Proverbs 3:1-35

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The fatherly admonition is, “My son, do not forget my law” (“laws” [LXX]) or instruction, disregarding it as if he no longer remembered it. “And my commandments [sayings or words (LXX)] let your heart keep,” guard, treasure, or observe. The commandments or principles the father had imparted to him should guide his son’s reasoning, thinking, and conduct. He should guard them as being of inestimable value in his “heart,” his mind, or his inmost self. (3:1)

For the son to remember his father’s law or instruction and to observe, guard, or treasure his commandments would benefit him greatly. Faithful adherence to the instruction and the commandments would add “length of days [existence (LXX)] and years of life and peace” to him. The son would be safeguarded from following a course that could shorten his life. As one who conducted himself aright and preserved a good conscience, he would be able to enjoy “peace,” security, or well-being. (3:2)

The son was not to let “enduring love” (chésed [mercies (LXX)]) and “truth” (’émeth) forsake him. In the Septuagint, chésed is a plural form of the noun eleemosýne, and may be rendered “mercies” (compassionate deeds). The Hebrew word chésed may denote “graciousness,” “kindness,” “loyalty,” “enduring love,” and “mercy.” It is a compassionate care and loving concern that expresses itself in action. In this context, “truth” denotes trustworthiness, faithfulness, or reliability. The corresponding word in the Septuagint is the plural of pistós and could relate to acts or dealings that are characterized by faithfulness or trustworthiness. There never was to be a time when the son would conduct himself in a manner suggesting that “enduring love,” kindness, loyalty, or mercy and “truth,” faithfulness, or dependability had abandoned him. These essential qualities were to be precious to him as if attached to a cord and worn about his neck. The son would consider them as needing to be carefully guarded like a seal used for authenticating documents. Such a seal was commonly suspended from a cord that could be worn around the neck. “Enduring love” and “truth” or faithfulness were to be part of his inmost self as if they were written on the “tablet of [his] heart,” motivating him to be compassionate and trustworthy in all his dealings. (3:3)

By not letting enduring love and truth or faithfulness forsake him as would a person who chose to live a corrupt life, the son would find “favor and good understanding before [literally, in the eyes of] God and man.” God and fellow humans would regard him favorably, and their “understanding” or estimate of him as a person would be good. (3:4; see the Notes section.)

For the son to “trust in YHWH” (“God” [LXX]) with “all” his “heart” would require him to rely on YHWH completely, never doubting that acting in harmony with his commands would result in the greatest good possible. The son was not to lean on his own understanding (“wisdom” [LXX]) as would a person who preferred to follow his own flawed judgment and deliberately chose to pursue a way of life that ignored YHWH’s commands. According to the Septuagint, the son was not to take pride in his own wisdom, exalting it by ignoring his need for God’s guidance. (3:5)

A literal reading of the Hebrew text is, “In all your ways, know him [YHWH], and he will make your paths straight.” The thought appears to be that the son should conduct himself in a manner that was consistent with his knowing YHWH as his God whose commands he wanted to follow. When the son did this, YHWH would aid him to do so, straightening the paths for him as if clearing out the obstacles that would hinder him from pursuing the right course. (3:6; see the Notes section.)

For the son not to be “wise” in his own “eyes” would mean for him not to consider his wisdom to be such as not to need God’s guidance and aid to conduct himself aright. Instead, he was to “fear YHWH,” having reverential regard for him by seeking to know his will and then conducting himself accordingly. The son would need to “turn away from evil.” According to the Septuagint rendering, the son was not to be wise or understanding to himself or in his own estimation but was to “fear God and turn away from all evil.” (3:7)

A reverential regard for YHWH and a rejection of evil benefit a person’s physical organism. “It will be healing to your navel [shor] and drink [invigoration or refreshment (care [LXX])] for your bones.” In this context, the meaning “navel” for the Hebrew word shor seems unusual. The Septuagint rendering is “body.” Possibly, in view of its central location, the navel represents the entire organism. “Dry bones” are associated with disease and weakness, and so the reference to “drink” for the bones could signify that the entire frame of the individual would be invigorated. (3:8; compare Job 21:24; Proverbs 17:22; Isaiah 58:11.)

While the temple in Jerusalem functioned, Israelites could “honor YHWH” by making contributions from their “wealth” or substance for the support of the services there. In obedient response to the law, they could also honor or show their high regard for YHWH by offering the “firstfruits” of all their produce or their crops. The Septuagint rendering relates to conduct and appears to have been altered to fit the circumstances of Israelites living in lands far from Jerusalem. “Honor the Lord with your just toils and dedicate to him from your fruits of righteousness.” (3:9)

The result from following through on the admonition set forth in the previous verse would result in blessings. Storerooms would be filled with abundance (“grain” [LXX]) from the harvest, and vats would overflow with wine (the juice from trodden grapes). (3:10)

The son is admonished not to reject or, according to the Septuagint, belittle YHWH’s discipline, training, or correction, indicating that he should be responsive to it. This discipline could come in the form of suffering that God may permit him to experience. (Compare Deuteronomy 8:2-5; Hebrews 12:4-11.) As to YHWH’s “reproof” or correction that may be distressing, the son was not to despise it or “give out” (LXX). He was not to look upon the reproof with disgust or become disheartened or weary on account of the affliction YHWH permitted him to undergo as discipline, correction, or training. Instead, he was to accept the reproof as an expression of God’ love. (3:11) This is the case because YHWH “reproves” (“disciplines” [LXX]) the one whom he loves, just as a father reproves a “son in whom he delights.” The Septuagint rendering is, “For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines, and he chastises [or punishes] every son whom he accepts.” (3:12)

“Happy,” blessed, fortunate, or in an enviable state of well-being is a “man” (an “earthling”) who finds wisdom and a man (an earthling [thnetós, a mortal (LXX)]) who gets (“recognizes” [LXX]) “understanding,” skill, or insight. His finding wisdom suggests that he looked for it, desired it as his possession, and wanted to live in a manner that harmonized with it. His understanding may be understood to apply to his recognition of what was required of him to live uprightly. (3:13)

The “gain” from wisdom and the understanding that has its source in wisdom is “better than gain from silver” and the profit from wisdom is better than “gold.” From the possession and the application of wisdom more is to be gained than from the possession and use of gold and silver. The noble conduct that the possession of wisdom promotes benefits the individual and fellow humans in ways that silver and gold cannot. According to the Septuagint, it is better to conduct trade in wisdom than in “gold and silver treasures.” The returns from wisdom in relation to the life one would live are far superior to those from the possession of gold and silver. (3:14) This makes wisdom more precious than “corals” (peniním). The Hebrew word peniním has been understood to designate “pearls,” “rubies,” “coral,” and “red coral.” In the Septuagint, the reference is to “precious stones.” Nothing one might desire or in which one might find delight can be considered as equal to wisdom. (3:15; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

When individuals conduct themselves in harmony with the wisdom that has a proper regard for God as its basis, they are shielded from indulging in habits and actions that could lead to a premature death. They make better use of the resources available to them, and they enjoy a dignified standing among others on account of their noble conduct, including their willingness to come to the aid of those in need. Appropriately, therefore, wisdom is portrayed as having “length of days” or a long life (“length of existence and years of life” [LXX]) in its “right hand,” and “wealth and honor” in its “left hand.” (3:16; see the Notes section regarding the additional text found in the Septuagint.)

The “ways” of wisdom are “ways of pleasantness [good ways (LXX)], and all its paths” are “peace” (“in peace” [LXX]) This could mean that the way in which wisdom leads results in pleasantness or good for those following it. The paths that wisdom directs as the ones to be followed promote “peace,” a state of well-being and security and one that is free from conflict and strife. (3:17)

Wisdom is a “tree of life” to those taking hold of it. Like the fruit of a tree that provides nourishment for sustaining life, the guidance wisdom provides for those who follow it contributes to the enjoyment of a longer life by aiding them to avoid the pitfalls that can lead to a premature death. Those who hold fast to wisdom can be pronounced “happy” or fortunate. They find themselves in an enviable state of well-being and security. According to the Septuagint rendering, wisdom is “unfailing” or dependable to those who “lean” or rely on it “as on the Lord.” (3:18)

YHWH is represented as using wisdom, thereby confirming its inestimable value. “By wisdom,” he “founded the earth.” This could mean that he firmly established the land as if providing it with supports or foundations. By his understanding, insight, or discernment, he secured (“prepared” [LXX]) the “heavens.” This could refer to the formation of the celestial vault that appears like a fixed dome over the land. (3:19)

Possibly with reference to water bursting forth from subterranean sources, the “deeps” are referred to as splitting or breaking open by YHWH’s knowledge or understanding. By his knowledge, “clouds” drip down “dew,” mist, or light rain. Ancient observers perceived the dew as coming down on vegetation from above. Seemingly for this reason, “dew” (unless the reference is to “light rain”) is said to descend from the clouds. The Septuagint rendering could be translated, “And clouds discharged dews.” (3:20)

The Hebrew text begins the fatherly admonition with the expression “my son,” but the initial phrase does not identify what the son should not let “escape” from his “eyes” or his sight. In the Septuagint, this phrase could be rendered, “Son, let not flow away.” He is then told to keep or to safeguard “prudence” (tushiyyáh) and “discretion” (“thought” or insight [LXX]). This provides a basis for concluding that the son was to make sure that “prudence” and “discretion” or “insight” did not “escape” or “flow away” from him as could happen if he neglected to be watchful. (3:21)

There is a measure of uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew word tushiyyáh. Lexicographers have suggested that, depending on the context, tushiyyáh can mean “prudence,” “sound wisdom,” success,” “good outcome,” or “victory.” The word tushiyyáh may here designate the prudence or sound wisdom that leads to success or a good outcome. In the Septuagint, the corresponding expression for tushiyyáh is “my counsel,” meaning the father’s advice. (3:21)

The expression “life to your soul” may be understood to mean “life to you” (life to the son being addressed). In connection with the previous verse (which see for comments), the thought appears to be that, when “prudence” (the father’s “counsel” [LXX]) and “discretion” (“thought” or insight [LXX]) govern conduct, they can contribute to a longer and better life than would otherwise be the case. Additionally, they are called “grace” to the “neck,” adding a tangible favorable impression on others and one that could be compared to beautiful adornment around the neck. (3:22; see the Notes section.)

With “prudence” (the father’s “counsel” [LXX]) and “discretion” (“thought” or insight [LXX]) providing guidance, the son would “walk” in “security.” His progress in life would be free from the the calamities that attend the conduct of persons who are unwise or corrupt. According to the Septuagint, all his ways he would “walk confidently in peace” (without having to fear consequences from having pursued a foolish course). The son’s “foot” would not stumble. He would not experience even the minor problems of persons who choose not to act wisely. (3:23)

Even at night, the son could feel secure on account of letting “prudence” (the father’s “counsel” [LXX]) and “discretion” (“thought” or insight [LXX]) govern his life. (See verse 21.) Upon lying down (sitting down [LXX]), he would not be afraid. There would not come upon him some calamity on account of his own folly. Free from anxiety about possible adverse consequences from unwise or corrupt actions, the son’s sleep would be sweet or pleasant. (3:24) He would not have to fear some “sudden dread” or terror “and the ruin of wicked ones when it comes.” At the time corrupt individuals suffer deserved punishment, upright persons will have nothing to fear. (3:25; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.) This would be, as the son was told, “for YHWH will be your confidence” (the One on whom he could confidently rely for aid, guidance, and safeguarding) “and will keep your foot from capture” or the kind of entanglement that inevitably leads to harm or ruin. (3:26)

Withholding “good” from one to whom it is owing could relate to extending a favor or kindness to someone in need, for people should have a sense of obligation to come to the aid of fellow humans in distress. An obligation could also include the return of a pledge or the repayment of a debt when due. There should not be needless stalling. The Septuagint rendering specifically relates to responding to “needy ones.” Persons in a position to respond (or to provide assistance) without delay, having it “in the power of [their] hand,” should do so. (3:27) The individual who is able to extend kindly aid should not tell his neighbor or fellow to depart and to return another time, saying to him, “Tomorrow I will give,” when he could have done so right then (“when you are able to do good” [LXX]). The Septuagint adds as a reason to do good or to respond favorably, “for you do not know what the next day will bring.” Circumstances can change quickly, and the person who is in position to give may later find himself in a needy state. (3:28)

One should not scheme something evil to a neighbor or fellow, taking advantage of him when he does not suspect any possibility of being harmed (“when he is residing securely with you” [“one residing (beside you] and trusting in you” (LXX)]). (3:29) Similarly, one should not dispute with a man “without cause,” picking a fight with a man who had not harmed one. The Septuagint rendering cautions against becoming hostile toward a man, “lest he do evil” or injury “to you.” (3:30)

A wicked man seemingly may prosper. When that is the case, the admonition is, “Do not envy a man of violence,” one who attains his base objectives through violent deeds, “and do not choose any of his ways.” The Septuagint rendering warns against bringing upon oneself the “reproach” or insult of “evil men,” and concludes with the admonition not to envy (or not to be zealous for) their ways. (3:31)

To YHWH, a corrupt person is an abomination or an object of loathing or disgust. But YHWH’s “intimacy” (or close relationship like that of a confidant) is with the upright ones, persons who are desirous of conducting themselves in harmony with his will. The Septuagint says that “every transgressor is unclean” or defiled “before the Lord,” and no such impure person sits in council “among the righteous ones.” (3:32)

YHWH’s (God’s [LXX]) “curse” is “on the house [houses or homes (LXX)] of the wicked” (the impious or godless ones [LXX]), indicating that any seeming prosperity they may enjoy will not be permanent. He blesses the “abode of righteous ones,” assuring that the eventual outcome for them will be good. (3:33)

YHWH scorns scorners or treats them in keeping with their ridicule of what is right and just. According to the Septuagint, the “Lord opposes arrogant ones,” rejecting them as disapproved. He grants his “grace,” favor, or kindly attention to the “humble” or lowly ones, to persons who recognize their need for his aid and guidance. (3:34)

Wise persons, those who seek to lead upright lives as God’s devoted servants, will “inherit honor” or “glory.” God and fellow humans who observe their noble conduct will view them favorably. “Fools” (persons whose conduct is corrupt [“impious” or godless ones (LXX]) “exalt shame.” Their actions are dishonorable. By their practices, they make what is disgraceful the preferential course, exalting what is shameful above that which is honorable and thus bringing shame upon themselves. (3:35)

Notes

The Septuagint rendering of verse 4 differs from the extant Hebrew text and could be translated, “Think beforehand [on] good [things] before the Lord and men.” This may be understood as admonition to give careful consideration to what is good in the sight of God and fellow humans. It is also possible that the Greek word for “think beforehand” (a form of pronoéo) here means “provide.” In that case, the encouragement is to provide (or to do) the things that are good, noble, or right in the sight of God and fellow humans. (Compare Romans 12:17; 2 Corinthians 8:21, and 1 Timothy 5:8 [texts that contain forms of the verb pronoéo].)

In verse 6, the Septuagint rendering focuses on wisdom. The father is represented as telling the son, “In all your ways, make it known, that it may straighten your paths, [and your foot will by no means stumble].” In Greek, the pronoun here rendered “it” is feminine gender, and the antecedent for the pronoun is the feminine noun sophía (“wisdom”). The thought is that the son should conduct himself in keeping with the guidance of wisdom and thus reveal wisdom — the wisdom that would aid him to conduct himself aright as if all his paths had been straightened or cleared of obstacles that would otherwise have led to a calamitous fall from his having pursued the wrong course. There is uncertainty whether the phrase in brackets was part of the original text of the Septuagint. The words are repeated in verse 23.

After indicating that wisdom is more valuable than “precious stones,” the Septuagint rendering of verse 15 continues, “Nothing evil will [successfully] resist it. It is well-known to all who draw near to it, and anything precious [or any honor] is not worthy of it.” Wisdom will prove to be triumphant. Those who draw near to wisdom, approaching it as persons who choose to follow it, are fully acquainted with its inestimable worth. In value, it far transcends any honor or precious item.

In verse 16, the Septuagint concludes with words that are not contained in the extant Hebrew text. “From its [wisdom’s] mouth, righteousness comes forth, and it carries law and mercy on [its] tongue.” Whatever has its source in true wisdom is righteous, just, or right. Like good law, wisdom provides sound guidance for upright conduct. The application of wisdom is humane. There is no insistence on the letter of the law but, when warranted, mercy or compassion are shown after a careful evaluation of all factors that involve matters requiring the rendering of judgments.

In verse 22, the Septuagint contains additional wording that has no correspondence in the Hebrew text. “And it will be healing to your flesh and care for your bones.” The entire physical frame of the individual would be benefited.

The Septuagint rendering of the words in verse 25 differs from that of the extant Hebrew text. Its focus is on the son who is told, “And you will not fear coming alarm” or terror “nor the coming attacks of the impious” or godless ones.