Proverbs 17:24
Wisdom is the focus of the discerning, but the eyes of a fool wander to the ends of the earth.
Common FolliesJames Stalker, D. D.Proverbs 17:24
Contrast Between a Wise Man and a FoolHomilistProverbs 17:24
The Nearness of Life's Interest and WorkD. M. Ross, M. A.Proverbs 17:24
Fatherhood and SonshipW. Clarkson Proverbs 17:6, 21, 25
Use and NeglectW. Clarkson Proverbs 17:16, 24
Varied Experiences of Good and Evil in LifeE. Johnson Proverbs 17:21-28

We may divide them into the sorrowful, the joyous, and the mixed experiences.

I. SAD EXPERIENCES. The sorrow of thankless children. (Vers. 21, 25.) To name it is enough for thereto who have known it. It has its analogue in Divine places. How pathetically does the Bible speak of the grief of God over the rebellious children he has nourished and brought up! and of Christ's lamentation as of a mother over Jerusalem! Let us remember that our innocent earthly sorrows are reflected in the bosom of our God.

II. JOYOUS EXPERIENCES. (Ver. 22.) The blessing of a cheerful heart, who can overprize it in relation to personal health, to social charm and helpfulness? Contrasted with the troubled spirit, like a parching fever in the bones, it is the perpetual sap of life and source of all its greenness and its fruit. A simple faith is the best known source of cheerfulness. It was a fine remark of a good friend of Dr. Johnson's, that "he had tried to be a philosopher, but somehow always found cheerfulness creeping in."


1. The briber. (Ver. 23.) How strongly marked is this sin in the denunciations of the Bible! and yet how little the practice seems affected in a land which boasts above others of its love for the Bible! The stealth and so the shame, the evil motive, the perverse result, all are branded here. "He that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, he shall dwell on high" (Isaiah 33:15).

2. The quick perception of wisdom and the warning glance of folly. The one sees before him what is to be known or done at once; the other is lost in cloudy musings. The more a man gapes after vanity, the more foolish the heart becomes. In religion we see this temper in the restless roving to and fro, the constant query, "Who will show us any good?" "He is full of business at church; a stranger at home; a sceptic abroad; an observer in the street; everywhere a fool.

3. Harshness in judges. (Ver. 26.) Fining and flogging are mentioned. The writer had observed some such scene with the horror of a just man. Inequity or inhumanity in the judge seems an insult against the eternal throne of Jehovah.

4. The wisdom of a calm temper and economy of words. (Vers. 27, 28.) An anxiety to talk is the mark of a shallow mind. The knowledge of the season of silence and reserve may be compared to the wisdom of the general who knows when to keep his forces back and when to launch them at the foe. The composed spirit comes from the knowledge that truth will prevail in one way or another, and the time for our utterance will arrive. Lastly, the wisdom of silence, so often preached by great men. Even the fool may gain some credit for wisdom which he does not possess by holding his tongue; and this is an index of the reality. Our great example here is the silence of Jesus, continued for thirty years; out of that silence a voice at length proceeded that will ever vibrate through the world. - J.

Wisdom is before him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.
"Far fowls have fine feathers" — that is our modern rendering of the Hebrew proverb. Both proverbs are directed against a common weakness of human nature, our English proverb hitting it off with a good-natured smile, the Hebrew proverb rebuking it with the bluntness of a moral censor. To make little of what is at our door, and to magnify what is distant, is a familiar way in which the weakness of human nature shows itself. It is a weakness to which most of us must plead guilty, and it is a weakness which proves itself a formidable enemy of spiritual life. There is no chance of our achieving anything great in the spiritual life while we hug the delusion that greatness is to be found far off in space or in time, and that its only congenial surroundings are far different from those in which we find ourselves. The wise man knows where to look for the interest and grandeur of life; he knows they are to be found near at hand, even at his own door. Two directions in which this lesson is needed.

I. WE MAY LOOK FOR THE INTEREST OF LIFE IN THE WRONG PLACE. It is difficult to see the spiritual in what is commonplace, the great in what is near, the sacred in what is ordinary. Men go to far-off lands seeking beauty which can be found almost at their doors. The romance of life has often been sought far afield, while all the time a nobler romance was to be found around the door. The wisest delineators of human life have found its romance near home. One reason of the popularity of George Eliot's novels lies just here, that she has taken up the lives of ordinary people, and shown, with fine sympathy, how rich in interest is the common life of the common people. It is of supreme importance for the living of a Christian life that we should have our interest kept fresh and rightly directed. It is not only the flesh that wars against the spirit, but listlessness; not only positive sins, but the deadening weight of the conviction that we are set down in the midst of dull commonplace. Our enthusiasm needs to be aroused, and the rousing of our enthusiasm must spring from the conviction that there is something within our reach worth being enthusiastic about. That conviction often fails us just because we commit the folly which our proverb reproves. Immanuel Kant was never more than a few miles from his native Konigsberg. He found in the human mind a field of study exhaustless in its scope and interest. If the life of our town is dull it is because our own souls are dull. The insipidity and commonplaceness of which we complain belong to our own vision.

II. WE MAY LOOK FOR THE WORK OF LIFE IN THE WRONG PLACE. The one error is linked with the other. From false views of life there spring erroneous conceptions of the work we may accomplish. It is not circumstances that make a man spiritually great, but the way in which he handles the circumstances. Spiritual greatness springs not from without, but from within. It matters little what may be the rough material put into our hands. The spiritual product we turn out depends upon the spirit in which we work. Our work is not far off in the ends of the earth; it is close beside us. These are no tame, prosaic days in which we live. They may be days of trouble, and unrest, and upheaval, but the Spirit of God is moving as of old upon the face of the waters. We need not sigh for the opportunity of playing our part in the movements of other days. The movements of to-day are enough for our faith, and energy, and devotion.

(D. M. Ross, M. A.)

I. THAT THE ONE HAS A MEANING, THE OTHER AN UNMEANING FACE. One translator renders the words "In the countenance of a wise man wisdom appeareth, but the fool's eyes roll to and fro." God has so formed man that his face is the index to his soul; it is the dial-plate of the mental clock. A wise man's face looks wisdom — calm, devout, reflective. The fool's face looks folly. As the translucent lake reflects the passing clouds and rolling lights of sky, so does the human countenance mirror the soul.

II. THAT THE ONE HAS AN OCCUPIED THE OTHER A VACANT MIND. The meaning of Solomon perhaps may be wisdom as before, that is, present, with the man that hath understanding. The principles of wisdom are in his mind, are ever before his eye. Wisdom is "before" his mind in every circumstance and condition. Its rule, the Word of God, is before him. Its principle, the love of God, is before him. Thus he has an occupied mind. But the mind of the fool is vacant. His "eyes are in the ends of the earth." He has nothing before him, nothing true, or wise, or good. He looks at emptiness. Alas! how vacant the mind of a morally unwise man! It is a vessel without ballast, at the mercy of the winds and waves. His thoughts are unsubstantial, his hopes are illusory, the sphere of his conscious life a mirage.

III. THAT THE ONE HAS A SETTLED, THE OTHER AN UNSETTLED HEART. The morally wise man is fixed, wisdom is before him and his heart is on it. He is rooted and grounded in the faith. He is not used by circumstances, but he makes circumstances serve him. But the fool is unsettled, his "eyes are in the ends of the earth." His mind, like the evil spirit, walks to and fro through the earth, seeking rest and finding none.


If the eyes are in the ends of the earth, they cannot be here, where, probably, the work and duty lie. The man will stumble over obstacles which he would see if his eyes were where they should be, and he wilt lose his way. This is a common kind of folly, and appears under different aspects.

I. THE FOLLY OF DISCONTENT. A man's eyes may be said to be in the ends of the earth if he thinks his happiness lies in a different sphere from that which Providence has allotted to him. The grumbling spirit is widespread, and is not confined to any class of the community. Sometimes the round man is put into the square hole. God does not invariably wish a man to stay for ever in the place where he has been dropped. The mistake is when we so allow these feelings to work in us that they make us disheartened where we are. Some time the tide of opportunity rises to every man's feet, and happy is he if he is ready to take it when his hour comes. But if it does not come, what then? Why, then we must surely conclude that God needs us where we are.

II. THE FOLLY OF THE SCORNER. A person's eyes are in the ends of the earth if the objects of his admiration are all people he has never seen, and if he has nothing but contempt for those among whom he lives. If the only causes that can awaken your enthusiasm are causes belonging to past centuries, if all your heroes are men who are dead, and you have no living heroes, your eyes are in the ends of the earth. Some go to romance and poetry for the objects of their admiration. But it is one thing to pity the poor in a book, and quite a different thing to pity them in the flesh.

III. THE FOLLY OF THE BUSYBODY. A person's eyes are in the ends of the earth when he occupies his eyes with the affairs of other people and neglects his own. The gossip; the loud-mouthed politician; the satirist who lashes the iniquities of the times, and who himself is the slave of the same vices. A wise man said that ours is an age when every man wants to reform the world and no one is willing to reform himself.

IV. THE FOLLY OF THE PROCRASTINATOR. A man's eyes are in the ends of the earth if he is looking forward to the proper use of future time and not making proper use of present time. We all do it. How easy and pleasant is the duty which is going to be done to-morrow! Some are committing this folly in regard to the most important of all concerns — the concern of the soul and eternity. This is a threefold folly.

1. The future opportunity may never come.

2. If it does come, can you be sure that you will then be anxious about eternity?

3. You can only have a mean and selfish conception of religion if you defer it to some future time. You are going to spend your life on yourself, going to give it to the devil, and at last going to creep to Christ and get Him to take you into heaven and save you from the consequences of your sin. Can you hold your face up to a conception of religion like that? Christ wants your life — wants to make it year by year more and more useful and noble.

(James Stalker, D. D.)

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