Proverbs 11:1-32

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“False scales” were balances that had been rigged to defraud. Often fraud was committed by using other than standard weights. To YHWH, “false” or “deceitful scales” were abominable, disgusting, or loathsome. But an accurate weight (literally, a “complete stone”) was “his delight” or, according to the Septuagint, was “acceptable to him.” His law required the use of accurate scales and weights. (11:1; Leviticus 19:36)

“When insolence” or pride “comes, then comes disgrace.” The thought could be that the retribution for insolence or arrogance is humiliation. Insolent or proud individuals have an exalted view of themselves and their attainments. When their claims are exposed as exaggerations, they are disgraced. It is also possible that the reference is to the contempt insolent persons have for others. Both meanings of the Hebrew text are found in modern translations. “Pride comes first; disgrace soon follows.” (NJB) “Too much pride can put you to shame.” (CEV) “When pride comes in, in comes contempt.” (REB) “But wisdom [is] with the humble ones.” The humble ones recognize their need for God’s help and guidance, and they earnestly seek to have the wisdom that is essential for conducting themselves aright. Wisdom thus comes into their possession, and their words and deeds reflect the wisdom that has God as its ultimate source. The Septuagint says that the “mouth of the humble meditates [on] wisdom.” Before speaking, instructing, or offering advice, humble persons give careful thought to their words, endeavoring to make sure that wisdom truly is their guide. (11:2)

Integrity is what guides upright ones. They can be depended upon to do what is right and just. As for treacherous persons, their “crookedness,” or their corrupt dealings and deceitful words, will sooner or later “destroy them.” (11:3; see the Notes section.)

“In the day of wrath,” or at the time God manifests his anger, the possession of wealth will be of no benefit. “Righteousness” or uprightness in attitude, word, and deed “delivers from death” or from dying prematurely as persons who are divinely disapproved. (11:4; see the Notes section.)

For the blameless or upright one, his righteousness makes his way straight. He remains on the right course, enjoying the security and sense of well-being that result from conducting himself aright. The Septuagint focuses on the “ways,” indicating that “righteousness” makes straight (literally “cuts straight”) “unblemished ways.” This could mean that the “righteousness” or uprightness of the individual removes obstacles that could hinder him from following the right course. There is, however, no straight path associated with ungodliness, but only corrupt ways — fraud, deceit, lying, and slander. “Impiety” or ungodliness “encounters [or becomes involved with] injustice.” (11:5)

The “righteousness” of upright people “will deliver them” from the ruin that lawless persons are bound to experience. Upright ones will continue to do what is right, sparing themselves from the serious consequences to which lawlessness leads. According to the Septuagint, “lawless ones” or transgressors “are captured by their destruction,” experiencing the ruin that their corrupt conduct merits. (11:6)

The “hope” of a wicked man perishes when he dies. Everything he may have hoped for and attained perishes with him. His vile deeds could not assure that anything hoped for or expected would endure. The Septuagint rendering conveys a different meaning. When a “righteous man dies, hope does not perish, but the boasting of impious ones perishes.” The death of a righteous man does not mean that all hope has been lost. Everything in which godless persons take pride, however, will come to its end. (11:7)

A righteous or upright person may find himself in distress and then be rescued. But the wicked one would thereafter end up in the very distress from which the righteous one was delivered. Possibly the implied thought is that the wicked one gloated over the trouble that befell the righteous person. Then, upon seeing the righteous one rescued, the wicked one came to be in distressing circumstances. According to the Septuagint, the righteous one escapes from the “hunt” (an act designed to harm him); and “instead of him,” the “impious” or ungodly one “is delivered up,” apparently to be punished. (11:8)

“With his mouth, the godless man [one alienated from God] destroys” or corrupts his fellow.” His deceptive words can be injurious, but righteous or upright ones possess the knowledge to avoid being harmed. By means of their knowledge, they “are delivered” from whatever baneful effects the words of godless ones may have. (11:9; see the Notes section.)

When the righteous prosper, there is joy in the city where they reside. This is because upright individuals use their influence and authority to accomplish good, promoting the welfare of their fellows. The death of the wicked occasions jubilation. Their end brings welcome relief from the injustices, oppression, and troubles for which they were responsible. (11:10; see the Notes section.)

“By the blessing of upright ones, a city is exalted,” but the “mouth of the wicked causes its overthrow.” The presence of upright persons in a city and their words of blessing elevate a city as a place where peace and the welfare of all can flourish. With their mouth, or the deceptive and lying words proceeding from their mouth, the wicked cause the overthrow of a city. Their words can create an environment of distrust, conflict, hostility, and suspicion. (11:11; see the Notes section.)

A person lacking “heart” or devoid of good sense is one who belittles, insults, or despises his fellow (“citizens” [LXX]). He is quick to lash out against anyone whom he considers as having slighted him. A “man of understanding” or a sensible man is one who restrains himself when it comes to slights or offenses, choosing to remain silent when speaking out could give rise to needless conflict or worsen a troublesome situation. (11:12)

“One who goes about as a slanderer,” a gossip, or a talebearer “reveals secrets” or matters that should be kept in strict confidence. The person who is “trustworthy in spirit” (or loyal in his inner self) is sensitive about matters that should not be broadcast. He keeps such matters covered or to himself. According to the Septuagint, the “double-tongued man,” one whose words cannot be trusted, reveals “counsels in the assembly.” This may mean that he publicizes confidential matters that come up during the course of deliberations. The “trustworthy one conceals matters to a breath.” Possibly the thought is that the trustworthy person does not breathe a word to anyone when confidential matters are involved. (11:13)

In the absence of sound guidance, a “people falls,” experiencing calamity or ruin. The Septuagint says that those without leadership “fall like leaves.” “In the abundance of counselors [counsel or good advice (LXX)]” — many wise individuals who are willing and able to provide sound advice — there will be “salvation,” deliverance, or victory. Their good counsel will make it possible to formulate plans that lead to success. (11:14)

One who goes surety for a stranger, making himself responsible for that one’s debts, is bound to be harmed. This is because the likelihood is great that the stranger will not be conscientious about fulfilling his obligations and will fail to do so. The one who “hates handshaking” (or making agreements to give surety) will be secure, for he will avoid loss from having to pay for someone else’s debts. (11:15; see the Notes section.)

A “gracious woman [literally, a woman of grace or charm] gets honor, and violent men get wealth.” In ancient Israel, the acquisition of riches was primarily the domain of men. A woman gained a position of honor by her pleasant or agreeable disposition, her hospitable spirit, and her kindly response to those in need. According to the Septuagint rendering, a gracious woman acquires “glory” or “honor” for her husband. Men who gain riches through violent means do not procure honor for themselves. All they have is their ill-gotten gain. A number of translators have favored a rendering based on an emendation of the Hebrew text. For example, the Contemporary English Version reads, “A man must work hard to get rich.” (CEV) The Septuagint conveys yet another meaning. It says that a woman who “hates justice” or “righteousness” is a “throne of dishonor.” (11:16)

A “kind man” (literally, a “man of kindness,” “loyalty,” “faithfulness,” or “compassion” [a “merciful man” (LXX)] benefits “his soul” (“does good to his soul” [LXX]) or himself. His kindly and compassionate disposition contributes to a life of joy and contentment. A cruel man, however, “harms his flesh.” The designation “flesh” can apply to kin or to a household, but this is likely not the significance in this context. According to the Septuagint, “the merciless one destroys his body.” The Septuagint rendering indicates that the Hebrew word for “flesh” here refers to the organism of the merciless one. His hateful disposition has an adverse effect on his own well-being. (11:17)

A “wicked man” obtains “deceptive wages.” What he may acquire through corrupt or fraudulent means may be quickly lost and prove to be unsatisfying, often not providing him with what he had desired. The Septuagint says that the “impious” or ungodly one “does unjust works” or engages in dishonest practices. One who “sows righteousness,” or deals justly and honestly with others and responds compassionately to those in need, gains a “sure reward.” He preserves a clean conscience and has the assurance of God’s loving care and the lasting reward he bestows on those who are devoted to him. The Septuagint refers to the “seed of righteous ones,” or the product of their right, just, or honest dealings, as a “reward of truth” or a true wage. (11:18)

The Hebrew text is elliptical. “True righteousness — to life [plural in Hebrew], and pursuing evil — to one’s death.” The thought appears to be that upright conduct leads to life, and the pursuit of evil ends in death. In view of the elliptical nature of the Hebrew text, translators vary in their renderings. “Righteousness is a prop of life, but to pursue evil leads to death.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Anyone set on righteousness finds life, but the pursuit of evil leads to death.” (REB) “Whoever establishes uprightness is on the way to life, whoever pursues evil, on the way to death.” (NJB) “Always do the right thing, and you will live; keep on doing wrong, and you will die.” (CEV) “The truly righteous man attains life, but he who pursues evil goes to his death.” (NIV) The Septuagint indicates that a “righteous son is engendered for life [or, on account of his upright conduct, has life in view], but the pursuit of the impious” or ungodly ones is “to death.” (11:19)

One with a “crooked heart” is corrupt in his inmost self. Individuals with a “crooked heart” are an “abomination to YHWH.” He detests their evil thoughts and dealings. “His delight” is in those who are “blameless” in their way, conducting themselves in a manner he approves. In the Septuagint, “crooked ways” are identified as an “abomination to the Lord.” “All” who are “blameless in their ways” are “acceptable to him.” (11:20)

The Hebrew words for “hand to hand” possibly relate to making an agreement by shaking hands. In this context, the words may be understood to express a certainty. “You can be sure of this.” (CEV) “Depend upon it.” (REB) “Be sure of this.” (NIV) The Septuagint refers to the one “putting hand to hands unjustly” as one who will not escape punishment. This could mean that the individual would be shaking hands with others to make an unjust or fraudulent agreement and would not be left unpunished for doing so. The extant Hebrew text says that an “evil man will not go unpunished.” “Offspring of righteous ones,” however, “will escape” or be delivered from the calamities that befall corrupt persons for their vile deeds. The Septuagint refers to the one sowing “righteousness,” or dealing honestly with others and acting according to what is right or just, as receiving a true or dependable wage or reward. (11:21)

A “gold nose ring” in a pig’s snout would be most inappropriate and a wasteful use of a precious resource. Although a woman may be beautiful, her physical attractiveness would be of little worth if she lacked good sense. The implication may be that a man who married a woman just for her looks was choosing a situation comparable to a gold ring in the snout of a pig. According to the Septuagint, the “beauty of an evil-minded woman” is like a “ring in a pig’s snout.” (11:22)

The “desire [all desire (LXX)] of righteous ones” is “only good.” As upright persons, they would desire what was in harmony with God’s will and that which would have a noble end in view. The “expectation of the wicked,” however, is “wrath.” What they hope for stands in opposition to the things God approves. Therefore, their expectation will prove to be his wrath as its ultimate end. The Septuagint says that the hope of the impious or ungodly ones “will perish.” There will be no favorable outcome for them. (11:23)

There are times when circumstances turn out otherwise than what might be expected. One who “scatters,” spends liberally or gives generously may, in the end, be well off, having increased his possessions. Someone else may hold back what he should give and yet will find himself in want. The Septuagint refers to those sowing or scattering “their own [either seed or what they possess]” and gaining an increase and to those gathering and yet having less. (11:24)

A generous person (literally, a “soul of blessing” [a person who is a blessing to others by responding to their genuine needs]) “will be made fat,” will be enriched, or will prosper. One who “waters” others would be a person who refreshes or satisfies others. In view of his generous spirit, he himself “will be watered,” refreshed, or satisfied. The Septuagint rendering may be understood in two different ways. (1) “Every blessed soul” (or person) is “sincere.” (2) “Every sincere soul” (or person) is “blessed.” The concluding phrase in the Septuagint is, “But a furious man is not graceful” or pleasing. (11:25)

The reference to one who “withholds grain” appears to be to an official who has control over the supply of grain. For whatever reason he may withhold grain from the people when they need it, they will curse him. The Septuagint says regarding the grain, “leave it to the nations.” For the one who makes grain available for purchase (distributes or shares it [LXX]), blessings would come to be on “his head” or on him from the appreciative people. (11:26)

A person who pursues “good” seeks “good will,” and to one who searches for “evil,” “it will come to him.” To pursue “good” means to be concerned about and to be active in promoting the welfare of others. The pursuer of good gains the good will or favor of others as an upright, caring, and compassionate person. The Septuagint refers to the one devising “good” as seeking “good favor.” His plans to do good for others will result in his being regarded favorably. An individual who seeks “evil,” or looks for opportunities to take advantage of others or to procure possessions through corrupt means, will find that evil or calamity will come upon him (“will overtake him” [LXX]). As a merciless person, he will then be without comfort and needed aid. (11:27)

Possessions can be lost or stolen. Everything of a material nature is transitory. Therefore, the one who trusts in riches, believing that his wealth provides security, “will fall” like a tree with a shallow root system during a severe windstorm. Righteous people, however, will flourish “like foliage.” The righteous enjoy security and flourish as persons who receive God’s favorable attention, guidance, and aid. In case of the Septuagint rendering, the meaning depends upon whether the reference is to righteous persons or to righteous things. The one who assists “righteous persons will rise,” possibly indicating that he will flourish like greenery that sprouts up or be aided to rise if he has experienced a fall. In the event the application is to “righteous things,” the meaning could be that the individual is one who supports the things that are right or just. (11:28)

One who troubles “his house” or his household (“does not accommodate [or does not deal kindly with] his own house” [LXX]), harming his family by his actions, “will inherit wind” or nothing at all. A fool, or one who fails to use good sense, will be a servant to one who is wise (literally, “wise of heart”). The troubler of the “house” could be either the father or a son. If the verb “inherit” is regarded in the literal sense, the family member would be a son. A senseless son would end up with nothing and become a servant to someone who is wise. Renderings in modern translations vary in the way the troubler of the “house” is identified. “Whoever misgoverns a house inherits the wind.” (NJB) “He who upsets his household has empty air for a heritage.” (NAB) “Fools who cause trouble in the family won’t inherit a thing. They will end up as slaves of someone with good sense.” (CEV) (11:29)

The “fruit of the righteous one” could be the sound advice that an upright person expresses or the good things he does. His good counsel can promote the well-being of individuals who follow it, and the aid he renders can save lives. Therefore, his fruit is a “tree of life.” According to the Septuagint rendering, a “tree of life” sprouts or grows “from the fruit” or product of “righteousness,” indicating that “righteousness” is the source of fruit that can sustain and preserve life. The next phrase of the Hebrew text may be rendered, “The wise one takes away souls.” His doing so would be for a good purpose, taking away “souls” or individuals from a wrong course and captivating them to follow a path of upright conduct. The Septuagint conveys a different thought. It refers to the “souls of transgressors” or transgressors themselves as being “removed,” or cut off from life, prematurely. (11:30)

“On earth,” or while alive on the land, the righteous one “will be rewarded,” repaid, or requited, often experiencing what his conduct deserves. When he errs in judgment or in the actions he takes, he is not shielded from the consequences. Therefore, it logically follows that the “wicked one and sinner” (or one who habitually acts contrary to God’s commands) will all the more so be requited for his wrongdoing. (11:31; see the Notes section.)

Notes

In verse 3, the rendering of the Septuagint differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. At death, the righteous person leaves “regret” behind. Others are saddened by his death. But the “destruction of the impious” or ungodly is “swift and joyous.” In view of the injurious acts of ungodly people, retribution may come quickly or unexpectedly, and the relief from fraud and oppression that their ruin would bring occasions joy.

In the Septuagint, there is no corresponding text for the wording of of verse 4 in the extant Hebrew text.

In verse 9, the Septuagint refers to the “mouth of godless ones” as a “snare to fellow countrymen.” Corrupt individuals try to ensnare or deceive others with their words. The “perception” or “knowledge” of righteous ones is described as “prosperous.” Possibly this means that, by using their knowledge for saying and doing what is right, upright persons enjoy success and help others.

In verses 10 and 11, the Septuagint indicates that a city prospers through the good deeds of the righteous but is torn down by the “mouth of the impious.” Upright individuals are deeply concerned about the well-being of others and come to the aid of those in need. As for the impious or ungodly ones, the words that come from their mouth stir up hatred and conflict. Their speaking has a ruinous effect on the city where they reside.

In verse 15, the Septuagint rendering differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. A “wicked man does evil whenever he meets a righteous man, and he hates the sound of security.” The thought could be that the wicked man is always prepared to take advantage of others. His attaining his base objective is more difficult when individuals are secure in their position, for they are far less likely to be ensnared than are persons in a state of insecurity. Therefore, any hint of security would be most unwelcome to the wicked man.

When viewed from the standpoint of the ancient setting at the time the Septuagint was translated, the wording of verse 31 appears to mean that the righteous one would scarcely be saved or escape the consequences of his missteps. This gives rise to the rhetorical question, “Where will the impious and sinner appear?” The implication is that the ungodly one will not appear unscathed from deserved punishment for his corrupt course of life.

In 1 Peter 4:18, the wording from the quotation of Proverbs 11:31 is like that of the Septuagint. The application of the proverb harmonizes with the spirit of the text, but the context points to a somewhat different meaning. Evidently because of the afflictions and hardships believers experience, they, as upright ones, are referred to as being scarcely saved or saved with difficulty. Their ultimate salvation, complete deliverance from sin, requires vigorous exertion in conducting themselves in a divinely approved manner in whatever circumstances they might find themselves, always relying on God and Christ for strength to endure trials. This raises the question, “Where will the impious and sinner appear?” The answer to this rhetorical question is that godless ones and those who live a life of sin will not make a favorable appearance before God.