Proverbs 10 – “Righteousness/Wisdom contrasted with Wickedness/Folly”

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Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Proverbs 10 is a collection of 32 brief sayings. Many of the sayings contrast the righteous with the wicked or the diligent with the lazy.

II. Photo
One proverb speaks about laziness: “One who gathers [the crop] in the summer is a wise son, but one who sleeps during the harvest is a disappointing son.” (v. 5)

III. Important Verses
v. 3: The LORD will not let the righteous go hungry, But He denies the wicked what they crave.
v. 4: Negligent hands cause poverty, But diligent hands enrich.
v. 9: He who lives blamelessly lives safely, But he who walks a crooked path will be found out.
v. 12: Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers up all faults.
v. 15: The wealth of a rich man is his fortress; The poverty of the poor is his ruin.
v. 20: The tongue of a righteous man is choice silver, But the mind of the wicked is of little worth.
v. 25: When the storm passes the wicked man is gone, But the righteous is an everlasting foundation.

IV. Outline
1a. Title
1b. Two sons
2-3. Wealth/physical needs
4-5. Diligence
6-7. The righteous
8. Listening
9. The proper path
10. Improper gestures
11. Speech
12. Hatred vs. love
13-14. Those who have/lack wisdom
15-16. Wealth
17. The proper path
18-21. Speech
22. God’s blessings
23. The wise/foolish
24-25. Outcomes of the righteous/wicked
26. The lazy messenger
27-32. The righteous/wicked

V. Comment
Proverbs 10 begins with a title, “The proverbs of Solomon,” indicating that it is a new section of the book. While chapters 1-9 contain a group of lectures, chapters 10-22 are made up of short individual sayings. The two sections seem to be “joined” by v. 1: “A wise son (ben chakham) brings joy to his father; A dull son (ben kesil) is his mother’s sorrow.” This is because the word ben “son,” which played a prominent role in chs. 1-9 (cf. 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, 6:1, 7:1, 8:32, etc.), appears twice in the verse.

Is there an order to the individual sayings in ch. 10-22? Murphy writes (p. 67), “First of all, it is clear that the arrangement of sayings at many points shows signs of deliberate placing. Themes, catch words, and various forms of plays on words (alliteration, assonance, etc.) indicate units of varying lengths, whether proverbial pairs or larger groupings. In this sense we can speak of a “context” for proverbial sayings. However… “context” is to be understood broadly, not in an interpretive sense. That is to say, a given saying does not lose its independence, its own meaning. A new dimension of meaning has not been added in virtue of its place within the collection. It can be balanced, as it were, by being placed in opposition to another saying. But both sayings retain their own meanings; it is simply the nature of a proverb to come up short of total reality, and to be in conflict with other sayings.” Thus, according to Murphy, while there are many reasons that two sayings might appear next to each other, their individual meanings do not change.

Murphy points to Prov. 26:4-5 in order to illustrate his point. These two verses seem to contradict each other: “Do not answer a dullard in accord with his folly, Else you will become like him. Answer a dullard in accord with his folly, Else he will think himself wise.” Murphy writes, “No proverb says everything… hence ‘context’ has to be properly understood when applied to the sayings. It does not change their meaning; rather, it situates them in a broader world of reality.” Thus, according to Murphy, while these sayings reflect two separate points of view they were placed in close proximity in order to reveal a “broader world of reality.”

Ch. 10 serves to illustrate how individual proverbs were “brought together.” For instance, vv. 4-5 are juxtaposed because of their similar message: “Negligent hands cause poverty, But diligent hands enrich. He who lays in stores during the summer is a capable son, But he who sleeps during the harvest is an incompetent.” Other verses joined because of their message are vv. 2-3 (wealth), vv. 18-21 (speech), and vv. 27-32 (the righteous vs. the wicked). Yet, many verses in ch. 10 are solely united because of their “catchwords.”  For instance, v. 14 speaks about the wise/foolish and v. 15 speaks about the rich/poor, but they are juxtaposed because of the word mechittah “ruin”: “The wise store up knowledge; The mouth of the fool is an imminent ruin (mechittah). The wealth of a rich man is his fortress; The poverty of the poor is his ruin (mechittat).” Some verses are juxtaposed because of message and a catchword. For example, vv. 6 and 7 speak about the righteous/wicked and have the word berakha “blessing,” and vv. 31 and 32 speak of righteous/wicked speech and mention the word tahpukhot “perversity.”

Before commenting on any specific verse in this chapter, a brief introduction to Biblical parallelism is in order. The vast majority of verses in ch. 10-22 are in distich form, meaning that they contain a pair of statements joined by what we would call  a comma or a semicolon (the MT has no punctuation). The two halves of each sentence are generally matched up either synonymously, antithetically, or synthetically. Examples of each kind  will now be given (see Anchor Bible Dictionary, “Parallelism,” Vol. V pp. 155-162).

In Synonymous parallelism the two halves deliver nearly the same message, but in different ways. Dr. S. Z. Leiman points to Ps. 97:11 as a paradigmatic example: “Light is sown for the righteous, radiance for the upright.” It is not that light is sown for the righteous, but not the upright, or that radiance is for the upright, but not the righteous. Rather, both halves are saying the same thing, and “righteous” is parallel to “upright.” Therefore, the verse means that “light/radiance is for the righteous/upright.”

In Antithetical parallelism the two halves oppose each other. A great example is the opening verse to our chapter: “A wise son brings joy to his father; A dull son is his mother’s sorrow.” The two sons are contrasted: one gladdens his parents and the other brings them sorrow.

In Synthetic Parallelism the two halves correspond to each other, but are not direct parallels. For example, Prov. 15:3 says: “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, Observing the bad and the good.” The second half explains the first, but cannot be said to be synonymous with it.

For the most part, Proverbs chapters 10-15 use antithetical parallelism. For an example, v. 12 contrasts hate with love: “Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers up all faults.” Similarly, v. 20 compares the “values” of the righteous and the wicked: “The tongue of a righteous man is choice silver, But the mind of the wicked is of little worth.” Indeed, if there were a unifying theme to ch. 10 (this is a big “if”), it might be the following: “There is a difference between proper and improper behavior.” In other words, the majority of the chapter’s verses consist of antithetical parallelism.

A few of the verses in ch. 10 will now be focused on. V. 3 says, “The LORD will not let the righteous go hungry, But He denies the wicked what they crave.” This represents the typical view of retribution in proverbs, i.e. the righteous will succeed and the wicked will fail. Another example is v. 13:25: “The righteous man eats to his heart’s content, But the belly of the wicked is empty.” Yet, as Murphy points out, “No proverb says it all.” Thus, other sections have to deal with the problems presented by a world in which the righteous suffer. Prov. 3:11-12 says, “Do not reject the discipline of the LORD, my son; Do not abhor His rebuke. For whom the LORD loves, He rebukes, As a father the son whom he favors.” See the comment to ch. 3 where it is clear that “rebuke” means physical disciplining.

V. 9 speaks of two ways of “travelling”: “He who goes blamelessly lives safely, But he who walks a crooked path will be found out.” This continues the theme of the “two paths” seen in the previous chapters. For instance, see vv. 4:11-14: “I instruct you in the way of wisdom; I guide you in straight courses. You will walk without breaking stride; When you run, you will not stumble. Hold fast to discipline; do not let go; Keep it; it is your life. Do not enter on the path of the wicked; Do not walk on the way of evil men.”

V. 26 speaks of an inadquate messenger: “Like vinegar to the teeth, Like smoke to the eyes, Is a lazy man to those who send him on a mission.” The messenger is a popular topic in Proverbs, e.g. 13:7: “Harm befalls a wicked messenger; A faithful courier brings healing.” Also see 25:13 and 26:6.

VI. Works Used

Word Biblical Commentary Proverbs (Murphy). See “commentaries” page.

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