Proverbs 22 – “Assorted sayings; ‘The Words of the Wise’ (Part I)”

On the seashoreHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Proverbs 22 is made up of two units. The first half concludes the section of “assorted sayings” which began in ch. 10. The second half is the beginning of a series of admonitions called ‘The Words of the Wise.”

II. Photo
Verse 6 speaks about teaching a boy while he is still young, “Train a lad in the way he ought to go; He will not swerve from it even in old age.”
III. Important Verses
v. 1: Repute is preferable to great wealth, Grace is better than silver and gold.
v. 2: Rich man and poor man meet; The LORD made them both.
v. 4: The effect of humility is fear of the LORD, Wealth, honor, and life.
v. 6: Train a lad in the way he ought to go; He will not swerve from it even in old age.
v. 7: The rich rule the poor, And the borrower is a slave to the lender.
v. 9:The generous man is blessed, For he gives of his bread to the poor.
v. 16: To profit by withholding what is due to the poor Is like making gifts to the rich — pure loss.
vv. 24-25: Do not associate with an irascible man, Or go about with one who is hot-tempered, Lest you learn his ways And find yourself ensnared.

IV. Outline

1-16. Assorted Sayings
    1. A good reputation
    2. Charity
    3. The wise/foolish
    4. Benefits of humility
    5. The path of the wicked
    6. Education
    7. Wealth
    8. The wicked
    9. Charity
    10. Getting rid of a scoffer
    11. A good friend
    12. Omniscience
    13. Laziness
    14. The forbidden woman
    15. Disciplining the fool
    16. Social justice
17-29. “The words of the Wise” (Part I)
    17-21. Introduction (Exordium)
    22-29. Admonitions
        22-23. Charity
        24-25. Avoid the hot-tempered man
        26-27. Don’t go surety
        28. Honesty

V. Comment
Proverbs 22 is made up of two sections (vv. 1-16 and vv. 17-29). The first half concludes the section of “assorted sayings” that began in chapter 10. The second half is the beginning of a series of admonitions called ‘The Words of the Wise.” Each section will now be dealt with individually.

  • Vv. 1-16

Like the chapters that precede it, the first section does not have an overarching theme. In terms of structure, there are no major thematic units, and only a few verses are united by catchwords (e.g. the word ‘osher in vv. 1-2, and the word derekh in vv. 5-6). In terms of form, vv. 1-16 seem to be a mixture of synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic parallelism.

V. 1 is the first verse in proverbs to deal with a good reputation: “A [good] name is preferable to great wealth, Grace is better than silver and gold.” A similar verse can be found in Eccl. 7:1, “A good name is better than fragrant oil, and the day of death than the day of birth.” Ben Sira (41:12-13) also declares the value of a good name: “Have regard to thy name; for that shall continue with thee above a thousand great treasures of gold. A good life hath but few days: but a good name endureth for ever.” Just like wisdom (cf. 3:15, 8:11, 16:16, etc.), there is no material as valuable as a good name.

Six of the chapter’s first sixteen verses focus on wealth and poverty (cf. vv. 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, and 16). V. 2 says, “Rich man and poor man meet; The LORD made them both.” It is for this reason that one who gives to the poor will succeed, but one who withholds will not. V. 9 says “The generous man is blessed, For he gives of his bread to the poor,” and v. 16 says, “To profit by withholding what is due to the poor Is like making gifts to the rich — pure loss.” Indeed, 14:31 says “He who withholds what is due to the poor affronts his Maker; He who shows pity for the needy honors Him.” Thus, God takes special interest in rewarding the generous and punishing the stingy. It is interesting to note that Ps. 113:5-8 describes God as One who takes an interest in the poor: “Who is like the LORD our God, who, enthroned on high, sees what is below, in heaven and on earth? He raises the poor from the dust, lifts up the needy from the refuse heap to set them with the great, with the great men of His people.”

V. 7 is an example of the book’s straightforward approach to poverty, “The rich rule the poor, And the borrower is a slave to the lender.” Proverbs makes it clear that the rich have it much better than the poor. For example, 15:15 says “All the days of a poor man are wretched, But contentment is a feast without end,” 10:15 says, “The wealth of a rich man is his fortress; The poverty of the poor is his ruin,” and 14:20 says, “A pauper is despised even by his peers, But a rich man has many friends.”

V. 4 speaks of the rewards for being humble, “The effect of humility is fear of the LORD, Wealth, honor, and life.” See 21:21 for a similar reward, “He who strives to do good and kind deeds Attains life, success, and honor.” While v. 9 is positive in nature, other sayings speak about the pitfalls one avoids by being humble. For example, 18:12 says, “Before ruin a man’s heart is proud; Humility goes before honor,” and 16:18 says “Pride goes before ruin, Arrogance, before failure.”

  • Vv. 17-29

The chapter’s second section, called “The Words of the Wise,” begins at v. 17. Vv. 17-21 comprise the type of exordium that was frequent in chapters 1-9, but missing in chapters 10-22. Another indication that this is a new section is the fact that the sayings which follow it appear in couplets (most of which contain an admonition and a reason for that admonition), a style which was absent in chapters 10-22. But, while the form of 22:17-24:22 is different than 10-22:16, most of its topics are similar.

The first lesson begins with v. 22, “Do not rob the wretched because he is wretched; Do not crush the poor man in the gate; For the LORD will take up their cause And despoil those who despoil them of life.” This is much like 14:31, “He who withholds what is due to the poor affronts his Maker; He who shows pity for the needy honors Him,” and 17:5, “He who mocks the poor affronts his Maker; He who rejoices over another’s misfortune will not go unpunished.” The other lessons also have their counterparts. For example, vv. 24-25 speak about avoiding an argumentative person, something already discussed in the comment to ch. 17, and vv. 26-27 speak about going surety, a topic already discussed in the comment to ch. 6.

The Instruction of Amenemope
The Instruction of Amenemope

In discussing Proverbs 22 it is important to mention the Egyptian text called the Instruction of Amenemope (see Context of Scripture 1.47). The instruction, which contains 30 chapters of Wisdom advice, was first published in 1923. While the only extant copies are from a later date, it is believed that the work was first written ca. 1200 BCE (a few centuries before the Davidic monarchy ruled in Jerusalem).  As shall be seen, almost every part of Prov. 22:17-23:11 has some sort of parallel in the instruction. In fact, the enigmatic v. 22 which says, “Indeed, I wrote down for you a threefold [kesiv: shilshom, keri: shalishim] lore…” has been interpreted by some to mean, “Indeed, I wrote down for you the THIRTY [sheloshim] pieces of advice…,” a possible reference to the thirty chapters of the Instruction. Five examples of parallels will now be given, and they will be followed by a brief discussion concerning the relationship between Proverbs and Amenemope.

Prov. 22:17-18 says, “Incline your ear and listen to the words of the sages; have your heart pay attention to my wisdom. It is good that you store them in your stomach, And that all of them be constantly on your lips.” This instruction says (section III lines 9-12), “Give your ears, hear the sayings, Give your heart to understand them; It profits to put them in your heart, Woe to him who neglects them!” Note how the parallel words seem to appear in the same order: your ear(s)/your ear; listen/hear; words/sayings; your heart/your heart; it is good/it profits; your stomach/your belly; your lips/your tongue.

The first admonition of our section of Proverbs is about robbing the poor (v. 22): “Do not rob the wretched because he is wretched; Do not crush the poor man in the gate.” This is also the Instruction’s first admonition (IV lines 4-5): “Beware of robbing a wretch, Of attacking a cripple.”

The second admonition in our section of Proverbs is about an argumentative man, “Do not associate with an irascible man, Or go about with one who is hot-tempered.” This has its parallel in the Instruction’s section XI lines 13-14, and it is also the second section: “Do not befriend the heated man, Nor approach him for conversation.”

While the third admonition (about going surety, vv. 26-27) does not have a parallel, the fourth section, which is about moving boundary markers, does. V. 28 says, “Do not remove the ancient boundary stone that your ancestors set up,” and the instruction (section VII lines 12-13) says, “Do not move the markers on the borders of fields, Nor shift the position of the measuring-cord.” Finally, in what seems to be a weak parallel, Prov. 22:29 says, “See a man skilled at his work — He shall attend upon kings; He shall not attend upon obscure men,” and the instruction (section XXVII lines 16-17) says, “The scribe who is skilled in his office, He is found worthy to be a courtier.”

As has been seen, there are quite a few similarities between our chapter and the Instruction. Yet, it seems that the relationship between Proverbs and the Instruction remains enigmatic. For instance, the Instruction is very long, but only brief portions are found in Proverbs 22-23. Why is it that only small parts “made it in”? Also, those parallels come from disparate parts of the text. Why would Proverbs pick and choose from such diverse parts? (see Murphy p. 294)  Needless to say, more research into this issue is required.

VI. Works Used

(See “commentaries” page)

Roland Murphy, Proverbs (Word Biblical Commentary)

James L. Crenshaw, “Proverbs, the Book of” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. V, 513–20.

Miriam Lichtheim, “Instruction of Amenemope” in Context of Scripture (1.47)

Photo of man and son taken from http://www.westjet.com/sale_offers/images/Dad_Son.jpg

Photo of the Instruction of Amenemope taken from http://www.malhatlantica.pt/mathis/regras/Geometria/Amenemope.jpg

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