Proverbs 27:17
Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
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(17) So a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friendi.e., the play of wit with wit sharpens and brightens up the face.

Proverbs 27:17. Iron sharpeneth iron — Iron tools are made sharp, and fit for use, by rubbing them against the file, or some other iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend — Quickens his ingenuity, enlivens his affections, strengthens his judgment, excites him to virtuous and useful actions, and makes him, in all respects, a better man. The countenance is here put for the mind or spirit, the state and disposition of which are commonly visible in men’s countenances.27:15,16. The contentions of a neighbour may be like a sharp shower, troublesome for a time; the contentions of a wife are like constant rain. 17. We are cautioned to take heed whom we converse with. And directed to have in view, in conversation, to make one another wiser and better. 18. Though a calling be laborious and despised, yet those who keep to it, will find there is something to be got by it. God is a Master who has engaged to honour those who serve him faithfully. 19. One corrupt heart is like another; so are sanctified hearts: the former bear the same image of the earthly, the latter the same image of the heavenly. Let us carefully watch our own hearts, comparing them with the word of God. 20. Two things are here said to be never satisfied, death and sin. The appetites of the carnal mind for profit or pleasure are always desiring more. Those whose eyes are ever toward the Lord, are satisfied in him, and shall for ever be so. 21. Silver and gold are tried by putting them into the furnace and fining-pot; so is a man tried by praising him. 22. Some are so bad, that even severe methods do not answer the end; what remains but that they should be rejected? The new-creating power of God's grace alone is able to make a change. 23-27. We ought to have some business to do in this world, and not to live in idleness, and not to meddle with what we do not understand. We must be diligent and take pains. Let us do what we can, still the world cannot be secured to us, therefore we must choose a more lasting portion; but by the blessing of God upon our honest labours, we may expect to enjoy as much of earthly blessings as is good for us.The proverb expresses the gain of mutual counsel as found in clear, well-defined thoughts. Two minds, thus acting on each other, become more acute. This is better than to see in "sharpening" the idea of provoking, and the point of the maxim in the fact that the quarrels of those who have been friends are bitter in proportion to their previous intimacy. 17. a man sharpeneth … friend—that is, conversation promotes intelligence, which the face exhibits. Iron cutting tools are made bright, and sharp, and fit for use by rubbing them against the file, or some other iron. So a man, who being alone is sad, and dull, and unactive, by the company and conversation of his friend is greatly refreshed, his very wits are sharpened, and his spirit revived, and he is both fitted for and provoked to action.

The countenance is here put for the mind or spirit, whose temper or disposition is commonly visible in men’s countenances. Iron sharpeneth iron,.... A sword or knife made of iron is sharpened by it; so butchers sharpen their knives;

so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend; by conversation with him; thus learned men sharpen one another's minds, and excite each other to learned studies; Christians sharpen one another's graces, or stir up each other to the exercise of them, and the gifts which are bestowed on them, and to love and to good works. So Jarchi and Gersom understand it of the sharpening of men's minds to the learning of doctrine; but Aben Ezra, takes it in an ill sense, that as iron strikes iron and sharpens it, so a wrathful man irritates and provokes wrath in another. Some render the words, "as iron delighteth in iron, so a man rejoiceth the countenance of his friend", (i): by his company and conversation.

(i) "laetatur", a "laetari; ferrum in ferro laetatur, et virum laetificant ora socii ejus", Gussetius, p. 242. "ferrum ferro hiluratur, et vir exhilarat vultum sodalis sui", Schultens.

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a {g} man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

(g) One hasty man provokes another to anger.

17. sharpeneth] This has been understood to mean exasperates. Comp. Mine enemy sharpeneth his eyes upon me, Job 16:9 (where, however, the Hebrew word is different). But, as it is a friend that is spoken of here, it is better to take the proverb in a good sense. See for illustrations, 1 Kings 10:1; 1 Kings 10:3; Acts 28:15.

The effect, however, is mutual, not like that of the whetstone to which Horace compares the critic,


Reddere quæ ferrum valet, exsors ipsa secandi.

De Art. Poet. 304, 5.Verse 17. - Iron sharpeneth iron. The proverb deals with the influence which men have upon one another. So a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. So the Vulgate, Homo exacuit faciem amici sui. The action of the file is probably meant (1 Samuel 13:21); and the writer names iron as the sharpener rather than the whetstone, because he wishes to denote that one man is of the same nature as another, and that this identity is that which makes mutual action possible and advantageous. Some have taken the proverb in a bad sense, as if it meant that one angry word leads to another, one man's passion excites another's rage. Thus Aben Ezra. The Septuagint perhaps supports this notion by rendering, Ἀνὴρ δὲ παροξύνει πρόσωπον ἑταίρου. But the best commentators understand the maxim to say that intercourse with other men influences the manner, appearance, deportment, and character of a man, sharpens his wits, controls his conduct, and brightens his very face. Horace uses the same figure of speech, 'Ars Poet.,' 304 -

"Fungar vice cotis, acutum
Reddere quae ferrum valet, exsors ipsa secaudi."
On the subject of mutual intercourse Euripides says, 'Androm.,' 683 -

Ἡ δ ὁμυλία
Πάντων βροτοῖσι γίγνεται διδάσκαλος

Is that which teaches mortals everything."
This proverb has, in common with the preceding tristich, the form of an address:

Become wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice,

That I may give an answer to my accusers.

Better than "be wise" (Luther), we translate "become wise" (lxx σοφὸς γίνου); for he who is addressed might indeed be wise, though not at present so, so that his father is made to listen to such deeply wounding words as these, "Cursed be he who begat, and who educated this man" (Malbim). The cohortative clause 11b (cf. Psalm 119:42) has the force of a clause with a purpose (Gesen. 128:1): ut habeam quod iis qui me convicientur regerere possim; it does not occur anywhere in the Hezekiah collection except here.

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