Would you please explain Proverbs 27:10?


Proverbs 27:10 reads: “Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend, nor go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity; Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.”

This statement could be easily misunderstood if we do not read the passage carefully. First of all, we must understand that Proverb 27:10 does not address “spiritual” brothers and sisters, but physical “brothers.”

The Pulpit Commentary states the following:

“A father’s friend is one who is connected with a family by hereditary and ancestral bonds… Such a one is to be cherished and regarded with the utmost affection… The tried friend is more likely to help and sympathize with you than even your own brother, for a friend is born for adversity, and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother… The mere blood relationship, which is the result of circumstances over which one has had no control, is inferior to the affectionate connection which arises from moral considerations and is the effect of deliberate choice.

“We must remember, too, that the practice of polygamy, with the separate establishments of the various wives, greatly weakened the tie of brotherhood. There was little love between David’s sons; and Jonathan was far dearer to David himself than any of his numerous brothers were.

“Better is a neighbor that is near than a brother far off. ‘Near’ and ‘far off’ may be taken as referring to feeling or to local position. In the former case the maxim says that a neighbor who is really attached to one by the bonds of affection is better than the closest [blood] relation who has no love or sympathy. In the latter view, the proverb enunciates the truth that a friend on the spot in time of calamity is more useful than a brother living at a distance… one is sure of help at once from the former, while application to the latter must occasion delay, and may not be successful…”

As we can see, the proverb has many facets and applications in a given circumstance.

The Soncino Commentary explains:

“‘thine … father’s friend.’ The text signifies ‘thy friend who is thy father’s friend,’ i.e. an old and tried friend of the family… ‘forsake not.’ … The teaching… is that in a grave emergency, look for assistance from a proved friend rather than from a kinsman, even a brother…”

We see, then, that the term “your father’s friend” does not only refer to the relationship between the father and his friend, but it also includes the tried and tested friendship between the father’s friend and the father’s son—he is a close friend of the entire family.

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible agrees that a father’s friend is a person who has been “long tried and proved, and found faithful,” adding: “Solomon valued his father’s friend Hiram, and kept up friendship with him; but Rehoboam his son forsook the counsel of the old men [who were] his father’s friends and counsellors, and followed the young men [who were] his new friends, and thereby lost ten tribes at once.”

Insofar as the “near” neighbor is concerned, Gill remarks that “a neighbor that is a fast and faithful friend, and who is not only near as to place but as to affections is more serviceable and useful to a man in time of distress than a brother though near in blood, yet as far off in place, so much more in affection, and from whom… little is to be expected…”

The understanding that the “near” neighbor and the “far away” brother include not only physical locality and distance, but also, and most importantly, spiritual and mental closeness or the lack thereof, is also expressed in the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:

“Joseph found more kindness with strangers than with his brethren… A neighbor near in heart, as well as in loyalty, is better than a brother as far off in love as he is in distance.”

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible agrees:

“‘Better is a neighbor’ who is really ‘near’ in heart and spirit, than a brother who though closer by blood, is ‘far off’ in feeling.”

Similarly the Amplified Bible, which renders Proverbs 27:10 as follows:

“Better is a neighbor who is near [in spirit] than a brother who is far off [in heart].”

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary adds this further admonition regarding a “brother”—regardless of whether he is near or far in locality:

“Depend not for relief upon a kinsman, merely for kindred’s sake; apply to those who are at hand, and will help in need.”

One of the most obvious applications regarding true friendship and brotherhood by blood can be seen in the life of Jesus Christ. His brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5), and they tried, at least once, to prevent Him from teaching God’s Word and to actually seize Him, because they thought that He was mad and “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21; 31-32). On the other hand, His disciples—the early Apostles—showed Him love and loyalty, generally speaking; especially Peter and John. But even they forsook Him in His time of need, prior to their conversion, showing that only the indwelling Holy Spirit can give us true godly love and establish lasting friendships.

A similar thought, as expressed in Proverbs 27:10, can be found in Proverbs 18:24: “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

True friendship is not to be judged (merely) by blood relationship, but by spiritual closeness and reliability of character.

At first glance, Proverbs 17:17 might appear to contradict the foregoing, but this is not really the case. The proverb states: “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.”

In conjunction with the other statements discussed herein, the obvious reference is to a true friend and to a brother who is ALSO a true friend.

The Benson Commentary states:

“A sincere and hearty friend not only loves in prosperity, but also in adversity, when false friends forsake us… [The brother] is so, not only by name and blood, but by brotherly affection. [Such a brother] is born for adversity… that he might comfort and relieve his brother in his adversity.”

The Ryrie Study Bible writes:

“When you are in trouble, you see who your friends are and how helpful a brother can be.”

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible goes a step further and explains that “in adversity” the true friend is born (i.e., becomes) a brother.”

This seems to be the correct understanding, as supported by the Soncino Commentary, which writes:

“… ‘a bother.’ Synonym for a true friend. David called Jonathan ‘my brother’ (2 Samuel 1:26), and Solomon used the word in connection with his friend Hiram of Tyre (1 Kings 9:13).”

The German Menge Bible agrees and renders Proverbs 17:17 in this way: “The (true) friend shows love at all times, and he is born as brother for the time of need.”

In this world, not too many close family relationships exist. Throughout man’s existence, we read about strife and fight between brothers. In addition to the examples mentioned so far, we might think of Cain who slew his brother Abel and the animosity between the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. We might also remember the parable of the “lost son” and the hostile reaction of the elder son when his younger brother repented (Luke 15:11-32). The Bible warns that in these end times, there would be friction and animosity in human families, especially due to the fact that some will understand and live by the truth, while others will oppose it (compare Matthew 10:34-36).

Christ made very clear as to who His true brothers and sisters were. When His half-brothers were trying to “speak” with Him, “He answered and said to the one who told Him, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:48-50).

This would include blood brothers who do the will of God. And so, the Bible speaks of blood brothers who were or became true friends. We read for instance of the early apostles and blood-brothers James and John, as well as Peter and Andrew (Matthew 10:2). Also, Christ’s half-brothers would have become TRUE friends towards each other AND, most importantly, of Jesus Christ, after Christ’s resurrection, continuing “with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:13-14). (For more information on Christ’s relatives and their conversion, please read our free booklet, Jesus Christ—a Great Mystery.”)

If we want to be true Christians, then we must be true friends and true (spiritual) brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ (John 15:14) and towards each other. Then, we will be nearby “neighbors” in times of need; sticking closer to each other than (unconverted) physical blood-brothers would do. As true friends, we will love at all times and as true spiritual brethren, we are “born” to help each other in adversity.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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