Notes on Proverbs
Version Date: April 15, 2023. (Date of First Version: June 8, 2021.)
Pr 10:9-10 "The one who walks in integrity walks securely. However, the one who makes his ways crooked will be known; closing his eyes, he devises trouble. Nonetheless, a prating fool will be thrown down." The one who makes his ways crooked is a fool. Though he may deceive people by his words, his ways will not establish him; he will be thrown down. See also the note below on Pr 16:29-30.
Pr 11:3 Following the Kethiv, "The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous both guides and destroys them." Note that the form שדם does not have to be spelled שדדם to be derived from the verb שדד "to destroy," as could be seen when considering the form שדוני of Ps 17:9.
Pr 11:25 "A blessed soul will prosper, and the one whose spiritual thirst is satisfied will himself be made to fear the LORD." The text is understood here to refer to a soul that prospers in the sense that it is full of life. The statement that נפש ברכה תדשן "a blessed soul will prosper" resembles ונפש חרצים תדשן "and the soul of the diligent will prosper" in Pr 13:4. Now נפש ברכה could be interpreted as "a blessing soul", "a blessed soul", or "a soul of blessing." If ברכה is understood to be the noun meaning "blessing," then נפש ברכה "a soul of blessing" refers to a person that is a blessing to others. However, elsewhere in the Scripture we do not find a passage in which ברכה "blessing" is used this way. Consequently, this interpretation is unlikely. Another option is to parse ברכה as a participle of the verb ברך "to bless." However, the interpretation "a blessing soul" would seem unlikely since ברכה does not have an object indicating who is blessed by that soul. In the absence of an object, the participle could be understood with passive meaning. This results in the translation "a blessed soul." The fact that the text has ברכה instead of ברוכה does not seem to be an issue of this interpretation because also 2Sa 2:5 has ברכים instead of ברוכים (which appears in 1Sa 23:21 and Ps 115:15). Moreover, in support of this interpretation, it could be noticed that the phrases נפש שבעה "a satisfied soul" and נפש רבעה "a hungry soul" of Pr 27:7 resemble נפש ברכה "a blessed soul" in Pr 11:25. The form מרוה has no object and so was interpreted with the passive meaning "being satisfied." Note that in all other instances in which the verb רוה has no object its meaning is clearly passive (see Ps 65:10, Pr 7:18, Is 34:7, Jer 46:10). As for the form יורא, it corresponds to ירא "to fear" and not to רוה "to satisfy" or ירה "to cast, teach." The form לירוא of 2Ch 26:15 does not provide evidence that ירא could be an alternative spelling of ירה because לירוא בחצים ובאבנים גדלות could be translated "for terror/deterrence by means of arrows and large stones." Thus, there is no need to assume that לירוא must have the same meaning as לירות. Note that for the meaning "to shoot, cast," the form לירות would be expected instead of לירוא (see Ps 11:2, 64:4 (5)).
Pr 11:31 This verse appears also in 1Pt 4:18. The translation of the LXX and 1Pt 4:18 can be obtained once it is noticed that this verse uses בארץ "in the earth" figuratively. To see this, it can be noted that the assumption that בארץ means "in the earth" or "in the world" leads to some difficulties. If the word ארץ "earth" is not used figuratively, then the verse speaks of something that has happened to the righteous while in the earth. During the Old Testament times, people were in the earth during their lifetime and also afterwards (such as in יבאו בתחתיות הארץ "shall go into the depths of the earth" in Ps 63:9 (10); see also Eze 26:20). If the verse speaks of something that has happened in this life or after it, then בארץ "in the earth" would seem redundant. Then, if בארץ means "in the world", it is still difficult to interpret the verb שלם. If the form ישלם is assumed to mean "is repaid, punished", then the resulting interpretation is unlikely, as it would state that if the righteous are repaid in this world, then so much more the wicked; however, the Scripture indicates that the wicked are not repaid or fully repaid while on earth. If considering the basic meaning "to complete" of the verb שלם, then ישלם "is completed" would result in an interpretation in which it is not clear how the wicked are contrasted to the righteous. Given these difficulties resulting from a strict interpretation of the word ארץ "earth, land", it would seem reasonable to consider the figurative use of the word. A special use of בארץ may also be indicated by the unusual position of the word in the sentence, since בארץ commonly follows the verb it modifies. Thus, בארץ ישלם "is completed by means of land [figuratively speaking]" would mean "is completed with difficulty", given that land was very valuable. Since one is made complete when he is saved (Heb 10:14), בארץ ישלם means "is saved with difficulty". In this way we obtain the translation of the LXX and 1Pt 4:18.
Pr 13:15 "Though good understanding gives favor, the way of the unfaithful endures." The fact that it is possible to be in a good relationship with the Lord does not bring to an end the way of the unfaithful; people continue to be unfaithful in spite of it. This verse predicts that there will be unfaithful people until the end.
Pr 13:20 Following the Hebrew text as written, "Go with the wise and be wise! A companion of fools will suffer harm!" Note that the Kethiv form הלוך was parsed as an infinitive absolute and חכם as an imperative. While the translation above does not include the word "and" from ורעה "and a companion," a possible way to include it in translation would be, "Go with the wise and be wise, and consider that a companion of fools will suffer harm."
Pr 15:14 Following the text as written (see the Kethiv), "The heart of the man of understanding searches knowledge, but with the face of fools one feeds with folly." In other words, one who receives the teaching of fools feeds with folly.
Pr 16:7 "When the LORD is satisfied with the ways of a man he saves him, even if that man is one of his enemies." This translation fits the context of the previous verse. The fact that the Lord is satisfied with the ways of a man does not imply that those ways are completely right, but that they do not prevent God's work of salvation. The Lord is the one who works in a person to remove obstacles and to make the ways of that person satisfactory. About translating שלם "to complete" with the meaning "to save", see the note above on Pr 11:31. The meaning "to complete" would also be relevant when this verse is applied to a saved person, as it would speak about the Lord's work in the believer. As for an unsaved person, since his greatest need by far is salvation leading to eternal life, the verse refers to this kind of salvation. The alternative interpretation of this verse that "he makes even his enemies be at peace with him" has several drawbacks. First, it does not fit as well as the proposed translation the context of the previous verse. Second, if the verb שלם is interpreted with the meaning "to make peace", the spelling ישלים would be expected, not ישלם. Third, note that the word גם "even, also" typically implies something in addition to something else. However, the context does not specify the persons that would make peace with the man in addition to his enemies. In the translation proposed here, however, the word גם "even, also" does not create any difficulty because the meaning "to save" does not have to apply exclusively to salvation leading to eternal life. Thus, the enemies are in addition to the man mentioned in the first part of the verse. So, ברצות יהוה דרכי איש גם אויביו ישלם אתו "When the LORD is satisfied with the ways of a man, even his enemies, he saves him" is understood as stating, "When the LORD is satisfied with the ways of a man, this applies even to his enemies, he saves him."
Pr 16:29-30 "A violent man deceives his neighbor and makes him walk in a way that is not good. He closes his eyes to devise perversity; compressing his lips, he accomplishes evil." Likely, the fact that he compresses his lips indicates that he tries to keep his mouth shut so that his plans remain hidden. In this interpretation, the subject of verse 30 is the violent man of verse 29. Two Bible translations that have the same subject in verses 29 and 30 are KJV and NKJV. Note that Pr 6:12-13 is closely related and is commonly interpreted with the same subject in verses 12 and 13. See also the note above on Pr 10:9-10.
Pr 17:24 "Wisdom is found before those who have understanding, but the eyes of the fools are on the ends of the earth." Even when wisdom is near, fools do not regard it but think that true wisdom is further away.
Pr 19:16 Following the text as written (see the Kethiv), "The one who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, but the one despising God's ways will be caused to die." The phrase "will be caused to die" refers to what God does to the unbeliever. The verse could be interpreted based on the observation that "will be caused to die" is in contrast to "keeps his soul". The contrast between the believer and the unbeliever is most obvious when considering their condition after physical death.
Pr 19:19 Following the text as written (see the Kethiv), "A plot of land under wrath will involve a penalty, because if thou securest it, yet thou must do it again." Here, "under wrath" is understood to refer to circumstances under which one is not in control over his piece of property or controls it with difficulty. In the context of verse 17, there is an implication that one's selfishness could bring trouble to his possessions. Note that גרל חמה could be interpreted either as "a walled plot of land" (such as a vineyard, Nu 22:24), or "a plot of land with wrath". The first possibility leads to the interpretation, "A walled plot of land has a cost ... ", where the cost could refer to a cost of ownership. The second interpretation leads to, "A plot of land with wrath has a penalty ... ". The first possibility seems unlikely because the word ענש implies more than just a cost; it also implies a fine or a penalty. The second possibility is related to the use of חמה in Lev 25:30; see the note on Lev 25:30. Another passage in which גרל is interpreted with the meaning "lot" is Dan 12:13.
Pr 19:23 "The fear of the LORD leads to life, and one who is satisfied rests; he will by no means consider evil." The fear of the Lord satisfies the soul and keeps man from pursuing evil endeavors.
Pr 20:20 The Kethiv form אישון in this verse is used the same way as in Pr 7:9. The form אשון suggested by the Qere is not found in Biblical Hebrew.
Pr 20:21 Following the text as written, "An inheritance causing loathing in the beginning, not even in the end will it be blessed." The Lord does not change, so if something displeases him at some point in time, it will displease him also at any latter time. Note that the Kethiv form מבחלת is from the verb בחל "to loathe", which appears also in Zec 11:8.
Pr 20:30-21:1 "The stripes of a wound thou shalt cleanse in adversity, and with the wounds of the inward parts of the belly are streams of living water. The heart of the king is in the hand of the LORD; he inclines it wherever he wishes." The text indicates that for the believer adversity can bring healing, and the affliction of the soul streams of living water. The streams of living water are explained by the fact that the soul of man can become more receptive to God's word in difficult times. Note that streams imply flowing water, that is water flowing into and out of the soul of the believer. This translation uses a division into sentences in which one sentence ends with "streams of living water" and the other begins with "The heart of the king." The Hebrew text is, חברות פצא תמריק ברע ומכות חדרי בטן פלגי מים לב מלך ביד יהוה על כל אשר יחפץ יטנו. The Scripture has here the form תמריק, not תמרוק, which is from the Qere. Thus, חברות פצא תמריק ברע was translated, "The stripes of a wound thou shalt cleanse in adversity." Here, ברע was translated "in adversity;" other passages in which ברע refers to adversity or affliction include Ex 5:19 and Ps 10:6. Note that ברע mirrors מכות, so מכות חדרי בטן פלגי מים was translated, "with the wounds of the inward rooms of the belly are streams of living water." The phrase פלגי מים "streams of water" implies fresh water, that is, "streams of living water." This can be seen by considering that פלגי מים in Ps 1:3 and Is 32:2 implies fresh water. Finally, לב מלך ביד יהוה על כל אשר יחפץ יטנו was translated "The heart of the king is in the hand of the LORD; he inclines it wherever he wishes."
Other interpretations are as follows. Traditionally, it has been assumed that Pr 20:30 contains a full sentence. Under this interpretation, חברות פצא תמריק ברע ומכות חדרי בטן means "the stripes of a wound thou shalt cleanse in adversity, and also the wounds of the inward parts of the belly." However, this lacks the symmetry of other proverbs. Thus, other interpretations have been more or less similar to "the stripes of a wound cleanse away evil, and blows the inward parts of the belly." However, this is not very close to the Hebrew text because the singular number of תמריק does not agree with the plural number of חברות, and ברע fits the meaning "in evil" rather than "evil."
When literally interpreted, Pr 20:30-21:1 appears to be the passage referred by the Lord when he said, καθως ειπεν η γραφη ποταμοι εκ της κοιλιας αυτου ρευσουσιν υδατος ζωντος "as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from his belly" (Jn 7:38). Comparing Jn 7:38 to Pr 20:30-21:1, κοιλια "belly" matches בטן, and ποταμοι υδατος ζωντος "streams of living water" corresponds to פלגי מים. It would appear that the reason ζωντος "living" appears in the Greek text is that ποταμος "stream" does not imply fresh water. As could be seen by reading Jon 2:3 and Eze 32:2 in LXX, ποταμος "stream" could refer to a sea current. (Note that the definition of ποταμος "stream" in Strong's lexicon includes the word "current.") See also the note on Jn 7:38.
Pr 21:29 Following the text as written (see the Kethiv), "A man strengthens wickedness before his face, but the upright is the one who establishes his ways." One who strengthens wickedness seeks to prevail in his ways. However, true success comes from the Lord, so those who establish their ways are those who please the Lord. Considering העז איש רשע בפניו, note that the phrase איש רשע is not common, as it appears only in this verse. Rather than assuming that רשע modifies איש, the form רשע was taken as the object of העז. Note that particle ב of בפניו implies that the object of העז is not בפניו. Thus, the verb עזז is not used exactly the same way in Pr 21:29 and Pr 7:13, for the latter has העזה פניה and פניה is the object of the verb.
Pr 22:4 "Humility, that is, the fear of the LORD, results in riches, and honor, and life." One is not truly humble if he fails to humble himself before the Lord. Once a person has humbled himself before the Lord, he will receive the instruction of the Lord and will be saved. Notable in this verse is the absence of the waw particle between עקב ענוה and יראת יהוה. Thus, we have "the result of humility, the fear of the LORD" instead of "the result of humility and the fear of the LORD". Since there is no waw particle between יראת יהוה and עשר, though a waw particle appears between עשר and כבוד and between כבוד and חיים, it was concluded that יראת יהוה is used in apposition to ענוה.
Pr 22:6 "Make the dedication for a young person according to his way. Not even in his old age will he depart from it." Every person is gifted in a certain way; one who is encouraged to go in the way for which he was made will not depart from it. Other passages in which על פי means "according to" are Lev 27:8, 18, Nu 26:56, De 17:10-11.
Pr 22:20 Following the written text, "Have I not written thee in the past in counsels and knowledge?" The Lord addresses his hearers as sons (Heb 12:5, Pr 4:1). Though his word was written a long time ago, he meant it for all generations. The Kethiv form שלשום was translated "in the past", being understood to refer to a (somewhat) distant past period of time. Elsewhere in the Bible, the word שלשום (also written שלשם) appears together with either אתמול or תמול (also written תמל) in phrases that are translated typically "hitherto". The lexicon meaning of תמול and אתמול is "yesterday" and "recently". However, the only Bible verse in which the meaning "yesterday" would fit literally (not figuratively, as standing for "recently") is 1Sa 20:27, in which the meaning "recently" would also fit well. Thus, assuming the meaning "recently" and considering the phrases meaning "hitherto", such as גם אתמול גם שלשום (in 2Sa 5:2) and גם תמול גם שלשום (in 1Ch 11:2), it could be seen that past time is described as consisting of the past interval of time denoted by תמול or אתמול (the recent past) and the past interval of time denoted by שלשום. Therefore, שלשום must refer to the distant past.
Pr 23:26 Literally, "My son, give me thine heart and thine eyes! As for my way, run on it!" The statement "give me ... thine eyes" fits the fact that the eyes of the believer should be fixed on the Lord (Heb 12:2). The Kethiv form תרצנה could be derived from more than one verb. A possibility would be to associate it with רצה "to be pleased with", just like תרצני in Ge 33:10. However, since the verb רצה could be interpreted with "to be pleased with, to accept", as in Ge 33:10, the request "accept my way!" would not be nearly as strong as "delight in my way!". Since the Scripture indicates that one should delight in the way of God's testimonies (Ps 119:14), it seems somewhat unlikely that רצה is used in this verse. The possibility that the verb of תרצנה is רצץ "to break" (see Jdg 9:53 for a related example), does not lead to a meaningful interpretation of Pr 23:26. Another possibility would be that the verb רוץ "to run" is used and so דרכי תרצנה means "As for my way, run on it!" This interpretation would fit Ps 119:32 and Heb 12:1. While the verb רוץ is normally used without an object, the way on which one would run appears as an object in וירץ אחימעץ דרך הככר (2Sa 18:23), לרוץ אורח in Ps 19:5 (19:6), and דרך מצותיך ארוץ (Ps 119:32). Examples in which the verb רוץ appears with a pronominal suffix are יריצהו in Ge 41:14, אריצנו in Jer 49:19, and ארוצם in the Kethiv of Jer 50:44.
Pr 26:6 "The one who cuts off feet drinks violence with the one who sends a message by means of a fool." The text states that the actions of the two are alike.
Pr 27:10 The Kethiv form רעה represents the construct state of the noun רעה also in 2Sa 15:37, 16:16, and 1Ki 4:5.
Pr 27:19 "As waters facing the face are for the face, reflecting it, so is the heart of man for the man." This verse provides an illustration showing that just as the face is reflected by water, so also man is reflected by his heart. Unsurprisingly, the Lord searches the heart of man (Jer 17:10). The form הפנים was parsed as a qal masculine plural participle of פנה "to face"; it modifies מים "waters".
Pr 27:20 "Sheol and that which destroys are never satisfied, and likewise the eyes of man are never satisfied." Note that the verb form תשבענה is a feminine plural form, being in agreement with the feminine gender of שאול "Sheol" and of the Kethiv form אבדה, which was translated "that which destroys". The plural number of the verb also indicates that a distinction is made between שאול and אבדה. Therefore, understanding אבדון "Abaddon" to be part of שאול "Sheol", the possibility that אבדה would refer to אבדון would seem unlikely. While שאול "Sheol" and אבדון "Abaddon" do appear together in Pr 15:11, the point there is that the entire שאול "Sheol", including אבדון "Abaddon", though hidden and far from us, is not hidden from the Lord. Now the meaning of אבדה can be derived from the verb אבד "to destroy"; it was interpreted here as a feminine participle of אבד and translated "that which destroys".
Pr 27:24 The Qere has לדור ודור instead of לדור דור in the Kethiv. Note that the Kethiv phrase corresponds to לדר דר in Ex 3:15 and is similar to מדר דר in Ex 17:16.
Pr 28:2 "When a land rebels, many are its rulers. However, one among men who understands is known; thus is he preserved." This verse is interpreted here in the sense that the Lord knows those who are his, watches over them, and keeps them safe in spite of dangerous times. The phrase "among men" makes it clear that the verse refers to any man who has understanding, not just to rulers who have understanding. The form יאריך "is prolonged" was interpreted in the sense of "is preserved". Note that באדם is used with the meaning "among men" in various passages, such as Ex 9:10, Nu 8:17, Ps 68:18 (19), 78:60, Pr 23:28, Jer 32:20, Mi 7:2.
Pr 28:8 The word תרבית is always used in the context of loans. Since this word is related to רבה "to multiply, increase", it must refer to interest as we know it. Note that תרבית is always used together with the word נשך, which also is translated "interest". The fact that the word נשך is associated with תרבית confirms that it refers to interest. Concerning the meaning of the two words, the following observations could be made. The word נשך should not be translated "excessive interest", as in usury, but simply "interest", since the word can refer to reasonable interest (De 23:20 (21)). It was reasonable to take it (De 23:20 (21)), though not from a fellow worshiper of God (De 23:19 (20)). It was unreasonable, however, to make much money from interest, as indicated by Pr 28:8; loans were meant to help the needy, not to increase the wealth of the lender. While both נשך and תרבית mean "interest", they are not used exactly the same way and thus do not refer to the same kind of interest. To distinguish between the two words, תרבית will be translated here "increase" and נשך "interest". While תרבית "increase" is associated with the verb לקח "to take", נשך "interest" can also have the verb נתן "to give" (Eze 18:8, 13); note יתן בנשך "gives in interest" in Eze 18:8, 13. So the נשך form of interest was something that a borrower had to pay regardless when the loan was repaid; in this respect, it was similar to a loan fee. Now the written text of Pr 28:8 has בנשך ובתרבית "by interest and by increase", while the Qere has בנשך ותרבית "by interest and increase". Thus, the Kethiv makes a distinction between the two words, while the Qere, by eliminating the ב prefix of תרבית, groups together the words נשך and תרבית. The distinction made in the Kethiv points out to the difference in meaning between נשך and תרבית.
Pr 28:16-17 "A ruler who lacks understanding also multiplies oppression, but with the rulers who hate unjust gain God prolongs days. If the ruler oppresses by shedding blood, he is rushing to the pit. Do not support him." This translation follows the text as written; note the plural form שנאי in the Kethiv and that verse 17 has אם "if" instead of אדם "man" (the ד letter of אדם is small in the Hebrew manuscripts, which indicates that it is an addition to the original text.)
Pr 30:18 "Three matters are too wonderful for me and four things also; I do not know them." The four things are listed in verse 19; these things are wonderful because one cannot fully explain them. The three matters are also mentioned in verse 20. The Kethiv marks the distinction between the three matters and the four things by using a different gender for שלשה "three" and ארבע "four".
Pr 30:20 "The way of the adulterous woman is likewise: she eats and wipes her mouth and says, 'I have done no evil thing.'" The ways mentioned in verse 19 are not straight but irregular. So also there is no sound line of reasoning by which an adulteress justifies her actions. Normally, כן "thus" makes a reference to something already stated. Therefore, it was translated here "likewise".
Pr 31:16 "She considers a field and buys it; from the fruit of her hand a vineyard is planted." Note that כרם "vineyard" agrees in gender with the Kethiv form נטע"is planted".
Pr 31:18 The Kethiv form ליל "night" appears also in Is 16:3, 21:11, in the Kethiv of Lam 2:19, and two times in Is 15:1.
Pr 31:27 "She watches that which would come to the house and does not eat the bread of idleness." The Aleppo Codex and other texts have the Kethiv form הילכות in the place of הליכות. The stem of ילכות is ילך, which could be related to the verb הלך. Assuming that ילך corresponds to הלך "to walk", the translation of הילכות ביתה would be, "that which would come to the house." Two other instances that provide evidence for a stem ילך are as follows. First, note אילכה of Mi 1:8, which has been associated with הלך. Second, the Kethiv form הולך of Jos 6:13, also associated with the verb הלך, would fit well the context of Jos 6:13 as an infinitive absolute. Note that הולך could be parsed as a hiphil infinitive absolute if derived from ילך.