FOUR MORE KINDS OF proverbs appear in Proverbs 17:
(1) Several proverbs offer an evaluative comparison introduced by the word better. “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet / than a house full of feasting, with strife” (Prov. 17:1). “Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs / than a fool in his folly” (Prov. 17:12). The first of these two provides a value judgment to be observed and cherished; the second makes an important assessment of the “fool,” with an implied warning to avoid such company. There are many of these “better” proverbs in other chapters—e.g., “Better to be lowly in spirit among the oppressed / than to share plunder with the proud” (Prov. 16:19); “Better to live on a corner of the roof / than to share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (Prov. 21:9).
(2) A few proverbs take the form of rhetorical questions. “Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, / since he has no desire to get wisdom?” (Prov. 17:16). This one is quite wonderful. It suggests that using money in ways that do not make you “wise” is so unprofitable that you would be better off without money.
(3) Some proverbs seem quite simple, but include an unexpected element that prompts the reader to ponder what is being said. “A wicked man listens to evil lips; / a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue” (Prov. 17:4). One might have expected “A wicked man speaks with evil lips; / a liar deploys his malicious tongue.” That would be true, but comparatively prosaic. The evil lips and the malicious tongue in Proverbs 17:4 are doubtless wicked, but the writer does not pause to argue the point. Rather, he focuses on the character of those who listen to evil lips, on those who pay attention to the malicious tongue. Perhaps the worst punishment of liars is not that they are not believed, but that they do not believe truth but prefer lies—both their own and the lies of others. And what does this proverb say about a culture that loves juicy sleaze, or comforting half-truths, or squalid, vacuous violence? Who buys the porn and the cash register “newspapers”? Such organs cannot stay in business if there is no market. How could local church gossips keep in business if they did not find ready ears—wicked ears, according to this proverb?
(4) A surprising number of proverbs tell us explicitly what the Lord does. Often we are told what the Lord loves or detests, to help us form our own values; but sometimes it is something else, such as, “[T]he LORD tests the heart” (Prov. 17:3); “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the LORD detests them both” (Prov. 17:15). For other examples, read Proverbs 15:8, 9, 25, 26, 29; 16:4.