Proverbs 21 – “Assorted Sayings”

desertman

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Proverbs 21 is a collection of thirty-one individual sayings. While the chapter does not seem to have an overarching theme, topics such as God’s control of man, a contentious wife, wisdom/folly, and proper speech occur more than once.

II. Photo
Verse 19 gives a warning to young men, “It is better to live in the desert Than with a contentious, vexatious wife.”

III. Important Verses
v. 9: Dwelling in the corner of a roof is better Than a contentious wife in a spacious house.
v. 17: He who loves pleasure comes to want; He who loves wine and oil does not grow rich.
v. 19: It is better to live in the desert Than with a contentious, vexatious wife.
v. 23: He who guards his mouth and tongue Guards himself from trouble.
v. 25: The craving of a lazy man kills him, For his hands refuse to work.
v. 31: The horse is readied for the day of battle, But victory comes from the LORD.

IV. Outline
1. God’s control of kings
2. God’s understanding of man
3. Charity
4. Haughtiness
5. Diligence/undue haste
6. Unjust gains
7. The wicked
8. The righteous may suffer
9. A contentious wife
10. The wicked
11. The fool/wise one
12. The righteous one helps the wicked
13. Ignoring the needy
14. Private gifts (bribes?)
15. Justice
16. Straying from the proper path
17. Hedonism
18. The wicked and righteous
19. A contentious wife
20. The wise/foolish and wealth
21. The reward of the righteous
22. The power of the wise man
23. Guarding one’s mouth
24. The haughty
25-26. Laziness; The righteous
27. An offering of a wicked man
28. Witnesses
29. The wicked/upright
30. God’s omnipotence
31. God’s control of events

V. Comment
Like the chapters that precede it, Proverbs 21 seems to lack an overarching theme. The thirty-one sayings (thirty if one combines vv. 25-26) are, for the most part, not grouped into thematic units. Some verses are juxtaposed because of catchwords: vv. 1-2 use the words lev and kol, vv. 1-3, 30-31 have God’s name, vv. 11-12 use the word sekhel, vv. 25-26 use the word ta’avah, and vv. 28-29 have the word ish. It is interesting that the first three verses and the last two verses of the chapter contain God’s name, forming an inclusion of sorts. It is also interesting to note that antithetical parallelism makes a comeback in our chapter (it began to dwindle after chapter 15); roughly 1/3 of the chapter’s verses employ it (e.g. vv. 5, 15, 29, etc.)

Two verses in ch. 21 speak about the contentious wife (‘eshet midyonim/medonim): v. 9 (which is repeated in 25:24) says, “Dwelling in the corner of a roof is better Than a contentious wife in a spacious house,” and v. 19 says, “It is better to live in the desert Than with a contentious, vexatious wife.” Murphy makes an insightful point (p. 159), “One wonders why the sexual roles are never reversed; such sayings are just as applicable to an autocratic and ‘quarrelsome’ male.” Nevertheless, it is the female who is singled out as the cause of strife. For example, 27:15 says, “An endless dripping on a rainy day And a contentious wife are alike” (also see 19:13). The analogy is intensified in Ben Sira 25:16: “I had rather dwell with a lion and a dragon, than to keep house with a wicked woman.”

V. 23 discusses speech: “He who guards his mouth and tongue Guards himself from trouble.” Murphy points out (p. 258) that speech is “a very frequent topic in and for itself; perhaps about 20 percent of chaps. 10–29 deal with it. The frequency points to its importance in the eyes of the sages: when to speak and when to keep silent.” The message that loose speech is harmful comes up often. Prov. 10:19 says, “Where there is much talking, there is no lack of transgressing, But he who curbs his tongue shows sense,” and 13:13 says, “He who guards his tongue preserves his life; He who opens wide his lips, it is his ruin.” Also see Prov. 18:7 and 18:21.

We have noted in many places that “no proverb says it all,” i.e. each and every saying can be qualified. Murphy writes (p. 163), “One of the most stubborn objections against the sages is the belief that they had figured out reality and God in a neat formula. God rewards the wise/good and punishes the fools/wicked.” Our v. 31 serves a possible response, “No wisdom, no prudence, and no counsel Can prevail against the LORD.” In other words, for all that Wisdom is worth (and it is worth a lot! cf. 3:15, 8:11, 20:15, etc.), God works in mysterious and unpredictable ways. Two verses in our chapter affirm this concept: v. 8 says, “The way of a man may be tortuous and strange, Though his actions are blameless and proper,” and v. 31 says, “The horse is readied for the day of battle, But victory comes from the LORD.” All of these verses might be summarized by 3:5 which says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not rely on your own understanding.” Apparently, wisdom has its limits.

VI. Works Used

See “Commentaries” page.

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