Proverbs 17:26-28

26 If imposing a fine on the innocent is not good,

   surely to flog honest officials is not right.

27 The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,

   and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.

28 Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,

   and discerning if they hold their tongues.

 

 Justice may be perverted intentionally (v.23), but it also can happen unintentionally. While one is an expression of wickedness, the other is neither “good” nor “right,” the distinction here being between intentions and results. The negligent official may impose sweeping fines and punishments in the name of justice, but such policies often do more harm than good. This is reminiscent of the third commandment, “you shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,” as whether evil is done in the name of justice or more tragically in the name of the Lord, judgement is based on results and not intentions. This is a serious thing, as “the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name,” neither is there impunity for those who misuse the name of justice.

 

 “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.” Self-restraint is proof of knowledge, but it is also the means by which knowledge is gained. Nobody can learn while they are speaking, and advice is useless if one hasn’t first listened. While even-temperedness may come naturally to some, it is a matter of necessity for the wise, as they know that their own understanding is at stake. One’s own understanding is the point of listening, just as helping others to understand is the point of speaking – what’s the use of a conversation that accomplishes nothing?

 

 “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” Those who don’t listen are better off keeping silent, as this brings them closer to wisdom. All discernment begins with foundational understanding, which for fools is in short supply. They may pass off their ignorance as open mindedness, but again it is better for them to simply keep silent. “An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.”

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