnotes where more comments or alternative translations are added to help you know that the translators could actually have rendered it in a different way or they give clarity as to why they chose to translate it the way they did.
For example, in Proverbs 17:8 again, in the TLB, there was a footnote. It says:
A bribe works like magic. Whoever uses it will prosper!
Footnote: “This is a fact, but not to be encouraged!”
If you see the same verse in TPT, it sounded totally different from the bribe/gift matter you find in other translations. It says
Wise instruction is like a costly gem. It turns the impossible into success.
If you are wondering how Brian Simmons came about ‘wise instruction’ where every other translation is saying ‘gift’ or ‘bribe’, he goes on to explain in the footnote for that verse.
““Instruction” is taken from the Aramaic and the Septuagint. The Hebrew reads “bribe.””
You see that? So he compared various manuscripts — Hebrew, Greek (the Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) and Aramaic — and he chooses to go with the way the verse was worded in the Aramaic and Septuagint.
So, again and again, I tell people; don’t just read the text; read the footnotes, too.
And lastly, consult multiple translations. By the time we do that, we see that many other translations make it sound like this proverb about bribery being a formula for prosperity applies FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE PERSON GIVING THE BRIBE. So it is not a proverb for us to emulate; it is a proverb showing the ignorance of the ‘briber’ because he thinks that he can bribe his way into anything. VOICE Translation puts this very clearly:
A bribe is like an enchanting charm to one who counts on it — everywhere he looks he sees the illusion of success.
So this translation, for example, makes it clear that the briber is disillusioned to think the way he thinks. After all, as verse 23 clearly states, bribery is a faulty mindset to embrace.
I hope this puts things in perspective for us.
Now to Proverbs 17:27-28
2. THE GIFT OF SILENCE — PROVERBS 17:27-28
(TPT) — “Can you bridle your tongue when your heart is under pressure? That’s how you show that you are wise. An understanding heart keeps you cool, calm, and collected, no matter what you’re facing. When even a fool bites his tongue he’s considered wise. So shut your mouth when you are provoked— it will make you look smart.”
For this verse, I will basically reshare a post I had shared with some young adults in my sphere of influence. It’s a based on a DM someone sent me having observed something I did on social media. I titled it “the gift of silence”.
THE GIFT OF SILENCE…
#iRemember | Episode 296
Today, I feel persuaded to share with you a message a dear friend and brother (who is now a member of this family) sent to me at 11pm on my birthday a couple of years ago.
Here’s a back story to begin with…
A couple of days before this message came, I was on my way to school when I stumbled on a post on Facebook. It was from a man of God that finished from the same institution where I had my undergraduate days. He posted something quite controversial and, in my opinion, highly misleading (for someone that has got a good following in the Body of Christ).
I usually keep my opinions to myself in such scenarios. More so, who am I to correct a ‘man of God’ who has been in the ministry longer than myself? But I felt persuaded of the Holy Spirit to drop a comment. It was neither too short nor too long. But I hoped it would help put things in perspective for some people that may wrestle with the post. (It’s something along the lines of asking for forgiveness of sins, which we’ve extensively discussed in a number of episodes here).
I saw (before I posted my comment) that the man had been responding to almost every comment, especially to people that held a different opinion to his submission. And most of the responses had been hostile, to say the least. So I kept an eye out for what he would say to my comment.
Eventually he replied. He lashed me and labelled me as being ‘ignorant’ in a number of words. I felt pained. Not by the comment but by the Holy Spirit’s persuasion to have poked my nose into such a thread in the first instance. But the Holy Spirit wasn’t done. In the heat of my pain, I thought to delete my comment, but the Holy Spirit said otherwise. In fact, He said to reply to the man’s reply and say “Thank you sir.”
That was even more painful. But I did. And then I disabled notifications for that particular post putting it behind me.
Then came this message few days later from my friend and brother:
You don’t even have to reply this sir.
I have been FORCED to do it, having had my heart broken severally simply by going through certain threads on Facebook.
I am not attempting to sow discord sir,
And I sure am not feeding the flesh through flattery.
If you read my heart in this, and maybe a post I once did on the same matter, you will see a true mixture of pain and delight.
I had the privilege of being part of a thread where a RESPECTED minister posted something, you replied and the response he gave was, let’s just say painful to my own heart.
And – the true lesson – you RESPECTFULLY walked away.
That’s not the first time I would personally witness you do that. And like always, I marked it and learnt.
Now like I said, if I wanted to do any of the two things I mentioned earlier, I would have done this a long time ago. But so I wasn’t misunderstood, I took it as one of those ‘silent and unintended’ (from your perspective) lessons.
But having read a lot of comments and posts from the same ‘quarters’ and ‘subquarters’, I just strongly felt to reach out and say this sir:
‘Some of us are watching and learning, praying you grace to grow more meek and humble, receiving strength to advance’.
That’s all sir.
Even your silence is teaching us sir. Keep at it.
I strongly desire you see that this message didn’t rise so as to emphasize whatever negativity came from anywhere, but to celebrate and still encourage whatever positive expression came from that incidence.
And that sir, sure isn’t flattery.
Good Night sir.
Again, I don’t know why God impressed this on my heart to share with you today. But I want you to know that even your silence is a teacher. The wise man said concerning silence, “The man of few words and settled mind is wise; therefore, even a fool is thought to be wise when he is silent. It pays him to keep his mouth shut.” (Proverbs 17:28 TLB)
I hope that helps someone today.
I pray you, too, grace to grow more meek and humble, receiving strength to advance IJN. Amen.
PS: #iRemember is a daily mentoring retrospective look at Chronicles of our past—my wife and I—drawing life lessons from past experiences. It is exclusive to members of Alive Mentorship Group—an online mentorship platform for young adults across the world that provides an avenue to learn practical life lessons across geographical barriers.