Hebrew-English Text I. Summary
Lemuel’s mother lectures her son about women, wine, and kingship. A woman of valor is praised in an alphabetic acrostic.
Lemuel’s mother speaks about alcohol: “Give strong drink to the hapless and wine to the embittered. Let them drink and forget their poverty, and put their troubles out of mind.” (vv. 6-7)
III. Select Verses
1: The words of Lemuel, king of Massa, with which his mother admonished him:
3-4: Do not give your strength to women, Your vigor, to those who destroy kings. Wine is not for kings, O Lemuel; Not for kings to drink, Nor any strong drink for princes.
6-7: Give strong drink to the hapless And wine to the embittered. Let them drink and forget their poverty, And put their troubles out of mind.
10-12: What a rare find is a capable wife! Her worth is far beyond that of rubies. Her husband puts his confidence in her, And lacks no good thing. She is good to him, never bad, All the days of her life.
18: She sees that her business thrives; Her lamp never goes out at night.
20: She gives generously to the poor; Her hands are stretched out to the needy.
30: Grace is deceptive, Beauty is illusory; It is for her fear of the LORD That a woman is to be praised.
1-9. Speech of Lemuel’s mother
10-31. Acrostic: the woman of valor
Proverbs 31 is made up of two units, a speech made by Lemuel’s mother and an acrostic poem about a woman of valor. In regards to the latter, Fox writes: “The book of Proverbs is devoted to cultivating wise men. Throughout it addresses men’s concerns (such as avoiding promiscuous women), and the wise people it describes are almost all men. Now it concludes by describing a wise woman, but this too is a man’s concern. The poem praises her capabilities in bringing income into the home, caring for her household, showing charity to the poor, speaking wisdom and kindness, and living in fear of God… Contrary to a common modern stereotype of ancient women, this one has considerable independence in interacting with outsiders and conducting her business, and she can even purchase real estate.” (890)
Hebrew-English Text I. Summary
Agur praises the words of God and asks for an honest and simple life. A number of proverbs are presented, many of which describe a group of four related things.
A proverb about animals: “Four are among the tiniest on earth, Yet they are the wisest of the wise… The locusts have no king, Yet they all march forth in formation.” (vv. 24, 27)
III. Select Verses
1: The words of Agur son of Jakeh, [man of] Massa; The speech of the man to Ithiel, to Ithiel and Ucal:
4: Who has ascended heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hand? Who has wrapped the waters in his garment? Who has established all the extremities of the earth? What is his name or his son’s name, if you know it?
5-6: Every word of God is pure, A shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He indict you and you be proved a liar.
8b-10: Give me neither poverty nor riches, But provide me with my daily bread, Lest, being sated, I renounce, saying, “Who is the LORD?” Or, being impoverished, I take to theft And profane the name of my God.
15b-16: Three things are insatiable; Four never say, “Enough!”: Sheol, a barren womb, Earth that cannot get enough water, And fire which never says, “Enough!”
18-20: Three things are beyond me; Four I cannot fathom: How an eagle makes its way over the sky; How a snake makes its way over a rock; How a ship makes its way through the high seas; How a man has his way with a maiden. Such is the way of an adulteress: She eats, wipes her mouth, And says, “I have done no wrong.”
1-9. The words of Agur
2-3. Declaration of humility
7-9. Request for honesty and simplicity
10-33. Assorted sayings
10. Slandering a slave
11-15a. The needy person
15b-16. Four insatiable things
17. Contempt for parents
18-20. Four wondrous things; A fifth
21-23. Four unbearable things
24-28. Four wise creatures
29-31. Four creatures with great stride
33. Causing strife
A proverb about disciplining a slave: “A slave cannot be disciplined by words; Though he may comprehend, he does not respond.” (v. 19)
III. Select Verses
7: A righteous man is concerned with the cause of the wretched; A wicked man cannot understand such concern.
14: A king who judges the wretched honestly, His throne will be established forever.
15: Rod and reproof produce wisdom, But a lad out of control is a disgrace to his mother.
19: A slave cannot be disciplined by words; Though he may comprehend, he does not respond.
21: A slave pampered from youth Will come to a bad end.
23: A man’s pride will humiliate him, But a humble man will obtain honor.
24: He who shares with a thief is his own enemy; He hears the imprecation and does not tell.
26: Many seek audience with a ruler, But it is from the LORD that a man gets justice.
27: The unjust man is an abomination to the righteous, And he whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked.
2. Righteous/wicked rulers
4. Righteous/wicked rulers
6-7. The righteous/wicked
9. The fool
10. The blameless
11. The dullard
13. Oppressing the poor
14. Righteous rulership
16. The righteous/wicked
19. Discipline for a slave
20. Quick speech
21. A spoiled slave
23. Pride and humility
24. Helping a thief
25. Trusting in God
27. The righteous/wicked
A proverb about confession: “He who covers up his faults will not succeed; He who confesses and gives them up will find mercy.” (v. 13)
III. Select Verses
6: Better is a poor man who lives blamelessly Than a rich man whose ways are crooked.
9: He who turns a deaf ear to instruction — His prayer is an abomination.
11: A rich man is clever in his own eyes, But a perceptive poor man can see through him.
13: He who covers up his faults will not succeed; He who confesses and gives them up will find mercy.
15: A roaring lion and a prowling bear Is a wicked man ruling a helpless people.
19: He who tills his land will have food in plenty, But he who pursues vanities will have poverty in plenty.
21: To be partial is not right; A man may do wrong for a piece of bread.
27: He who gives to the poor will not be in want, But he who shuts his eyes will be roundly cursed.
1. The righteous/wicked
3. The poor
4. The wicked
6. The rich/poor and righteous/wicked
8. Loaning with interest
10. Misleading the righteous
11. The rich/poor
12. The righteous/wicked
13. Admitting ones errors
14. Fear; Stubbornness
15. A wicked ruler
18. Upright and crooked paths
22. Chasing wealth
24. Stealing from one’s parents
25. Trusting in God
28. The righteous/wicked
A lesson about marriage: “An endless dripping on a rainy day and a contentious wife are alike.” (v. 15)
III. Select Verses
1: Do not boast of tomorrow, For you do not know what the day will bring.
2: Let the mouth of another praise you, not yours, The lips of a stranger, not your own.
5: Open reproof is better than concealed love.
7: A sated person disdains honey, But to a hungry man anything bitter seems sweet.
8: Like a sparrow wandering from its nest Is a man who wanders from his home.
15: An endless dripping on a rainy day and a contentious wife are alike.
17: As iron sharpens iron So a man sharpens the wit of his friend.
19: As face answers to face in water, So does one man’s heart to another.
1. The future
2. Self praise
3. The fool
6. Friends and enemies
8. The peripatetic
9. Incense, oil; Friendship
10. Family and friendship
12. The simpleton
13. Standing surety
14. Blessing a friend
15-16. The contentious wife
18. Work; Respecting a master
19. Projecting one’s feelings
22. The fool
23-27. The benefits of herding
Hebrew-English Text I. Summary
A number of proverbs are presented about the fool, the lazy man, and the deceptive enemy.
The author addresses laziness: “The door turns on its hinge, and the lazy man on his bed.” (v. 14)
III. Select Verses
1: Like snow in summer and rain at harvesttime, So honor is not fitting for a dullard.
4-5: 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.
7: As legs hang limp on a cripple, So is a proverb in the mouth of dullards.
14: The door turns on its hinge, And the lazy man on his bed.
16: The lazy man thinks himself wiser Than seven men who give good advice.
17: A passerby who gets embroiled in someone else’s quarrel Is like one who seizes a dog by its ears.
21: Charcoal for embers and wood for a fire And a contentious man for kindling strife.
23: Base silver laid over earthenware Are ardent lips with an evil mind.
27: He who digs a pit will fall in it, And whoever rolls a stone, it will roll back on him.
1. The fool
2. A gratuitous curse
3-12. The fool
13-16. The lazy man
17. Minding one’s business
20-22. The querulous man
23-28. The deceptive enemy
Verses 4-5, which seem to contradict each other, were publicized by the Rabbis when they considered banning the book of Proverbs because of its many contradictions (b. Shabbat 30b). These two verses read as follows:
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.
While the Rabbis attempt to resolve the contradiction by adding background information (v. 4 refers to matters of Torah, v. 5 refers to ordinary affairs), it seems that each proverb was meant to be used in different situations. Indeed, no single proverb says it all.
The author teaches a lesson: “Like cold water to a parched throat is good news from a distant land!” (v. 25)
III. Select Verses
v. 6: Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence; Do not stand in the place of nobles.
v. 17: Visit your neighbor sparingly, Lest he have his surfeit of you and loathe you.
vv. 21-22: If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; If he is thirsty, give him water to drink. You will be heaping live coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you.
v. 25: Like cold water to a parched throat Is good news from a distant land.
v. 26: Like a muddied spring, a ruined fountain, Is a righteous man fallen before a wicked one.
2-7b. A king
7c-10. Quarreling with a friend, keeping a secret
11. The value of a wise saying
12. The value of good reproach
13. A trusty messenger
14. Gifts not given
16. Too much honey
17. Do not wear out your welcome
18. False testimony
19. False trust
20. Attempting to cheer a person in sorrow
21-22. Do kindness to your enemy
24. A contentious wife
25. Good news
26. When the righteous fall before the wicked
27. Too much honey; too much honor
28. An impetuous man
Proverbs 25 is a collection of assorted sayings, and it is introduced as “the proverbs of Solomon, which the men of King Hezekiah of Judah copied.” Many of the chapter’s sayings use striking metaphors and similes, e.g., v. 14: “Like clouds, wind — but no rain — Is one who boasts of gifts not given.” Some of the topics include the king, eating too much honey, treating an enemy kindly, good news, and a messenger.
Hebrew-English Text I. Summary
Proverbs 24 is a collection of assorted sayings, many delivered by a father to a son . Some of the sayings deal with laziness, sitting by idly while others suffer, pursuing wisdom, and envying the wicked.
Vv. 19-20 warns about envying the wicked, “Do not be vexed by evildoers; Do not be incensed by the wicked; For there is no future for the evil man; The lamp of the wicked goes out.”
III. Important Verses
vv. 10-12: If you showed yourself slack in time of trouble, Wanting in power, If you refrained from rescuing those taken off to death, Those condemned to slaughter — If you say, “We knew nothing of it,” Surely He who fathoms hearts will discern the truth, He who watches over your life will know it, And He will pay each man as he deserves.
vv. 13-14: My son, eat honey, for it is good; Let its sweet drops be on your palate. Know: such is wisdom for your soul; If you attain it, there is a future; Your hope will not be cut off.
vv. 19-20: Do not be vexed by evildoers; Do not be incensed by the wicked; For there is no future for the evil man; The lamp of the wicked goes out.
v. 26: Giving a straightforward reply Is like giving a kiss.
v. 27: Put your external affairs in order, Get ready what you have in the field, Then build yourself a home.
vv. 30-34: I passed by the field of a lazy man, By the vineyard of a man lacking sense. It was all overgrown with thorns; Its surface was covered with chickweed, And its stone fence lay in ruins. I observed and took it to heart; I saw it and learned a lesson. A bit more sleep, a bit more slumber, A bit more hugging yourself in bed, And poverty will come calling upon you, And want, like a man with a shield.
1-2. Do not envy evil men
3-4. A house is built by Wisdom
5-6. Wisdom and war
7. The fool
8-9. The schemer
10-12. Do not ignore the victim
13-14. The sweetness of Wisdom
15. Warning to the wicked: stay away from the righteous
16. The righteous get up, but the wicked stay down
17-18. Do not be happy with your enemy’s failures
19-20. Do not envy evil men
21-22. Fear God and the king
26. A polite response
27. When to build a house
28-29. Do not jump to testify against another
30-34. A story about laziness
Proverbs 24 is a collection of assorted proverbs, many of which are delivered by a father to a son (cf. beni “my son” in vv. 13, 21). The section of admonitions called “The Words of the Wise,” which began in 22:17, comes to an end at v. 22. It is followed by an addendum which begins, “These also are by the Wise…” (v. 23) While there is no overarching theme to chapter 24, it is composed of small sections which each focus on one particular topic.
Envying a sinner is a theme which comes up twice in our chapter. Vv. 1-2 says, “Do not envy evil men; Do not desire to be with them; For their hearts talk violence, And their lips speak mischief,” and vv. 19-20 says, “Do not be vexed by evildoers; Do not be incensed by the wicked; For there is no future for the evil man; The lamp of the wicked goes out.” The admonition against envying the wicked also comes up in the book of Psalms, especially Pss. 37 and 73 where the issue is dealt with extensively. For example, Ps. 37:1-3 says, “Of David. Do not be vexed by evil men; do not be incensed by wrongdoers; for they soon wither like grass, like verdure fade away. Trust in the LORD and do good, abide in the land and remain loyal.” Murphy writes (pp. 182-183), “The good fortune of the wicked understandably was a severe trial for the just. Their obvious short-term theodicy had no ready answer. So the battle is mounted at the beginning: repress those feelings of anger and envy. At the same time there is the apparently sovereign assurance that the wicked will meet with misfortune, that their “lamp” will go out: vv 16, 20.”
While we have seen many verses which compare Wisdom to jewels and riches (e.g. 3:15, 8:11, etc.), vv. 13-14 compares it to honey: “My son, eat honey, for it is good; Let its sweet drops be on your palate. Know: such is wisdom for your soul; If you attain it, there is a future; Your hope will not be cut off.” Prov. 16:24 says the same thing about pleasant words, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweet to the palate and a cure for the body,” and Ben Sira echoes both verses, “For my memorial is sweeter than honey, and mine inheritance than the honeycomb.” Ps. 19:10-11 uses honey to describe the fear of the Lord: “The fear of the LORD is pure, abiding forever; the judgments of the LORD are true, righteous altogether, more desirable than gold, than much fine gold; sweeter than honey, than drippings of the comb.” It is interesting to note how honey plays a role in a striking passage from Ezekiel: “[God] said to me, ‘Mortal, eat what is offered you; eat this scroll, and go speak to the House of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and He gave me this scroll to eat, as He said to me, ‘Mortal, feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll that I give you.’ I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey to me.” (Ezek. 3:1-3)
V. 27 is an example of a “practical” proverb: “Put your external affairs in order, Get ready what you have in the field, Then build yourself a home.” Another example of this type of proverb is 27:23-27: “Mind well the looks of your flock; Pay attention to your herds; For property does not last forever, Or a crown for all generations. Grass vanishes, new grass appears, And the herbage of the hills is gathered in. The lambs will provide you with clothing, The he-goats, the price of a field. The goats’ milk will suffice for your food, The food of your household, And the maintenance of your maids.”
Vv. 30-34 is an “example story” similar to the one seen in ch. 7: “I passed by the field of a lazy man, By the vineyard of a man lacking sense. It was all overgrown with thorns; Its surface was covered with chickweed, And its stone fence lay in ruins. I observed and took it to heart; I saw it and learned a lesson. A bit more sleep, a bit more slumber, A bit more hugging yourself in bed, And poverty will come calling upon you, And want, like a man with a shield.” The last two verses have a nearly identical parallel in 6:10-11. The effects of laziness is a common theme in Proverbs. For example, 19:15 says, “Laziness induces sleep, And a negligent person will go hungry,” and 20:13 says, “Do not love sleep lest you be impoverished; Keep your eyes open and you will have plenty of food.” 21:25 warns how laziness can lead to death, “”The craving of a lazy man kills him, For his hands refuse to work.”
Hebrew-English Text I. Summary
Proverbs 23 is a collection of admonitions that a father gives his son. Some of the topics that the father speaks about are intoxication, gluttony, forbidden women, moving boundary markers, pursuing riches, and the disciplining of a child.
One of the admonitions speaks about wine, “Do not ogle that red wine As it lends its color to the cup, As it flows on smoothly; In the end, it bites like a snake; It spits like a basilisk. Your eyes will see strange sights; Your heart will speak distorted things.” (vv. 31-33)
III. Important Verses
vv. 4-5: Do not toil to gain wealth; Have the sense to desist. You see it, then it is gone; It grows wings and flies away, Like an eagle, heavenward.
vv. 10-11: Do not remove ancient boundary stones; Do not encroach upon the field of orphans, For they have a mighty Kinsman, And He will surely take up their cause with you.
vv. 13-14: Do not withhold discipline from a child; If you beat him with a rod he will not die. Beat him with a rod And you will save him from the grave.
vv. 20-21: Do not be of those who guzzle wine, Or glut themselves on meat; For guzzlers and gluttons will be impoverished, And drowsing will clothe you in tatters.
vv. 31-33: Do not ogle that red wine As it lends its color to the cup, As it flows on smoothly; In the end, it bites like a snake; It spits like a basilisk. Your eyes will see strange sights; Your heart will speak distorted things.
1-3. Do not take pleasure in a ruler’s feast
4-5. Do not pursue riches
6-8. Do not eat a stingy man’s food
9. Do not speak to a fool
10-11. Do not change boundary markers
13-14. Discipline your child
17-18. Do not envy sinners
19. Acquire wisdom
20-21. Do not be a glutton
22-25. Listen to your parents, acquire wisdom, and they will be glad
27-28. Avoid the harlot / married woman
29-35. Avoid intoxication
Proverbs 23 is a collection of approximately twelve admonitions that a father gives his son (cf. the word beni “my son” in vv. 15, 19, 26). Many of the admonitions appear in couplets in which the first verse gives a warning and the second gives a rationale. For example, vv. 4-5 say, “Do not toil to gain wealth; Have the sense to desist. You see it, then it is gone; It grows wings and flies away, Like an eagle, heavenward.” As has been noted in the comment to the previous chapter, vv. 1-11 has many parallels to the Egyptian text called the Instruction of Amenemope (see comment to ch. 22).
Vv. 13-14 says, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; If you beat him with a rod he will not die. Beat him with a rod And you will save him from the grave.” This seems to be a standard view in the book of Proverbs. For example, 13:24 says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him early.” The idea that a father’s punishment is a sign of love is seen in 3:11-12: “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.” Also see Ben Sira 30:1, “He that loveth his son causeth him oft to feel the rod, that he may have joy of him in the end.”
There are two sections of ch. 23 that deal with wine, and the first is vv. 20-21, “Do not be of those who guzzle wine (sove’ei yayin), Or glut themselves on meat (zolalei basar); For guzzlers and gluttons will be impoverished, And drowsing will clothe you in tatters.” The idea that self-indulgence causes poverty has been seen before. For example, 21:17 says “He who loves pleasure comes to want; He who loves wine and oil does not grow rich.” It is interesting that the words used in v. 20 are found in Deut. 21:18-21 where the pleasure-seeking son is stoned to death: “If a man has a wayward and defiant son, who does not heed his father or mother and does not obey them even after they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the public place of his community. They shall say to the elders of his town, ‘This son of ours is disloyal and defiant; he does not heed us. He is a glutton (zolel) and a drunkard (sovei’).’ Thereupon the men of his town shall stone him to death. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst.”
The second section dealing with wine focuses on intoxication (vv. 29-35). Vv. 31-34 delivers the following admonition: “Do not ogle that red wine As it lends its color to the cup, As it flows on smoothly; In the end, it bites like a snake; It spits like a basilisk. Your eyes will see strange sights; Your heart will speak distorted things. You will be like one lying in bed on high seas, Like one lying on top of the rigging.” It is interesting that Deut. 32:32-33 also describes wine with an analogy to poisonous creatures (albeit with a different vocabulary): “Ah! The vine for them is from Sodom, From the vineyards of Gomorrah; The grapes for them are poison, A bitter growth their clusters. Their wine is the venom of asps, The pitiless poison of vipers.” It should be pointed out that wine actually has a positive connotation in 9:5-6 where Woman Wisdom serves it to her guests: “‘Come, eat my food And drink the wine that I have mixed; Give up simpleness and live, Walk in the way of understanding.”
Hebrew-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.”
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.
1-16. Assorted Sayings
1. A good reputation
3. The wise/foolish
4. Benefits of humility
5. The path of the wicked
8. The wicked
10. Getting rid of a scoffer
11. A good friend
14. The forbidden woman
15. Disciplining the fool
16. Social justice
17-29. “The words of the Wise” (Part I)
17-21. Introduction (Exordium)
24-25. Avoid the hot-tempered man
26-27. Don’t go surety
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.
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.”
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.
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)