Proverbs 1:1-33

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The proverbs, or wise sayings that commonly express ethical principles, are ascribed to “Solomon, son of David, king of Israel” (“who reigned in Israel” [LXX]). These “proverbs of Solomon” did not necessarily originate with him. His role primarily may have been as a monarch who came to know thousands of proverbs and had many of them recorded during the course of his reign. (1:1)

The proverbs aid individuals to “know wisdom,” making it possible for them to conduct affairs of life in a manner that avoids harming themselves and others and also to apply knowledge aright in order to attain noble objectives. By means of the proverbs, people can come to know “discipline,” corrective admonition, or instruction which, if heeded, results in the enjoyment of the best way of life regardless of the circumstances in which individuals may find themselves. “To understand words of insight” would mean for one to recognize that the words are a product of insight and that they provide a dependable guide for the specific aspects of life to which they relate. (1:2)

Through the proverbs, one can receive the “discipline” or instruction to be prudent or wise in one’s dealings. This “discipline” or instruction is also in “righteousness [doing what is right] and judgment [upholding justice] and uprightness [maintaining moral rectitude in word and deed].” According to the Septuagint rendering, one can “receive the subtlety of words.” This could relate to one’s being able to discern just what the proverbs mean, accepting the instruction imparted, and then acting accordingly. The Septuagint indicates that the proverbs aid individuals “to understand true righteousness,” or what is truly right and noble, and “to direct judgment,” or to render judgment that is just. (1:3)

For the “simple,” the inexperienced, the “innocent” (LXX), or those who can be easily influenced to take a wrong course, the proverbs can provide dependable guidance. Through the proverbs, the inexperienced person can become prudent and avoid being led astray. A “youth” (“young child” [LXX]) can come into possession of “knowledge and discretion [perception and insight (LXX)],” the ability to evaluate options and to discern the right course to take. (1:4)

A wise person is responsive to sound advice, being willing to “listen” and desiring to increase in learning or to benefit from additional instruction. A “man of understanding” or a man in possession of sound judgment is one who “acquires directions,” good counsel, or guidance for directing his life. The Septuagint rendering may be understood to indicate that the wise person who listens to what is taught in the proverbs will become wiser and the one having insight “will acquire direction” or guidance. (1:5)

The man of understanding who acquires direction or guidance is one who will be led “to understand a proverb [a parable or likeness (LXX)], an enigma [a dark or obscure saying (LXX)], the words of the wise and their riddles [perplexing or puzzling sayings].” (1:6)

The “fear of YHWH” (“God” [LXX]) is the “beginning of knowledge” (“wisdom” [LXX]). This “fear” is a reverential regard for YHWH as the God who has communicated his will and purpose to humans and to whom they are accountable for their actions. The “knowledge” that has its beginning or rests on the foundation of a wholesome fear of YHWH motivates its possessors to live uprightly, to avoid bringing harm to themselves and to others, and to be active in contributing to the well-being of fellow humans. “Fools” or morally corrupt individuals have no reverential regard for YHWH, and they despise the wisdom and discipline (or instruction) that motivate upright conduct. The Septuagint includes additional text. “For all” who “practice” or apply wisdom, “understanding” is “good.” They know how to conduct themselves aright. Moreover, “piety” or reverence toward God is the “beginning of perception,” the possession of the needed discernment to live an upright life. (1:7)

At this point, a father is portrayed as admonishing his son. The son is told to listen to or to heed his father’s “discipline,” corrective words, or instruction, and not to forsake his mother’s “law” (“rules” or precepts [LXX]). In this context, “law” refers to the sound principles or precepts a mother teaches by word and example. (1:8)

When followed, a father’s discipline or instruction and a mother’s law or direction are like an attractive wreath (a “crown of graces,” favors, or elegant things) for a son’s head and “pendants” (a “gold chain” or “collar” [LXX]) for his “throat” or neck. (1:9)

The father’s admonition to his son was for him not to let “sinners,” “impious ones” (LXX), or lawless individuals seduce him to become a participant in their violent ways. He should not consent to join them. (1:10)

The father represented sinners or lawless ones as inviting the son to come with them and to share in murderous attacks to rob innocent men, lying in wait “for blood” or to shed blood (sharing in blood or bloodshed [LXX]) and doing so wantonly from a concealed place. The Septuagint refers to concealing a “righteous man unjustly in the earth” or the ground, killing him and hiding the evidence. (1:11)

Murderous lawless ones are portrayed as wanting to “swallow” innocent ones alive, doing so “like Sheol [Hades (LXX)],” or the realm of the dead, and to swallow them “whole,” “like those going down into the pit,” or into a burial place. With reference to the “righteous man,” the Septuagint quotes the impious ones as saying, “Let us eliminate his remembrance from the earth” or the land. (1:12)

The objective of violent robbers (as expressed in the fatherly admonition to the son) was to “find all precious wealth,” or all kinds of valuables, and to fill their “houses with spoil” seized from their victims. (1:13)

According to the father’s words to his son, the robbers would want to seduce him to throw in his lot with them, joining them in their murderous pursuits, and also to share one common purse (literally, “one bag”). The Septuagint represents the father as telling his son that they would say to him that all would possess one common purse and that there would only be one bag among them. (1:14)

The father admonished the son not to go with robbers in their way but to “hold back” his “foot from their path.” (1:15) There was sound reason for the son to reject involvement with them, for they misused their feet, running to commit evil and hastening to shed blood. (1:16; see the Notes section.)

The father’s words for the son to shun involvement with a robber band may be emphasized with a proverbial saying. “For in vain is the net spread before the eyes of a bird” (literally, an “owner of a wing”). The thought could be that, after seeing the net spread out, a bird will not be ensnared by it. Accordingly, as the father’s admonition had set forth clearly what would happen, the son had been made fully aware of what joining a robber band would mean for him and, therefore, should not allow himself to be seduced. If, however, the proverbial saying relates to the lawless ones, the meaning could be that, although they have seen the consequences for engaging in violent acts befall others, they are like a bird that gets caught in a net that has been spread out before its eyes. The Contemporary English Version conveys a similar interpretive meaning in the main text. “They are like a bird that sees the bait, but ignores the trap.” The alternate interpretive rendering in the footnote represents the words as admonition to the son. “Be like a bird that won’t go for the bait, if it sees the trap.” (1:17; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

Lawless ones often end up facing a day of reckoning. Therefore, they are portrayed as lying in wait for their own blood and setting an ambush for their “souls” or their own lives. According to the Septuagint, those “participating in murder store up evils [or calamities] for themselves, and the downfall of transgressing men [is] evil” or calamitous. (1:18)

The father’s words described the “ways” of “all who make gain by violence.” Ultimately, everything that they unjustly obtain leads to their undoing. “It takes away the soul [or life] of its possessors.” The Septuagint rendering is more explicit in making the application to lawless ones and their impiety or godlessness. “These are the ways of all those carrying out lawless actions, for they take away their own soul [or life] by impiety.” (1:19)

At this point, “wisdom” is represented as speaking. The Hebrew word for “wisdom” (chokhmóth) is feminine gender. For this reason, wisdom is personified as a woman. “Wisdom cries aloud” in places that are “outside” of dwellings or in the street, “and she raises her voice in the squares” or the broad open areas. The Septuagint rendering represents wisdom as singing hymns or praises “in the egresses” or streets and as leading openly, boldly providing guidance. Wherever people could be found or where they congregated, wisdom could be perceived as conveying her teaching. In these locations, upright persons and lawless ones engaged in their activities, and the impact that their manner of life had on them was as clearly discernible as if it had been shouted out publicly. (1:20)

The Hebrew text links the position from which wisdom calls out or makes her proclamation to the participial form of the verb hamáh, which basically means to be tumultuous or in commotion. In this context, this participle appears to apply to the areas where the noise of the town or city is prominent. Accordingly, the text may be rendered, “At the head of the streets, she calls out. At the entrances of the gates, in the city, she utters her words.” The Septuagint represents wisdom as proclaiming her message from her position “on top [plural in Greek] of the walls.” The Greek text continues, “and at the gates of powerful ones [men who had authority in the city], she waits; and at the gates of the city, she speaks boldly.” In the open area near the city gate, elders would handle legal cases. Those who heard their wise and just decisions could be said to hear wisdom speak. The judgments rendered against lawless ones were like the public proclamation of wisdom heard above the sound of the noise in the streets. (1:21)

Wisdom is represented as asking simpletons, or those lacking the insight that comes from experience, how long they would continue to love their ignorant state. She is then portrayed as asking ridiculers how long they would delight in ridicule and as asking fools how long they would hate knowledge. Ridiculers are persons who mocked what is right and noble, choosing to speak and act in a manner that was morally corrupt and contrary to wisdom. The knowledge that fools hated was the knowledge that would have motivated them to abandon their lawless ways and to begin to live uprightly. (1:22; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

Wisdom urged simpletons, ridiculers, and fools to respond to her reproof, turning away from their wrong course. She would then pour out her “spirit” on them and make known her words to them. With the “spirit” of wisdom motivating them, they would abandon their corrupt conduct. The words of wisdom would provide sound guidance, rescuing them from harming themselves and others. (1:23; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

Despite the repeated warnings of wisdom to simpletons, ridiculers, and senseless ones, they chose to ignore them. Wisdom called out, and they refused to listen. She stretched out her hand, beckoning to them to pay attention, but no one gave heed. The Septuagint says that wisdom “would spread out words.” This could mean that she “spoke at length.” (1:24)

Simpletons, ridiculers, and fools “let go” of or rejected all the “counsel” of wisdom and did not consent to her “reproof.” According to the Septuagint rendering, senseless ones made the counsels of wisdom invalid, rejecting the admonition as not applying to them. “They disobeyed” her “reproofs.” (1:25)

When the consequences for failing to heed wisdom befell those who disregarded her, she would laugh at their calamity (“destruction” [LXX]) and would mock them when the disaster they dreaded came upon them. The Septuagint indicates that wisdom would be gleeful when they experienced ruin. (1:26) At that time, “dread” (“tumult” or “confusion” [LXX]) or what they feared, would come like a storm, and their calamity (“overthrow” [LXX]) like a whirlwind; also affliction and distress (“siege” [LXX]) would come upon them. (1:27; see the Notes section.) When these developments take place, those faced with calamity would call wisdom, wanting the guidance that would lead them out of their distress, but she would not answer. They (“evil ones” [LXX]) would seek her, wanting her aid, but they would not find her. (1:28)

The reason there would be no relief or aid for those who lived lawlessly is that “they hated knowledge” (“wisdom” [LXX]), the knowledge that would have motivated them to conduct themselves aright, “and they did not choose the fear of YHWH [the Lord (LXX)].” They refused to have reverential regard for him and disregarded his commands. (1:29) Those who hated knowledge and had no wholesome fear of God did not want the “counsel” or advice of wisdom, and they despised all her reproof. Treating the words of wisdom with contempt. (1:30)

As a consequence of the course simpletons, ridiculers, and senseless ones had pursued, they would “eat” or experience the “fruit” or consequences of their way, and they would be filled with the results of “their counsels” or their own corrupt schemes (“their [own] impiety” or godlessness [LXX]). (1:31)

The “turning away of simpletons will kill them.” By the rejection of what is right and their willfulness in choosing their own way, those acting without the good sense associated with age and experience bring about their ruin. “Complacence,” being self-satisfied and unconcerned about doing what is right or just, is what will destroy fools, persons who choose to act in a manner that is injurious to themselves and others. The Septuagint rendering focuses on the consequences for wronging “infants” or inexperienced individuals who are easily victimized. Because they wronged innocent ones, lawless persons “will be murdered, and an inquest will ruin the impious” or godless ones. A thorough examination will establish the guilt of the godless ones, and their severe punishment will follow. (1:32)

The one who listens or pays attention to wisdom will dwell in security and will enjoy a quiet or restful state without “fear of evil” or calamity. According to the Septuagint, the individual who listens to wisdom will take up his dwelling on hope. This suggests that, because of having paid attention to wisdom, the person will be confident that the ultimate outcome will be good. The individual “will be quiet” or at rest in a state of fearlessness “from all evil.” (1:33)

Notes

The Greek words in verse 16 are not found in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and the original text of Codex Sinaiticus.

In verse 17, the Septuagint rendering of the proverbial words conveys a meaning that differs from the extant Hebrew text. “For not unjustly [or for good reason] are nets spread out for birds.” This rendering indicates that nets are spread out purposely to catch birds.

The wording of verse 22 in the Septuagint departs significantly from that of the extant Hebrew text. It indicates that, “as long as the innocent” or blameless ones continued to adhere to “righteousness,” they would not be ashamed. Their course of life would not end up plunging them into disgrace. “Fools,” individuals whose senselessness is revealed in their corrupt manner of life, are identified as those who desired “pride” or “insolence.” They were addicted to the arrogant pursuit of actions that should have been a reason for shame. Having become impious or godless, “they hated perception” or the insight that would have led them to lead a noble way of life.

In verse 23, the Septuagint indicates that, as persons who hated the perception that prompted upright conduct, “fools” or senseless ones are in line for reproofs. Wisdom is then represented as telling them that she would let go to them the speech of her “breath,” and she would teach them her “word.” Spoken words proceeding from the mouth are expressions of “breath,” for they put air in motion.

In verse 27, the Septuagint concludes with an additional phrase respecting what would befall the lawless ones (“or when ruin comes to you”).