Proverbs 12:1-28

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One who “loves discipline,” correction, or instruction “loves knowledge.” Discipline can serve to correct one’s taking a wrong course or making poor decisions. By highly valuing the benefits that come from discipline, a person demonstrates his love for knowledge and grows in wisdom. One who “hates reproof” is senseless or unreasoning. Instead of correcting his ways, he stubbornly chooses to act foolishly and ultimately harms himself. (12:1)

A “good man,” a man who is compassionate, generous, and kind, “gains favor from YHWH” as one who is acceptable to him, but he “condemns a man of devices” or a corrupt schemer. According to the Septuagint, “Better is the one who finds favor with the Lord.” His circumstances are superior to those of a lawless man. A “lawless man will be passed over in silence,” suggesting that God will not extend any favor to him. (12:2)

“Wickedness,” or the practice of what is evil or corrupt, does not provide a secure foundation for one’s life. A man simply cannot be “established by wickedness” as if firmly secured thereby. The Septuagint indicates that a “man will not keep straight” or have success by that which is “lawless.” The “root [roots (LXX)] of righteous ones will not be caused to totter” or be moved. Upright persons are like trees that are firmly rooted in the ground and will not be uprooted from their secure position. (12:3)

A “good [courageous or virtuous (LXX)] wife [literally, a “woman of strength”], one who is exemplary in disposition, bearing, and responsiveness to those in need, is a “crown to her husband” or a real credit to him, contributing to his honorable standing in the community. When a woman conducts herself shamefully, she is like “rottenness” in the “bones” of her husband. Her effect on him is like that of a debilitating disease. According to the Septuagint, a woman who does what is bad proves to be destructive to her husband “like a worm in wood.” (12:4)

The “thoughts of the righteous ones” are “judgment” or “justice.” Their thoughts are right and just or in harmony with sound judgment. The deliberations or counsels of wicked persons (“impious” or “ungodly ones” [LXX]) are treacherous or deceptive. According to the Septuagint, the guiding, steering, or devising of impious ones is one of treachery or deceit. Anyone following the advice of corrupt individuals would be heading for serious trouble or ruin. The implication of the wise saying appears to be that one should choose the way of righteous ones and avoid the guidance or advice of corrupt persons, never becoming like them. (12:5)

The “words of wicked ones lie in wait for blood.” Their words are designed to deceive, defraud, misrepresent, or slander. They are words that can bring ruin to those who are victimized or led astray. The “mouth of the upright ones will save them.” Their expressions are truthful, and they recognize the words of the wicked ones as harmful. Therefore, they avoid being deceived by what the wicked say, and they are not seduced to join them in their corrupt practices. (12:6; see the Notes section.)

“Wicked ones are overthrown, and they are no more.” Both as to their person and their corrupt ways, the wicked cease to be. The Septuagint says that the “impious” or godless one disappears wherever he might turn. He will not escape punitive judgment. The “house” (“houses” [LXX]) or household of righteous persons will continue to stand or to endure. Their upright conduct assures that their household finds itself on a secure foundation. (12:7)

A “man will be praised” or commended for his “mouth of insight” or for his sound advice and the wisdom his words reflect. The individual who is crooked of “heart” or corrupt in thought and his inmost self will be despised or “mocked” (LXX). (12:8)

A man may be of humble standing, one whom others do not highly esteem, and yet he may be in position to have a servant. His circumstances are much better than those of a man who glorifies himself or boastfully represents himself as being a somebody when, in reality, he lacks bread or does not even have sufficient food to eat. According to the Septuagint rendering, a man is better off in “dishonor” (as others may see him) and yet “serving” or supporting “himself” than is a man who confers “honor on himself” and yet lacks “bread.” Based on an emendation of the Hebrew word for “slave,” numerous modern translations contain wording that is more like the rendering of the Septuagint. “It is better to be modest and earn one’s living than to play the grandee on an empty stomach.” (REB) “Better a lowly man who supports himself than one of assumed importance who lacks bread.” (NAB) (12:9)

A righteous man “knows,” understands, or “has compassion” for (LXX) the “soul” or life of “his beast” or his domestic animal. He recognizes the needs of the animal and cares for it with tenderness, never neglecting it. The “mercies of wicked ones [impious or ungodly ones (LXX)],” however, are “cruel [merciless (LXX)].” Corrupt individuals have no regard for their animals. What they consider adequate care is actually cruel and amounts to nothing more than ruthless exploitation. They give no thought to the pain and suffering of the animals they own or that are under their care. (12:10)

A man who cultivates his land “will be satisfied with bread” or have enough to eat. One who pursues “worthless things” is in “want of heart” or lacks good sense. The pursuit of meaningless or unproductive endeavors does not generate the income needed for one to be self-supporting. (12:11; see the Notes section.)

There is uncertainty about just what the “wicked one desires.” One possible significance of the Hebrew words is “hunting implement,” “net” or “snare” of “evil men.” This could indicate that the “wicked one desires” to have the “hunting equipment,” the “net,” the “snare,” or the means evil men use to obtain their base objectives. It is also possible to view the text as pointing to the ultimate outcome of the “desire” of the wicked one. He will face the serious consequences from his corrupt actions. These consequences are comparable to his being entangled in a net like prey that is trapped and then killed. A number of translations render the Hebrew words according to an emendation. “The stronghold of evil men will be demolished.” (NAB) “The stronghold of the wicked crumbles like clay.” (REB) According to the Septuagint, the “desires of impious” or “ungodly ones” are “evil things.” As corrupt individuals, they desire what is bad, for they use violent, deceptive, or fraudulent means to procure what they want. (12:12)

The “root of righteous ones” is “put” or firmly “established.” Their upright conduct has made the “root” or foundation of their life secure and stable. That “root” is like the root system of a sound tree and will endure. The Septuagint refers to the “roots” of godly individuals as being “in fortresses” or in secure locations. (12:12)

An “evil man” (a “sinner” [LXX]) or a corrupt person is ensnared (“falls into traps” or “snares” [LXX]) “by the transgression of his lips” or by the false or deceptive words he speaks. His lies and deception will eventually result in his being exposed for his wrongdoing and then severely punished. A righteous person escapes from the distress that comes upon the evil individual. (12:13; see the Notes section.)

“From the fruit [fruits or products (LXX)] of a man’s mouth, he [the soul of a man or the man himself (LXX)] is sated with good” or good things. When the words proceeding from a man’s mouth are truthful and dependable, he will come to be known as an honest and trustworthy person, and others will treat him accordingly. As a result, he will be satisfied with the good things that come to him and will enjoy a secure and contented life. There is also a recompense for what a man does with his “hands.” It “comes back to him.” He receives the reward that his labor merits. According to the Septuagint rendering, the focus continues to be on words. To the individual, the “recompense of his lips will be given.” (12:14)

In the “eyes” of a “fool,” or in the view of a person who chooses to act in a senseless manner, his “way” is “right,” not foolish. He is unwilling to accept correction or to change his course of action for the better. A person who “listens to counsel” is “wise,” for he is willing to be instructed, to follow sound advice, and to change his course in keeping with the good counsel he may be given. (12:15; see the Notes section.)

A foolish person, one who does not use good judgment, will quickly (literally, “in a day”) be irritated or angered over slights and insults, giving rise to quarreling and intensified hostility. The prudent individual, however, covers over or disregards “disgrace” or insult, not allowing himself to lash out against persons who are disrespectful to him. By not reacting in anger, the prudent one avoids conflicts. (12:16)

The opening phrase of the Hebrew text may literally be rendered, “One who breathes out faithfulness will make known righteousness.” In view of the mention of a witness in the next phrase, the “one who breathes out faithfulness” is a person whose testimony is trustworthy. He makes known what is right or truthful. According to the Septuagint, a righteous person declares what is trustworthy. A false or lying witness (the witness of unrighteous or unjust things [LXX]), however, speaks deceit. (12:17)

Spoken words can be hurtful. Without giving any thought to the injurious effect his words could have, a person’s rash speaking may be like the “thrusts of a sword. The Septuagint refers to individuals who, when speaking, “wound with a sword.” When used to give comfort and encouragement, however, the “tongue of wise persons” effects “healing.” (12:18)

Truth endures, for it always remains unchanged. Therefore, the “lip of truth” (or the lip used in making truthful expressions) is firmly established forever. For all time to come, the utterances of this lip will continue to be true. The Septuagint says that “true” or “truthful lips” keep “testimony” straight or give honest testimony. A “tongue of falsehood” or a lying tongue is for just a moment. The lies this tongue expresses will be exposed and cannot endure. According to the Septuagint, a “hasty witness has an unjust tongue” or a tongue that does not express what is right or honest. (12:19)

“Deceit” is in the “heart,” the reasoning, or the inner self of persons who devise “evil.” They scheme to take advantage of others and incite conflict and hostility. Individuals who “counsel peace” or promote the peace or well-being of others have joy. Their joy comes from the good effect their sound advice has on responsive ones. (12:20)

The “righteous one” will not experience the injurious effects that come from unjust and dishonest deeds. While ill of this kind “does not meet up with the righteous one,” wicked persons “are filled with bad.” They suffer the consequences from their lawless conduct. (12:21; see the Notes section.)

“Lips of falsehood” (“lying lips” [LXX]), or lips used to lie and deceive, are an “abomination to YHWH” (the “Lord” [LXX]). He loathes lies and deception, but he takes delight in those who act faithfully, conducting themselves as honest and truthful persons. (12:22)

A “prudent man covers” or conceals “knowledge.” He does not make a showy display of what he knows or try to impress others as being exceptionally wise. The “heart of senseless ones,” however, “proclaims folly.” Their failure to use their reasoning faculties aright reveals that nothing of value can be gained from them. Everything that issues from their “heart,” their mind, or their thoughts is foolishness. Others can recognize this even before senseless persons say anything. (12:23)

The “hand of diligent ones [chosen ones (LXX)] will rule [easily prevail or exercise authority (LXX)].” Diligent individuals were valuable members of their community, and their work contributed to the welfare of fellow citizens. As persons occupying a position of authority or performing essential services, they would not have been considered for conscription as forced laborers for royal projects. The slack hand, or the man who was not diligent in the use of his hand or ability, would not be needed in the community and would “come to be for forced labor.” The Septuagint rendering expresses a different thought. Deceitful persons “will come to be for plunder” or captivity (to be used as slaves). (12:24)

“Worry in the heart of a man weighs him down, and a good word gladdens him.” Anxiety has a depressing effect on a person, but a kindly word or a message conveying good news can bring cheer to one who is downcast. According to the Septuagint rendering, a “fearful word,” or a message that gives rise to fear, “disturbs the heart of a just man, but a good message gladdens him.” (12:25; see the Notes section.)

There is uncertainty about what the “righteous one” is described as doing. The Hebrew verb tur can mean “search out,” “spy out,” or “seek out,” and the Hebrew noun meré‘a designates a “friend,” “companion,” or “confidant.” That a righteous person would “spy out” a friend would be an act out of the ordinary. Therefore, renderings of this proverb commonly follow emendations. (12:26)

One emendation is to read the Hebrew noun for “friend” (meré‘a) as the noun meaning “pasture” (mir‘éh), but “spying out” or “seeking out” one’s own “pasture” would not be an activity limited to upright persons. Moreover, the emendation does not provide a contrast with the next phrase about the “way of wicked ones.” The “way of wicked ones leads them astray.” (12:26)

Many modern translations contain renderings that follow other emendations. “The just man surpasses his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” (NAB) “A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” (NIV) “The righteous are freed from evil, but the wicked take a path that leads astray.” (REB) “The righteous gives good advice to friends, but the way of the wicked leads astray.” (NRSV) “The upright shows the way to a friend; the way of the wicked leads them astray.” (NJB) Possibly the basic thought is that upright persons would provide good direction or advice to a friend, whereas corrupt individuals follow a way that deviates from the right course and also lead others astray. (12:26; see the Notes section.)

Depending on the context, the Hebrew word remiyyáh can relate either to “slackness” or “deceit.” According to the Septuagint, a deceitful man will not be successful in the hunt, suggesting that he will not be able to benefit from the efforts he expends to attain his objectives. Modern translations commonly render the text in keeping with the meaning “slackness.” “The lazy hunter puts up no game.” (REB) “A negligent man never has game to roast.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “The lazy man does not roast his game.” (NIV) Slackness or laziness does not produce results. The lazy man will not catch prey and, therefore, will have no game to roast. As for the diligent person — “precious wealth.” There is no verb in the Hebrew text. This accounts for various renderings in modern translations. “But the diligent man prizes his possessions.” (NIV) “Those who are diligent reap a rich harvest.” (REB) “But the wealth of the diligent man is great.” (NAB) “Diligence is anyone’s most precious possession.” (NJB) “A hard worker is a valuable treasure.” (CEV) The Septuagint rendering also requires the addition of a verb, “But a pure man — a precious possession.” (12:27)

“In the path [ways (LXX)] of righteousness — life, and the journey of its pathway — to death.” Upright conduct leads to life, shielding one from acting in ways that could lead to a premature death. The concluding phrase needs additional wording to convey a meaningful thought. Possibly the reference is to “injustice” or “badness.” The ultimate end for those who engage in corrupt deeds is death. According to the Septuagint rendering, the “ways of resentful ones [or persons who bear grudges] — to death,” indicating that their ways have death, not life, in view. (12:28)

Notes

In verse 6, the Septuagint does not include the reference to lying in wait for blood but says that the “words of the impious” or ungodly ones are “deceitful.”

After the words that correspond to those of the Hebrew text, the Septuagint text of verse 11 contains an additional proverb. The Septuagint indicates that one who takes pleasure in drinking wine “will leave behind dishonor in his fortresses.” The mention of “fortresses” suggests that the reference is to a ruler, for ordinary citizens would not possess fortresses. If a ruler did not diligently attend to the affairs of state but occupied himself in drinking and feasting, the legacy he would leave behind in his fortresses would be one of disgrace.

In verse 13 of the Septuagint rendering, there is an addition that has no corresponding words in the extant Hebrew text. “One who looks gentle [or one who is not contentious] will be shown mercy, but one who meets [others] in the gates will afflict souls.” An individual who met others in the “gates,” or in the open area adjacent to the city gates where elders handled legal cases, describes a person who was unwilling to settle differences amicably but who brought distress to the “souls” or persons with whom he had disputes that he wanted elders of the city to settle in his favor.

In verse 15, the Septuagint rendering is similar to the reading of the extant Hebrew text. The “ways of senseless ones” are “straight before them” (leading in the right direction as far as they are concerned), “but a wise person listens to counsel.”

The Septuagint rendering of the initial phrase of verse 21 differs somewhat from the extant Hebrew text. Regarding the righteous one, the Septuagint says that “nothing unjust will be pleasing” to him.

In verse 23, the Septuagint rendering differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It refers to a “discerning” or an “intelligent” man as a “throne of perception,” perhaps meaning a noble source of wisdom. There is a possibility, however, that the Septuagint translator read the Hebrew verb for “cover” (kasáh) as the Hebrew noun for “throne” (kisséh; kissé’). The Septuagint concludes the verse with the thought that the “heart” of senseless persons “will meet with curses.” This would be because foolish individuals are the source of worthless or injurious things.

In verse 25 of the extant Hebrew text, there is a grammatical problem. The Hebrew words for “heart” and for “man” are masculine gender, but the pronominal suffixes are feminine gender. For this reason, the text needs to be emended to correct the grammar, and the pronominal suffix could then be understood to apply either to the “heart” or to the “man.” “Anxiety in a man’s heart depresses it, but a kindly word makes it glad.” (NAB) “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” (NIV) The Septuagint rendering provides a basis for the application to a man.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 26 differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It may be translated, “A just arbitrator will be his own friend, but the decisions of impious [or ungodly] ones [are] unreasonable” or unjust. “Evils [or calamities] will pursue those sinning, and the way of impious [or ungodly] ones will lead them astray.”