Proverbs is an anthology of collections of sayings and instructions. Many of the sayings and perhaps some instructions were composed in the monarchic period (late eleventh to the early sixth centuries). Editing of the whole book was done in the early postexilic period, in the view of most scholars; at that time chaps. 1–9 would have been added as the introduction. Whether the material originated among royal scribes (as 25:1 seems to suggest) imitating common literary genres, or whether it arose among tribal elders inculcating traditional ways, is disputed. The origin of the material, however, need not be imagined in an either/or scenario. Folk wisdom and observations could surely have been elaborated and re-expressed by learned scribes: “What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed” (Alexander Pope). There can be no doubt, however, that Proverbs is sophisticated literature by talented writers, winning readers with its compelling portrait of wisdom and inviting them to see life afresh, “wisely,” through its wit, originality, and shrewd observation.
The primary purpose of the book is to teach wisdom, not only to the young and inexperienced (1:2–4) but also to the advanced (1:5–6). Wisdom in the ancient Near East was not theoretical knowledge but practical expertise. Jewelers who cut precious stones were wise; kings who made their dominion peaceful and prosperous were wise. One could be wise in daily life, too, in knowing how to live successfully (having a prosperous household and living a long and healthy life) and without trouble in God’s universe. Ultimately wisdom, or “sound guidance” (1:5), aims at the formation of character.
In the ancient Near East, people assumed that wisdom belonged to the gods, who were wise by reason of their divinity; human beings needed to have wisdom granted them by the gods. Creation accounts of neighboring cultures depict creation in two stages. In the first stage, human beings lived an animal-like existence, without clothes, writing, or kingship (proper governance). Over time, the gods came to realize that such a low grade of existence made the human race inadequate as their servants, so they endowed the race with “wisdom,” which consisted of culture (e.g., kingship) and crafts (e.g., knowledge of farming, ability to weave). Such wisdom elevated the race to a “human” level and made them effective servants of the gods. Furthermore, divine wisdom was mediated to human beings through earthly institutions—the king, scribes (who produced wise writings), and heads of families (fathers, sometimes mothers). These traditional mediators appear in Proverbs: the book is credited to King Solomon, and kings are respectfully mentioned as pillars of society (e.g., 16:12–15); writings are a source of wisdom (1:1–7); the father instructing his son is the major paradigm of teaching. Proverbs differs, however, from other wisdom books in concentrating on wisdom itself, treating it as a virtually independent entity and personifying it as an attractive woman. Other books urge readers to perform wise acts, but Proverbs urges them to seek wisdom itself and portrays wisdom as a woman seeking human beings as disciples and companions.
Chapters 1–9 introduce the book, drawing attention to wisdom itself and its inherent value rather than exhorting to particular wise actions. The chapters personify wisdom as a woman and draw an extended analogy between finding a wife, or founding and maintaining a house(hold), and finding wisdom. The collections following chap. 9 consist largely of independent, two-line sayings, yielding their often indirect or paradoxical meaning only to readers willing to ponder them. To reflect on the sayings is perhaps what chaps. 1–9 mean by living with Wisdom and dwelling in her house.
The Book of Proverbs can make an important contribution to Christians and Jews today. First, it places the pursuit of wisdom over the performance of individual wise acts. To seek wisdom above all things is a fundamental option and a way of life. Second, it portrays the quest as filled with obstacles. There are men and women who offer a substitute for the real thing; discernment is required. Third, the book teaches that acquiring wisdom is both a human task and a divine gift. One can make oneself ready to receive by discipline, but one cannot take so divine a gift. Fourth, wisdom is in the world but it is not obvious to people entirely caught up with daily activities. The instructions and the aphorisms of the book can free the mind to see new things. Christians will see in personified Wisdom aspects of Jesus Christ, who they believe is divine wisdom sent to give human beings true and full life. Yet there is a universal dimension to Proverbs, for in its attention to human experience it creates a link to all people of good will.
The genres and themes of Proverbs continued on in Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, and the later Pirqe Abot (The Sayings of the Fathers), a treatise in the Mishnah, which became the object of commentary in Abot de Rabbi Nathan. The New Testament saw Jesus as a wisdom teacher and employed the tradition of personified wisdom of chaps. 2 and 8 to express his incarnation. The Letter of James is an instruction resembling those in Proverbs. Wisdom traditions influenced the Gospels of Matthew and Luke through a common source (see, e.g., Mt 11:25–27 and Lk 10:21–22, which seem to derive their father-son language, at least in part, from the parental language of Proverbs). The Gospel of John regards Jesus as incarnate wisdom descended from on high to offer human beings life and truth and make disciples of them, a view largely reflected in Proverbs 1–9. In later Judaism, Hebrew ethical wills, in which parents hand on to their children their wisdom, borrowed from the genre of instruction.
The original audience of the instructions and sayings seems to have been male. The father addresses his son, marriage is finding a wife, success often is serving the king or farming effectively. The book itself, however, expands the traditional audience of youths (1:4) to include older, more experienced, people (1:5). It broadens the father-son language by mentioning the mother, and incorporates sayings on human experience generally. The father teaching his son becomes a model for anyone teaching a way of life to another person. The canonical process furthered such inclusiveness, for Proverbs was made part of the Bible that addresses all Israel.
The Book of Proverbs has nine sections:
Part II is judged by many scholars to contain ten instructions (1:8–19; chap. 2; 3:1–12, 21–35; 4:1–9, 10–19, 20–27; chap. 5; 6:20–35; chap. 7), three wisdom poems (1:20–33; chap. 8; 9:1–6 + 11, 13–18), and two interludes (3:13–20; 6:1–19).
1The proverbs* of Solomon,a the son of David,
king of Israel:
2That people may know wisdom and discipline,*
may understand intelligent sayings;
3May receive instruction in wise conduct,
in what is right, just and fair;
4That resourcefulness may be imparted to the naive,*
knowledge and discretion to the young.
5The wise by hearing them will advance in learning,
the intelligent will gain sound guidance,
6To comprehend proverb and byword,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7Fear of the LORD* is the beginning of knowledge;b
fools despise wisdom and discipline.
8Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and reject not your mother’s teaching;
9A graceful diadem will they be for your head;
a pendant for your neck.
10My son, should sinners entice you,
11do not go if they say, “Come along with us!
Let us lie in wait for blood,
unprovoked, let us trap the innocent;
12Let us swallow them alive, like Sheol,
whole, like those who go down to the pit!
13All kinds of precious wealth shall we gain,
we shall fill our houses with booty;
14Cast in your lot with us,
we shall all have one purse!”
15My son, do not walk in the way with them,
hold back your foot from their path!
16[For their feet run to evil,
they hasten to shed blood.c]
17In vain a net is spread*
right under the eyes of any bird—
18They lie in wait for their own blood,
they set a trap for their own lives.
19This is the way of everyone greedy for loot:
it takes away their lives.
20Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the open squares she raises her voice;d
21Down the crowded ways she calls out,
at the city gates she utters her words:
22* “How long, you naive ones, will you love naivete,
23How long will you turn away at my reproof?
[The arrogant delight in their arrogance,
and fools hate knowledge.]
Lo! I will pour out to you my spirit,
I will acquaint you with my words:
24‘Because I called and you refused,
extended my hand and no one took notice;e
25Because you disdained all my counsel,
and my reproof you ignored—
26I, in my turn, will laugh at your doom;
will mock when terror overtakes you;
27When terror comes upon you like a storm,
and your doom approaches like a whirlwind;
when distress and anguish befall you.’
28Then they will call me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me, but will not find me,
29Because they hated knowledge,
and the fear of the LORD they did not choose.
30They ignored my counsel,
they spurned all my reproof;
31Well, then, they shall eat the fruit* of their own way,
and with their own devices be glutted.
32For the straying of the naive kills them,
the smugness of fools destroys them.
33But whoever obeys me dwells in security,
in peace, without fear of harm.”f
* [1:1–7] The prologue explains the purpose of the book. The book has a sapiential, ethical, and religious dimension: to bring the inexperienced to knowledge and right conduct, to increase the facility of those already wise for interpreting proverbs, parables and riddles, and to encourage the fulfillment of one’s duties to God.
* [1:1] Proverbs: the Hebrew word mashal is broader than English “proverb,” embracing the instructions of chaps. 1–9 and the sayings, observations, and comparisons of chaps. 10–31.
* [1:2] Discipline: education or formation which dispels ignorance and corrects vice. Note the reprise of v. 2a in v. 7b.
* [1:4] Naive: immature, inexperienced, sometimes the young, hence easily influenced for good or evil.
* [1:7] Fear of the LORD: primarily a disposition rather than the emotion of fear; reverential awe and respect toward God combined with obedience to God’s will.
* [1:8–19] A parental warning to a young person leaving home, for them to avoid the company of the greedy and violent. Two ways lie before the hearer, a way that leads to death and a way that leads to life. The trap which the wicked set for the innocent (v. 11) in the end takes away the lives of the wicked themselves (v. 19). This theme will recur especially in chaps. 1–9. A second theme introduced here is that of founding (or managing) a household and choosing a spouse. A third theme is the human obstacles to attaining wisdom. Here (and in 2:12–15 and 4:10–19), the obstacle is men (always in the plural); in 2:16–19; 5:1–6; 6:20–35; chap. 7; 9:13–18, the obstacle to the quest is the “foreign” woman (always in the singular).
* [1:17] A difficult verse. The most probable interpretation is that no fowler lifts up the net so the bird can see it. The verse might be paraphrased: God does not let those who walk on evil paths see the net that will entrap them. The passive construction (“a net is spread”) is sometimes used to express divine activity. Verse 16 is a later attempt to add clarity. It is a quotation from Is 59:7 and is not in the best Greek manuscripts.
* [1:20–33] Wisdom is personified as in chaps. 8 and 9:1–6. With divine authority she proclaims the moral order, threatening to leave to their own devices those who disregard her invitation. All three speeches of Woman Wisdom have common features: a setting in city streets; an audience of simple or naive people; a competing appeal (chap. 7 is the competing appeal for chap. 8); an invitation to a relationship that brings long life, riches, repute.
The structure of the speeches is: A: setting (vv. 20–21); B: Wisdom’s withdrawal, rebuke and announcement (vv. 22–23); reason and rejection I (vv. 24–27); reason and rejection II (vv. 28–31); summary (v. 32); C: the effects of Wisdom’s presence (v. 33). Wisdom’s opening speech is an extended threat ending with a brief invitation (v. 33). Her second speech is an extended invitation ending with a brief threat (8:36). The surprisingly abrupt and harsh tone of her speech is perhaps to be explained as a response to the arrogant words of the men in the previous scene (1:8–19).
* [1:22–23] There is textual confusion. Verse 22bc (in the third person) is an addition, interrupting vv. 22a and 23a (in the second person). The addition has been put in brackets, to separate it from the original poem. The original verses do not ask for a change of heart but begin to detail the consequences of disobedience to Wisdom.
* [1:31] Eat the fruit: sinners are punished by the consequences of their sins. Wisdom’s voice echoes that of the parents in vv. 8–19. The parents mediate wisdom in vv. 8–19, but here Wisdom herself speaks.
a. [1:1] Prv 10:1; 25:1; 1 Kgs 4:32.
b. [1:7] Prv 9:10; Jb 28:28; Ps 111:10; Sir 1:16.
c. [1:16] Is 59:7.
d. [1:20] Prv 8:1–3; 9:3.
e. [1:24] Is 65:2, 12; 66:4; Jer 7:13.
f. [1:33] Prv 8:33–34.
1My son, if you receive my words
and treasure my commands,
2Turning your ear to wisdom,*
inclining your heart to understanding;
3Yes, if you call for intelligence,
and to understanding raise your voice;
4If you seek her like silver,
and like hidden treasures search her out,
5Then will you understand the fear of the LORD;
the knowledge of God you will find;
6For the LORD gives wisdom,
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;a
7He has success in store for the upright,
is the shield of those who walk honestly,
8Guarding the paths of justice,
protecting the way of his faithful ones,
9Then you will understand what is right and just,
what is fair, every good path;
10For wisdom will enter your heart,
knowledge will be at home in your soul,
11Discretion will watch over you,
understanding will guard you;
12* Saving you from the way of the wicked,
from those whose speech is perverse.
13From those who have left the straight paths
to walk in the ways of darkness,
14Who delight in doing evil
and celebrate perversity;
15Whose ways are crooked,
whose paths are devious;
16* Saving you from a stranger,
from a foreign woman with her smooth words,b
17One who forsakes the companion of her youth
and forgets the covenant of her God;
18For her path sinks down to death,
and her footsteps lead to the shades.* c
19None who enter there come back,
or gain the paths of life.
20Thus you may walk in the way of the good,
and keep to the paths of the just.
21* For the upright will dwell in the land,d
people of integrity will remain in it;
22But the wicked will be cut off from the land,
the faithless will be rooted out of it.
* [2:1–22] Chapter 2 is a single poem, an acrostic of twenty-two lines, the number of consonants in the Hebrew alphabet. In vv. 1–11, the letter aleph, the first letter of the alphabet, predominates, and in vv. 12–22, the letter lamed, the first letter of the second half of the alphabet. A single structure runs through the whole: if (aleph) you search…then (aleph) the Lord/Wisdom will grant…saving (lamed) you from the wicked man/woman…thus (lamed) you can walk in the safe way….
* [2:2–3] Wisdom…understanding…intelligence: various names or aspects of the same gift.
* [2:12–15] As in 1:8–19, there is an obstacle to the quest for wisdom—deceitful and violent men. Cf. also 4:10–19. They offer a way of life that is opposed to the way of wisdom.
* [2:16–19] A second obstacle and counter-figure to Wisdom, personified as an attractive woman, is the “stranger,” or “foreigner,” from outside the territory or kinship group, hence inappropriate as a marriage partner. In Proverbs she comes to be identified with Woman Folly, whose deceitful words promise life but lead to death. Woman Folly appears also in chap. 5, 6:20–35, chap. 7 and 9:13–18. Covenant: refers to the vow uttered with divine sanction at the woman’s previous marriage, as the parallel verse suggests. She is already married and relations with her would be adulterous.
* [2:18] Shades: the inhabitants of Sheol.
* [2:21–22] Verses 21–22 echo the ending of Wisdom’s speech in 1:32–33, in which refusing Wisdom’s invitation meant death and obedience to her meant life. The same set of ideas is found in Ps 37 (especially vv. 3, 9, 11, 22, 29, 34, and 38): to live on (or inherit) the land and to be uprooted from the land are expressions of divine recompense.
a. [2:6] Jb 32:8; Wis 7:25; Sir 1:1; Jas 1:5.
b. [2:16] Prv 5:3, 20; 6:24; 7:5; 22:14.
c. [2:18] Prv 5:5; 7:27.
d. [2:21] Prv 10:7, 30; Jb 18:17; Ps 21:9–13; 37:22, 28.
1My son, do not forget* my teaching,
take to heart my commands;
2For many days, and years of life,a
and peace, will they bring you.
3Do not let love and fidelity forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4Then will you win favor and esteem
before God and human beings.
5Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
on your own intelligence do not rely;
6In all your ways be mindful of him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7Do not be wise in your own eyes,b
fear the LORD and turn away from evil;
8This will mean health for your flesh
and vigor for your bones.
9Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with first fruits of all your produce;c
10Then will your barns be filled with plenty,
with new wine your vats will overflow.
11The discipline of the LORD, my son, do not spurn;d
do not disdain his reproof;
12* For whom the LORD loves he reproves,
as a father, the son he favors.e
13Happy the one who finds wisdom,
the one who gains understanding!f
14Her profit is better than profit in silver,
and better than gold is her revenue;
15She is more precious than corals,
and no treasure of yours can compare with her.g
16Long life is in her right hand,
in her left are riches and honor;
17Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace;
18She is a tree of life* to those who grasp her,
and those who hold her fast are happy.h
19The LORD by wisdom founded the earth,
established the heavens by understanding;
20By his knowledge the depths* are split,
and the clouds drop down dew.
21My son, do not let these slip from your sight:
hold to deliberation and planning;
22So will they be life to your soul,*
and an adornment for your neck.
23Then you may go your way securely;
your foot will never stumble;
24When you lie down, you will not be afraid,
when you rest, your sleep will be sweet.
25Do not be afraid of sudden terror,
of the ruin of the wicked when it comes;
26For the LORD will be your confidence,
and will keep your foot from the snare.
27Do not withhold any goods from the owner
when it is in your power to act.
28Say not to your neighbor, “Go, come back tomorrow,
and I will give it to you,” when all the while you have it.
29Do not plot evil against your neighbors,
when they live at peace with you.
30Do not contend with someone without cause,
with one who has done you no harm.
31Do not envy the violent
and choose none of their ways:i
32To the LORD the devious are an abomination,
but the upright are close to him.
33The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked,
but the dwelling of the just he blesses;
34Those who scoff, he scoffs at,j
but the lowly he favors.
35The wise will possess glory,
but fools will bear shame.
* [3:1–12] The instruction consists of a series of six four-line exhortations in which the second line of each exhortation mentions a reward or benefit. In the first five exhortations, the teacher promises a reward: long life, a good name, divine protection, health, abundant crops. The last exhortation, vv. 11–12, departs from the command-reward scheme, implying that being a disciple of the Lord does not guarantee unalloyed bliss: one must allow God freedom to “reprove” or educate. The process of education is like that described in chap. 2: the father first invites his son (or disciple) to memorize his teaching (v. 1), then to enter upon a relationship of trust with him (v. 3), and finally to place his trust in God, who takes up the parental task of education (v. 5). Education begun by the parent is brought to full completion by God.
* [3:1] Do not forget: this word and several others in the section such as “teaching,” “commands,” “years of life,” and the custom of affixing written teaching to one’s body, occur also in Deuteronomy. This vocabulary suggests that Proverbs and Deuteronomy had a common origin in the scribal class of Jerusalem. This section (and vv. 21–34) subtly elaborates Dt 6:5–9, “You shall love the LORD with all your heart (v. 5)…Take to heart these words (v. 1)…Recite them when you are at home and when you are away (v. 23)…when you lie down (v. 24)…Bind them (v. 3) on your arm as a sign and let them be a pendant on your forehead” (v. 21).
* [3:12] One might be tempted to judge the quality of one’s relationship to God by one’s prosperity. It is an inadequate criterion, for God as a teacher might go counter to student expectations. The discipline of God can involve suffering.
* [3:13–20] An encomium of Wisdom through the listing of her benefits to the human race and the depiction of her role in creation. Wisdom, or understanding, is more valuable than silver and gold. Its fruit is long life, riches, honor and happiness (vv. 13–18). Even the creation of the universe and its adornment (Gn 1) were not done without wisdom (vv. 19–20). The praise of Wisdom foreshadows the praise of a noble wife in the final poem (31:10–31), even to the singling out of the hands extended in a helpful way toward human beings.
* [3:18] A tree of life: in the Old Testament this phrase occurs only in Proverbs (11:30; 13:12; 15:4) and Genesis (2:9; 3:22, 24). The origins of the concept are obscure; there is no explicit mention of it in ancient Near Eastern literature, though on ancient seals trees are sometimes identified as trees of life. When the man and the woman were expelled from the garden, the tree of life was put off limits to them, lest they “eat of it and live forever” (Gn 3:22). The quest for wisdom gives access to the previously sequestered tree of life. The tree of life is mentioned also in the apocryphal work 1 Enoch 25:4–5. Rev 2 and 22 mention the tree of life as a source of eternal life.
* [3:20] Depths: for the Hebrews, the depths enclosed the great subterranean waters; the rain and dew descended from the waters above the firmament; cf. Gn 1:6–10; Jb 26:8, 12; Ps 18:15; 24:2. The cosmogony provides the reason why Wisdom offers such benefits to human beings: the world was created in wisdom so that all who live in accord with wisdom live in tune with the universe.
* [3:21–35] As in other instructions, the father in vv. 21–26 urges the son to seek wisdom, which in this case means practicing the virtues of “deliberation and planning,” a specification of wisdom. Practicing these virtues brings protection from violence (vv. 22–26) and friendship with God (vv. 32–35). The language is like Ps 91.
Verses 27–35 are arranged according to a clear order. Serving God requires serving one’s neighbor through kindness (vv. 27–28), maintaining peace with the good (vv. 29–31), having no envy of the wicked (v. 31), because the Lord’s friendship and kindness are with the just, not with the wicked. Matching the six exhortations of vv. 1–12, vv. 27–34 contain six prohibitions. The righteous/wicked contrast is progressively developed: in contrast to the wicked, the righteous are in God’s inner circle, their houses are blessed, they deal with a merciful God, and obtain honor.
* [3:22] Your soul: Heb. nephesh means “throat, esophagus; life; soul.” The meanings are connected. The throat area is the moist, breathing center of the body, which stands for life and for self. The figure of speech is called metonymy, in which one word is substituted for another on the basis of a causal relation, e.g., eye for sight, arm for power, or, as here, “throat area” for life. Proverbs sometimes plays on this concrete meaning of life (e.g., 21:23).
a. [3:2] Prv 4:10; 9:11; 10:27.
b. [3:7] Rom 11:25; 12:16.
c. [3:9] Ex 34:26; Lv 27:30; Dt 26:2; Sir 7:31; 35:7.
d. [3:11] Heb 12:5–6.
e. [3:12] Jdt 8:27; Rev 3:19.
f. [3:13] Prv 8:34–35.
g. [3:15] Prv 8:11, 19; Wis 7:8–11.
h. [3:18] Prv 4:13; 8:35; 11:30; Gn 2:9; 3:22.
i. [3:31] Prv 23:17; 24:1, 19; Ps 37:1.
j. [3:34] Prv 1:26.
1Hear, O children, a father’s instruction,
be attentive, that you may gain understanding!
2Yes, excellent advice I give you;
my teaching do not forsake.
3When I was my father’s child,
tender, the darling of my mother,
4He taught me and said to me:
“Let your heart hold fast my words:a
keep my commands, and live!
5Get wisdom,* get understanding!
Do not forget or turn aside from the words of my mouth.
6Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
love her, and she will safeguard you;
7The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom;
whatever else you get, get understanding.
8Extol her, and she will exalt you;
she will bring you honors if you embrace her;
9She will put on your head a graceful diadem;
a glorious crown will she bestow on you.”
10Hear, my son, and receive my words,
and the years of your life shall be many.b
11On the way of wisdom I direct you,
I lead you on straight paths.
12When you walk, your step will not be impeded,
and should you run, you will not stumble.
13Hold fast to instruction, never let it go;
keep it, for it is your life.
14* The path of the wicked do not enter,
nor walk in the way of the evil;
15Shun it, do not cross it,
turn aside from it, pass on.
16For they cannot rest unless they have done evil;
if they do not trip anyone they lose sleep.
17For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
18But the path of the just is like shining light,
that grows in brilliance till perfect day.*
19The way of the wicked is like darkness;
they do not know on what they stumble.
20My son, to my words be attentive,
to my sayings incline your ear;
21Let them not slip from your sight,
keep them within your heart;
22For they are life to those who find them,c
bringing health to one’s whole being.
23With all vigilance guard your heart,
for in it are the sources of life.
24* Dishonest mouth put away from you,
deceitful lips put far from you.
25Let your eyes look straight ahead
and your gaze be focused forward.
26Survey the path for your feet,
and all your ways will be sure.
27Turn neither to right nor to left,
keep your foot far from evil.
* [4:1–9] The teacher draws a parallel between his teaching the disciples now and his father’s teaching him in his youth (vv. 3–4): what my father taught me about wisdom is what I am teaching you. The poem implies that the teacher has acquired wisdom and has in fact been protected and honored as his father promised long ago. Thus the teacher has the authority of someone who has been under wisdom’s sway since earliest youth.
There are two sections, a call for attention and introduction of the speaker (vv. 1–3) and the father’s quoting of his own father’s teaching (vv. 4–9). Beginning with v. 5, the father’s words are no longer quoted, wisdom herself becoming the active agent; she becomes the subject, not the object, of the verbs. Three Hebrew verbs are repeated in the two parts, “to forsake” in vv. 2 and 6, “to keep/guard” in vv. 4 and 6, and “to give/bestow” in vv. 2 and 9. Each verb in its first appearance has the father’s words as its object; in its second appearance each verb has wisdom as its subject or object. The teaching process is like that in 2:1–22 and 3:1–12: heeding the words of one’s parent puts one in touch with wisdom, who completes the process and bestows her gifts.
* [4:5, 7] Get wisdom: the same Hebrew word “to get” can mean to acquire merchandise and to acquire a wife (18:22; 31:10); both meanings are in keeping with Proverbs’ metaphors of acquiring wisdom over gold and silver and of acquiring wisdom as a personified woman, a wife.
* [4:10–19] A central metaphor of the poem is “the way.” The way of wisdom leads directly to life (vv. 10–13); it is a light that grows brighter (v. 18). The wise are bound to shun (vv. 14–17) the dark and violent path of the wicked (v. 19). Singleness of purpose and right conduct proceed from the heart of the wise as from the source of life (vv. 23–26), saving them from destruction on evil paths (4:27; 5:21–23). As in 1:8–19 and 2:12–15, the obstacles to the quest are men and their way. Elsewhere in chaps. 1–9, the obstacle is the foreign woman (2:16–19; chap. 5; 6:20–35; chap. 7; 9:13–18).
* [4:14–15] One is always free to choose. The righteous may choose to leave their path to walk on the wicked path and the wicked may choose the righteous path.
* [4:18] Till perfect day: lit., “till the day is established”; this may refer to full daylight or to noonday.
* [4:20–27] Acquiring wisdom brings life and health. The learning process involves two stages: (1) hearing the teacher’s words and treasuring them in the heart; (2) speaking and acting in accord with the wisdom that one has stored in one’s heart. Seven organs of the body are mentioned: ear, eyes, heart, mouth, lips, eyelids (“gaze,” v. 25), feet. Each of the organs is to be strained to its limit as the disciple puts wisdom into practice. The physical organ stands for the faculty, e.g., the eye for sight, the foot for movement. The figure of speech is called metonymy; one word is substituted for another on the basis of a causal relation.
* [4:24–27] In vv. 20–21 the faculties of hearing (ear) and seeing (eye) take in the teaching and the heart stores and ponders it, so in the second half of the poem, vv. 24–27, the faculties of speech, sight, and walking enable the disciple to put the teaching into practice.
a. [4:4] Dt 6:1–6.
b. [4:10] Prv 3:2.
c. [4:22] Prv 8:35.
1My son, to my wisdom be attentive,
to understanding incline your ear,
2That you may act discreetly,
and your lips guard what you know.
3Indeed, the lips of the stranger drip honey,*
and her mouth is smoother than oil;a
4But in the end she is as bitter as wormwood,
as sharp as a two-edged sword.
5Her feet go down to death,
her steps reach Sheol;b
6Her paths ramble, you know not where,
lest you see before you the road to life.
7So now, children, listen to me,
do not stray from the words of my mouth.
8Keep your way far from her,c
do not go near the door of her house,
9Lest you give your honor* to others,d
and your years to a merciless one;
10Lest outsiders take their fill of your wealth,
and your hard-won earnings go to another’s house;
11And you groan in the end,
when your flesh and your body are consumed;
12And you say, “Oh, why did I hate instruction,
and my heart spurn reproof!
13Why did I not listen to the voice of my teachers,
incline my ear to my instructors!
14I am all but ruined,
in the midst of the public assembly!”
15Drink water* from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
16Should your water sources be dispersed abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
17Let them be yours alone,
not shared with outsiders;
18Let your fountain be blessed and have joy of the wife of your youth,
19your lovely hind, your graceful doe.*
Of whose love you will ever have your fill,
and by her ardor always be intoxicated.
20Why then, my son, should you be intoxicated with a stranger,
and embrace another woman?
21Indeed, the ways of each person are plain to the LORD’s sight;
all their paths he surveys;e
22By their own iniquities the wicked will be caught,
in the meshes of their own sin they will be held fast;
23They will die from lack of discipline,
lost because of their great folly.
* [5:1–23] This is the first of three poems on the forbidden woman, the “stranger” outside the social boundaries (cf. 2:16–19); the other two are 6:20–35 and chap. 7. Understanding and discretion are necessary to avoid adultery, which leads astray and begets bitterness, bloodshed, and death (vv. 1–6). It destroys honor, wastes the years of life, despoils hard-earned wealth, and brings remorse in the end (vv. 7–14). Conjugal fidelity and love bring happiness and security (vv. 15–20). Cf. 6:20–7:27. The structure of the poem consists of a two-line introduction; part one consists of three stanzas of four lines each warning of the forbidden woman’s effect on her lovers (vv. 3–14); part two consists of a stanza of twelve lines exhorting the disciple to marital fidelity (vv. 15–20); and a final stanza of six lines on the perils of the woman (vv. 21–23).
* [5:3] A metaphorical level is established in the opening description of the forbidden woman: her lips drip honey and her feet lead to death. By her lies, she leads people away from the wisdom that gives life.
* [5:9] Honor: the words “life” and “wealth” have also been read in this place. A merciless one: the offended husband; cf. 6:34–35.
* [5:15–16] Water: water may have an erotic meaning as in Sg 4:15, “[You are] a garden fountain, a well of living water.” Eating and drinking can be metaphors expressing the mutuality of love. The wife is the opposite of the adulterous woman; she is not an outsider, not unfeeling, not a destroyer of her husband’s self and goods. The best defense against adultery is appreciating and loving one’s spouse. The best defense against folly is to appreciate and love wisdom.
* [5:19] Lovely hind…graceful doe: ancient Near Eastern symbols of feminine beauty and charm; cf. Sg 2:7, 9, 17.
a. [5:3] Prv 7:5.
b. [5:5] Prv 2:18; 7:27.
c. [5:8] Prv 7:25.
d. [5:9] Sir 9:6.
e. [5:21] Jb 14:16; 31:4; 34:21.
1* My son, if you have become surety to your neighbor,a
given your hand in pledge to another,
2You have been snared by the utterance of your lips,
caught by the words of your mouth;
3So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s power:
Go, hurry, rouse your neighbor!
4Give no sleep to your eyes,
nor slumber to your eyelids;
5Free yourself like a gazelle from the hunter,
or like a bird from the hand of the fowler.
6* Go to the ant,b O sluggard,
study her ways and learn wisdom;
7For though she has no chief,
no commander or ruler,
8She procures her food in the summer,
stores up her provisions in the harvest.
9How long, O sluggard, will you lie there?
when will you rise from your sleep?
10A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the arms to rest—*
11Then poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like a brigand.
12* Scoundrels, villains, are they
who deal in crooked talk.
13Shifty of eye,
feet ever moving,
pointing with fingers,
14They have perversity in their hearts,
always plotting evil,
15Therefore their doom comes suddenly;
in an instant they are crushed beyond cure.
16There are six things the LORD hates,
yes, seven* are an abomination to him;
17* Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18A heart that plots wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to run to evil,
19The false witness who utters lies,
and the one who sows discord among kindred.
20Observe, my son, your father’s command,
and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
21Keep them fastened over your heart always,
tie them around your neck.
22When you lie down they* will watch over you,
when you wake, they will share your concerns;
wherever you turn, they will guide you.
23For the command is a lamp, and the teaching a light,
and a way to life are the reproofs that discipline,
24Keeping you from another’s wife,
from the smooth tongue of the foreign woman.c
25Do not lust in your heart after her beauty,
do not let her captivate you with her glance!d
26For the price of a harlot
may be scarcely a loaf of bread,
But a married woman
is a trap for your precious life.
27* Can a man take embers into his bosom,
and his garments not be burned?
28Or can a man walk on live coals,
and his feet not be scorched?
29So with him who sleeps with another’s wife—
none who touches her shall go unpunished.e
30Thieves are not despised
if out of hunger they steal to satisfy their appetite.
31Yet if caught they must pay back sevenfold,
yield up all the wealth of their house.
32But those who commit adultery have no sense;
those who do it destroy themselves.
33* They will be beaten and disgraced,
and their shame will not be wiped away;
34For passion enrages the husband,
he will have no pity on the day of vengeance;
35He will not consider any restitution,
nor be satisfied by your many bribes.
* [6:1–19] Four independent pieces akin to those in 30:1–5, 6–11, 12–15, and 16–19. Some judge the verses to be an ancient addition, but the fact that the pieces differ from the other material in chaps. 1–9 is not a strong argument against their originality. Ancient anthologies did not always have the symmetry of modern collections. An editor may have placed the four pieces in the midst of the three poems on the forbidden woman to shed light on some of their themes. Verses 1–5 warn against getting trapped by one’s words to another person (the Hebrew word for “another” is the same used for the forbidden woman); vv. 6–11 proposes the ant as a model of forethought and diligence; vv. 12–15 describes the reprobate who bears some similarity to the seductive woman, especially as portrayed in chap. 7; vv. 16–19 depicts the typical enemy of God, underscoring the person’s destructive words.
* [6:1–5] Unlike other instructions that begin with “my son,” this instruction does not urge the hearer to store up the father’s words as a means to wisdom, but only to avoid one practice—going surety for one’s neighbor. The warning is intensified by repetition of “neighbor” and “free yourself,” the mention of bodily organs, and the imagery of hunting. Given your hand in pledge: lit., “struck your hands”; this was probably the legal method for closing a contract. To become surety meant intervening in favor of the insolvent debtor and assuming responsibility for the payment of the debt, either by obtaining it from the debtor or substituting oneself. Proverbs is strongly opposed to the practice (11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26–27; 27:13) apparently because of the danger it poses to the freedom of the one providing surety.
* [6:6–11] The sluggard or lazybones is a type in Proverbs, like the righteous and the wicked. Sometimes the opposite type to the sluggard is the diligent person. Other extended passages on the sluggard are 24:30–34 and 26:13–16. The malice of the type is not low physical energy but the refusal to act. To describe human types, Proverbs often uses comparisons from the animal world, e.g., 27:8 (bird); 28:1, 15 (lion); 30:18–19 (eagle, snake); 30:24–28 (ant, badger, locust, lizard).
* [6:10] This verse may be regarded as the sluggard’s reply or as a continuation of the remonstrance.
* [6:12–15] Proverbs uses types to make the point that certain ways of acting have inherent consequences. The typifying intensifies the picture. All the physical organs—mouth, eyes, feet, fingers—are at the service of evil. Cf. Rom 6:12–13: “Therefore, sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons of righteousness.”
* [6:16] Six…seven: this literary pattern (n, n + 1) occurs frequently; cf., e.g., Am 1–2; Prv 30:18–19.
* [6:17–19] The seven vices, symbolized for the most part by bodily organs, are pride, lying, murder, intrigue, readiness to do evil, false witness, and the stirring up of discord.
* [6:20–35] The second of three instructions on adultery (5:1–23; 6:20–35; and chap. 7). The instructions assume that wisdom will protect one from adultery and its consequences: loss of property and danger to one’s person. In this poem, the father and the mother urge their son to keep their teaching constantly before his eyes. The teaching will light his way and make it a path to life (v. 23). The teaching will preserve him from the adulterous woman who is far more dangerous than a prostitute. Prostitutes may cost one money, but having an affair with someone else’s wife puts one in grave danger. The poem bluntly urges self-interest as a motive to refrain from adultery.
The poem has three parts. I (vv. 20–24, ten lines), in which v. 23 repeats “command” and “teaching” of v. 20 and “keeping” in v. 24 completes the fixed pair initiated by “observe” in v. 20; II (vv. 25–29, ten lines) is a self-contained argument comparing the costs of a liaison with a prostitute and a married woman; III (vv. 30–35, twelve lines) draws conclusions from the comparison of adultery with theft: the latter involves property only but adultery destroys one’s name and very self. The best protection against such a woman is heeding parental instruction, which is to be kept vividly before one’s eyes like a written tablet.
* [6:22] They: Heb. has “she.” If this verse is not out of place, then the antecedent of “she” is command (v. 20), or perhaps wisdom.
* [6:27–29] There is a play on three words of similar sound, ’îsh, “man,” ’ishshâ, “woman,” and ’ēsh, “fire, embers.” The question, “Can a man (’îsh) take embers (’ēsh) into his bosom / and his garments not be burned?”, has a double meaning. “Into his bosom” has an erotic meaning as in the phrase “wife of one’s bosom” (Dt 13:6; 28:54; Sir 9:1). Hence one will destroy one’s garments, which symbolize one’s public position, by taking fire/another’s wife into one’s bosom.
* [6:33–35] The nature of the husband’s vengeance is disputed, some believing it is simply a physical beating whereas others hold it is public and involves the death penalty because Lv 20:20 and Dt 22:22 demand the death penalty.
a. [6:1] Prv 11:15; 22:26; Sir 8:13; 29:19.
b. [6:6] Prv 30:25.
c. [6:24] Prv 2:16; 7:5.
d. [6:25] Ex 20:17; Dt 5:21; Sir 9:8; 25:20; Mt 5:28.
e. [6:29] Sir 9:9.
1* My son, keep my words,
and treasure my commands.
2Keep my commands and live,*
and my teaching as the apple of your eye;
3Bind them on your fingers,
write them on the tablet of your heart.a
4Say to Wisdom, “You are my sister!”*
Call Understanding, “Friend!”
5That they may keep you from a stranger,
from the foreign woman with her smooth words.b
6For at the window of my house,
through my lattice I looked out*
7And I saw among the naive,
I observed among the young men,
a youth with no sense,
8Crossing the street near the corner,
then walking toward her house,
9In the twilight, at dusk of day,
in the very dark of night.
10Then the woman comes to meet him,
dressed like a harlot, with secret designs.
11She is raucous and unruly,
her feet cannot stay at home;
12Now she is in the streets, now in the open squares,
lurking in ambush at every corner.
13Then she grabs him, kisses him,
and with an impudent look says to him:
14“I owed peace offerings,
and today I have fulfilled my vows;
15So I came out to meet you,
to look for you, and I have found you!
16With coverlets I have spread my couch,
with brocaded cloths of Egyptian linen;
17I have sprinkled my bed* with myrrh,
with aloes, and with cinnamon.
18Come, let us drink our fill of love,
until morning, let us feast on love!
19For my husband is not at home,*
he has gone on a long journey;
20A bag of money he took with him,
he will not return home till the full moon.”
21She wins him over by repeated urging,
with her smooth lips she leads him astray.* c
22He follows her impulsively,
like an ox that goes to slaughter;
Like a stag that bounds toward the net,
23till an arrow pierces its liver;
Like a bird that rushes into a snare,
unaware that his life is at stake.
24So now, children, listen to me,*
be attentive to the words of my mouth!
25Do not let your heart turn to her ways,
do not go astray in her paths;
26For many are those she has struck down dead,
numerous, those she has slain.
27Her house is a highway to Sheol,
leading down into the chambers of death.d
* [7:1–27] The third and climactic instruction on adultery and seduction is an example story, of the same type as the example story in 24:30–34. By its negative portrayal of the deceitful woman, who speaks in the night to a lone youth, it serves as a foil to trustworthy Wisdom in chap. 8, who speaks in broad daylight to all who pass in the street.
As in 6:20–24, the father warns his son to keep his teaching to protect him from the dangerous forbidden woman. The father’s language in 7:4 (“Say to Wisdom, ‘You are my sister,’ and call Understanding ‘Friend’”) sets this admonition apart, however; it is the language of courtship and love. If the son makes Woman Wisdom his companion and lover, she will protect him from the other woman. As in chap. 5, loving the right woman protects the man from the wrong woman.
As motivation, the father in vv. 6–23 tells his son of an incident he once observed while looking out his window—a young man went to the bed of an adulterous woman and wound up dead. As in chap. 5, the realistic details—the purposeful woman, the silent youth, the vow, the perfumed bed—have a metaphorical level. Ultimately the story is about two different kinds of love.
* [7:1–3] Verses 1–3 are artistically constructed. “Keep” in v. 1a recurs in v. 2a; “commands” in v. 1b recurs in v. 2a; the imperative verb “live” occurs in the very center of the three lines; v. 3, on preserving the teaching upon one’s very person, matches vv. 1–2, on preserving the teaching internally by memorizing it.
* [7:2] Live: here as elsewhere (Gn 20:7; 42:18; 2 Kgs 18:32; Jer 27:12, 17; Ez 18:32), the imperative (“Live!”) is uttered against the danger of death, e.g., “Do such and such and you will live (=survive the danger); why should you die?”
* [7:4] You are my sister: “sister” and “brother” are examples of love language in the ancient Near East, occurring in Egyptian love poetry and Mesopotamian marriage songs. In Sg 4:9, 10, 12; 5:1, the man calls the woman, “my sister, my bride.” Intimate friendship with Woman Wisdom saves one from false and dangerous relationships.
* [7:6–7] I looked out…I saw…: the perspective is unusual. The narrator looks through a window upon the drama in the street.
* [7:17] Bed: a bed can designate a place of burial in Is 57:2; Ez 32:25; 2 Chr 16:14. Myrrh…aloes: the spices could be used for funerals as for weddings (Jn 19:39). It is possible that the language is ambivalent, speaking of death as it seems to speak of life. As the woman offers the youth a nuptial feast, she is in reality describing his funerary feast.
* [7:19–20] For my husband is not at home: the woman is calculating. She knows exactly how long her husband will be gone.
* [7:21] The verbs “to win over” (lit., “to lead astray”) and “to lead off” can be used of leading animals such as a donkey (Nm 22:23) or sheep (Jer 23:2 and 50:17). The animal imagery continues as the youth is compared to an ox, a fallow deer, and a bird in the moment they are slaughtered. None of the animals are aware of their impending death.
* [7:24–27] The father addresses “children,” a larger audience than his own son; the story is typical, intended for others as an example. The story is a foil to the speech of the other woman in chap. 8.
a. [7:3] Dt 6:8.
b. [7:5] Prv 2:16; 6:24.
c. [7:21] Prv 5:3; 6:24.
d. [7:27] Prv 2:18–19; 5:5.
1Does not Wisdom call,
and Understanding raise her voice?a
2On the top of the heights along the road,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3By the gates at the approaches of the city,
in the entryways she cries aloud:
4“To you, O people, I call;
my appeal is to you mortals.
5You naive ones, gain prudence,
you fools,* gain sense.
6Listen! for noble things I speak;
my lips proclaim honest words.
7* Indeed, my mouth utters truth,
and my lips abhor wickedness.
8All the words of my mouth are sincere,
none of them wily or crooked;
9All of them are straightforward to the intelligent,
and right to those who attain knowledge.
10Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold.
11[For Wisdom is better than corals,
and no treasures can compare with her.b]
12I, Wisdom, dwell with prudence,
and useful knowledge I have.
13[The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil;]
Pride, arrogance, the evil way,
and the perverse mouth I hate.c
14Mine are counsel and advice;
Mine is strength; I am understanding.*
15By me kings reign,
and rulers enact justice;
16By me princes govern,
and nobles, all the judges of the earth.
17Those who love me I also love,
and those who seek me find me.
18With me are riches and honor,d
wealth that endures, and righteousness.
19My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold,
and my yield than choice silver.e
20On the way of righteousness I walk,
along the paths of justice,
21Granting wealth to those who love me,
and filling their treasuries.
22* “The LORD begot me, the beginning of his works,
the forerunner of his deeds of long ago;f
23From of old I was formed,*
at the first, before the earth.g
24* When there were no deeps I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
25Before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
26When the earth and the fields were not yet made,
nor the first clods of the world.
27When he established the heavens, there was I,h
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
28When he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the springs of the deep;
29When he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
When he fixed the foundations of earth,
30then was I beside him as artisan;* i
I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
31Playing over the whole of his earth,
having my delight with human beings.
32* Now, children, listen to me;
happy are they who keep my ways.
33Listen to instruction and grow wise,
do not reject it!
34Happy the one who listens to me,
attending daily at my gates,
keeping watch at my doorposts;
35For whoever finds me finds life,j
and wins favor from the LORD;
36But those who pass me by do violence to themselves;
all who hate me love death.”
* [8:1–36] Chapter 8 is Wisdom’s longest speech in the book. Wisdom is here personified as in 1:20–33. She exalts her grandeur and origin, and invites all (vv. 1–11) to be attentive to her salutary influence in human society (vv. 12–21), for she was privileged to be present at the creation of the world (vv. 22–31). Finally, she promises life and the favor of God to those who are devoted to her, death to those who reject her.
The poem has four sections, each (except the fourth) with two parts of five lines each:
|I.||A.||vv. 1–5||B.||vv. 6–10|
|II.||A.||vv. 12–16||B.||vv. 17–21|
|III.||A.||vv. 22–26||B.||vv. 27–31|
Within chaps. 1–9, chap. 8 is the companion piece to Wisdom’s first speech in 1:20–33. There she spoke harshly, giving a promise only in the last line; here she speaks invitingly, giving a threat only in the last line.
Chapter 8 is the best-known chapter in Proverbs and has profoundly influenced Jewish and Christian thought. The most explicit and lengthy biblical comment is in Sir 24; it too has thirty-five lines in seven five-line stanzas and develops the theme of Wisdom’s intimacy with God and desire to be with human beings. The Gospel of John portrays Jesus in the language of wisdom in Proverbs: Jesus, like Wisdom, calls out to people to listen to him, promises to tell them the truth, seeks disciples, invites them to a banquet, and gives them life. Writers in the patristic period used the language of pre-existent wisdom to express the idea of the pre-existent Word with God.
* [8:5] Naive ones…fools: see note on 1:4.
* [8:7–8] The truth and sincerity of wisdom are absolute because they are of divine origin. They can neither deceive nor tolerate deception. The intelligent understand and accept this. “Straight” and “crooked” in Hebrew and English are metaphors for true, trustworthy and false, deceitful.
* [8:14] What is here predicated of Wisdom is elsewhere attributed to God (Jb 12:13–16).
* [8:22–31] Wisdom is of divine origin. She is represented as existing before all things (vv. 22–26), when God planned and created the universe, adorning it with beauty and variety, and establishing its wonderful order (vv. 27–30). The purpose of the two cosmogonies (vv. 22–26 and 27–31) is to ground Wisdom’s claims. The first cosmogony emphasizes that she was born before all else (and so deserving of honor) and the second underscores that she was with the Lord during the creation of the universe. The pre-existence of Woman Wisdom with God is developed in Sir 24 and in New Testament hymns to Christ, especially in Jn 1 and Col 1:15–20.
* [8:23] Formed: since the other verbs of the origin of Wisdom in these verses describe birth, it is likely that the somewhat uncertain verb is to be understood of birth as in Ps 139:13.
* [8:24–26] Perhaps the formless mass from which God created the heavens and the earth; cf. Gn 1:1–2; 2:4–6.
* [8:30] Artisan: the translation of the Hebrew word ’āmôn has been controverted since antiquity. There have been three main opinions: (1) artisan; (2) trustworthy (friend); (3) ward, nursling. The most likely explanation is that ’āmôn is artisan, related to Akkadian ummānu, legendary sages and heroes who brought divine gifts and culture to the human race. I was his delight: the chiastic or ABBA structure of vv. 30–31 unifies the four lines and underscores the analogy between Woman Wisdom’s intimate relation to the Lord and her intimate relation to human beings, i.e., “delight” + “playing” parallels “playing” + “delight.” She is God’s friend and intimate and invites human beings to a similar relationship to God through her.
* [8:32–36] The final appeal of Woman Wisdom to her disciples is similar to the appeal of the father in 7:24–27.
a. [8:1] Prv 1:20–21; 9:3.
b. [8:11] Prv 3:15; Wis 7:8.
c. [8:13] Prv 6:16–17; 16:5.
d. [8:18] Prv 3:16.
e. [8:19] Prv 3:14.
f. [8:22] Wis 9:9; Sir 1:1; 24:9.
g. [8:23] Sir 1:4.
h. [8:27] Prv 3:19; Sir 24:4–5.
i. [8:30] Wis 9:9.
j. [8:35] Prv 3:13–18; 4:22.
1Wisdom has built her house,*
she has set up her seven columns;
2She has prepared her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table.
3She has sent out her maidservants; she calls*
from the heights out over the city:a
4“Let whoever is naive turn in here;
to any who lack sense I say,
5Come, eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
6Forsake foolishness that you may live;*
advance in the way of understanding.”
7Whoever corrects the arrogant earns insults;
and whoever reproves the wicked incurs opprobrium.
8Do not reprove the arrogant, lest they hate you;
reprove the wise, and they will love you.b
9Instruct the wise, and they become still wiser;
teach the just, and they advance in learning.
10The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.c
11For by me your days will be multiplied
and the years of your life increased.d
12If you are wise, wisdom is to your advantage;
if you are arrogant, you alone shall bear it.
13* Woman Folly is raucous,e
utterly foolish; she knows nothing.
14She sits at the door of her house
upon a seat on the city heights,
15Calling to passersby
as they go on their way straight ahead:
16“Let those who are naive turn in here,
to those who lack sense I say,
17Stolen water is sweet,
and bread taken secretly is pleasing!”*
18Little do they know that the shades are there,
that her guests are in the depths of Sheol!*
* [9:1–6, 13–18] Wisdom and folly are represented as women, each inviting people to her banquet. Wisdom’s banquet symbolizes joy and closeness to God. Unstable and senseless Folly furnishes stolen bread and water of deceit and vice that bring death to her guests. The opposition between wisdom and folly was stated at the beginning of chaps. 1–9 (folly in 1:8–19 and wisdom in 1:20–33) and is maintained throughout, down to this last chapter.
In comparable literature, gods might celebrate their sovereign by building a palace and inviting the other gods to come to a banquet and celebrate with them. Presumably, Woman Wisdom is celebrating her grandeur (just described in chap. 8); her grand house is a symbol of her status as the Lord’s friend. In order to enter the sacred building and take part in the banquet (“eat of my food”), guests must leave aside their old ways (“forsake foolishness”).
Verses 7–12 are unrelated to the two invitations to the banquet. They appear to be based on chap. 1, especially on 1:1–7, 22. The Greek version has added a number of verses after v. 12 and v. 18. In the confusion, 9:11 seems to have been displaced from its original position after 9:6. It has been restored to its original place in the text.
* [9:1] House: house has a symbolic meaning. Woman Wisdom encourages marital fidelity (2:16–19; 5; 6:20–35; 7), which builds up a household (cf. chap. 5). Some scholars propose that an actual seven-pillared house is referred to, but so far none have been unearthed by archaeologists. Seven may simply connote completeness—a great house.
Some scholars see a connection between the woman’s house here and the woman’s house in the final poem (31:10–31). In chap. 9, she invites the young man to enter her house and feast, i.e., to marry her. Chapter 31 shows what happens to the man who marries her; he has a house and enjoys “life” understood as consisting of a suitable wife, children, wealth, and honor.
* [9:3] She calls: i.e., invites; this is done indirectly through her maidservants, but the text could also mean that Wisdom herself publicly proclaims her invitation.
* [9:6] That you may live: life in Proverbs is this-worldly, consisting in fearing God or doing one’s duty toward God, enjoying health and long life, possessing wealth, good reputation, and a family. Such a life cannot be attained without God’s help. Hence Wisdom speaks not of life simply but of life with her; the guest is to live in Wisdom’s house.
* [9:13–18] Woman Folly is the mirror image of Woman Wisdom. Both make identical invitations but only one of the offers is trustworthy. Their hearers must discern which is the true offer. She is depicted with traits of the adulterous woman in 2:16–19; chap. 5; 6:20–35; chap. 7. Woman Folly is restless (cf. 7:11), her path leads to the underworld (2:18; 5:5; 7:27), and she is ignorant (5:6). In this final scene, she appears in single combat with her great nemesis, Woman Wisdom. Though the invitations of the two women appear at first hearing to be the same, they differ profoundly. Wisdom demands that her guests reject their ignorance, whereas Woman Folly trades on their ignorance.
* [9:17] “Stolen water” seems to refer to adultery, for “water” in 5:15–17 refers to the wife’s sexuality; “stolen” refers to stealing the sexuality belonging to another’s household. “Secret” evokes the furtive meeting of the wife and the youth in chap. 7.
* [9:18] The banquet chamber of Folly is a tomb from which no one who enters it is released; cf. 7:27. Shades: the Rephaim, the inhabitants of the underworld.
a. [9:3] Prv 8:1–2.
b. [9:8] Sir 10:27.
c. [9:10] Prv 1:7; Jb 28:28; Ps 111:10; Sir 1:16.
d. [9:11] Prv 3:2; 16:4, 10; 10:27.
e. [9:13–18] Prv 7:7–27.
1The Proverbs of Solomon:
A wise son gives his father joy,
but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.* a
2Ill-gotten treasures profit nothing,
but justice saves from death.* b
3The LORD does not let the just go hungry,
but the craving of the wicked he thwarts.*
4The slack hand impoverishes,
but the busy hand brings riches.c
5A son who gathers in summer is a credit;
a son who slumbers during harvest, a disgrace.
6Blessings are for the head of the just;
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.*
7The memory of the just serves as blessing,
but the name of the wicked will rot.*
8A wise heart accepts commands,
but a babbling fool will be overthrown.*
9Whoever walks honestly walks securely,
but one whose ways are crooked will fare badly.
10One who winks at a fault causes trouble,
but one who frankly reproves promotes peace.
11The mouth of the just is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
12Hatred stirs up disputes,
d but love covers all offenses.*
13On the lips of the intelligent is found wisdom,
but a rod for the back of one without sense.*
14The wise store up knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool is imminent ruin.
15The wealth of the rich is their strong city;
the ruin of the poor is their poverty.*
16The labor of the just leads to life,
the gains of the wicked, to futility.* e
17Whoever follows instruction is in the path to life,
but whoever disregards reproof goes astray.f
18Whoever conceals hatred has lying lips,
and whoever spreads slander is a fool.
19Where words are many, sin is not wanting;
but those who restrain their lips do well.g
20Choice silver is the tongue of the just;
the heart of the wicked is of little worth.
21The lips of the just nourish many,
but fools die for want of sense.*
22It is the LORD’s blessing that brings wealth,h
and no effort can substitute for it.*
23Crime is the entertainment of the fool;
but wisdom is for the person of understanding.
24What the wicked fear will befall them,
but the desire of the just will be granted.
25When the tempest passes, the wicked are no more;
but the just are established forever.
26As vinegar to the teeth, and smoke to the eyes,
are sluggards to those who send them.
27Fear of the LORD prolongs life,
but the years of the wicked are cut short.i
28The hope of the just brings joy,
but the expectation of the wicked perishes.*
29The LORD is a stronghold to those who walk honestly,
downfall for evildoers.
30The just will never be disturbed,
but the wicked will not abide in the land.
31The mouth of the just yields wisdom,
but the perverse tongue will be cut off.
32The lips of the just know favor,
but the mouth of the wicked, perversion.*
* [10:1–22:16] The Proverbs of Solomon are a collection of three hundred and seventy-five proverbs on a wide variety of subjects. No overall arrangement is discernible, but there are many clusters of sayings related by vocabulary and theme. One thread running through the whole is the relationship of the “son,” the disciple, to the parents, and its effect upon the house(hold). In chaps. 10–14 almost all the proverbs are antithetical; “the righteous” and “the wicked” (ethical), “the wise” and “the foolish” (sapiential), and “the devout, the pious” and “the irreverent” (religious). Chapters 15–22 have fewer sharp antitheses. The sayings are generally witty, often indirect, and are rich in irony and paradox.
* [10:1] The opening saying ties the whole collection to the first section, for “son,” “father,” and “mother” evoke the opening line of the first instruction, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and reject not your mother’s teaching.” The son is the subject of parental exhortation throughout chaps. 1–9. This is the first of many sayings on domestic happiness or unhappiness, between parents and children (e.g., 15:20; 17:21) and between husband and wife (e.g., 12:4; 14:1). Founding or maintaining a household is an important metaphor in the book.
Adult children represented the family (headed by the oldest married male) to the outside world. Foolishness, i.e., malicious ignorance, brought dishonor to the parents and the family.
* [10:2] Death: untimely, premature, or sorrowful. The word “death” can have other overtones (see Wis 1:15).
* [10:3] The last of the three introductory sayings in the collection, which emphasize, respectively, the sapiential (v. 1), ethical (v. 2), and religious (v. 3) dimensions of wisdom. In this saying, God will not allow the appetite of the righteous to go unfulfilled. The appetite of hunger is singled out; it stands for all the appetites.
* [10:6] This saying, like several others in the chapter, plays on the different senses of the verb “to cover.” As in English, “to cover” can mean to fill (as in Is 60:2) and to conceal (as in Jb 16:18). Colon B can be read either “violence fills the mouth (= head) of the wicked” or “the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” The ambiguity is intentional; the proverb is meant to be read both ways.
* [10:7] The name of the righteous continues to be used after their death in blessings such as “May you be as blessed as Abraham,” but the wicked, being enemies of God, do not live on in anyone’s memory. Their names rot with their bodies.
* [10:8] The wise take in instruction from their teachers but those who expel or pour out folly through their words will themselves be expelled.
* [10:12] Love covers all offenses: a favorite maxim in the New Testament; cf. 1 Cor 13:7; Jas 5:20; 1 Pt 4:8. Cf. also Prv 17:9.
* [10:13] An unusual juxtaposition of “lips” and “back.” Those who have no wisdom on their lips (words) are fated to feel a punishing rod on their back.
* [10:15] An observation rather than a moral evaluation of wealth and poverty; but cf. 18:10–11.
* [10:16] Wages are a metaphor for reward and punishment. The Hebrew word does not mean “sin” here but falling short, a meaning that is frequent in Proverbs. Cf. Rom 6:1: “But what profit did you get then from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.”
* [10:21] The wise by their words maintain others in life whereas the foolish cannot keep themselves from sin that leads to premature death.
* [10:22] Human industry is futile without divine approval; cf. Ps 127:1–2; Mt 6:25–34.
* [10:28] The thought is elliptical. Joy comes from fulfillment of one’s plans, which the righteous can count on. The opposite of joy thus is not sadness but unfulfillment (“perishes”).
* [10:32] The word used for “favor” is favor shown by an authority (God or the king), not favor shown by a peer. A righteous person’s words create a climate of favor and acceptance, whereas crooked words will not gain acceptance. In Hebrew as in English, straight and crooked are metaphors for good and wicked.
a. [10:1] Prv 1:1; 15:20; 17:25; 19:13; 25:1; 29:15.
b. [10:2] Prv 11:4, 6.
c. [10:4] Prv 6:11; 12:24; 13:4; 20:13; 28:19.
d. [10:12] 1 Cor 13:4–7; 1 Pt 4:8.
e. [10:16] Prv 11:18–19.
f. [10:17] Prv 15:10.
g. [10:19] Prv 17:27; Sir 20:17; Jas 1:19.
h. [10:22] Sir 11:22.
i. [10:27] Prv 3:2; 4:10; 9:11; 14:27.
1False scales are an abomination to the LORD,
but an honest weight, his delight.* a
2When pride comes, disgrace comes;
but with the humble is wisdom.*
3The honesty of the upright guides them;
the faithless are ruined by their duplicity.
4Wealth is useless on a day of wrath,* b
but justice saves from death.
5The justice of the honest makes their way straight,
but by their wickedness the wicked fall.* c
6The justice of the upright saves them,
but the faithless are caught in their own intrigue.
7When a person dies, hope is destroyed;d
expectation pinned on wealth is destroyed.*
8The just are rescued from a tight spot,
but the wicked fall into it instead.
9By a word the impious ruin their neighbors,e
but through their knowledge the just are rescued.*
10When the just prosper, the city rejoices;f
when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.
11Through the blessing of the upright the city is exalted,
but through the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.
12Whoever reviles a neighbor lacks sense,
but the intelligent keep silent.
13One who slanders reveals secrets,g
but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence.
14For lack of guidance a people falls;
security lies in many counselors.h
15Harm will come to anyone going surety for another,i
but whoever hates giving pledges is secure.*
16A gracious woman gains esteem,
and ruthless men gain wealth.*
17Kindly people benefit themselves,
but the merciless harm themselves.
18The wicked make empty profits,
but those who sow justice have a sure reward.j
19Justice leads toward life,
but pursuit of evil, toward death.
20The crooked in heart are an abomination to the LORD,
but those who walk blamelessly are his delight.*
21Be assured, the wicked shall not go unpunished,
but the offspring of the just shall escape.
22Like a golden ring in a swine’s snout
is a beautiful woman without judgment.*
23The desire of the just ends only in good;
the expectation of the wicked is wrath.
24One person is lavish yet grows still richer;
another is too sparing, yet is the poorer.*
25Whoever confers benefits will be amply enriched,
and whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
26Whoever hoards grain, the people curse,
but blessings are on the head of one who distributes it!
27Those who seek the good seek favor,
but those who pursue evil will have evil come upon them.*
28Those who trust in their riches will fall,
but like green leaves the just will flourish.k
29Those who trouble their household inherit the wind,
and fools become slaves to the wise of heart.
30The fruit of justice is a tree of life,
and one who takes lives is a sage.*
31If the just are recompensed on the earth,
how much more the wicked and the sinner!* l
* [11:1] The word pair “abomination” and “delight” (= acceptable) to God is common in Proverbs. Originally the language of ritual, the words came to be applied to whatever pleases or displeases God (cf. also 11:20). False weights were a constant problem even though weights were standardized. Cf. 20:23; Hos 12:8; Am 8:5.
* [11:2] Disgrace is the very opposite of what the proud so ardently want. Those who do not demand their due receive wisdom.
* [11:4] Cf. note on 10:2. A day of wrath is an unforeseen disaster (even death). Only one’s relationship to God, which makes one righteous, is of any help on such a day.
* [11:5] In Hebrew as in English, “way” means the course of one’s life; similarly, “straight” and “crooked” are metaphors for morally straightforward and for bad, deviant, perverted.
* [11:7] An ancient scribe added “wicked” to person in colon A, for the statement that hope ends at death seemed to deny life after death. The saying, however, is not concerned with life after death but with the fact that in the face of death all hopes based on one’s own resources are vain. The aphorism is the climax of the preceding six verses; human resources cannot overcome mortality (cf. Ps 49:13).
* [11:9] What the wicked express harms others; what the righteous leave unsaid protects. Verses 9–14 are related in theme: the effect of good and bad people, especially their words, on their community.
* [11:15] Proverbs is opposed to providing surety for another’s loan (see note on 6:1–5) and expresses this view throughout the book.
* [11:16] Wealth and esteem are good things in Proverbs, but the means for acquiring them are flawed. As precious gifts, they must be granted, not taken. The esteem of others that depends on beauty is as fleeting as beauty itself (cf. 31:30) and the wealth acquired by aggressive behavior lasts only as long as one has physical strength.
* [11:20] The terminology of ritual (acceptable and unacceptable sacrifice, “abomination” and “delight”) is applied to human conduct as in v. 1. The whole of human life is under divine scrutiny, not just ritual.
* [11:22] Ear and nose rings were common jewelry for women. A humorous saying on the priority of wisdom over beauty in choosing a wife.
* [11:24] A paradox: spending leads to more wealth.
* [11:27] The saying is about seeking one thing and finding another. Striving for good leads to acceptance by God; seeking evil means only that trouble will come. The same Hebrew word means evil and trouble.
* [11:30] Most translations emend Hebrew “wise person” in colon B on the basis of the Greek and Syriac translations to “violence” (similar in spelling), because the verb “to take a life” is a Hebrew idiom for “to kill” (as also in English). The emendation is unnecessary, however, for the saying deliberately plays on the odd meaning: the one who takes lives is not the violent but the wise person, for the wise have a profound influence upon life. There is a similar wordplay in 29:10.
* [11:31] The saying is not about life after death; “on the earth” means life in the present world. The meaning is that divine judgment is exercised on all human action, even the best. The thought should strike terror into the hearts of habitual wrongdoers.
a. [11:1] Prv 16:11; 20:10; Lv 19:35–36.
b. [11:4] Prv 10:2.
c. [11:5] Prv 28:18.
d. [11:7] Prv 10:28; Wis 3:18.
e. [11:9] Prv 29:5.
f. [11:10] Prv 28:12; 29:2.
g. [11:13] Prv 20:19.
h. [11:14] Prv 15:22; 20:18; 24:6.
i. [11:15] Prv 6:1–2.
j. [11:18] Prv 10:16.
k. [11:28] Ps 52:9–10.
l. [11:31] 1 Pt 4:18.
1Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but whoever hates reproof is stupid.* a
2A good person wins favor from the LORD,
but the schemer he condemns.*
3No one is made secure by wickedness,
but the root of the just will never be disturbed.*
4A woman of worth is the crown of her husband,b
but a disgraceful one is like rot in his bones.*
5The plans of the just are right;
the designs of the wicked are deceit.*
6The words of the wicked are a deadly ambush,
but the speech of the upright saves them.*
7Overthrow the wicked and they are no more,
but the house of the just stands firm.
8For their good sense people are praised,
but the perverse of heart are despised.*
9Better to be slighted and have a servant
than put on airs and lack bread.c
10The just take care of their livestock,
but the compassion of the wicked is cruel.*
11Those who till their own land have food in plenty,
but those who engage in idle pursuits lack sense.* d
12A wicked person desires the catch of evil people,
but the root of the righteous will bear fruit.*
13By the sin of their lips the wicked are ensnared,
but the just escape from a tight spot.
14From the fruit of their mouths people have their fill of good,e
and the works of their hands come back upon them.*
15The way of fools is right in their own eyes,
but those who listen to advice are the wise.
16Fools immediately show their anger,
but the shrewd conceal contempt.
17Whoever speaks honestly testifies truly,
but the deceitful make lying witnesses.* f
18The babble of some people is like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise is healing.
19Truthful lips endure forever,
the lying tongue, for only a moment.*
20Deceit is in the heart of those who plot evil,
but those who counsel peace have joy.
21No harm befalls the just,
but the wicked are overwhelmed with misfortune.
22Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD,g
but those who are truthful, his delight.
23The shrewd conceal knowledge,
but the hearts of fools proclaim folly.*
24The diligent hand will govern,
but sloth makes for forced labor.h
25Worry weighs down the heart,
but a kind word gives it joy.i
26The just act as guides to their neighbors,
but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
27Sloth does not catch its prey,
but the wealth of the diligent is splendid.
28In the path of justice is life,
but the way of abomination leads to death.
* [12:1] Discipline in Proverbs is both doctrine and training. The path to wisdom includes obedience to teachers and parents, acceptance of the community’s traditions.
* [12:2] The antithesis is between the good person who, by reason of that goodness, already has divine acceptance, and the wicked person who, despite great effort, gains only condemnation.
* [12:3] Human beings are described as “made secure” in Jb 21:8; Ps 101:7; 102:29. “Root” in the context means enduring to succeeding generations, as in Mal 3:19 and Jb 8:17.
* [12:4] In Proverbs a crown is the result and sign of wise conduct. A good wife is a public sign of the husband’s shrewd judgment and divine blessing (crown), whereas a bad wife brings him inner pain (rot in the bones).
* [12:5] The opposite of “just” is not injustice but “deceit.” The wicked will be deceived in their plans in the sense that their planning will not succeed.
* [12:6] Words are a favorite theme of Proverbs. The words of the wicked effect harm to others whereas the words of the righteous protect themselves.
* [12:8] The heart, the seat of intelligence, will eventually be revealed in the actions that people do, either for praise or for blame.
* [12:10] The righteous are sympathetically aware of the needs of their livestock and prosper from their herd’s good health. The wicked will pay the price for their self-centeredness and cruelty.
* [12:11] The second line clarifies the first: idleness will give one plenty of nothing. “Lacking sense” is a common phrase for fools.
* [12:12] A difficult, possibly corrupt saying, but there is no good alternative to the Hebrew text. The wicked desire what the malevolent have captured or killed, but their actions will go for naught because they invite punishment. The righteous, on the other hand, will bear fruit.
* [12:14] The saying contrasts words and deeds. “Fruit” here is not what one normally eats, as in 1:31; 8:19; 31:16, 31, but the consequences of one’s actions. In the second line the things that issue from one’s hands (one’s deeds) come back to one in recompense or punishment. Prv 13:2a and 18:20 are variants. Cf. Mt 7:17; Gal 6:8.
* [12:17] What is the rule of thumb for judging legal testimony? Look to the ordinary conduct and daily speech of a witness.
* [12:19] The saying has a double meaning: lies are quickly found out whereas truthful statements endure; truth-tellers, being favored by God, live long lives, whereas liars invite punishment.
* [12:23] “Knowledge” here is “what one knows, has in one’s heart,” not knowledge in general. Fools reveal all they have stored in their heart and it naturally turns out to be folly. Revealing and concealing are constant themes in Proverbs.
a. [12:1] Prv 15:5, 10; Sir 21:6.
b. [12:4] Prv 31:10; Sir 21:1, 16.
c. [12:9] Sir 10:26.
d. [12:11] Prv 28:19; Sir 20:27.
e. [12:14] Prv 13:2; 18:20.
f. [12:17] Prv 14:5.
g. [12:22] Prv 6:17.
h. [12:24] Prv 10:4; 13:4.
i. [12:25] Prv 15:13; 17:22.
1A wise son loves correction,
but the scoffer heeds no rebuke.*
2From the fruit of the mouth one enjoys good things,a
but from the throat of the treacherous comes violence.*
3Those who guard their mouths preserve themselves;*
those who open wide their lips bring ruin.b
4The appetite of the sluggard craves but has nothing,
but the appetite of the diligent is amply satisfied.
5The just hate deceitful words,
but the wicked are odious and disgraceful.
6Justice guards one who walks honestly,
but sin leads the wicked astray.c
7One acts rich but has nothing;
another acts poor but has great wealth.*
8People’s riches serve as ransom for their lives,
but the poor do not even hear a threat.*
9The light of the just gives joy,
but the lamp* of the wicked goes out.d
10The stupid sow discord by their insolence,
but wisdom is with those who take counsel.
11Wealth won quickly dwindles away,
but gathered little by little, it grows.e
12Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a wish fulfilled is a tree of life.*
13Whoever despises the word must pay for it,*
but whoever reveres the command will be rewarded.
14The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,
turning one from the snares of death.
15Good sense brings favor,
but the way of the faithless is their ruin.*
16The shrewd always act prudently
but the foolish parade folly.*
17A wicked messenger brings on disaster,
but a trustworthy envoy is a healing remedy.
18Poverty and shame befall those who let go of discipline,
but those who hold on to reproof receive honor.*
19Desire fulfilled delights the soul,
but turning from evil is an abomination to fools.
20Walk with the wise and you become wise,
but the companion of fools fares badly.f
21Misfortune pursues sinners,
but the just shall be recompensed with good.
22The good leave an inheritance to their children’s children,
but the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the just.
23The tillage of the poor yields abundant food,
but possessions are swept away for lack of justice.*
24Whoever spares the rod hates the child,
but whoever loves will apply discipline.g
25When the just eat, their hunger is appeased;
but the belly of the wicked suffers want.
* [13:1] Another in the series on the household, this one on the relation of parents and children. See under 10:1. The scoffer in Proverbs condemns discipline and thus can never become wise. Wise adult children advertise to the community what they received from their parents, for children become wise through a dialectical process involving the parents. A foolish adult child witnesses to foolish parents.
* [13:2] One’s mouth normally eats food from outside, but in the moral life, things are reversed: one eats from the fruit of one’s mouth, i.e., one experiences the consequences of one’s own actions. Since the mouth of the treacherous is filled with violence, one must assume that they will some day endure violence.
* [13:3] Preserve themselves: in Hebrew, literally to preserve the throat area, the moist breathing center of one’s body, thus “life,” “soul,” or “self.” There is wordplay: if you guard your mouth (= words) you guard your “soul.” Fools, on the other hand, do not guard but open their lips and disaster strikes. A near duplicate is 21:23.
* [13:7] Appearances can be deceiving; possessions do not always reveal the true state of a person.
* [13:8] Related to v. 7. Possessions enable the wealthy to pay ransom but the poor are “protected” by lack of possessions: they never hear the threat of the pursuer. Cf. the use of the word “threat” in Is 30:17.
* [13:9] Light…lamp: symbols of life and prosperity; cf. 4:18–19.
* [13:12] “Tree of life” occurs in Gn 2–3, Prv 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4, and Rev 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19. It provides food and healing.
* [13:13] Must pay for it: lit., “is pledge to it,” i.e., just as one who has pledged or provided surety for another’s loan is obligated to that pledge, so one is not free of a command until one performs it.
* [13:15] As the behavior of the wise wins them favor that increases their prosperity, like Abigail with David in 1 Sm 25, so the way (= conduct) of the faithless ruins their lives.
* [13:16] Like 12:23 and 15:2, 3, the saying is about revealing and concealing. The wise reveal their wisdom in their actions whereas fools “parade,” spread out their folly for all to see. The verb is used of vendors spreading their wares and of birds spreading their wings.
* [13:18] The saying plays on letting go and holding on. Wisdom consists in not rejecting discipline and being open to the comments of others, even if they are reproving comments.
* [13:23] An observation on the poor. The lands of the poor are as fertile as anyone’s, for nature does not discriminate against them. Their problem is lack of justice, which puts their harvest at risk from unscrupulous human beings.
a. [13:2] Prv 12:14; 18:20.
b. [13:3] Prv 18:7; 21:23.
c. [13:6] Prv 11:3, 5–6.
d. [13:9] Prv 24:20.
e. [13:11] Prv 28:20, 22.
f. [13:20] Sir 6:34; 8:8, 17.
g. [13:24] Prv 19:18; 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15; Sir 30:1, 8–13.
1Wisdom builds her house,
but Folly tears hers down with her own hands.*
2Those who walk uprightly fear the LORD,
but those who are devious in their ways spurn him.
3In the mouth of the fool is a rod for pride,
but the lips of the wise preserve them.
4Where there are no oxen, the crib is clean;
but abundant crops come through the strength of the bull.*
5A trustworthy witness does not lie,
but one who spouts lies makes a lying witness.* a
6The scoffer seeks wisdom in vain,
but knowledge is easy for the intelligent.
7Go from the face of the fool;
you get no knowledge from such lips.
8The wisdom of the shrewd enlightens their way,
but the folly of fools is deceit.*
9The wicked scorn a guilt offering,
but the upright find acceptance.
10The heart knows its own bitterness,
and its joy no stranger shares.*
11The house of the wicked will be destroyed,
but the tent of the upright will flourish.* b
12Sometimes a way seems right,
but the end of it leads to death!c
13Even in laughter the heart may be sad,
and the end of joy may be sorrow.
14From their own ways turncoats are sated,
from their own actions, the loyal.
15The naive believe everything,
but the shrewd watch their steps.*
16The wise person is cautious and turns from evil;
the fool is reckless and gets embroiled.
17The quick-tempered make fools of themselves,
and schemers are hated.
18The simple have folly as an adornment,
but the shrewd wear knowledge as a crown.*
19The malicious bow down before the good,
and the wicked, at the gates of the just.
20Even by their neighbors the poor are despised,
but a rich person’s friends are many.d
21Whoever despises the hungry comes up short,
but happy the one who is kind to the poor!*
22Do not those who plan evil go astray?
But those who plan good win steadfast loyalty.
23In all labor there is profit,
but mere talk tends only to loss.
24The crown of the wise is wealth;
the diadem of fools is folly.
25The truthful witness saves lives,
but whoever utters lies is a betrayer.
26The fear of the LORD is a strong defense,
a refuge even for one’s children.
27The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
turning one from the snares of death.
28A multitude of subjects is the glory of the king;
but if his people are few, a prince is ruined.
29Long-suffering results in great wisdom;
a short temper raises folly high.* e
30A tranquil mind gives life to the body,
but jealousy rots the bones.
31Those who oppress the poor revile their Maker,
but those who are kind to the needy honor him.f
32The wicked are overthrown by their wickedness,
but the just find a refuge in their integrity.
33Wisdom can remain silent in the discerning heart,
but among fools she must make herself known.* g
34Justice exalts a nation,
but sin is a people’s disgrace.*
35The king favors the skillful servant,
but the shameless one incurs his wrath.
* [14:1] The relationship between Wisdom, personified as a woman, and building a house is a constant theme. As elsewhere, the book here warns against the wrong woman and praises the right woman.
* [14:4] If one has no animals, one does not have the burden of keeping the crib full, but without them one will have no crops to fill the barn. Colon B reverses the sense of colon A and also reverses the consonants of bar (“clean”) to rab (“abundant”).
* [14:5] On discerning the truthfulness of witnesses; see 12:17.
* [14:8] Wisdom enables the shrewd to know their path is right but folly leads fools on the wrong path (“deceit”), which calls down retribution.
* [14:10] The heart in Proverbs is where a person’s sense impressions are stored and reflected upon. It is thus one’s most personal and individual part. One’s sorrows and joys (= the full range of emotions) cannot be shared fully with another. Verse 13 expresses the same individuality of the human person.
* [14:11] The traditional fixed pair “house” and “tent” is used to express the paradox that a house can be less secure than a tent if there is no justice.
* [14:15] The naive gullibly rely on others’ words whereas the shrewd watch their own steps.
* [14:18] The inner quality of a person, simple or wise, will eventually be revealed.
* [14:21] The paradox is that anyone who spurns the hungry will lack something, but anyone who shows mercy (presumably by giving to the poor) will gain prosperity.
* [14:29] A series of puns on short and long; lit., “long of nostrils (idiom for “patient”), large in wisdom, / short in breath (idiom for “impatient”), makes folly tall.”
* [14:33] Wisdom can remain silent in a wise person as a welcome friend. But it must speak out among fools, for the dissonance is so strong.
* [14:34] The rare noun “disgrace” occurs elsewhere only in Lv 20:17. In measuring the greatness of a nation, one is tempted to consider territory, wealth, history, but the most important criterion is its relationship to God (“justice”).
a. [14:5] Prv 12:17.
b. [14:11] Prv 3:33; 12:7; 15:25.
c. [14:12] Prv 16:25.
d. [14:20] Prv 19:4, 7; Sir 6:8, 12.
e. [14:29] Prv 16:32; 19:11; Jas 1:19.
f. [14:31] Prv 17:5.
g. [14:33] Prv 1:22; 8:1.
1* A mild answer turns back wrath,a
but a harsh word stirs up anger.*
2The tongue of the wise pours out knowledge,
but the mouth of fools spews folly.
3The eyes of the LORD are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
4A soothing tongue is a tree of life,
but a perverse one breaks the spirit.
5The fool spurns a father’s instruction,
but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.* b
6In the house of the just there are ample resources,
but the harvest of the wicked is in peril.
7The lips of the wise spread knowledge,
but the heart of fools is not steadfast.*
8The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD,c
but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
9The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD,
but he loves one who pursues justice.d
10Discipline seems bad to those going astray;
one who hates reproof will die.*
11Sheol and Abaddon* lie open before the LORD;
how much more the hearts of mortals!
12Scoffers do not love reproof;
to the wise they will not go.
13A glad heart lights up the face,
but an anguished heart breaks the spirit.e
14The discerning heart seeks knowledge,
but the mouth of fools feeds on folly.*
15All the days of the poor are evil,
but a good heart is a continual feast.*
16* Better a little with fear of the LORD
than a great fortune with anxiety.
17Better a dish of herbs where love is
than a fatted ox and hatred with it.
18The ill-tempered stir up strife,f
but the patient settle disputes.
19The way of the sluggard is like a thorn hedge,
but the path of the diligent is a highway.
20A wise son gives his father joy,
but a fool despises his mother.g
21Folly is joy* to the senseless,
but the person of understanding goes the straight way.
22Plans fail when there is no counsel,
but they succeed when advisers are many.* h
23One has joy from an apt response;
a word in season, how good it is!* i
24The path of life leads upward for the prudent,
turning them from Sheol below.*
25The LORD pulls down the house of the proud,
but preserves intact the widow’s landmark.
26The schemes of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD,j
but gracious words are pure.*
27The greedy tear down their own house,
but those who hate bribes will live.*
28The heart of the just ponders a response,
but the mouth of the wicked spews evil.
29The LORD is far from the wicked,
but hears the prayer of the just.
30A cheerful glance brings joy to the heart;
good news invigorates the bones.
31The ear that listens to salutary reproofk
is at home among the wise.*
32Those who disregard discipline hate themselves,
but those who heed reproof acquire understanding.
33The fear of the LORD is training for wisdom,
and humility goes before honors.l
* [15:1–7] These verses form a section beginning and ending with the topic of words.
* [15:1] Paradoxically, where words are concerned soft is powerful and hard is ineffective.
* [15:5] One becomes wise by keeping and foolish by rejecting. One must accept the tradition of the community.
* [15:7] “Lips” and “heart” are a fixed pair, in Proverbs signifying, respectively, expression and source. The wise disseminate what they have in their heart, but the wicked are unsound even in the source of their words, their hearts.
* [15:10] Discipline, always a good thing in Proverbs, seems bad to those deliberately wandering from justice.
* [15:11] Sheol and Abaddon: terms for the abode of the dead, signifying the profound obscurity which is open nevertheless to the sight and power of God; cf. 27:20.
* [15:14] The contrasts include heart (organ of reflection) and mouth (organ of expression), and the wise and fools. One type feeds its mind with wisdom and the other feeds its face with folly.
* [15:15] Good heart does not refer to good intentions but to an instructed mind. Wisdom makes poverty not only bearable but even joyful like the joy of feast days.
* [15:16–17] The sages favor wealth over poverty—but not at any price; cf. Ps 37:16.
* [15:21] The word “joy” occurs in the first line of vv. 20, 21, and 23. The state of folly is joy to a fool but the wise person is totally absorbed in keeping on the right or straight road.
* [15:22] Failure to consult makes it likely a plan will not succeed. The point is nicely made by contrasting the singular number in the first line (“no counsel”) with the plural number in the second line (“many advisors”).
* [15:23] Conversation is the art of saying the right thing at the right time. It gives pleasure to speaker and hearer alike.
* [15:24] Death is personified as Sheol, the underworld. “Up” and “down” in Hebrew as in English are metaphors for success and failure (see Dt 28:43). One who stays on the path of life need not fear the punishment that stalks sinners.
* [15:26] “Pure” here means acceptable. The language of ritual (acceptable or pure) is applied to ordinary human actions. “Gracious words” are words that bring peace to the neighbor.
* [15:27] The same lesson as the opening scene of Proverbs (1:8–19): one cannot build a house by unjust gain. Injustice will come back upon a house so built.
* [15:31] To become wise, one must hear and integrate perspectives contrary to one’s own, which means accepting “reproof.” Wisdom does not isolate one but places one in the company of the wise.
a. [15:1] Prv 25:15; Sir 6:5.
b. [15:5] Prv 12:1; 13:18.
c. [15:8] Prv 21:27; Eccl 4:17; Is 1:11–15.
d. [15:9] Prv 11:20; 21:21.
e. [15:13] Prv 12:25; 17:22; Sir 30:22.
f. [15:18] Prv 6:21; 29:22; Sir 28:11.
g. [15:20] Prv 10:1; 29:3.
h. [15:22] Prv 11:14.
i. [15:23] Prv 25:11; Sir 20:6.
j. [15:26] Prv 6:18.
k. [15:31] Prv 25:12.
l. [15:33] Prv 1:7; 19:12; Sir 1:24.
1Plans are made in human hearts,
but from the LORD comes the tongue’s response.*
2All one’s ways are pure* in one’s own eyes,
but the measurer of motives is the LORD.a
3Entrust your works to the LORD,
and your plans will succeed.
4The LORD has made everything for a purpose,
even the wicked for the evil day.*
5Every proud heart* is an abomination to the LORD;b
be assured that none will go unpunished.
6By steadfast loyalty guilt is expiated,
and by the fear of the LORD evil is avoided.*
7When the LORD is pleased with someone’s ways,
he makes even enemies be at peace with them.
8Better a little with justice,
than a large income with injustice.
9The human heart plans the way,
but the LORD directs the steps.* c
10An oracle is upon the king’s lips,
no judgment of his mouth is false.*
11Balance and scales belong to the LORD;
every weight in the sack is his concern.d
12Wrongdoing is an abomination to kings,
for by justice the throne endures.e
13The king takes delight in honest lips,
and whoever speaks what is right he loves.f
14The king’s wrath is a messenger of death,g
but a wise person can pacify it.
15A king’s smile means life,
and his favor is like a rain cloud in spring.*
16How much better to get wisdom than gold!
To get understanding is preferable to silver.* h
17The path of the upright leads away from misfortune;
those who attend to their way guard their lives.*
18Pride goes before disaster,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
19It is better to be humble with the poor
than to share plunder with the proud.i
20Whoever ponders a matter will be successful;
happy the one who trusts in the LORD!
21The wise of heart is esteemed for discernment,
and pleasing speech gains a reputation for learning.
22Good sense is a fountain of life to those who have it,
but folly is the training of fools.
23The heart of the wise makes for eloquent speech,
and increases the learning on their lips.
24Pleasing words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the taste and invigorating to the bones.
25Sometimes a way seems right,
but the end of it leads to death!j
26The appetite of workers works for them,
for their mouths urge them on.* k
27Scoundrels are a furnace of evil,
and their lips are like a scorching fire.
28Perverse speech sows discord,
and talebearing separates bosom friends.l
29The violent deceive their neighbors,
and lead them into a way that is not good.
30Whoever winks an eye plans perversity;
whoever purses the lips does evil.*
31Gray hair is a crown of glory;m
it is gained by a life that is just.
32The patient are better than warriors,
and those who rule their temper, better than the conqueror of a city.n
33Into the bag the lot is cast,
but from the LORD comes every decision.*
* [16:1] Words, like actions, often produce results different from those which were planned, and this comes under the agency of God.
* [16:2] “Pure” in a moral sense for human action is found only in Job and Proverbs. As in v. 1, the contrast is between human intent and divine assessment.
* [16:4] Even the wicked do not lie outside God’s plan.
* [16:5] Proud heart: lit., “high of heart.” To forget one is a fallible human being is so basic an error that one cannot escape exposure and punishment.
* [16:6] As v. 5 used the language of worship to express what is acceptable or not to God, so this saying uses similar language to declare that lovingly loyal conduct undoes the effects of sin.
* [16:9] As in vv. 1–3, the antithesis is between human plans and divine disposal. The saying uses the familiar metaphor of path for the course of life.
* [16:10] Six sayings on the king and his divine authority begin here, following the series of sayings about the Lord’s governance in 15:33–16:9, in which “LORD” was mentioned nine times.
* [16:15] The last of six sayings about the king. In the previous verse, royal wrath means death; in this verse royal favor means life. It is significant that royal favor is compared to something not under human control—the clouds preceding the spring rains.
* [16:16] The point of comparison is the superiority of the pursuit of wisdom and gold, not the relative merits of wealth and wisdom.
* [16:17] In the metaphor of the two ways, the way of the righteous is protected and the way of the wicked is unprotected. Since the path of the righteous leads therefore away from trouble, one’s task is to stay on it, to “attend to” it.
* [16:26] The adage puzzled ancient and modern commentators. The meaning seems to state the paradox that a person does not toil to feed the gullet but that the gullet itself “toils” in the sense that it forces the person to work. As often in Proverbs, the sense organ stands for the faculty by metonymy. Cf. Eccl 6:7.
* [16:30] A restless or twitching eye or lip betrays the condition of the heart (cf. 6:13).
* [16:33] Dice were given meanings of “yes” or “no” and then cast for their answer. What came out was the decision. Here the saying interprets the sequence of actions: a human being puts the dice in the bag but what emerges from the bag is the Lord’s decision.
a. [16:2] Prv 21:2.
b. [16:5] Prv 6:16–17; 8:13.
c. [16:9] Prv 19:21; 20:24; Jer 10:23.
d. [16:11] Prv 11:1.
e. [16:12] Prv 25:5.
f. [16:13] Prv 14:35; 22:11.
g. [16:14] Prv 19:12; 20:2.
h. [16:16] Prv 8:10–11.
i. [16:19] Prv 11:2.
j. [16:25] Prv 14:12.
k. [16:26] Prv 10:4.
l. [16:28] Prv 6:14, 19; 17:9; 26:22; Sir 28:15.
m. [16:31] Prv 20:29.
n. [16:32] Prv 14:29.
1Better a dry crust with quiet
than a house full of feasting with strife.*
2A wise servant will rule over an unworthy son,
and will share the inheritance of the children.*
3The crucible for silver, and the furnace for gold,
but the tester of hearts is the LORD.
4The evildoer gives heed to wicked lips,
the liar, to a mischievous tongue.
5Whoever mocks the poor reviles their Maker;
whoever rejoices in their misfortune will not go unpunished.a
6Children’s children are the crown of the elderly,
and the glory of children is their parentage.
7Fine words ill fit a fool;
how much more lying lips, a noble!
8A bribe seems a charm to its user;
at every turn it brings success.*
9Whoever overlooks an offense fosters friendship,
but whoever gossips about it separates friends.*
10A single reprimand does more for a discerning person
than a hundred lashes for a fool.*
11The wicked pursue only rebellion,
and a merciless messenger is sent against them.*
12Face a bear robbed of her cubs,
but never fools in their folly!*
13If you return evil for good,
evil will not depart from your house.* b
14The start of strife is like the opening of a dam;
check a quarrel before it bursts forth!
15Whoever acquits the wicked,c whoever condemns the just—
both are an abomination to the LORD.
16Of what use is money in the hands of fools
when they have no heart to acquire wisdom?*
17A friend is a friend at all times,
and a brother is born for the time of adversity.d
18Those without sense give their hands in pledge,
becoming surety for their neighbors.e
19Those who love an offense love a fight;f
those who build their gate high* court disaster.
20The perverse in heart come to no good,
and the double-tongued fall into trouble.*
21Whoever conceives a fool has grief;
the father of a numskull has no joy.
22A joyful heart is the health of the body,
but a depressed spirit dries up the bones.g
23A guilty person takes out a bribe from the pocket,
thus perverting the course of justice.*
24On the countenance of a discerning person is wisdom,h
but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.*
25A foolish son is vexation to his father,
and bitter sorrow to her who bore him.i
26It is wrong to fine an innocent person,
but beyond reason to scourge nobles.
27Those who spare their words are truly knowledgeable,
and those who are discreet are intelligent.j
28Even fools, keeping silent, are considered wise;
if they keep their lips closed, intelligent.*
* [17:1] A “better than” saying, stating the circumstances when a dry crust is better than a banquet. Peace and fellowship give joy to a meal, not the richness of the food. For a similar thought, see 15:16 and 16:8.
* [17:2] Ability is esteemed more highly than ties of blood.
* [17:8] An observation on the effect of the bribe upon the bribe-giver: it gives an intoxicating feeling of power (“seems”). In v. 23 the evil effects of a bribe are noted.
* [17:9] A paradox. One finds (love, friend) by concealing (an offense), one loses (a friend) by revealing (a secret). In 10:12 love also covers over a multitude of offenses.
* [17:10] A wonderful comment on the openness and sensitivity of the wise and the foolish. One type learns from a single word and for the other one hundred blows are not enough.
* [17:11] The irony is that such people will meet up with what they so energetically pursue—in the form of an unrelenting emissary sent to them.
* [17:12] Humorous hyperbole. An outraged dangerous beast poses less danger than a fool.
* [17:13] The paradox is that to pay out evil for good means that the evil will never leave one’s own house.
* [17:16] The exhortation to acquire or purchase wisdom is common in Proverbs. Fools misunderstand the metaphor, assuming they can buy it with money. Their very misunderstanding shows they have no “heart” = mind, understanding. Money in the hand is no good without such a “heart” to store it in.
* [17:19] Build their gate high: a symbol of arrogance.
* [17:20] The saying employs the familiar metaphors of walking = conducting oneself (“fall into trouble”), and of straight and crooked = right and wrong (“perverse,” “double-tongued”).
* [17:23] A sharp look at the sly withdrawing of a bribe from the pocket and a blunt judgment on its significance.
* [17:24] Wisdom is visible on the countenance (i.e., mouth, lips, tongue) of the wise person; its ultimate source is the heart. Fools have no such source of wisdom within them, a point that is nicely made by referring to the eye of the fool, roving over the landscape.
* [17:28] Related to v. 27. Words provide a glimpse into the heart. In the unlikely event that fools, who usually pour out words (15:2), were to say nothing, people would not be able to see their folly and would presume them intelligent. Alas, the saying is contrary to fact.
a. [17:5] Prv 14:31.
b. [17:13] Mt 5:39; Rom 12:17; 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9.
c. [17:15] Prv 24:24; Is 5:23.
d. [17:17] Prv 18:24.
e. [17:18] Prv 6:1–2; 11:15.
f. [17:19] Prv 15:18.
g. [17:22] Prv 12:25; 15:13.
h. [17:24] Eccl 8:1.
i. [17:25] Prv 10:1; 29:15.
j. [17:27] Prv 10:19; Sir 1:21; Jas 1:19.
1One who is alienated seeks a pretext,
with all persistence picks a quarrel.
2Fools take no delight in understanding,
but only in displaying what they think.*
3With wickedness comes contempt,
and with disgrace, scorn.
4The words of one’s mouth are deep waters,
the spring of wisdom, a running brook.* a
5It is not good to favor the guilty,
nor to reject the claim of the just.b
6The lips of fools walk into a fight,
and their mouths are asking for a beating.*
7The mouths of fools are their ruin;
their lips are a deadly snare.c
8The words of a talebearer are like dainty morsels:
they sink into one’s inmost being.d
9Those slack in their work
are kin to the destroyer.
10* The name of the LORD is a strong tower;
the just run to it and are safe.
11The wealth of the rich is their strong city;e
they fancy it a high wall.
12Before disaster the heart is haughty,f
but before honor is humility.
13Whoever answers before listening,g
theirs is folly and shame.*
14One’s spirit supports one when ill,
but a broken spirit who can bear?*
15The heart of the intelligent acquires knowledge,
and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.*
16Gifts clear the way for people,
winning access to the great.h
17Those who plead the case first seem to be in the right;
then the opponent comes and cross-examines them.*
18The lot puts an end to disputes,
and decides a controversy between the mighty.*
19A brother offended is more unyielding than a stronghold;
such strife is more daunting than castle gates.*
20With the fruit of one’s mouth one’s belly is filled,
with the produce of one’s lips one is sated.* i
21Death and life are in the power of the tongue;j
those who choose one shall eat its fruit.*
22To find a wife is to find happiness,
a favor granted by the LORD.k
23The poor implore,
but the rich answer harshly.
24There are friends who bring ruin,
but there are true friends more loyal than a brother.l
* [18:2] One grows in wisdom by listening to others, but fools take delight in expounding the contents of their minds.
* [18:4] Words express a person’s thoughts (“deep waters”), which in turn become accessible to others. Cf. 20:5a.
* [18:6] The bold personification of lips and mouth is similar to Ps 73:9, “They set their mouths against the heavens, their tongues roam the earth.” Careless words can lead one into serious trouble.
* [18:10–11] Contrast this judgment with the observation in 10:15.
* [18:13] To speak without first listening is characteristic of a fool; cf. 10:14; Sir 11:8.
* [18:14] The paradox is that something as slight as a column of air offers protection against the encroachment of death. If it is stilled, nothing, no matter how powerful, can substitute for it.
* [18:15] “Knowledge” here refers to what one knows, not knowledge in itself. The mind acquires and stores it, the ear strains toward it.
* [18:17] A persuasive speech in court can easily make one forget there is another side to the question. When the other party speaks, people realize they made a premature judgment. The experience at court is a lesson for daily life: there are two sides to every question.
* [18:18] See note on 16:33.
* [18:19] The Greek version, followed by several ancient versions, has the opposite meaning: “A brother helped by a brother is like a strong and lofty city; it is strong like a well-founded palace.” The Greek is secondary as is shown by the need to supply the phrase “by a brother”; further, the parallelism is inadequate. The Hebrew is to be preferred.
* [18:20] Fruit from the earth is our ordinary sustenance, but “the fruit of one’s lips,” i.e., our words, also affect our well-being. If our words and our deeds are right, then we are blessed, our “belly is filled.”
* [18:21] This enigmatic saying has provoked many interpretations, e.g., judicious speech brings a reward; those who love the tongue in the sense of rattling on must face the consequences of their loquacity. This translation interprets the verb “love” in colon B in its occasional sense of “choose” (e.g., 12:1; 20:13; Dt 4:37) and interprets its pronominal object as referring to both death and life in colon A. Death and life are set before every person (cf. Dt 30:15–20) and we have the power to choose either one by the quality of our deeds. Words (= “the tongue”) are regarded here as the defining actions of human beings.
a. [18:4] Prv 20:5; Jn 7:38.
b. [18:5] Prv 24:23; 28:21.
c. [18:7] Prv 10:14; 12:13; 13:3; Eccl 10:12.
d. [18:8] Prv 26:22.
e. [18:11] Prv 10:15.
f. [18:12] Prv 11:2; 16:18; Sir 10:15.
g. [18:13] Sir 11:8.
h. [18:16] Prv 21:14.
i. [18:20] Prv 12:14; 13:2.
j. [18:21] Sir 37:18.
k. [18:22] Prv 12:4; 19:14; Sir 7:26.
l. [18:24] Prv 17:17.
1Better to be poor and walk in integrity
than rich and crooked in one’s ways.a
2Desire without knowledge is not good;
and whoever acts hastily, blunders.*
3Their own folly leads people astray;
in their hearts they rage against the LORD.*
4Wealth adds many friends,
but the poor are left friendless.b
5The false witness will not go unpunished,
and whoever utters lies will not escape.* c
6Many curry favor with a noble;
everybody is a friend of a gift giver.
7All the kin of the poor despise them;
how much more do their friends shun them!*
8Those who gain sense truly love themselves;
those who preserve understanding will find success.*
9The false witness will not go unpunished,
and whoever utters lies will perish.
10Luxury is not befitting a fool;
much less should a slave rule over princes.
11It is good sense to be slow to anger,
and an honor to overlook an offense.*
12The king’s wrath is like the roar of a lion,
but his favor, like dew on the grass.* d
13The foolish son is ruin to his father,e
and a quarrelsome wife is water constantly dripping.*
14Home and possessions are an inheritance from parents,
but a prudent wife is from the LORD.f
15Laziness brings on deep sleep,
and the sluggard goes hungry.g
16Those who keep commands keep their lives,
but those who despise these ways will die.h
17Whoever cares for the poor lends to the LORD,i
who will pay back the sum in full.
18Discipline your son, for there is hope;
but do not be intent on his death.* j
19A wrathful person bears the penalty;
after one rescue, you will have it to do again.
20Listen to counsel and receive instruction,
that you may eventually become wise.
21Many are the plans of the human heart,
but it is the decision of the LORD that endures.k
22What is desired of a person is fidelity;
rather be poor than a liar.*
23The fear of the LORD leads to life;
one eats and sleeps free from any harm.
24The sluggard buries a hand in the dish;
not even lifting it to the mouth.l
25Beat a scoffer and the naive learn a lesson;
rebuke the intelligent and they gain knowledge.m
26Whoever mistreats a father or drives away a mother,
is a shameless and disgraceful child.* n
27My son, stop attending to correction;
start straying from words of knowledge.*
28An unprincipled witness scoffs at justice,
and the mouth of the wicked pours out iniquity.
29Rods are prepared for scoffers,
and blows for the backs of fools.o
* [19:2] When not guided by wisdom, appetite—or desire—is not good. “Running feet” (so the Hebrew) miss the mark, i.e., do not reach their destination.
* [19:3] One’s own folly destroys one’s life. It is an indication of that folly that one blames God rather than oneself.
* [19:5] The punishment fits the crime: those who abuse the legal system will be punished by the same system. They will not be acquitted.
* [19:7] Closely related to vv. 4 and 6. An observation, not without sympathy, on the social isolation of poor people.
* [19:8] Wisdom benefits the one who practices it.
* [19:11] The paradox is that one obtains one thing by giving up another.
* [19:12] An observation on the exercise of royal power. Both images suggest royal attitudes are beyond human control. Colon A is a variant of 20:2a and colon B of 16:15b.
* [19:13] One of many sayings about domestic happiness. The perspective is male; the two greatest pains to a father is a malicious son and an unsuitable wife. The immediately following saying is on the noble wife, perhaps to make a positive statement about women.
* [19:18] The pain of disciplining the young cannot be compared with the danger no discipline may bring. The chief reason for disciplining the young is their capacity to change; excluded thereby are revenge and punishment.
* [19:22] The proverb has been read in two ways: (1) “Desire (greed) is a shame to a person,” which assumes the rare Hebrew word for “shame” is being used; (2) “What is desired in a person is fidelity.” The second interpretation is preferable. The context may be the court: better to forego money (a bribe) than perjure oneself.
* [19:26] Children who disgrace the family equivalently plunder their father’s wealth and expel their mother from the home.
* [19:27] The meaning was disputed even in antiquity. The interpretation that most respects the syntax is to take it as ironic advice as in 22:6: to stop (listening) is to go (wandering).
a. [19:1] Prv 28:6.
b. [19:4] Prv 14:20; Sir 13:20–23.
c. [19:5] Dt 19:16–20; Dn 13:61.
d. [19:12] Prv 20:2.
e. [19:13] Prv 10:1; 17:25.
f. [19:14] Prv 18:22.
g. [19:15] Prv 6:9–10.
h. [19:16] Prv 13:13; 16:17.
i. [19:17] Prv 14:21; 22:9; 28:27.
j. [19:18] Prv 13:24; 23:13–14.
k. [19:21] Prv 16:9.
l. [19:24] Prv 26:15.
m. [19:25] Prv 17:10; 21:11.
n. [19:26] Sir 3:16.
o. [19:29] Prv 26:3.
1Wine is arrogant, strong drink is riotous;
none who are intoxicated by them are wise.* a
2The terror of a king is like the roar of a lion;b
those who incur his anger forfeit their lives.
3A person gains honor by avoiding strife,
while every fool starts a quarrel.*
4In seedtime sluggards do not plow;
when they look for the harvest, it is not there.
5The intention of the human heart is deep water,
but the intelligent draw it forth.* c
6Many say, “My loyal friend,”
but who can find someone worthy of trust?
7The just walk in integrity;
happy are their children after them!
8A king seated on the throne of judgment
dispels all evil with his glance.*
9Who can say, “I have made my heart clean,d
I am cleansed of my sin”?*
10Varying weights, varying measures,
are both an abomination to the LORD.e
11In their actions even children can playact
though their deeds be blameless and right.*
12The ear that hears, the eye that sees—
the LORD has made them both.*
13Do not love sleep lest you be reduced to poverty;
keep your eyes open, have your fill of food.
14“Bad, bad!” says the buyer,
then goes away only to boast.*
15One can put on gold and abundant jewels,
but wise lips are the most precious ornament.*
16Take the garment of the one who became surety for a stranger;f
if for foreigners, exact the pledge!*
17Bread earned by deceit is sweet,
but afterward the mouth is filled with gravel.
18Plans made with advice succeed;
with wise direction wage your war.
19A slanderer reveals secrets;
so have nothing to do with a babbler!
20Those who curse father or mother—
their lamp will go out* in the dead of night.g
21Possessions greedily guarded at the outset
will not be blessed in the end.*
22Do not say, “I will repay evil!”
Wait for the LORD, who will help you.* h
23Varying weights are an abomination to the LORD,
and false scales are not good.i
24Our steps are from the LORD;j
how, then, can mortals understand their way?*
25It is a trap to pledge rashly a sacred gift,
and after a vow, then to reflect.*
26A wise king winnows the wicked,
and threshes them under the cartwheel.*
27A lamp from the LORD is human life-breath;
it searches through the inmost being.*
28His steadfast loyalty safeguards the king,
and he upholds his throne by justice.k
29The glory of the young is their strength,
and the dignity of the old is gray hair.l
30Evil is cleansed away by bloody lashes,
and a scourging to the inmost being.
* [20:1] The cause stands for its effect (wine, drunken behavior). In Proverbs wine is a sign of prosperity and a symbol of feasting (3:10; 4:17; 9:2, 5) but also a potential threat to wisdom as in 20:1; 21:17; 23:29–35.
* [20:3] The honor that one might seek to gain from fighting comes of itself to the person who refrains from fighting.
* [20:5] The heart is where human plans are made and stored; they remain “deep water” until words reveal them to others. The wise know how to draw up those waters, i.e., express them. Cf. 18:4.
* [20:8] The royal throne is established in justice and the king is the agent of that justice.
* [20:9] A claim to sinlessness can be merely self-deception; see 16:2; cf. also 15:11.
* [20:11] The verb in colon A can mean either “to make oneself known” or “to play another person” (as in Gn 42:7 and 1 Kgs 14:5, 6). The second meaning makes a better parallel to colon B. The meaning is that if a child can playact, an adult can do so even more. Actions do not always reveal character.
* [20:12] Human judgments are not ultimate; the Lord expects proper use of these faculties.
* [20:14] Bartering invites playacting and masking one’s true intent. The truth of words depends on their context.
* [20:15] Wisdom is said to be preferable to gold in 3:14; 8:10, 19; 16:16. Colon B suggests that the gold and jewelry here are ornaments for the face (cf. Gn 24:53; Ex 3:22; Is 61:10). Wise lips are the most beautiful adornment, for they display the wisdom of the heart.
* [20:16] The text is not clear. See 27:13. Caution in becoming surety is always advised (cf. 6:1–3), and it is especially advisable with strangers.
* [20:20] Their lamp will go out: misfortune, even death, awaits them; cf. 13:9; Ex 21:17.
* [20:21] By definition, an inheritance is not gained by one’s own efforts but is received as a gift. If, when one first receives the inheritance, one drives everyone away, one treats it as if one acquired it by one’s own efforts. In an agricultural society, an inheritance would often be a field that would require God’s blessing to be fertile.
* [20:22] Appointing oneself an agent of divine retribution is dangerous. Better to wait for God to effect justice. Cf. 24:17–18.
* [20:24] An indication of the Lord’s inscrutable providence; cf. Jer 10:23; see Prv 21:2; cf. also 14:12.
* [20:25] This verse cautions against making vows without proper reflection; cf. Dt 23:22–25; Eccl 5:4–5.
* [20:26] The king is responsible for effecting justice. Judgment is portrayed in agricultural imagery—exposing grain to a current of air so that the chaff is blown away, and passing a wheel over the cereal to break the husk. Winnowing as image for judgment is found throughout the Bible.
* [20:27] A parallel is drawn between the life-breath that is God’s gift (Jb 32:8; 33:2) coursing through the human body (Is 2:22) and the lamp of God, which can be a symbol of divine scrutiny. In Zep 1:12, God declares, “And in that day I will search through Jerusalem with lamps.”
a. [20:1] Prv 23:29–35.
b. [20:2] Prv 19:12.
c. [20:5] Prv 18:4.
d. [20:9] 1 Kgs 8:46; 2 Chr 6:36; Eccl 7:20; 1 Jn 1:8.
e. [20:10] Prv 11:1; 20:23.
f. [20:16] Prv 27:13.
g. [20:20] Prv 30:11, 17; Ex 21:17; Lv 20:9; Mt 15:4.
h. [20:22] Prv 24:29; Sir 28:1; Mt 5:39; Rom 12:17, 19; 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9.
i. [20:23] Prv 11:1; 20:10.
j. [20:24] Prv 16:9.
k. [20:28] Prv 16:12.
l. [20:29] Prv 16:31.
1A king’s heart is channeled water in the hand of the LORD;
God directs it where he pleases.*
2All your ways may be straight in your own eyes,
but it is the LORD who weighs hearts.a
3To do what is right and justb
is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.*
4Haughty eyes and a proud heart—
the lamp of the wicked will fail.*
5The plans of the diligent end in profit,
but those of the hasty end in loss.*
6Trying to get rich by lying
is chasing a bubble over deadly snares.
7The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
because they refuse to do what is right.
8One’s path may be winding and unfamiliar,
but one’s conduct is blameless and right.*
9It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop
than in a mansion with a quarrelsome woman.* c
10The soul of the wicked desires evil;
their neighbor finds no pity in their eyes.
11When scoffers are punished the naive become wise;
when the wise succeed, they gain knowledge.d
12The Righteous One appraises the house of the wicked,
bringing down the wicked to ruin.*
13Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor
will themselves call out and not be answered.
14A secret gift allays anger,
and a present concealed, violent wrath.*
15When justice is done it is a joy for the just,
downfall for evildoers.* e
16Whoever strays from the way of good sense
will abide in the assembly of the shades.*
17The lover of pleasure will suffer want;
the lover of wine and perfume will never be rich.
18The wicked serve as ransom for the just,
and the faithless for the upright.* f
19It is better to dwell in a wilderness
than with a quarrelsome wife and trouble.
20Precious treasure and oil are in the house of the wise,
but the fool consumes them.
21Whoever pursues justice and kindness
will find life and honor.*
22The wise person storms the city of the mighty,
and overthrows the stronghold in which they trust.
23Those who guard mouth and tongue
guard themselves* from trouble.g
24Proud, boastful—scoffer is the name:
those who act with overbearing pride.
25The desire of sluggards will slay them,
for their hands refuse to work.*
26Some are consumed with avarice all the day,
but the just give unsparingly.
27The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination,
the more so when they offer it with bad intent.h
28The false witness will perish,i
but one who listens will give lasting testimony.
29The face of the wicked hardens,
but the upright maintains a straight course.*
30No wisdom, no understanding,
no counsel prevail against the LORD.
31The horse is equipped for the day of battle,
but victory is the LORD’s.
* [21:1] “Channeled water” in Is 32:2 and Prv 5:16 is water that fertilizes arid land. It takes great skill to direct water, whether it be water to fertilize fields or cosmic floods harnessed at creation, for water is powerful and seems to have a mind of its own. It also requires great skill to direct the heart of a king, for it is inscrutable and beyond ordinary human control.
* [21:3] External rites or sacrifices do not please God unless accompanied by internal worship and right moral conduct; cf. 15:8; 21:27; Is 1:11–15; Am 5:22; Mal 1:12.
* [21:4] Heart and eyes depict, respectively, the inner and the outer person. “Haughty eyes” peering out from a “proud heart” show a thoroughly arrogant person. How can such a person flourish! Their lamp, which signifies life, will go out.
* [21:5] The antitheses are diligent and impetuous. The metaphor characterizing each type is taken from the world of commerce. Planning is important; bustle leads to waste.
* [21:8] One cannot always read others’ hearts from their behavior. Unconventional conduct need not indicate evil motives.
* [21:9] In Proverbs, two great obstacles to a happy household are foolish children and quarrelsome spouses. The nagging wife is also mentioned in 19:13 and 27:15; 25:24 is a duplicate.
* [21:12] It is difficult to ascertain the subject of the saying. Some hold it is the Lord, the “Righteous One,” who is normally the executor of justice in Proverbs. Others believe it is the just person who is the agent of divine justice. “Righteous One” is a title for God in Is 24:16. The best argument for making God the subject of the verb is that elsewhere in Proverbs righteous human beings never do anything to the wicked; only God does.
* [21:14] Proverbs offers several remedies for anger—a soft word (15:1), patience, and a bribe. The last remedy implies a certain disdain for the disordered passion of anger, for it can be so easily assuaged by a discreetly offered “gift.”
* [21:15] The second line is a duplicate of 10:29b.
* [21:16] Assembly of the shades: those who dwell in Sheol.
* [21:18] In this bold paradox, the ransom that protects the righteous is the wicked person who attracts, like a lightning rod, the divine wrath that might have been directed at the righteous.
* [21:21] The paradox is that one comes upon something other than what one pursued. The way to (long and healthy) life and honor is the vigorous pursuit of virtue.
* [21:23] Themselves: see note on 13:3. To guard your “self” (lit., “throat,” the moist and breathing center of the body, by metonymy, “life”), you must guard your tongue. Speech in Proverbs is the quintessential human activity and often has a meaning broader than speech alone; it can stand for all human activity. Acting rightly is the best way to protect yourself from evil.
* [21:25] Desire, or appetite, is the impulse toward food and drink (see Ps 42:3) which spurs animals and human beings into action. But sluggards cannot lift hand to mouth; they bury their hand in the dish (19:24), and so their appetite is thwarted.
* [21:29] The wicked cannot deter the righteous from walking the straight path, i.e., from practicing virtue.
a. [21:2] Prv 16:2.
b. [21:3] 1 Sm 15:22; Hos 6:6.
c. [21:9] Prv 21:19; 25:24; 27:15; Sir 25:23.
d. [21:11] Prv 19:25.
e. [21:15] Prv 10:29.
f. [21:18] Prv 11:8.
g. [21:23] Prv 13:3.
h. [21:27] Prv 15:8; Sir 34:21–23.
i. [21:28] Prv 19:5, 9.
1A good name is more desirable than great riches,
and high esteem, than gold and silver.* a
2Rich and poor have a common bond:
the LORD is the maker of them all.b
3The astute see an evil and hide,
while the naive continue on and pay the penalty.* c
4The result of humility and fear of the LORD
is riches, honor and life.*
5Thorns and snares are on the path of the crooked;
those who would safeguard their lives will avoid them.
6Train the young in the way they should go;
even when old, they will not swerve from it.*
7The rich rule over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.*
8Those who sow iniquity reap calamity,d
and the rod used in anger will fail.*
9The generous will be blessed,
for they share their food with the poor.
10Expel the arrogant and discord goes too;
strife and insult cease.
11The LORD loves the pure of heart;e
the person of winning speech has a king for a friend.
12The eyes of the LORD watch over the knowledgeable,
but he defeats the projects of the faithless.
13The sluggard says, “A lion is outside;f
I might be slain in the street.”*
14The mouth of the foreign woman is a deep pit;g
whoever incurs the LORD’s anger will fall into it.
15Folly is bound to the heart of a youth,
but the rod of discipline will drive it out.*
16Oppressing the poor for enrichment,
giving to the rich: both are sheer loss.*
17The Words of the Wise:*
Incline your ear, and hear my words,h
and let your mind attend to my teaching;
18For it will be well if you hold them within you,
if they all are ready on your lips.
19That your trust may be in the LORD,
I make them known to you today—yes, to you.
20Have I not written for you thirty sayings,
containing counsels and knowledge,
21To teach you truly
how to give a dependable report to one who sends you?
22Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
nor crush the needy at the gate;*
23For the LORD will defend their cause,i
and will plunder those who plunder them.
24Do not be friendly with hotheads,
nor associate with the wrathful,
25Lest you learn their ways,
and become ensnared.
26Do not be one of those who give their hand in pledge,
those who become surety for debts;j
27For if you are unable to pay,
your bed will be taken from under you.*
28Do not remove the ancient landmark*
that your ancestors set up.k
29Do you see those skilled at their work?
They will stand in the presence of kings,
but not in the presence of the obscure.
* [22:1] “Good name” (Heb. shem) and “high esteem” (Heb. chen) are declared to be of more value than great riches. Human beings belong to a community and without the acceptance of that community, which is built on esteem and trust, human life is grievously damaged. Riches are less essential to the human spirit.
* [22:3] The wise see dangers before they are engulfed by them whereas fools, through dullness or boldness, march right on.
* [22:4] Humiliation can be an occasion for knowing one’s place in God’s world. Such knowledge is part of fear (or revering) of the Lord. Revering the Lord brings the blessings of wealth, honor, and long life. The saying is perhaps meant to counter the view that humiliation is an unmixed evil; something good can come of it.
* [22:6] One of the few exhortations in the collection (cf. 14:7; 16:3; 19:18, 20). “Way” in the first colon has been taken in two different senses: (1) the morally right way, “according to the way one ought to go”; (2) personal aptitude, i.e., the manner of life for which one is destined, as “the way of Egypt” (Is 10:24). Neither interpretation, however, accounts for the pronoun in the Hebrew phrase, lit., “his own way.” The most natural solution is to take the whole as ironic advice (like 19:27): yes, go ahead and let the young do exactly what they want; they will become self-willed adults.
* [22:7] An observation on money and power. One who borrows becomes poor in the sense of indebted, a slave to the lender.
* [22:8] Agricultural metaphors express the failure of malicious actions. In the first line, bad actions are seeds yielding trouble. In the second line, “the rod” is a flail used to beat grains as in Is 28:27.
* [22:13] To avoid the effort required for action, the sluggard exaggerates the difficulties that must be overcome.
* [22:15] Folly is attached to children as the husk is attached to the grain. “Rod” here, as in v. 8, seems to be the flail. Discipline is the process of winnowing away the folly.
* [22:16] A difficult saying. One possibility is to take it as a seemingly neutral observation on the plight of the poor: taking money from the poor is relatively easy for the powerful but it is dangerous as the poor have the Lord as their defender (24:22–23), who will punish their oppressors. Giving to the rich, perhaps to win their favor by presents and bribes, is equally a waste of money, for the rich will always do what they please in any case.
* [22:17–24:22] This collection consists of an introduction (22:17–21) urging openness and stating the purpose of the Words and diverse admonitions, aphorisms, and counsels. It is written with faith in the Lord, shrewdness, and a satirical eye. The first part seems aimed at young people intent on a career (22:22–23:11); the second is taken up with the concerns of youth (23:12–35); the third part is interested in the ultimate fate of the good and the wicked (24:1–22). The whole can be described as a guidebook of professional ethics. The aim is to inculcate trust in the Lord and to help readers avoid trouble and advance their careers by living according to wisdom. Its outlook is very practical: avoid bad companions because in time you will take on some of their qualities; do not post bond for others because you yourself will be encumbered; do not promote yourself too aggressively because such promotion is self-defeating; do not abuse sex or alcohol because they will harm you; do not emulate your peers if they are wicked (23:14; 24:1, 19) because such people have no future. Rather, trust the vocation of a sage (22:29–23:9).
The Egyptian Instructions of Amenemope (written ca. 1100 B.C.) was discovered in 1923. Scholars immediately recognized it as a source of Prv 22:17–23:11. The Egyptian work has thirty chapters (cf. Prv 22:20); its preface resembled Prv 22:17–21; its first two admonitions matched the first two in Proverbs (Prv 22:22–25). There are many other resemblances as well, some of which are pointed out in the notes. The instruction of a father to his son (or an administrator to his successor) was a well-known genre in Egypt; seventeen works are extant, spanning the period from 2500 B.C. to the first century A.D. The instructions aimed to help a young person live a happy and prosperous life and avoid mistakes that cause difficulties. They make concrete and pragmatic suggestions rather than hold up abstract ideals. Pragmatic though they were, the instructions were religious; they assumed that the gods implanted an order in the world (Egyptian maat), which is found both in nature and in the human world. Amenemope represents a stage in the development of the Egyptian genre, displaying a new inwardness and quest for serenity while still assuming that the practice of virtue brings worldly success. Proverbs borrows from the Egyptian work with great freedom: it does not, for example, import as such the Egyptian concept of order; it engages the reader with its characteristic wit, irony, and paradox (e.g., 22:26–27; 23:1–3).
* [22:17–23:35] The maxims warn against: robbing the poor and defenseless (22:22–23), anger (22:24–25), giving surety for debts (22:26–27), advancing oneself by socializing with rulers (23:1–2), anxiety for riches (23:4–5), forcing oneself on a grudging host (23:6–8), intemperance in food and drink (23:19–21, 29–35), and adultery (23:26–28). They exhort to: careful workmanship (22:29), respect for the rights of orphans (23:10–11), correction of the young (23:13–14), filial piety (23:15–16, 22–25), and fear of the Lord (23:17–18).
* [22:22] At the gate: of the city, where justice was administered and public affairs discussed; cf. Ru 4:1. Cf. also Ps 69:13; 127:5; Prv 24:7; 31:23, 31. The Lord will personally avenge those who have no one to defend them.
* [22:27] Providing surety for a debtor puts one in danger of having the very basics of one’s life suddenly seized.
* [22:28] Landmark: marks the boundary of property. To remove it is the equivalent of stealing land. A similar warning is contained in 23:10.
a. [22:1] Eccl 7:1.
b. [22:2] Prv 29:13.
c. [22:3] Prv 27:12.
d. [22:8] Jb 4:8; Sir 7:3; Hos 8:7.
e. [22:11] Mt 5:8.
f. [22:13] Prv 26:13.
g. [22:14] Prv 23:27.
h. [22:17] Prv 5:1.
i. [22:23] Prv 23:11.
j. [22:26] Prv 6:1–2; 11:15; 17:18.
k. [22:28] Prv 23:10; Dt 19:14; 27:17.
1* When you sit down to dine with a ruler,
mark well the one who is before you;
2Stick the knife in your gullet*
if you have a ravenous appetite.
3Do not desire his delicacies;
it is food that deceives.
4Do not wear yourself out to gain wealth,
cease to be worried about it;
5When your glance flits to it, it is gone!
For assuredly it grows wings,
like the eagle that flies toward heaven.*
6* Do not take food with unwilling hosts,
and do not desire their delicacies;
7For like something stuck in the throat is that food.
“Eat and drink,” they say to you,
but their hearts are not with you;
8The little you have eaten you will vomit up,
and you will have wasted your agreeable words.
9Do not speak in the hearing of fools;
they will despise the wisdom of your words.a
10Do not remove the ancient landmark,b
nor invade the fields of the fatherless;*
11For their redeemer is strong;
he will defend their cause against you.c
12Apply your heart to instruction,
and your ear to words of knowledge.
13* Do not withhold discipline from youths;
if you beat them with the rod, they will not die.d
14Beat them with the rod,e
and you will save them from Sheol.
15My son, if your heart is wise,
my heart also will rejoice;
16And my inmost being will exult,
when your lips speak what is right.
17Do not let your heart envy sinners,f
but only those who always fear the LORD;*
18For you will surely have a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.g
19Hear, my son, and be wise,
and guide your heart in the right way.
20Do not join with wine bibbers,
nor with those who glut themselves on meat.
21For drunkards and gluttons come to poverty,
and lazing about clothes one in rags.
22* Listen to your father who begot you,
do not despise your mother when she is old.
23Buy truth and do not sell:
wisdom, instruction, understanding!
24The father of a just person will exult greatly;
whoever begets a wise son will rejoice in him.h
25Let your father and mother rejoice;
let her who bore you exult.
26* My son, give me your heart,
and let your eyes keep to my ways,
27For the harlot is a deep pit,
and the foreign woman a narrow well;
28Yes, she lies in wait like a robber,i
and increases the number of the faithless.
29* Who scream? Who shout?
Who have strife? Who have anxiety?
Who have wounds for nothing?
Who have bleary eyes?
30Whoever linger long over wine,
whoever go around quaffing wine.j
31Do not look on the wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup.
It goes down smoothly,
32but in the end it bites like a serpent,
and stings like an adder.
33Your eyes behold strange sights,
and your heart utters incoherent things;
34You are like one sleeping on the high seas,
sprawled at the top of the mast.
35“They struck me, but it did not pain me;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When can I get up,
when can I go out and get more?”*
* [23:1–9] Four admonitions for someone aspiring to be a sage: be careful about advancing your career by socializing with the great (vv. 1–3); avoid greed (vv. 4–5); do not force yourself on an unwilling host (vv. 6–8); do not waste your wisdom on those who cannot profit from it (v. 9).
* [23:2] Stick the knife in your gullet: a metaphor for self-restraint. The usual translation, “Put a knife to your throat,” is misleading, for in English it is a death threat. The exhortation is humorously exaggerated: stick the table-knife in your own gullet rather than take too much food. It assumes that the young courtier is unused to opulent banquets and will be tempted to overindulgence.
* [23:5] The frustration of covetous intent and elusiveness of wealth are portrayed by the sudden flight of an eagle. Amenemope, chap. 7, has a similar statement: “Do not set your heart on wealth. There is no ignoring Fate and Destiny; / Do not let your heart go straying.” Proverbs imagines covetous intent as a flight of the eyes, whereas Amenemope imagines it as a straying of the heart.
* [23:6–8] Some humorous advice on not trading on the courtesy of unwilling hosts who, for convention’s sake, use the language of welcome. Amenemope, chap. 11, gives similar advice: “Do not intrude on a man in his house, / Enter when you have been called; / He may say ‘Welcome’ with his mouth, / Yet deride you in his thoughts.” “Unwilling,” lit., “evil of eye,” is usually translated “stingy,” but the context suggests unwilling. In v. 8, the unwanted guest vomits up the food, thus destroying the desired good impression. Proverbs regards the uninvited banqueters as thieves who will suffer the consequences of their theft. Amenemope, chap. 11, is relevant: “Do not covet a poor man’s goods,…A poor man’s goods are a block in the throat, / It makes the gullet vomit.”
* [23:10] In Israel ownership of property and other legal rights were vested mainly in the father as head of the family; thus the widow and fatherless child were vulnerable, left prey to those who would exploit them.
* [23:13–14] The young will not die from instructional blows but from their absence, for (premature) death results from uncorrected folly. The sardonic humor means the exhortation is not to be taken literally, as an argument for corporal punishment. The next verses (vv. 15–16) are exceedingly tender toward the young.
* [23:17] Those whom one admires or associates with exercise enormous influence. Do not join the wicked, who are a doomed group. The warning is repeated in 24:1–2, 19–20.
* [23:22–23] Father and mother are associated with truth and wisdom. One should no more rid oneself of truth and wisdom than rid oneself of one’s parents, who are their source.
* [23:26–28] The exhortation is a condensed version of chap. 7 with its emotional appeal to “my son” to avoid the forbidden woman (7:1–5), her traps (7:21–23), and her intent to add the youth to her list of victims (7:24–27). As in 23:15, 19, 22, a trustful and affectionate relationship between student and teacher is the basis of teaching. The danger of the woman is expressed in imagery that has sexual overtones (cf. 22:14).
* [23:29–35] A vivid description of the evil effects, physical and psychological, of drunkenness. The emphasis is on the unwise behavior, the folly, caused by alcohol. Cf. 20:1.
* [23:35] Drunkards become insensible to bodily and moral harm. Their one desire is to indulge again.
a. [23:9] Prv 9:7.
b. [23:10] Prv 22:28.
c. [23:11] Prv 22:23.
d. [23:13] Prv 13:24; 19:18; Sir 30:1.
e. [23:14] Prv 29:15, 17.
f. [23:17] Prv 3:31; 24:1, 19.
g. [23:18] Prv 24:14.
h. [23:24] Prv 10:1.
i. [23:28] Prv 7:10–27.
j. [23:30] Prv 20:1; Sir 19:2; Hos 4:11.
1* Do not envy the wicked,
nor desire to be with them;a
2For their hearts plot violence,
and their lips speak of foul play.
3By wisdom a house is built,
by understanding it is established;
4And by knowledge its rooms are filled
with every precious and pleasing possession.
5The wise are more powerful than the strong,
and the learned, than the mighty,b
6For by strategy war is waged,
and victory depends on many counselors.c
7* Wise words are beyond fools’ reach,d
in the assembly they do not open their mouth;
8As they calculate how to do evil,
people brand them troublemakers.
9The scheme of a fool gains no acceptance,
the scoffer is an abomination to the community.
10* Did you fail in a day of adversity,
did your strength fall short?
11Did you fail to rescue those who were being dragged off to death,*
those tottering, those near death,
12because you said, “We didn’t know about it”?
Surely, the Searcher of hearts knows
and will repay all according to their deeds.e
13* If you eat honey, my son, because it is good,
if pure honey is sweet to your taste,
14Such, you must know, is wisdom to your soul.
If you find it, you will have a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.f
15* Do not lie in wait at the abode of the just,
do not ravage their dwelling places;
16Though the just fall seven times, they rise again,
but the wicked stumble from only one mishap.
17* Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and when they stumble, do not let your heart exult,
18Lest the LORD see it, be displeased with you,
and withdraw his wrath from your enemies.
19Do not be provoked at evildoers,
do not envy the wicked;
20For the evil have no future,
the lamp of the wicked will be put out.g
21My son, fear the LORD and the king;
have nothing to do with those who hate them;
22For disaster will issue suddenly,
and calamity from them both, who knows when?
23These also are Words of the Wise:
To show partiality in judgment is not good.h
24Whoever says to the guilty party, “You are innocent,”
will be cursed by nations, scorned by peoples;
25But those who render just verdicts will fare well,
and on them will come the blessing of prosperity.
26An honest reply—
a kiss on the lips.*
27Complete your outdoor tasks,
and arrange your work in the field;
afterward you can build your house.*
28Do not testify falsely against your neighbori
and so deceive with your lips.
29Do not say, “As they did to me, so will I do to them;j
I will repay them according to their deeds.”*
30* I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of one with no sense;
31It was all overgrown with thistles;
its surface was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall broken down.
32As I gazed at it, I reflected;
I saw and learned a lesson:
33A little sleep, a little slumber,k
a little folding of the arms to rest—
34Then poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like a brigand.
* [24:1–22] A new section (24:1–14)—on the fates of the wicked and foolish—begins with a warning not to take the foolish as role models. The same admonition is repeated in 23:17–18 and 24:19–20. In 24:1, the verb means “to be jealous, zealous; to emulate.” The motive stated in the other passages—the wicked have no future—is indirectly stated here.
* [24:7–9] The verses are unclear; most scholars take them as two or even three single sayings, but, taken singly, the verses are banal. They are best taken as a single statement. Just as vv. 3–6 described the advantages of wisdom, so vv. 7–9 describe the disadvantages of its opposite, folly: it alienates one from the community (v. 7), for fools become notorious (v. 8), dooming their plans and ostracizing themselves.
* [24:10–12] Excuses for not coming to the aid of one’s neighbor in serious trouble do not suffice before God, who sees through self-serving excuses.
* [24:11] Rescue…death: perhaps refers to the legal rescue of those unjustly condemned to death.
* [24:13–14] God’s word is sometimes said to be sweeter than honey, e.g., Ps 119:101–103. Cf. also Ps 19:11; Prv 16:24; Ez 3:3; Sir 24:19–22.
* [24:15–16] The just will overcome every misfortune that oppresses them. Seven times is an indefinite number.
* [24:17–18] The admonition is linked to the previous by the words “fall” and “stumble.” Premature public celebration of the downfall of enemies equivalently preempts the retribution that belongs to God.
* [24:23–34] A little collection between the thirty sayings of 22:17–24:22 and the Hezekiah collection in chaps. 25–29. Its title (v. 23) suggests that editors took it as an appendix. At this point, the Greek edition of Proverbs begins to arrange the later sections of the book in a different order than the Hebrew edition.
An editor has arranged originally separate sayings into two parallel groups.
|Conduct in court:||Judges (vv. 24–25)||Witnesses (v. 28)|
|Speaking, thinking:||Good speech (v. 26)||Bad speech (v. 29)|
|Wisdom in work:||Positive (v. 27)||Negative (vv. 30–34)|
* [24:26] The kiss is a gesture of respect and affection. The greatest sign of affection and respect for another is to tell that person the truth.
* [24:27] House: can refer to both the building and the family (cf. 2 Sm 7). In the context established by the placement noted above under 24:23, the saying means that neglect of one’s field is a sign that one is not building the house properly. In an agricultural society especially, the concept of household includes fields for animals and crops. On the metaphorical level, one must lay a careful preparation before embarking on a great project. This verse is sometimes interpreted as advocating careful and practical preparation for marriage.
* [24:29] Retribution is a long and complex process that belongs to the Lord, not to individuals. Cf. vv. 12d, 17–18.
* [24:30–34] Neglect of one’s fields through laziness ruins all plans to build a house (v. 27). This vignette is a teaching story, like those in 7:1–27; Ps 37:35–36.
a. [24:1] Prv 3:31; 23:17; Ps 37:1.
b. [24:5] Prv 21:22.
c. [24:6] Prv 20:18.
d. [24:7] Sir 6:21.
e. [24:12] Ps 62:13; Sir 16:12; Mt 16:27; Rom 2:6.
f. [24:14] Prv 23:18.
g. [24:20] Prv 13:9.
h. [24:23] Prv 18:5; 28:21; Lv 19:15; Dt 1:17; 16:19.
i. [24:28] Prv 19:5; 25:18.
j. [24:29] Prv 20:22.
k. [24:33] Prv 6:10–11.
1These also are proverbs of Solomon.a The servants of Hezekiah,* king of Judah, transmitted them.
2* It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
and the glory of kings to fathom a matter.*
3Like the heavens in height, and the earth in depth,
the heart of kings is unfathomable.
4* Remove the dross from silver,
and it comes forth perfectly purified;
5Remove the wicked from the presence of the king,
and his throne is made firm through justice.
6* Claim no honor in the king’s presence,
nor occupy the place of superiors;
7For it is better to be told, “Come up closer!”
than to be humbled before the prince.b
8What your eyes have seen
do not bring forth too quickly against an opponent;
For what will you do later on
when your neighbor puts you to shame?
9* Argue your own case with your neighbor,
but the secrets of others do not disclose;
10Lest, hearing it, they reproach you,
and your ill repute never ceases.
11Golden apples in silver settings
are words spoken at the proper time.
12A golden earring or a necklace of fine gold—
one who gives wise reproof to a listening ear.
13Like the coolness of snow in the heat of the harvest
are faithful messengers for those who send them,
lifting the spirits of their masters.
14Clouds and wind but no rain—
the one who boasts of a gift not given.
15By patience is a ruler persuaded,c
and a soft tongue can break a bone.
16* If you find honey, eat only what you need,
lest you have your fill and vomit it up.
17Let your foot be seldom in your neighbors’ house,
lest they have their fill of you—and hate you.
18A club, sword, or sharp arrow—
the one who bears false witness against a neighbor.d
19A bad tooth or an unsteady foot—
a trust betrayed in time of trouble.*
20Like the removal of clothes on a cold day, or vinegar on soda,
is the one who sings to a troubled heart.
21* If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat,
if thirsty, give something to drink;e
22For live coals you will heap on their heads,
and the LORD will vindicate you.
23The north wind brings rain,
and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.
24It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop
than in a mansion with a quarrelsome wife.* f
25Cool water to one faint from thirst
is good news from a far country.
26A trampled fountain or a polluted spring—*
a just person fallen before the wicked.
27To eat too much honey is not good;
nor to seek honor after honor.*
28A city breached and left defenseless
are those who do not control their temper.
* [25:1–29:27] Chaps. 25–29 make up the fifth collection in the book, and the third longest. King Hezekiah reigned in Judah in 715–687 B.C. According to 2 Kgs 18–20 and 2 Chr 29–32, he initiated political and religious reforms after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. Such reforms probably included copying and editing sacred literature such as Proverbs. Prv 25:1 is an important piece of evidence about the composition of the book, suggesting this collection was added to an already-existing collection also attributed to Solomon. The older collection is probably 10:1–22:16 (or part of it). By the end of the eighth century B.C., therefore, there existed in Israel two large collections of aphorisms.
Chap. 25 has two general themes: (1) social hierarchy, rank, or position; (2) social conflict and its resolution.
* [25:1] The servants of Hezekiah: presumably scribes at the court of Hezekiah. Transmitted: lit., “to move, transfer from,” hence “to collect,” and perhaps also to arrange and compose.
* [25:2–7] The topic is the king—who he is (vv. 2–3) and how one is to behave in his presence (vv. 4–7).
* [25:2] God and king were closely related in the ancient world and in the Bible. The king had a special responsibility for divine justice. Hence, God would give him special wisdom to search it out.
* [25:4–5] Wisdom involves virtue as well as knowledge. As in Ps 101 the king cannot tolerate any wickedness in the royal service.
* [25:6–7] An admonition with a practical motive for putting the teaching into practice. Pragmatic shrewdness suggests that we not promote ourselves but let others do it for us. See Lk 14:7–11.
* [25:9–10] Another admonition on the use of law courts to settle personal disputes. Speak privately with your opponent lest others’ personal business become public and they resent you.
* [25:16–17] The two admonitions are complementary, expressing nicely the need to restrain the inclination for delightful things, whether for honey or friendship.
* [25:19] “A time of trouble” defeats all plans (cf. 10:2; 11:4). At such times human resources alone are like a tooth that falls out as one bites or a foot that goes suddenly lame.
* [25:21–22] A memorable statement of humanity and moderation; such sentiments could be occasionally found even outside the Bible, e.g., “It is better to bless someone than to do harm to one who has insulted you” (Egyptian Papyrus Insinger). Cf. Ex 23:4 and Lv 19:17–18. Human beings should not take it upon themselves to exact vengeance, leaving it rather in God’s hands. This saying has in view an enemy’s vulnerability in time of need, in this case extreme hunger and thirst; such a need should not be an occasion for revenge. The motive for restraining oneself is to allow God’s justice to take its own course, as in 20:22 and 24:17–19. Live coals: either remorse and embarrassment for the harm done, or increased punishment for refusing reconciliation. Cf. Mt 5:44. Rom 12:20 cites the Greek version and interprets it, “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”
* [25:24] A humorous saying about domestic unhappiness: better to live alone outdoors than indoors with an angry spouse. Prv 21:9 is identical and 21:19 is similar in thought.
* [25:26] “Spring” is a common metaphor for source. The righteous should be a source of life for others. When they fail, it is as if a spring became foul and its water undrinkable. It is not clear whether the righteous person yielded to a scoundrel out of cowardice or was simply defeated by evil. The latter seems more likely, for other proverbs say the just person will never “fall” (lit., “be moved,” 10:30; 12:3). The fall, even temporary, of a righteous person is a loss of life for others.
* [25:27] Nor…honor: the text is uncertain.
a. [25:1] Prv 1:1.
b. [25:7] Lk 14:8–10.
c. [25:15] Prv 15:1, 4.
d. [25:18] Ex 20:16.
e. [25:21] Rom 12:20.
f. [25:24] Prv 21:9.
1Like snow in summer, like rain in harvest,
honor for a fool is out of place.*
2Like the sparrow in its flitting, like the swallow in its flight,
a curse uncalled-for never lands.*
3The whip for the horse, the bridle for the ass,
and the rod for the back of fools.a
4* Do not answer fools according to their folly,
lest you too become like them.
5Answer fools according to their folly,
lest they become wise in their own eyes.
6Those who send messages by a fool
cut off their feet; they drink down violence.
7* A proverb in the mouth of a fool
hangs limp, like crippled legs.
8Giving honor to a fool
is like entangling a stone in the sling.
9A thorn stuck in the hand of a drunkard
is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
10An archer wounding all who pass by
is anyone who hires a drunken fool.
11As dogs return to their vomit,
so fools repeat their folly.b
12You see those who are wise in their own eyes?
There is more hope for fools than for them.
13* The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the street,
a lion in the middle of the square!”c
14The door turns on its hinges
and sluggards, on their beds.
15The sluggard buries a hand in the dish,
too weary to lift it to the mouth.d
16In their own eyes sluggards are wiser
than seven who answer with good judgment.
17Whoever meddles in the quarrel of another
is one who grabs a passing dog by the ears.
18Like a crazed archer
scattering firebrands and deadly arrows,
19Such are those who deceive their neighbor,
and then say, “I was only joking.”
20* Without wood the fire dies out;
without a talebearer strife subsides.
21Charcoal for coals, wood for fire—
such are the quarrelsome, enkindling strife.e
22The words of a talebearer are like dainty morsels:
they sink into one’s inmost being.* f
23Like a glazed finish on earthenware
are smooth lips and a wicked heart.*
24With their lips enemies pretend,
but inwardly they maintain deceit;
25When they speak graciously, do not trust them,g
for seven abominations* are in their hearts.
26Hatred can be concealed by pretense,
but malice will be revealed in the assembly.*
27Whoever digs a pit falls into it;
and a stone comes back upon the one who rolls it.h
28The lying tongue is its owner’s enemy,
and the flattering mouth works ruin.
* [26:1–28] Concrete images describe the vices of fools (vv. 1–12), of sluggards (vv. 13–16), of meddlers (vv. 17–19), of talebearers (vv. 20–22), and of flatterers (vv. 23–28).
* [26:1] There is no fit (“out of place”) between weather and agricultural season.
* [26:2] The point is the similarity of actions: a hovering bird that never lands, a groundless curse that never “lands.” It hangs in the air posing no threat to anyone.
* [26:4–5] There is no contradiction between these two proverbs. In their answers, the wise must protect their own interests against fools. Or perhaps the juxtaposition of the two proverbs suggests that no single proverb can resolve every problem in life.
* [26:7–9] Fools either abuse or are unable to use whatever knowledge they have. A thorn: a proverb is “words spoken at the proper time” (25:11). Fools have no sense of the right time; their statements are like thorns that fasten on clothing randomly.
* [26:13–16] Each verse mentions the sluggard, whom Proverbs regards with derision. The criticism is not against low energy but failure to act and take responsibility. Proverbs’ ideal is the active person who uses heart, lips, hands, feet to keep to the good path. The verses are examples of the sardonic humor of the book.
* [26:20–22] The three proverbs have a common theme—the destructive power of slanderous words. Certain words are repeated: wood and fire, talebearer.
* [26:22] Malicious gossip is compared to delicious food that is swallowed and lodges in the deepest recesses of one’s body. Negative comments are seldom forgotten. Prv 18:8 is a duplicate.
* [26:23] Heart = what is within, and lips (words) = what is expressed, are compared to an earthenware jar covered with glaze.
* [26:25] Seven abominations: many evil intentions.
* [26:26] Hate may be concealed for a time, but it will eventually issue in a deed and become known in the public assembly. There is a play on words: the consonants of the word “hatred” (ś’n) are literally concealed in the word “pretense” (mś’n).
a. [26:3] Prv 19:29; Sir 33:25.
b. [26:11] 2 Pt 2:22.
c. [26:13] Prv 22:13.
d. [26:15] Prv 19:24.
e. [26:21] Prv 15:18; 29:22.
f. [26:22] Prv 18:8.
g. [26:25] Sir 12:10; 27:33.
h. [26:27] Eccl 10:8; Sir 27:25–26.
1Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what any day may bring forth.
2Let another praise you, not your own mouth;
a stranger, not your own lips.
3Stone is heavy, and sand a burden,
but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both.a
4Anger is cruel, and wrath overwhelming,
but before jealousy who can stand?*
5* Better is an open rebuke
than a love that remains hidden.
6Trustworthy are the blows of a friend,
dangerous, the kisses of an enemy.*
7One who is full spurns honey;
but to the hungry, any bitter thing is sweet.
8Like a bird far from the nest
so is anyone far from home.*
9Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
but by grief the soul is torn asunder.
10Do not give up your own friend and your father’s friend;
do not resort to the house of your kindred when trouble strikes.
Better a neighbor near than kin far away.*
11Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart,
so that I can answer whoever taunts me.*
12The astute see an evil and hide;
the naive continue on and pay the penalty.b
13Take the garment of the one who became surety for a stranger;c
if for a foreign woman, exact the pledge!*
14Those who greet their neighbor with a loud voice* in the early morning,
a curse can be laid to their charge.
15For a persistent leak on a rainy day
the match is a quarrelsome wife;d
16Whoever would hide her hides a stormwind
and cannot tell north from south.
17Iron is sharpened by iron;
one person sharpens another.*
18Those who tend a fig tree eat its fruit;
so those attentive to their master will be honored.
19As face mirrors face in water,
so the heart reflects the person.
20Sheol and Abaddon can never be satisfied;e
so the eyes of mortals can never be satisfied.*
21The crucible for silver, the furnace for gold,
so you must assay the praise you receive.
22Though you pound fools with a pestle,
their folly never leaves them.
23* Take good care of your flocks,
give careful attention to your herds;
24For wealth does not last forever,
nor even a crown from age to age.
25When the grass comes up and the new growth appears,
and the mountain greens are gathered in,
26The lambs will provide you with clothing,
and the goats, the price of a field,
27And there will be ample goat’s milk for your food,
food for your house, sustenance for your maidens.
* [27:4] Anger generally subsides with time but jealousy coolly calculates and plots revenge.
* [27:5–6] Verses 5 and 6 are concerned with true friendship. “Better than” sayings often declare one thing superior to another in view of some value, e.g., 15:17, vegetables are better than meat in view of a milieu of love. In v. 5, a rebuke is better than an act of affection in view of discipline that imparts wisdom.
* [27:6] The present translation is conjectural. The meaning seems to be that a friend’s rebuke can be life-giving and an enemy’s kiss can be deadly (like the kiss of Judas in Mt 26:48).
* [27:8] The bird symbolizes vulnerability as it flees before danger as in Is 10:14; 16:2; and Ps 11:1. For the importance of place in human life, see Jb 20:8–9. People are defined by their place, but, tragically, war, poverty, or illness can force them from it.
* [27:10] The adage is about the difference between friends and kin in a crisis. Two admonitions are grounded in one maxim (colon C). The same Hebrew word means both “one who is near” and “friend.” The whole proverb urges the reader to cultivate old family friends and neighbors and not to rely exclusively on kin in times of trouble, for kin may not be there for us.
* [27:11] A father’s command to a son to be wise, another way of saying that sons or daughters bring joy or shame to their parents.
* [27:13] See note on 20:16.
* [27:14] One interpretation takes the proverb as humorous and the other takes it as serious: (1) an overly loud and ill-timed greeting (lit., “blessing”) invites the response of a curse rather than a “blessing” (greeting); (2) the loud voice suggests hypocrisy in the greeting.
* [27:17] Iron sharpens the “face” (panim = surface, edge) of iron, and a human being sharpens the “face” (panim = face, words) of another. Human beings learn from each other and grow in wisdom by conversing.
* [27:20] Sheol, the underworld abode of the dead, is personified as a force that is never satisfied and always desires more. Cf. Is 5:14 and Hos 13:14. The saying is applicable to modern consumerism.
* [27:23–27] A little treatise on farming in the form of admonitions. It proposes the advantages of field and flock over other forms of wealth. Herds are the most productive wealth, for their value does not diminish; they are a source of money, clothing, and food. The thought is conservative and traditional but the development is vivid and concrete.
a. [27:3] Sir 22:14–15.
b. [27:12] Prv 22:3.
c. [27:13] Prv 20:16.
d. [27:15] Prv 21:9; 25:24.
e. [27:20] Prv 30:16; Eccl 4:8.
1The wicked flee though none pursue;
but the just, like a lion, are confident.
2If a land is rebellious, its princes will be many;
but with an intelligent and wise ruler there is stability.*
3One who is poor and extorts from the lowly
is a devastating rain that leaves no food.*
4Those who abandon instruction* praise the wicked,
but those who keep instruction oppose them.
5The evil understand nothing of justice,*
but those who seek the LORD understand everything.
6Better to be poor and walk in integrity
than rich and crooked in one’s ways.a
7Whoever heeds instruction is a wise son,
but whoever joins with wastrels disgraces his father.
8Whoever amasses wealth by interest and overcharge*
gathers it for the one who is kind to the poor.
9Those who turn their ears from hearing instruction,b
even their prayer is an abomination.
10Those who mislead the upright into an evil way
will themselves fall into their own pit,
but the blameless will attain prosperity.
11The rich are wise in their own eyes,
but the poor who are intelligent see through them.
12When the just triumph, there is great glory;
but when the wicked prevail, people hide.*
13Those who conceal their sins do not prosper,
but those who confess and forsake them obtain mercy.*
14Happy those who always fear;*
but those who harden their hearts fall into evil.
15A roaring lion or a ravenous bear
is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
16The less prudent the rulers, the more oppressive their deeds.
Those who hate ill-gotten gain prolong their days.
17Though a person burdened with blood guilt is in flight even to the grave,
let no one offer support.
18Whoever walks blamelessly is safe,
but one whose ways are crooked falls into a pit.
19Those who cultivate their land will have plenty of food,
but those who engage in idle pursuits will have plenty of want.c
20The trustworthy will be richly blessed;
but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.d
21To show partiality is never good:e
for even a morsel of bread one may do wrong.*
22Misers hurry toward wealth,
not knowing that want is coming toward them.*
23Whoever rebukes another wins more favor
than one who flatters with the tongue.
24Whoever defrauds father or mother and says, “It is no sin,”f
is a partner to a brigand.
25The greedy person stirs up strife,
but the one who trusts in the LORD will prosper.
26Those who trust in themselves are fools,
but those who walk in wisdom are safe.
27Those who give to the poor have no lack,g
but those who avert their eyes, many curses.
28When the wicked prevail, people hide;
but at their fall the just abound.h
* [28:2] The first line expresses the paradox that rebellion, far from doing away with rulers, actually multiplies them. The second line is corrupt.
* [28:3] The reference may be to tax farmers who collected taxes and took a commission. The collectors’ lack of wealth was the cause of their oppression of poor farmers. They are like a rain too violent to allow crops to grow.
* [28:4] Instruction: torah; the word is used both for the teaching of the wise and the law of Moses.
* [28:5] Understanding nothing of justice plays on the twofold sense of justice as righteousness and as punishment that comes on the wicked. On the other hand, those who seek the LORD understand everything, i.e., that the Lord punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous (themselves).
* [28:8] Interest and overcharge were strictly forbidden in the old law among Israelites because it was presumed that the borrower was in distress; cf. Ex 22:25; Lv 25:35–37; Dt 23:20; Ps 15:5; Ez 18:8. Divine providence will take the offender’s wealth; cf. Eccl 2:26.
* [28:12] People react in opposite ways to the triumph of good and evil. To the triumph of good, they react by public display, public celebration, and to the triumph of evil, by hiding.
* [28:13] Concealing the faults of another is a good thing in Proverbs (17:9), but concealing one’s own sins is not. Ps 32:1–5 expresses the anguish caused by concealing one’s sins rather than bringing them to light so they can be healed by God.
* [28:14] Fear is a different verb than in the phrase “to fear (or revere) the Lord.” In its only other biblical occurrence (Is 51:13), the verb means to dread an oppressor. The saying states a paradox: those who fear in the sense of being cautious are declared happy, whereas those who are fearless will fall into traps they did not “fear.” In short, there is good fear and bad fear.
* [28:21] Cf. 24:23. Verse 21b warns that even in a light matter one must remain impartial.
* [28:22] “Bad of eye” is the Hebrew idiom for miserly. Misers fail to see that poverty is hurrying toward them because of their wrong attitude toward wealth. Because misers are “bad of eye,” they do not see the danger.
a. [28:6] Prv 19:1.
b. [28:9] Prv 15:8; 21:27.
c. [28:19] Prv 12:11.
d. [28:20] Prv 13:11.
e. [28:21] Prv 24:23.
f. [28:24] Mk 7:11–13.
g. [28:27] Prv 19:17; Sir 4:3–8.
h. [28:28] Prv 28:12.
1Those stiff-necked in the face of reproof
in an instant will be shattered beyond cure.*
2When the just flourish, the people rejoice;
but when the wicked rule, the people groan.* a
3Whoever loves wisdom gives joy to his father,
but whoever consorts with harlots squanders his wealth.
4By justice a king builds up the land;
but one who raises taxes tears it down.*
5Those who speak flattery to their neighbor
cast a net at their feet.*
6The sin of the wicked is a trap,
but the just run along joyfully.b
7The just care for the cause of the poor;
the wicked do not understand such care.*
8Scoffers enflame the city,
but the wise calm the fury.c
9If a wise person disputes with a fool,
there is railing and ridicule but no resolution.
10The bloodthirsty hate the blameless,
but the upright seek his life.*
11Fools give vent to all their anger;
but the wise, biding their time, control it.d
12If rulers listen to lying words,
their servants all become wicked.
13The poor and the oppressor meet:e
the LORD gives light to the eyes of both.
14If a king is honestly for the rights of the poor,
his throne stands firm forever.f
15The rod of correction gives wisdom,
but uncontrolled youths disgrace their mothers.g
16When the wicked increase, crime increases;
but the just will behold their downfall.*
17Discipline your children, and they will bring you comfort,
and give delight to your soul.
18Without a vision the people lose restraint;
but happy is the one who follows instruction.*
19Not by words alone can servants be trained;h
for they understand but do not respond.*
20Do you see someone hasty in speech?i
There is more hope for a fool!
21If servants are pampered from childhood
they will turn out to be stubborn.
22The ill-tempered stir up strife,
and the hotheaded cause many sins.j
23Haughtiness brings humiliation,
but the humble of spirit acquire honor.* k
24Partners of a thief hate themselves;*
they hear the imprecation but do not testify.
25Fear of others becomes a snare,
but the one who trusts in the LORD is safe.
26Many curry favor with a ruler,
but it is from the LORD that one receives justice.
27An abomination to the just, the evildoer;
an abomination to the wicked, one whose way is straight.
* [29:1] The idiom “to stiffen one’s neck” occurs in a context of not heeding a message in Dt 10:16 and 2 Kgs 17:14. To stiffen one’s neck in this sense risks having it broken, as in 1 Sm 4:18.
* [29:2] Popular response to a just or unjust ruler is expressed in sound—shouts of joy or groans of anguish. “Rejoice” can mean to express one’s joy, i.e., joyous shouts.
* [29:4] In Hebrew as in English high and low are metaphors for prosperity and depression. A king who is just “causes the land to stand up,” i.e., to be prosperous, and one who makes taxes high brings a country low.
* [29:5] When one addresses deceptive words to someone’s face, one equivalently throws a net at their feet to snare them.
* [29:7] As in 12:10 (on care for animals), the righteous care for those who are without a voice and often treated like animals. Colon B has a double meaning: the wicked have no such knowledge (care for the poor) and they have no knowledge (wisdom), for they are fools.
* [29:10] An enigmatic saying in that “seek one’s life” is a common idiom for killing. The saying probably plays on the idiom, interpreting “to seek the life of another” not as killing but as caring for another (as in 11:30).
* [29:16] When the wicked grow numerous they sow the seeds of their own destruction, for there is a corresponding increase in offenses calling down divine retribution.
* [29:18] This much-cited proverb has been interpreted in several different ways. “Vision” and “instruction” mean authoritative guidance for the community. People are demoralized without credible leadership, but any individual heeding traditional instruction can still find happiness. As in 15:15 wisdom enables an individual to surmount days of trouble.
* [29:19] The give and take of reproving is not possible for servants or slaves. Ancient custom dictated silent acquiescence for them. There is no open and free dialogue, which is part of ancient discipline.
* [29:23] One’s prideful height brings one down and one’s lowly state brings glory.
* [29:24] Hate themselves: because they not only incur guilt as accomplices but, by their silence, bring down on themselves the curse invoked on the unknown guilty partner. Such a case is envisioned in Lv 5:1. After a theft, a public proclamation was made, enforced by a curse. No one in a town or city could avoid hearing it. The curse hung over the accomplice. By doing nothing, neither directly stealing nor confessing, accomplices put themselves in serious danger.
a. [29:2] Prv 11:10; 28:12, 28.
b. [29:6] Prv 12:13.
c. [29:8] Prv 11:11.
d. [29:11] Prv 12:16; 25:28; Sir 21:26.
e. [29:13] Prv 22:2.
f. [29:14] Prv 16:12; 20:28; 25:5.
g. [29:15] Prv 13:24; 22:15; 23:13–14; Sir 22:6; 30:1.
h. [29:19] Sir 33:25–30.
i. [29:20] Sir 9:18; Prv 26:12.
j. [29:22] Prv 15:18; 22:24.
k. [29:23] Prv 11:2; 16:18; 18:12.
1* The words of Agur, son of Jakeh the Massaite:
The pronouncement of mortal man: “I am weary, O God;
I am weary, O God, and I am exhausted.
2I am more brute than human being,
without even human intelligence;
3* Neither have I learned wisdom,
nor have I the knowledge of the Holy One.
4Who has gone up to heaven and come down again—
who has cupped the wind in the hollow of the hand?
Who has bound up the waters in a cloak—
who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is that person’s name, or the name of his son?”*
5* Every word of God is tested;a
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6Add nothing to his words,b
lest he reprimand you, and you be proved a liar.
7* Two things I ask of you,
do not deny them to me before I die:
8Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need;
9Lest, being full, I deny you,
saying, “Who is the LORD?”
Or, being in want, I steal,
and profane the name of my God.
10Do not criticize servants to their master,
lest they curse you, and you have to pay the penalty.
11* There are some who curse their fathers,
and do not bless their mothers.c
12There are some pure in their own eyes,
yet not cleansed of their filth.
13There are some—how haughty their eyes!
how overbearing their glance!
14There are some—their teeth are swords,
their teeth are knives,
Devouring the needy from the earth,
and the poor from the human race.
15* The leech has two daughters:
“Give,” and “Give.”
Three things never get their fill,
four never say, “Enough!”
16Sheol, a barren womb,d
land that never gets its fill of water,
and fire, which never says, “Enough!”
17The eye that mocks a father,
or scorns the homage due a mother,
Will be plucked out by brook ravens;
devoured by a brood of vultures.
18* Three things are too wonderful for me,
yes, four I cannot understand:
19The way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent upon a rock,
The way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a woman.
20This is the way of an adulterous woman:
she eats, wipes her mouth,
and says, “I have done no wrong.”*
21* Under three things the earth trembles,
yes, under four it cannot bear up:
22Under a slave who becomes king,
and a fool who is glutted with food;e
23Under an unloved woman who is wed,
and a maidservant who displaces her mistress.
24* Four things are among the smallest on the earth,
and yet are exceedingly wise:
25Ants—a species not strong,
yet they store up their food in the summer;
26Badgers—a species not mighty,
yet they make their home in the crags;
27Locusts—they have no king,
yet they march forth in formation;
28Lizards—you can catch them with your hands,
yet they find their way into kings’ palaces.
29* Three things are stately in their stride,
yes, four are stately in their carriage:
30The lion, mightiest of beasts,
retreats before nothing;
31The strutting cock, and the he-goat,
and the king at the head of his people.
32* If you have foolishly been proud
or presumptuous—put your hand on your mouth;
33For as the churning of milk produces curds,
and the pressing of the nose produces blood,
the churning of anger produces strife.
* [30:1–6] Scholars are divided on the original literary unit. Is it vv. 1–3, 1–4, 1–5, or 1–6? The unit is probably vv. 1–6, for a single contrast dominates: human fragility (and ignorance) and divine power (and knowledge). A similar contrast is found in Jb 28; Ps 73; Is 49:1–4. The language of self-abasement is hyperbolic; cf. 2 Sm 9:8; Ps 73:21–22; Jb 25:4–6. Agur: an unknown person. Massaite: from Massa in northern Arabia, elsewhere referred to as an encampment of the Ishmaelites (Gn 25:14). But Heb. massa may not be intended as a place name; it might signify “an oracle,” “a prophecy,” as in Is 15:1; 17:1; etc.
* [30:3–4] Agur denies he has secret heavenly knowledge. The purpose of the denial is to underline that God directly gives wisdom to those whose conduct pleases him.
* [30:4] The Hebrew text has the phrase “do you know?” at the end of v. 4, which is supported by the versions. The phrase, however, does not appear in the important Greek manuscripts Vaticanus and Sinaiticus and spoils the sense, for Agur, not God, is the questioner. The phrase seems to be an addition to the Hebrew text, borrowed from Job 38:5, where it also follows a cosmic question.
* [30:5–6] Verse 5, like the confession of the king in Ps 18:31 (and its parallel, 2 Sm 22:31), expresses total confidence in the one who rescues from death. Agur has refused a word from any other except God and makes an act of trust in God.
* [30:7–9] A prayer against lying words and for sufficiency of goods, lest reaction to riches or destitution lead to offenses against God.
* [30:11–14] Perverted people are here classified as unfilial (v. 11), self-righteous (v. 12), proud (v. 13) and rapacious (v. 14).
* [30:15–16] Here begins a series of numerical sayings; the pattern is n, n + 1. The slight variation in number (two and three, three and four) is an example of parallelism applied to numbers. The poetic technique is attested even outside the Bible. Two daughters: “Give,” and “Give”: the text is obscure; as the leech (a bloodsucking worm) is insatiable in its desire for blood (v. 15), so are the nether world for victims, the barren womb for offspring, the earth for water, and fire for fuel (v. 16). Sheol: here not so much the place of the dead as a force (death) that eventually draws all the living into it; cf. 27:20; Is 5:14; Hb 2:5. Land…fire: land (especially the dry land of Palestine) always absorbs more water; fire always requires more fuel.
* [30:18–19] The soaring flight of the eagle, the mysterious movement upon a rock of the serpent which has no feet, the path of the ship through the trackless deep, and the marvelous attraction between the sexes; there is a mysterious way common to them all.
* [30:20] This verse portrays the indifference of an adulterous woman who casually dismisses her guilt because it cannot be traced.
* [30:21–23] Shaking heavens are part of general cosmic upheaval in Is 14:16; Jl 2:10; Am 8:8; Jb 9:6. Disturbances in nature mirror the disturbance of unworthy people attaining what they do not deserve. Glutted with food: someone unworthy ends up with the fulfillment that befits a wise person. Unloved woman: an older woman who, contrary to expectation, finds a husband.
* [30:24–28] The creatures may be small, but they are wise in knowing how to govern themselves—the definition of wisdom. Badgers: the rock badger is able to live on rocky heights that provide security from its enemies. Locusts: though vulnerable individually their huge swarms are impossible to deflect.
* [30:29–31] Four beings with an imperiousness visible in their walk. Only the lion is described in detail; the reader is expected to transpose its qualities to the others.
* [30:32–33] The same Hebrew verb, “to churn, shake,” is applied to milk, the nose (sometimes a symbol of anger), and wrath. In each case something is eventually produced by the constant agitation. The wise make peace and avoid strife, for strife eventually harms those who provoke it.
a. [30:5] Ps 12:7; 18:31.
b. [30:6] Dt 4:2; 13:1.
c. [30:11] Prv 20:20.
d. [30:16] Prv 27:20.
e. [30:22] Prv 19:10; Eccl 10:6–7.
1The words of Lemuel, king of Massa,* the instruction his mother taught him:
2What are you doing, my son!*
what are you doing, son of my womb;
what are you doing, son of my vows!
3Do not give your vigor to women,
or your strength* to those who ruin kings.
4It is not for kings, Lemuel,
not for kings to drink wine;
strong drink is not for princes,
5Lest in drinking they forget what has been decreed,
and violate the rights of any who are in need.
6Give strong drink to anyone who is perishing,
and wine to the embittered;
7When they drink, they will forget their misery,
and think no more of their troubles.
8Open your mouth in behalf of the mute,
and for the rights of the destitute;
9Open your mouth, judge justly,
defend the needy and the poor!
10Who can find* a woman of worth?a
Far beyond jewels is her value.
11Her husband trusts her judgment;
he does not lack income.
12She brings him profit, not loss,*
all the days of her life.
13She seeks out wool and flax
and weaves with skillful hands.
14Like a merchant fleet,*
she secures her provisions from afar.
15She rises while it is still night,
and distributes food to her household,
a portion to her maidservants.
16She picks out a field and acquires it;
from her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17She girds herself with strength;
she exerts her arms with vigor.*
18She enjoys the profit from her dealings;
her lamp is never extinguished at night.*
19She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her fingers ply the spindle.*
20She reaches out her hands to the poor,
and extends her arms to the needy.
21She is not concerned for her household when it snows—
all her charges are doubly clothed.
22She makes her own coverlets;
fine linen and purple are her clothing.
23Her husband is prominent at the city gates
as he sits with the elders of the land.*
24She makes garments and sells them,
and stocks the merchants with belts.
25She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and laughs at the days to come.*
26She opens her mouth in wisdom;
kindly instruction is on her tongue.
27She watches over* the affairs of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband, too, praises her:
29“Many are the women of proven worth,
but you have excelled them all.”
30Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting;
the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.*
31Acclaim her for the work of her hands,
and let her deeds praise her at the city gates.
* [31:1–9] Though mothers are sources of wisdom in Proverbs (1:8; 6:20), the mother of Lemuel is special in being queen mother, which was an important position in the palace. Queen mothers played an important role in ancient palace life because of their longevity, knowledge of palace politics, and loyalty to their sons; they were in a good position to offer him sound counsel. The language of the poem contains Aramaisms, a sign of its non-Israelite origin.
The first section, vv. 3–5, warns against abuse of sex and alcohol (wine, strong drink) lest the king forget the poor. The second section, vv. 6–9, urges the use of alcohol (strong drink, wine) so that the downtrodden poor can forget their poverty. The real subject of the poem is justice for the poor.
* [31:1] Massa: see note on 30:1–6.
* [31:2] My son: in the Septuagint, “my son, my firstborn.”
* [31:3] The Hebrew word here translated “strength” normally means “ways,” but the context and a cognate language support “authority” or “strength” here.
* [31:10–31] An acrostic poem of twenty-two lines; each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. As with many other acrostic poems in the Bible, the unity of the poem is largely extrinsic, coming not from the narrative logic but from the familiar sequence of letters. The topic is the ideal woman described through her activity as a wife. Some have suggested that the traditional hymn extolling the great deeds of a warrior has been transposed to extol a heroic wife; the focus is on her exploits. She runs a household distinguished by abundant food and clothing for all within, by its trade (import of raw materials and export of finished products), and by the renown of its head, her husband, in the community. At v. 28, the voice is no longer that of the narrator but of her children and husband as they praise her. The purpose of the poem has been interpreted variously: an encomium to offset the sometimes negative portrayal of women in the book, or, more symbolically (and more likely), a portrait of a household ruled by Woman Wisdom and a disciple of Woman Wisdom, i.e., he now has a worthy wife and children, a great household, renown in the community.
* [31:10] Who can find…?: in 20:6 and Eccl 8:1 the question implies that finding such a person is well-nigh impossible.
* [31:12] Profit, not loss: a commercial metaphor.
* [31:14] Like a merchant fleet: she has her eye on the far horizon, like the ship of a merchant ready to bring supplies into her larder. It is the only simile (“like”) in the poem.
* [31:17] The metaphor of clothing oneself is used to show the woman’s readiness. One can gird on weapons of war and might and splendor (Ps 69:7; Is 52:9).
* [31:18] Her lamp is never extinguished at night: indicates abundance of productive work and its accompanying prosperity; cf. 20:20; Jb 18:6.
* [31:19] The wife weaves linen cloth from flax and wool from fleece, which she cultivated according to v. 13. Distaff: staff for holding the flax, tow, or wool, which in spinning was drawn out and twisted into yarn or thread by the spindle or round stick.
* [31:23] The husband is mentioned for the first time since vv. 10–12 but as “her husband.” He will not be mentioned again until v. 28, where he praises her.
* [31:25] Laughs at the days to come: anticipates the future with joy, free of anxiety.
* [31:27] Watches over: Hebrew ṣopiyyâ, perhaps a pun on the Greek sophia (= wisdom). Bread of idleness: she does not eat from the table of others but from her own labors.
* [31:30] The true charm of this woman is her religious spirit, for she fears the Lord; cf. note on 1:7.
a. [31:10] Prv 12:4; Sir 26:1–4, 13–18.