Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Four proverbs of God, the disposer of all things:
1 Man's are the counsels of the heart;
But the answer of the tongue cometh from Jahve.
Gesen., Ewald, and Bertheau incorrectly understand 1b of hearing, i.e., of a favourable response to what the tongue wishes; 1a speaks not of wishes, and the gen. after מענה (answer) is, as at Pro 15:23; Mic 3:7, and also here, by virtue of the parallelism, the gen. subjecti Pro 15:23 leads to the right sense, according to which a good answer is joy to him to whom it refers: it does not always happen to one to find the fitting and effective expression for that which he has in his mind; it is, as this cog. proverb expresses it, a gift from above (δοθήσεται, Mat 10:19). But now, since מענה neither means answering, nor yet in general an expression (Euchel) or report (Lwenstein), and the meaning of the word at 4a is not here in question, one has to think of him whom the proverb has in view as one who has to give a reason, to give information, or generally - since ענה, like ἀμείβεσθαι, is not confined to the interchange of words - to solve a problem, and that such an one as requires reflection. The scheme (project, premeditation) which he in his heart contrives, is here described as מערכי־לב, from ערך, to arrange, to place together, metaphorically of the reflection, i.e., the consideration analyzing and putting a matter in order. These reflections, seeking at one time in one direction, and at another in another, the solution of the question, the unfolding of the problem, are the business of men; but the answer which finally the tongue gives, and which here, in conformity with the pregnant sense of מענה (vid., at Pro 15:23, Pro 15:28), will be regarded as right, appropriate, effective, thus generally the satisfying reply to the demand placed before him, is from God. It is a matter of experience which the preacher, the public speaker, the author, and every man to whom his calling or circumstances present a weighty, difficult theme, can attest. As the thoughts pursue one another in the mind, attempts are made, and again abandoned; the state of the heart is somewhat like that of chaos before the creation. But when, finally, the right thought and the right utterance for it are found, that which is found appears to us, not as if self-discovered, but as a gift; we regard it with the feeling that a higher power has influenced our thoughts and imaginings; the confession by us, ἡ ἱκανότης ἡμῶν ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ (Co2 3:5), in so far as we believe in a living God, is inevitable.
2 Every way of a man is pure in his own eyes;
But a weigher of the spirits is Jahve.
Variations of this verse are Pro 21:2, where ישׁר for זך (according to the root-meaning: pricking in the eyes, i.e., shining clear, then: without spot, pure, vid., Fleischer in Levy's Chald. Wrterbuch, i. 424), לבּות for רוּחות, and כּל־דּרך for כּל־דּרכי, whereupon here without synallage (for כל means the totality), the singular of the pred. follows, as Isa 64:10; Eze 31:15. For the rest, cf. with 2a, Pro 14:12, where, instead of the subj. בּעיני, is used לפני, and with 2b, Pro 24:12, where God is described by תּכן לבּות. The verb תּכן is a secondary formation from כּוּן (vid., Hupfeld on Psa 5:7), like תּכן from Arab. tyaḳn (to be fast, sure), the former through the medium of the reflex. התכּונן, the latter of the reflex. Arab. âitḳn; תּכן means to regulate (from regula, a rule), to measure off, to weigh, here not to bring into a condition right according to rule (Theodotion, ἑδράζων, stabiliens, Syr. Targ. מתקּן, Venet. καταρτίζει; Luther, "but the Lord maketh the heart sure"), but to measure or weigh, and therefore to estimate rightly, to know accurately (Jerome, spiritum ponderator est Dominus). The judgment of a man regarding the cause of life, which it is good for him to enter upon, lies exposed to great and subtle self-deception; but God has the measure and weight, i.e., the means of proving, so as to value the spirits according to their true moral worth; his investigation goes to the root (cf. κριτικός, Heb 4:12), his judgment rests on the knowledge of the true state of the matter, and excludes all deception, so that thus a man can escape the danger of delusion by no other means than by placing his way, i.e., his external and internal life, in the light of the word of God, and desiring for himself the all-penetrating test of the Searcher of hearts (Psa 139:23.), and the self-knowledge corresponding to the result of this test.
3 Roll on Jahve thy works,
So thy thoughts shall prosper.
The proverbs Pro 16:1-3 are wanting in the lxx; their absence is compensated for by three others, but only externally, not according to their worth. Instead of גּל, the Syr., Targ., and Jerome read גּל, revela, with which the על, Psa 37:5, cf. Psa 55:23, interchanging with אל (here and at Psa 22:9), does not agree; rightly Theodotion, κύλισον ἐπὶ κύριον, and Luther, "commend to the Lord thy works." The works are here, not those that are executed, Exo 23:16, but those to be executed, as Psa 90:17, where כּונן, here the active to ויכּונוּ, which at Pro 4:26 as jussive meant to be placed right, here with ו of the consequence in the apodosis imperativi: to be brought about, and to have continuance, or briefly: to stand (cf. Pro 12:3) as the contrast of disappointment or ruin. We should roll on God all matters which, as obligations, burden us, and on account of their weight and difficulty cause us great anxiety, for nothing is too heavy or too hard for Him who can overcome all difficulties and dissolve all perplexities; then will our thoughts, viz., those about the future of our duty and our life-course, be happy, nothing will remain entangled and be a failure, but will be accomplished, and the end and aim be realized.
4 Jahve hath made everything for its contemplated end;
And also the wicked for the day of evil.
Everywhere else מענה means answer (Venet. πρὸς ἀπόκρισιν αὐτοῦ), which is not suitable here, especially with the absoluteness of the כּל; the Syr. and Targ. translate, obedientibus ei, which the words do not warrant; but also propter semet ipsum (Jerome, Theodotion, Luther) give to 4b no right parallelism, and, besides, would demand למענו or למענהוּ. The punctuation למּענהוּ, which is an anomaly (cf. כּגּברתּהּ, Isa 24:2, and בּערינוּ, Ezr 10:14), shows (Ewald) that here we have, not the prepositional למען, but ל with the subst. מענה, which in derivation and meaning is one with the form מעז abbreviated from it (cf. מעל, מער), similar in meaning to the Arab. ma'anyn, aim, intention, object, and end, and mind, from 'atay, to place opposite to oneself a matter, to make it the object of effort. Hitzig prefers למענה, but why not rather למענהוּ, for the proverb is not intended to express that all that God has made serve a purpose (by which one is reminded of the arguments for the existence of God from final causes, which are often prosecuted too far), but that all is made by God for its purpose, i.e., a purpose premeditated by Him, that the world of things and of events stands under the law of a plan, which has in God its ground and its end, and that also the wickedness of free agents is comprehended in this plan, and made subordinate to it. God has not indeed made the wicked as such, but He has made the being which is capable of wickedness, and which has decided for it, viz., in view of the "day of adversity" (Ecc 7:14), which God will cause to come upon him, thus making His holiness manifest in the merited punishment, and thus also making wickedness the means of manifesting His glory. It is the same thought which is expressed in Exo 9:16 with reference to Pharaoh. A praedestinatio ad malum, and that in the supralapsarian sense, cannot be here taught, for this horrible dogma (horribile quidem decretrum, fateor, says Calvin himself) makes God the author of evil, and a ruler according to His sovereign caprice, and thus destroys all pure conceptions of God. What Paul, Rom 9, with reference to Exo 9:16, wishes to say is this, that it was not Pharaoh's conduct that determined the will of God, but that the will of God is always the antecedens: nothing happens to God through the obstinacy and rebellion of man which determines Him to an action not already embraced in the eternal plan, but also such an one must against his will be subservient to the display of God's glory. The apostle adds Rom 9:22, and shows that he recognised the factor of human self-determination, but also as one comprehended in God's plan. The free actions of men create no situation by which God would be surprised and compelled to something which was not originally intended by Himself. That is what the above proverb says: the wicked also has his place in God's order of the world. Whoever frustrates the designs of grace must serve God in this, ἐνδείζασθαι τὴν ὀργὴν καὶ γνωρίσαι τὸ δυνατὸν αὐτοῦ (Rom 9:22).
Here follow three proverbs of divine punishment, expiatio [Vershnung] and reconciliatio [Vershnung].
5 An abomination of Jahve is every one who is haughty;
The hand for it [assuredly] he remains not unpunished.
Proverbs thus commencing we already had at Pro 15:9, Pro 15:26. גּבהּ is a metaplastic connecting form of גּבהּ; on the contrary, גּבהּ, Sa1 16:7; Psa 103:11, means being high, as גּבהּ, height; the form underlying גּבהּ is not גּבהּ (as Gesen. and Olshausen write it), but גּבהּ. In 5b, Pro 11:21 is repeated. The translators are perplexed in their rendering of יד ליד. Fleischer: ab aetate in aetatem non (i.e., nullo unquam tempore futuro) impunis erit.
6 By love and truth is iniquity expiated,
And through the fear of Jahve one escapes from evil -
literally, there comes (as the effect of it) the escaping of evil (סוּר, n. actionis, as Pro 13:19), or rather, since the evil here comes into view as to its consequences (Pro 14:27; Pro 15:24), this, that one escapes evil. By חסד ואמת are here meant, not the χάρις καὶ ἀλήθεια of God (Bertheau), but, like Pro 20:28, Isa 39:8, love and faithfulness in the relation of men to one another. The ב is both times that of the mediating cause. Or is it said neither by what means one may attain the expiation of his sins, nor how he may attain to the escaping from evil, but much rather wherein the true reverence for Jahve, and wherein the right expiation of sin, consist? Thus von Hofmann, Schriftbew. i. 595. But the ב of בחסד is not different from that of בּזאת, Isa 27:9. It is true that the article of justification is falsified if good works enter as causa meritoria into the act of justification, but we of the evangelical school teach that the fides qu justificat is indeed inoperative, but not the fides quae justificat, and we cannot expect of the O.T. that it should everywhere distinguish with Pauline precision what even James will not or cannot distinguish. As the law of sacrifice designates the victim united with the blood in the most definite manner, but sometimes also the whole transaction in the offering of sacrifice even to the priestly feast as serving לכפּר, Lev 10:17, so it also happens in the general region of ethics: the objective ground of reconciliation is the decree of God, to which the blood in the typical offering points, and man is a partaker of this reconciliation, when he accepts, in penitence and in faith, the offered mercy of God; but this acceptance would be a self-deception, if it meant that the blotting out of the guilt of sin could be obtained in the way of imputation without the immediate following thereupon of a blotting of it out in the way of sanctification; and therefore the Scriptures also ascribe to good works a share in the expiation of sin in a wider sense - namely, as the proofs of thankful (Luk 7:47) and compassionate love (vid., at Pro 10:2), as this proverb of love and truth, herein according with the words of the prophets, as Hos 6:6; Mic 6:6-8. He who is conscious of this, that he is a sinner, deeply guilty before God, who cannot stand before Him if He did not deal with him in mercy instead of justice, according to the purpose of His grace, cannot trust to this mercy if he is not zealous, in his relations to his fellow-men, to practise love and truth; and in view of the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer, and of the parable of the unmerciful steward rightly understood, it may be said that the love which covers the sins, Pro 10:12, of a neighbour, has, in regard to our own sins, a covering or atoning influence, of "blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." That "love and truth" are meant of virtues practised from religious motives, 6b shows; for, according to this line, by the fear of Jahve one escapes evil. The fear of Jahve is subjection to the God of revelation, and a falling in with the revealed plan of salvation.
7 If Jahve has pleasure in the ways of a man,
He reconciles even his enemies to him -
properly (for השׁלים is here the causative of the transitive, Jos 10:1): He brings it about that they conclude peace with him. If God has pleasure in the ways of a man, i.e., in the designs which he prosecutes, and in the means which he employs, he shows, by the great consequences which flow from his endeavours, that, even as his enemies also acknowledge, God is with him (e.g., Gen 26:27.), so that they, vanquished in heart (e.g., Sa2 19:9.), abandon their hostile position, and become his friends. For if it is manifest that God makes Himself known, bestowing blessings on a man, there lies in this a power of conviction which disarms his most bitter opponents, excepting only those who have in selfishness hardened themselves.
Five proverbs of the king, together with three of righteousness in action and conduct:
8 Better is a little with righteousness,
Than rich revenues with unrighteousness.
The cogn. proverb Pro 15:16 commences similarly. Of רב תּבוּאות, multitude or greatness of income, vid., Pro 14:4 : "unrighteous wealth profits not." The possessor of it is not truly happy, for sin cleaves to it, which troubles the heart (conscience), and because the enjoyment which it affords is troubled by the curses of those who are injured, and by the sighs of the oppressed. Above all other gains rises ἡ εὐσέβεια μετ ̓ αὐταρκείας (Ti1 6:6).
9 The heart of man deviseth his way;
But Jahve directeth his steps.
Similar to this is the German proverb: "Der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt" [= our "man proposes, God disposes"], and the Arabic el-‛abd (העבד = man) judebbir wallah juḳaddir; Latin, homo proponit, Deus disponit; for, as Hitzig rightly remarks, 9b means, not that God maketh his steps firm (Venet., Luther, Umbreit, Bertheau, Elster), but that He gives direction to him (Jerome, dirigere). Man deliberates here and there (חשּׁב, intens. of חשׁב, to calculate, reflect) how he will begin and carry on this or that; but his short-sightedness leaves much out of view which God sees; his calculation does not comprehend many contingencies which God disposes of and man cannot foresee. The result and issue are thus of God, and the best is, that in all his deliberations one should give himself up without self-confidence and arrogance to the guidance of God, that one should do his duty and leave the rest, with humility and confidence, to God.
10 Oracular decision (belongeth) to the lips of the king;
In the judgment his mouth should not err.
The first line is a noun clause: קסם, as subject, thus needs a distinctive accent, and that is here, after the rule of the sequence of accents, and manuscript authority (vid., Torath Emeth, p. 49), not Mehuppach legarme, as in our printed copies, but Dechi (קסם). Jerome's translation: Divinatio in labiis regis, in judicio non errabit os ejus, and yet more Luther's: "his mouth fails not in judgment," makes it appear as if the proverb meant that the king, in his official duties, was infallible; and Hitzig (Zckler agreeing), indeed, finds here expressed the infallibility of the theocratic king, and that as an actual testimony to be believed, not only is a mere political fiction, like the phrase, "the king can do no wrong." But while this political fiction is not strange even to the Israelitish law, according to which the king could not be brought before the judgment, that testimony is only a pure imagination. For as little as the N.T. teaches that the Pope, as the legitimate vicarius of Christ, is infallible, cum ex cathedra docet, so little does the O.T. that the theocratic king, who indeed was the legitimate vicarius Dei, was infallible in judicio ferendo. Yet Ewald maintains that the proverb teaches that the word of the king, when on the seat of justice, is an infallible oracle; but it dates from the first bright period of the strong uncorrupted kingdom in Israel. One may not forget, says Dchsel also, with von Gerlach, that these proverbs belong to the time of Solomon, before it had given to the throne sons of David who did evil before the Lord. Then it would fare ill for the truth of the proverb - the course of history would falsify it. But in fact this was never maintained in Israel. Of the idolizing flattering language in which, at the present day, rulers in the East are addressed, not a trace is found in the O.T. The kings were restrained by objective law and the recognised rights of the people. David showed, not merely to those who were about him, but also to the people at large, so many human weaknesses, that he certainly appeared by no means infallible; and Solomon distinguished himself, it is true, by rare kingly wisdom, but when he surrounded himself with the glory of an oriental potentate, and when Rehoboam began to assume the tone of a despot, there arose an unhallowed breach between the theocratic kingdom and the greatest portion of the people. The proverb, as Hitzig translates and expounds it: "a divine utterance rests on the lips of the king; in giving judgment his mouth deceives not," is both historically and dogmatically impossible. The choice of the word קסם (from קסם, R. קש קם, to make fast, to take an oath, to confirm by an oath, incantare, vid., at Isa 3:2), which does not mean prediction (Luther), but speaking the truth, shows that 10a expresses, not what falls from the lips of the king in itself, but according to the judgment of the people: the people are wont to regard the utterances of the king as oracular, as they shouted in the circus at Caesarea of King Agrippa, designating his words as θεοῦ φωνὴ καὶ οὐκ ἀνθρώπων (Act 12:22). Hence 10b supplies an earnest warning to the king, viz., that his mouth should not offend against righteousness, nor withhold it. לא ימעל is meant as warning (Umbreit, Bertheau), like לא תבא, Pro 22:24, and ב in מעל is here, as always, that of the object; at least this is more probable than that מעל stands without object, which is possible, and that ב designates the situation.
11 The scale and balances of a right kind are Jahve's;
His work are the weights of the bag.
Regarding פּלס, statera, a level or steelyard (from פּלס, to make even), vid., Pro 4:26; מאזנים (from אזן, to weigh), libra, is another form of the balance: the shop-balance furnished with two scales. אבני are here the stones that serve for weights, and כּים, which at Pro 1:14 properly means the money-bag, money-purse (cf. Pro 7:20), is here, as at Mic 6:11, the bag in which the merchant carries the weights. The genit. משׁפּט belongs also to פּלס, which, in our edition, is pointed with the disjunctive Mehuppach legarme, is rightly accented in Cod. 1294 (vid., Torath Emeth, p. 50) with the conjunctive Mehuppach. משׁפט, as 11b shows, is not like מרמה, the word with the principal tone; 11a says that the balance thus, or thus constructed, which weighs accurately and justly, is Jahve's, or His arrangement, and the object of His inspection, and 11b, that all the weight-stones of the bag, and generally the means of weighing and measuring, rest upon divine ordinance, that in the transaction and conduct of men honesty and certainty might rule. This is the declared will of God, the lawgiver; for among the few direct determinations of His law with reference to trade this stands prominent, that just weights and just measures shall be used, Lev 19:36; Deu 25:13-16. The expression of the poet here frames itself after this law; yet 'ה is not exclusively the God of positive revelation, but, as agriculture in Isa 28:29, cf. Sirach 7:15, so here the invention of normative and normal means of commercial intercourse is referred to the direction and institution of God.
12 It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness,
For by righteousness the throne is established.
As 10b uttered a warning to the king, grounded on the fact of 10a, so 12a indirectly contains a warning, which is confirmed by the fact 12b. It is a fact that the throne is established by righteousness (יכּון as expressive of a rule, like הוּכן, Isa 16:5, as expressive of an event); on this account it is an abomination to kings immediately or mediately to commit wickedness, i.e., to place themselves in despotic self-will above the law. Such wicked conduct shall be, and ought to be, an abhorrence to them, because they know that they thereby endanger the stability of their throne. This is generally the case, but especially was it so in Israel, where the royal power was never absolutistic; where the king as well as the people were placed under God's law; where the existence of the community was based on the understood equality of right; and the word of the people, as well as the word of the prophets, was free. Another condition of the stability of the throne is, after Pro 25:5, the removal of godless men from nearness to the king. Rehoboam lost the greater part of his kingdom by this, that he listened to the counsel of the young men who were hated by the people.
History is full of such warning examples, and therefore this proverb continues to hold up the mirror to princes.
Well-pleasing to kings are righteous lips,
And whoever speaketh uprightly is loved.
Rightly the lxx ἀγαπᾶ, individ. plur., instead of the plur. of genus, מלכים; on the contrary, Jerome and Luther give to the sing. the most general subject (one lives), in which case it must be distinctly said, that that preference of the king for the people who speak out the truth, and just what they think, is shared in by every one. צדק, as the property of the שׂפתי, accords with the Arab. ṣidḳ, truth as the property of the lasân (the tongue or speech). ישׁרים, from ישׁר, means recta, as נגידים, principalia, Pro 8:6, and ריקים, inania, Pro 12:11. ישׁרים, Dan 11:10, neut. So neut. וישׁר, Psa 111:8; but is rather, with Hitzig and Riehm, to be read וישׁר. What the proverb ways cannot be meant of all kings, for even the house of David had murderers of prophets, like Manasseh and Joiakim; but in general it is nevertheless true that noble candour, united with true loyalty and pure love to the king and the people, is with kings more highly prized than mean flattery, seeking only its own advantage, and that, though this (flattery) may for a time prevail, yet, at last, fidelity to duty, and respect for truth, gain the victory.
14 The wrath of the king is like messengers of death;
But a wise man appeaseth him.
The clause: the wrath of the king is many messengers of death, can be regarded as the attribution of the effect, but it falls under the point of view of likeness, instead of comparison: if the king is angry, it is as if a troop of messengers or angels of death went forth to visit with death him against whom the anger is kindled; the plur. serves for the strengthening of the figure: not one messenger of death, but at the same time several, the wrinkled brow, the flaming eye, the threatening voice of the king sends forth (Fleischer). But if he against whom the wrath of the king has thus broken forth is a wise man, or one near the king who knows that ὀργὴ ἀνδρὸς δικαιοσύνην Θεοῦ οὐ κατεργάζεται (Jam 1:20), he will seek to discover the means (and not without success) to cover or to propitiate, i.e., to mitigate and appease, the king's anger. The Scripture never uses כּפּר, so that God is the object (expiare Deum), because, as is shown in the Comm. zum Hebrerbrief, that were to say, contrary to the decorum divinum, that God's holiness or wrath is covered, or its energy bound, by the offering up of sacrifices or of things in which there is no inherent virtue of atonement, and which are made the means of reconciliation only by the accommodative arrangement of God. On the contrary, כּפּר is used here and at Gen 32:21 of covering = reconciling (propitiating) the wrath of a man.
15 In the light on the king's countenance there is life,
And his favour is as a cloud of the latter rains.
Hitzig regards אור as the inf. (cf. Pro 4:18), but one says substantively אור פּני, Job 29:24, etc., and in a similar sense מאור עינים, Pro 15:30; light is the condition of life, and the exhilaration of life, wherefore אור החיּים, Ps. 56:14, Job 33:30, is equivalent to a fresh, joyous life; in the light of the king's countenance is life, means that life goes forth from the cheerful approbation of the king, which shows itself in his face, viz., in the showing of favour, which cheers the heart and beautifies the life. To speak of liberality as a shower is so common to the Semitic, that it has in Arab. the general name of nadnâ, rain. 15b conforms itself to this. מלקושׁ (cf. Job 29:23) is the latter rain, which, falling about the spring equinox, brings to maturity the barley-harvest; on the contrary, מורה (יורה) is the early rain, which comes at the time of ploughing and sowing; the former is thus the harvest rain, and the latter the spring rain. Like a cloud which discharges the rain that mollifies the earth and refreshes the growing corn, is the king's favour. The noun עב, thus in the st. constr., retains its Kametz. Michlol 191b. This proverb is the contrast to Pro 16:14. Pro 20:2 has also the anger of the king as its theme. In Pro 19:12 the figures of the darkness and the light stand together as parts of one proverb. The proverbs relating to the king are now at an end. Pro 16:10 contains a direct warning for the king; Pro 16:12 an indirect warning, as a conclusion arising from 12b (cf. Pro 20:28, where יצּרוּ is not to be translated tueantur; the proverb has, however, the value of a nota bene). Pro 16:13 in like manner presents an indirect warning, less to the king than to those who have intercourse with him (cf. Pro 25:5), and Pro 16:14 and Pro 16:15 show what power of good and evil, of wrath and of blessing, is given to a king, whence so much the greater responsibility arises to him, but, at the same time also, the duty of all to repress the lust to evil that may be in him, and to awaken and foster in him the desire for good.
Five proverbs regarding wisdom, righteousness, humility, and trust in God, forming, as it were, a succession of steps, for humility is the virtue of virtues, and trust in God the condition of all salvation. Three of these proverbs have the word טוב in common.
16 To gain wisdom, how much better is it than gold;
And to attain understanding to be preferred to silver.
Commendation of the striving after wisdom (understanding) with which all wisdom begins, for one gains an intellectual possession not by inheritance, but by acquisition, Pro 4:7. A similar "parallel-comparative clause" (Fl.), with the interchange of טוב and נבחר, is Pro 22:1, but yet more so is Pro 21:3, where נבחר, as here, is neut. pred. (not, as at Pro 8:10 and elsewhere, adj.), and עשׂה, such an anomalous form of the inf. constr. as here קנה, Gesen. 75, Anm. 2; in both instances it could also be regarded as the inf. absol. (cf. Pro 25:27) (Lehrgebude, 109, Anm. 2); yet the language uses, as in the case before us, the form גּלה only with the force of an abl. of the gerund, as עשׂו occurs Gen 31:38; the inf. of verbs 'ה'ל as nom. (as here), genit. (Gen 50:20), and accus. (Psa 101:3), is always either גּלות or גּלה. The meaning is not that to gain wisdom is more valuable than gold, but that the gaining of wisdom exceeds the gaining of gold and silver, the common comparatio decurtata (cf. Job 28:18). Regarding חרוּץ, vid., at Pro 3:14.
17 The path of the righteous is the avoiding of evil,
And he preserveth his soul who giveth heed to his way.
The meaning of מסלּה, occurring only here in the Proverbs, is to be learned from Pro 15:19. The attribution denotes that wherein the way they take consists, or by which it is formed; it is one, a straight and an open way, i.e., unimpeded, leading them on, because they avoid the evil which entices them aside to the right and the left. Whoever then gives heed to his way, preserveth his soul (שׁמר נפשׁו, as Pro 13:3, on the contrary Pro 25:5, subj.), that it suffer not injury and fall under death, for סוּר מרע and סור ממוקשׁי מות, Pro 14:27, are essentially the same. Instead of this distich, the lxx has three distichs; the thoughts presented in the four superfluous lines are all already expressed in one distich. Ewald and Hitzig find in this addition of the lxx a component part of the original text.
18 Pride goeth before destruction,
And haughtiness cometh before a fall.
The contrast is לפני כבוד ענוה, Pro 15:33, according to which the "haughtiness comes before a fall" in Pro 18:22 is expanded into the antithetic distich. שׁבר means the fracture of the limbs, destruction of the person. A Latin proverb says, "Magna cadunt, inflata crepant, tumefacta premuntur."
(Note: An expression of similar meaning is אחרי דרגא תביר = after Darga (to rise up) comes tebı̂r (breaking = destruction); cf. Zunz, in Geiger's Zeitschrift, vi. 315ff.)
Here being dashed in pieces and overthrown correspond. שׁבר means neither bursting (Hitzig) nor shipwreck (Ewald). כשּׁלון (like בּטּחון, זכּרון, etc.), from כּשׁל or נכשׁל, to totter, and hence, as a consequence, to come to ruin, is a ἅπαχ λεγ. This proverb, which stands in the very centre of the Book of Proverbs, is followed by another in praise of humility.
19 Better in humility to dwell among sufferers,
Than to divide spoil among the proud.
The form שׁפל is here not adj. as Pro 29:23 (from שׁפל, like חסר, Pro 6:32, from חסר), but inf. (like Ecc 12:14, and חסר, defectio, 10:21). There existed here also no proper reason for changing עניּים (Chethı̂b) into ענוים; Hitzig is right in saying that עני may also be taken in the sense of ענו [the idea "sufferer" is that which mediates], and that here the inward fact of humility and the outward of dividing spoil, stand opposed to one another. It is better to live lowly, i.e., with a mind devoid of earthly pride (Demut [humility] comes from do with the deep e, diu, servant), among men who have experience of the vanity of earthly joys, than, intoxicated with pride, to enjoy oneself amid worldly wealth and greatness (cf. Isa 9:2).
20 He that giveth heed to the word will find prosperity;
And he that trusteth in Jahve, blessed is he!
The "word" here is the word κατ ̓ ἐξ., the divine word, for משׂכּיל על־דּבר is the contrast of בּז לדבר, Pro 13:13, cf. Neh 8:13. טוב is meant, as in Pro 17:20, cf. Pro 13:21, Psa 23:6; to give heed to God's word is the way to true prosperity. But at last all depends on this, that one stand in personal fellowship with God by means of faith, which here, as at Pro 28:25; Pro 29:25, is designated after its specific mark as fiducia. The Mashal conclusion אשׁריו occurs, besides here, only at Pro 14:21; Pro 29:18.
Four proverbs of wisdom with eloquence:
21 The wise in heart is called prudent,
And grace of the lips increaseth learning.
Elsewhere (Pro 1:5; Pro 9:9) הוסיף לקח means more than to gain learning, i.e., erudition in the ethico-practical sense, for sweetness of the lips (dulcedo orationis of Cicero) is, as to learning, without significance, but of so much the greater value for reaching; for grace of expression, and of exposition, particularly if it be not merely rhetorical, but, according to the saying pectus disertos facit, coming out of the heart, is full of mind, it imparts force to the instruction, and makes it acceptable. Whoever is wise of heart, i.e., of mind or spirit (לב = the N.T. νοῦς or πνεῦμα), is called, and is truly, נבון [learned, intelligent] (Fleischer compares to this the expression frequent in Isaiah, "to be named" = to be and appear to be, the Arab. du'ay lah); but there is a gift which highly increases the worth of this understanding or intelligence, for it makes it fruitful of good to others, and that is grace of the lips. On the lips (Pro 10:13) of the intelligent wisdom is found; but the form also, and the whole manner and way in which he gives expression to this wisdom, is pleasing, proceeding from a deep and tender feeling for the suitable and the beneficial, and thus he produces effects so much the more surely, and beneficently, and richly.
22 A fountain of life is understanding to its possessor;
But the correction of fools is folly.
Oetinger, Bertheau, and others erroneously understand מוּסר of the education which fools bestow upon others; when fools is the subject spoken of, מוּסר is always the education which is bestowed on them, Pro 7:22; Pro 1:7; cf. Pro 5:23; Pro 15:5. Also מוסר does not here mean education, disciplina, in the moral sense (Symmachus, ἔννοια; Jerome, doctrina): that which fools gain from education, from training, is folly, for מוסר is the contrast to מקור חיּים, and has thus the meaning of correction or chastisement, Pro 15:10, Jer 30:14. And that the fruits of understanding (Pro 12:8, cf. שׂכל טוב, fine culture, Pro 13:15) represented by מקור חיים (vid., Pro 10:11) will accrue to the intelligent themselves, is shown not only by the contrast, but also by the expression: Scaturigo vitae est intellectus praeditorum eo, of those (= to those) who are endowed therewith (The lxx well, τοῖς κεκτημένοις). The man of understanding has in this intellectual possession a fountain of strength, a source of guidance, and a counsel which make his life secure, deepen, and adorn it; while, on the contrary, folly punishes itself by folly (cf. to the form, Pro 14:24), for the fool, when he does not come to himself (Psa 107:17-22), recklessly destroys his own prosperity.
23 The heat of the wise maketh his mouth wise,
And learning mounteth up to his lips.
Regarding השׂכּיל as causative: to put into the possession of intelligence, vid., at Gen 3:6. Wisdom in the heart produceth intelligent discourse, and, as the parallel member expresses it, learning mounteth up to the lips, i.e., the learning which the man taketh into his lips (Pro 22:18; cf. Psa 16:4) to communicate it to others, for the contents of the learning, and the ability to communicate it, are measured by the wisdom of the heart of him who possesses it. One can also interpret הוסיף as extens. increasing: the heart of the wise increaseth, i.e., spreads abroad learning, but then בּשׂפתיו (Psa 119:13) would have been more suitable; על־שׂפתיו calls up the idea of learning as hovering on the lips, and thus brings so much nearer, for הוסיף, the meaning of the exaltation of its worth and impression.
24 A honeycomb are pleasant words,
Sweet to the soul, and healing to the bones.
Honeycomb, i.e., honey flowing from the צוּף, the comb or cell (favus), is otherwise designated, Psa 19:11. מתוק, with מרפּא, is neut. אמרי־נעם are, according to Pro 15:26, words which love suggests, and which breathe love. Such words are sweet to the soul of the hearer, and bring strength and healing to his bones (Pro 15:30); for מרפא is not only that which restores soundness, but also that which preserves and advances it (cf. θεραπεία, Rev 22:2).
A group of six proverbs follows, four of which begin with אישׁ, and five relate to the utterances of the mouth.
25 There is a way which appears as right to a man;
But the end thereof are the ways of death.
This verse = Pro 14:12.
26 The hunger of the labourer laboureth for him,
For he is urged on by his mouth.
The Syr. translates: the soul of him who inflicts woe itself suffers it, and from his mouth destruction comes to him; the Targ. brings this translation nearer the original text (בּיפא, humiliation, instead of אבדנא, destruction); Luther translates thus also, violently abbreviating, however. But עמל (from עמל, Arab. 'amila, to exert oneself, laborare) means, like laboriosus, labouring as well as enduring difficulty, but not, as πονῶν τινα, causing difficulty, or (Euchel) occupied with difficulty. And labour and the mouth stand together, denoting that man labours that the mouth may have somewhat to eat (cf. Th2 3:10; נפשׁ, however, gains in this connection the meaning of ψυχὴ ὀρεκτική, and that of desire after nourishment, vid., at Pro 6:30; Pro 10:3). אכף also joins itself to this circle of ideas, for it means to urge (Jerome, compulit), properly (related to כּפף, incurvare, כּפה כּפא, to constrain, necessitate), to bow down by means of a burden. The Aramaeo-Arab. signification, to saddle (Schultens: clitellas imposuit ei os suum), is a secondary denom. (vid., at Job 33:7). The Venet. well renders it after Kimchi: ἐπεὶ κύπτει ἐπ ̓ αὐτὸν τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ. Thus: the need of nourishment on the part of the labourer works for him (dat. commodi like Isa 40:20), i.e., helps him to labour, for (not: if, ἐάν, as Rashi and others) it presses upon him; his mouth, which will have something to eat, urges him. It is God who has in this way connected together working and eating. The curse in sudore vultus tui comedes panem conceals a blessing. The proverb has in view this reverse side of the blessing in the arrangement of God.
27 A worthless man diggeth evil;
And on his lips is, as it were, scorching fire.
Regarding אישׁ בּליּעל, vid., Pro 6:12, and regarding כּרה, to dig round, or to bore out, vid., at Gen 49:5; Gen 50:5; here the figure, "to dig for others a pit," Pro 26:27, Psa 7:16, etc.: to dig evil is equivalent to, to seek to prepare such for others. צרבת Kimchi rightly explains as a form similar to קשּׁבת; as a subst. it means, Lev 13:23, the mark of fire (the healed mark of a carbuncle), here as an adj. of a fire, although not flaming (אשׁ להבה, Isa 4:5, etc.); yet so much the hotter, and scorching everything that comes near to it (from צרב, to be scorched, cogn. שׁרב, to which also שׂרף is perhaps related as a stronger power, like comburere to adurere). The meaning is clear: a worthless man, i.e., a man whose disposition and conduct are the direct contrast of usefulness and piety, uses words which, like an iron glowing hot, scorches and burns; his tongue is φλογιζομένη ὑπὸ τῆς γεέννης (Jam 3:6).
28 A man of falsehood scattereth strife,
And a backbiter separateth confidential friends.
Regarding תּהפּכות (מדבר) אישׁ, vid., Pro 2:12, and מדון ישׁלּח, Pro 6:14; the thought of 28b is found at Pro 6:19. נרגּן (with ן minusculum, which occurs thrice with the terminal Nun) is a Niphal formation from רגן, to murmur (cf. נזיד, from זיד), and denotes the whisperer, viz., the backbiter, ψίθυρος, Sir. 5:14, ψιθυριστής, susurro; the Arab. nyrj is abbreviated from it, a verbal stem of נרג (cf. Aram. norgo, an axe, Arab. naurag, a threshing-sledge = מורג) cannot be proved. Aquila is right in translating by τονθρυστής, and Theodotion by γόγγυσος, from רגן, Hiph. נרגּן, γογγύζειν. Regarding אלּוּף, confidential friend, vid., p. 82; the sing., as Pro 18:9, is used in view of the mutual relationship, and מפריד proceeds on the separation of the one, and, at the same time, of the other from it. Luther, in translating by "a slanderer makes princes disagree," is in error, for אלּוּף, φύλαρχος, is not a generic word for prince.
29 A man of violence enticeth his neighbour,
And leadeth him in a way which is not good.
Cf. Gen 4:8. The subject is not moral enticement, but enticement to some place or situation which facilitates to the violent man the carrying out of his violent purpose (misdemeanour, robbery, extortion, murder). חמס (here with אישׁ at Pro 3:31) is the injustice of club-law, the conduct of him who puts his superior power in godless rudeness in the place of God, Hab 1:11, cf. Job 12:6. "A way not good" (cf. Psa 36:5) is the contradictory contrast of the good way: one altogether evil and destructive.
30 He who shutteth his eyes to devise falsehood;
He who biteth his lips bringeth evil to pass.
A physiognomical Caveto. The ἁπ. λεγ. עצה is connected with עצם, Isa 33:15 (Arab. transp. ghamḍ), comprimere, formed from it. Regarding קרץ of lips or eyes, vid., p. 144; the biting of the lips is the action of the deceitful, and denotes scorn, malice, knavery. The perf. denotes that he who is seen doing this has some evil as good as accomplished, for he is inwardly ready for it; Hitzig suitably compares Sa1 20:7, Sa1 20:33. Our editions (also Lwenstein) have כּלּה, but the Masora (vid., Mas. finalis, p. 1) numbers the word among those which terminate in א, and always writes כּלּא.
31 A bright diadem is a hoary head,
In the way of righteousness it is found -
namely, this bright diadem, this beautiful crown (Pro 4:8), which silver hair is to him who has it as the result of his advanced age (Pro 20:29), for "thou shalt rise up before the hoary head," Lev 19:32; and the contrast of an early death is to die in a good old age, Gen 15:15, etc., but a long life is on one side a self-consequence, and on another the promised reward of a course of conduct regulated by God's will, God's law, and by the rule of love to God and love to one's neighbour. From the N.T. standpoint that is also so far true, as in all the world there is no better established means of prolonging life than the avoidance of evil; but the clause corresponding to the O.T. standpoint, that evil punishes itself by a premature death, and that good is rewarded by long life, has indeed many exceptions arising from the facts of experience against it, for we see even the godless in their life of sin attaining to an advanced old age, and in view of the veiled future it appears only as a one-sided truth, so that the words, Wisd. 4:9, "discretion is to man the right grey hairs, and an unstained life is the right old age," which is mediated by life experiences, such as Isa 57:1., stand opposed to the above proverb as its reversed side. That old Solomonic proverb is, however, true, for it is not subverted; and, in contrast to self-destroying vice and wickedness; calling forth the judgment of God, it is and remains true, that whoever would reach an honoured old age, attains to it in the way of a righteous life and conduct.
32 Better one slow to anger than a hero in war;
And whoever is master of his spirit, than he who taketh a city.
Regarding ארך אפּים, vid., Pro 14:29, where קצר־רוּח was the parallel of the contrast. The comparison is true as regards persons, with reference to the performances expressed, and (since warlike courage and moral self-control may be united in one person) they are properly those in which the טוב determines the moral estimate. In Pirke Aboth iv. 1, the question, "Who is the hero?" is answered by, "he who overcomes his desire," with reference to this proverb, for that which is here said of the ruling over the passion of anger is true of all affections and passions.
"Yet he who reigns within himself, and rules
Passions, desires, and fears, is more a king
Which every wise and virtuous man attains."
(Note: Milton's Paradise Regained, ii. 466-8.)
On the other side, the comparison is suggested:
Break your head, not so sore;
Break your will - that is more.
(Note: "Zerbrich den Kopf dir nicht so sehr; Zerbreich den Willen - das ist mehr." - Matth. Claudius)
33 One casts the lot into the lap;
But all its decision cometh from Jahve.
The Tra knows only in one instance an ordeal (a judgment of God) as a right means of proof, Num 5:12-31. The lot is nowhere ordained by it, but its use is supported by a custom running parallel with the Mosaic law; it was used not only in private life, but also in manifold ways within the domain of public justice, as well as for the detection of the guilty, Jos 7:14., Sa1 14:40-42. So that the proverb Pro 18:18 says the same thing of the lot that is said in the Epistle to the Heb; Heb 6:16, of the oath. The above proverb also explains the lot for an ordeal, for it is God who directs and orders it that it fall out thus and not otherwise. A particular sanction of the use of the lot does not lie in this, but it is only said, that where the lot is cast, all the decision that results from it is determined by God. That is in all cases true; but whether the challenging of the divine decision in such a way be right in this or that case is a question, and in no case would one, on the contrary, venture to make the person of the transgressor discoverable by lot, and let it decide regarding human life. But antiquity judged this matter differently, as e.g., the Book of Jonah (chap. 1) shows; it was a practice, animated by faith, in God's government of the world, which, if it did not observe the boundary between faith and superstition, yet stood high above the unbelief of the "Enlightenment." Like the Greek κόλπος, חיק (from חוּק, Arab. ḥaḳ, khaḳ, to encompass, to stretch out) means, as it is commonly taken, gremium as well as sinus, but the latter meaning is the more sure; and thus also here it is not the lap as the middle of the body, so that one ought to think on him who casts the lot as seated, but also not the lap of the garment, but, like Pro 6:27, cf. Isa 40:11, the swelling, loose, external part of the clothing covering the bosom (the breast), where the lot covered by it is thrown by means of shaking and changing, and whence it is drawn out. The construction of the passive הוּטל (from טוּל = Arab. tall, to throw along) with the object. accus. follows the old scheme, Gen 4:18, and has its reason in this, that the Semitic passive, formed by the change of vowels, has not wholly given up the governing force of the active. משׁפּט signifies here decision as by the Urim and Thummim, Num 27:21, but which was no lot-apparatus.