Proverbs 18:1-24

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“One who isolates himself” or cuts himself off from other people, seeks his own “desire.” Viewing his own judgment or insight as superior to theirs, he “breaks out against,” rejects, or disdains all sound judgment. (18:1; see the Notes section.)

A senseless man does not want to change his life for the better and, therefore, takes no pleasure in understanding or discernment. He is pleased with his foolish reasoning and finds delight in having his “heart uncover itself,” revealing the emptiness of his thoughts when expressing his opinions on matters he does not understand. According to the Septuagint, one without sense “has no need for wisdom, for he is rather led by senselessness.” (18:2)

Whenever a wicked man makes his entrance, “contempt comes also, and disgrace with dishonor.” This could mean that the corrupt man will inevitably express himself in an insulting and hateful manner. It is also possible that others may regard him with disdain. Dishonor accompanies disgrace, with individuals who find themselves in a position of dishonor often being disgraced with insulting words and actions. The Septuagint refers to an impious or ungodly man as coming “into a depth of evils” or the lowest state of debauchery. When that happens, he pays no attention, being without any pangs of conscience. “But dishonor and scorn come upon him.” (18:3)

The “words of a man’s mouth” are “deep waters”; a “flowing stream” is the “fountain of wisdom.” If this proverb expresses a contrast, the meaning could be that the words an ordinary man may speak are lacking in clarity. They are comparable to “deep waters” that hide whatever may lie beneath their surface. Like a flowing stream, a “fountain of wisdom” provides an unfailing source of good and clear advice and guidance. It is also possible that the “words” are being represented as coming from the “fountain of wisdom.” Both meanings can be found in translations that are more specific than is the Hebrew text. “The words from a man’s mouth are deep waters, but the source of wisdom is a flowing brook.” (NAB) “Deep waters, such are human words: a gushing stream, the utterance of wisdom.” (NJB) “Words of wisdom are a stream that flows from a deep fountain.” (CEV) The Septuagint rendering is, The “word in a man’s heart [is] deep water, and a river and a fountain of life bubble up.” (18:4)

To show partiality to a wicked, corrupt, or guilty man is “not good,” for it is a serious perversion of justice. A failure to render a just judgment for a righteous or guiltless man is likewise not good but evil. The Septuagint says that it is “not good” to flatter (literally, admire the face of) an impious or ungodly man nor is it “pure to pervert justice in judgment.” (18:5)

A fool misuses his lips to express thoughts that give rise to quarreling. His “mouth” calls for “strokes.” The senseless or deceptive words and lies that proceed from his mouth and the trouble they cause merit his being punished. According to the Septuagint, the “lips of a senseless man lead him into calamities, and his bold mouth summons death.” (18:6)

In view of the senseless words that come out of the mouth of a fool, his “mouth” is “his ruin.” The “lips” he uses to express folly, lies, and deceit are a “snare for his soul” or for him himself. His misused lips prove to be like a snare that seizes him like prey, resulting in his being punished severely. (18:7)

There are people for whom the words of a slanderer or a gossip are like tasty morsels or “things to be swallowed greedily.” To those who listen to the slander or gossip, the words come to be stored within them as if having gone down to the “innermost parts of the belly” or the body. Upon becoming a part of the individual’s memory, the slanderous words may give rise to suspicion, distrust, and hostility. (18:8; see the Notes section.)

A man who is “slack in his work” is a “brother” to one who causes ruin. As a “brother,” the lazy one is in the same class as a destructive man. The indolent man’s failure to work results in loss, for nothing is accomplished during the time he wastes in idleness. Also without needed attention, the things a lazy man may possess deteriorate. (18:9; see the Notes section.)

The expression “name of YHWH” may be understood to mean YHWH himself, the one who bears the name. For persons who look to him for aid in their time of need, he is like a “strong tower” where they can feel secure. YHWH will not fail to sustain them. A righteous man “runs” into this “tower” and receives protection (literally, “is set on high” or is protected as if having been placed in a safe position on an elevated site). When in a distressing situation, an upright man unhesitatingly turns to YHWH in prayer as if running to him for aid, and he is then given what he needs. (18:10; see the Notes section.)

For a rich man, his wealth is his “strong city.” His riches are like a well-fortified city that makes him feel secure, for his wealth enables him to obtain everything that he needs and wants. Even though riches can be lost, he imagines his wealth to be like a high “wall,” a protective wall that cannot be breached or scaled. According to the Septuagint rendering, the “glory” of his substance “casts a great shadow,” suggesting that he has many possessions. (18:11; see the Notes section.)

The “heart of a man” may be lofty or exalted. His arrogant, self-assured attitude is what may precede a “crash” or a plunge into calamity. Before “glory” or “honor” comes, there must first exist “humility.” (18:12)

It would be unwise to reply to a matter or to interrupt the one speaking without first listening to everything that is being presented. The person making a judgment on the basis of limited or insufficient information exposes himself to being considered foolish and being humiliated as an individual lacking in sound judgment. (18:13)

The “spirit of a man,” his mental outlook, or his will to live “can endure his malady” or sickness and any other kind of distress. A “broken spirit” (a downcast or depressed mental state) deprives one of sustaining strength, making it difficult to endure illness or affliction. (18:14; see the Notes section.)

The “heart” of a discerning man “acquires knowledge.” His “heart” or mental faculty imparts increased knowledge to him because he has a desire for it and is willing to expend effort to gain it. The “ear of wise ones” is used for attentive listening and, therefore, proves to be the means by which they find knowledge that they make their own. (18:15)

Anciently, to gain access to a ruler or official, one needed to bring a gift. Therefore, a “gift” is referred to as making an “opening [giving one space (LXX)],” or opening the way for one to be led before “great” or influential people. According to the Septuagint, the gift lets the individual sit among rulers. (18:16)

The first person to present his case in a legal dispute may appear to be “righteous” or in the right. Then his fellow, the other party in the dispute, comes and “searches him through” or “examines him thoroughly.” This may mean that his opponent will respond to what has been said and present testimony to the contrary. The Septuagint indicates that the “righteous one” is an “accuser of himself at the beginning of his speaking, but that “when the opponent gives attention [to the matter], he is reproved.” (18:17)

In cases of disputes that could not be settled, lots were cast to determine who was in the right. The result from casting lots was regarded as final, putting contentions to rest. Even mighty ones were parted from continuing in a state of disputing or hostility. According to the Septuagint, the lot “determines boundaries between rulers.” (18:18)

When a brother is transgressed against, the transgressor will commonly find himself facing an insurmountable barrier to restore the relationship that has been ruined. The brother will prove to be like a “strong city” — a well-fortified city that shuts out all unauthorized entrance. Quarreling can result in entrenched positions that are like the bar of a citadel (or the bar that secures the gate). The Septuagint rendering is more specific than is the extant Hebrew text in conveying a different significance. A “brother” who is “being helped by a brother” is “like a fortified and lofty city and is strong like a securely founded palace.” In view of the elliptical nature of the extant Hebrew text, modern translations convey various meanings for this proverb. “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.” (NIV) “A reluctant brother is more unyielding than a fortress, and quarrels are as stubborn as the bars of a fortress.” (REB) “Making up with a friend you have offended is harder than breaking through a city wall.” (CEV) “A brother is a better defense than a strong city, and a friend is like the bars of a castle.” (NAB) “Help your relatives and they will protect you like a strong city wall, but if you quarrel with them, they will close their doors to you.” (GNT, Second Edition) (18:19)

“From the fruit of a man’s mouth” (or the well-chosen words that proceed from his mouth and with which he is pleased), his “belly,” body, or whole being “will be satisfied.” The “yield of his lips,” or the thoughtful and meaningful expressions that pass his lips, will satisfy the man as would wholesome food. According to the Septuagint rendering, a “man fills his belly with the fruits of his mouth, and he will be satisfied with the fruits of his lips.” (18:20)

“Death and life” are in the “hand” or power of the “tongue,” and those who love the tongue “will eat its fruit.” Using the tongue to deceive, lie, misrepresent, instigate revolt or violence, or to speak rashly or thoughtlessly can create circumstances that lead to death for the one who misuses the tongue and for persons against whom his words are directed or who are aroused to react violently. The words the tongue is used to express can also save lives as when summoning needed help, providing sound advice and guidance, warning others of serious dangers or threats, and presenting truthful testimony for those who have been falsely accused. “To love” the tongue could mean to love to use the tongue to speak. Eating of its “fruit” may then mean experiencing the consequences from the things the tongue is used to express. The Septuagint rendering implies that persons who use the tongue aright are the ones who will benefit. Individuals who control the tongue are identified as the ones who “will eat of its fruits.” (18:21)

According to the context of the Hebrew text, the wife is a “good wife,” and this is the rendering in the Septuagint. A man who “has found a [good] wife” has found what is truly “good” (“favors” [LXX]). In the person of a good wife, he has a trusted companion, a helper, a mother, and a capable manager of household affairs. She proves to be a blessing to him. With YHWH being the ultimate source of blessings, the man enjoys his favor (“receives joyousness from God” [LXX]) as one who has a good wife as a divine gift. (18:22; see the Notes section.)

A poor man repeatedly finds himself in a weak and helpless position, for he is without the power and influence that commonly accompany the possession of riches. He is not in circumstances that allow him to dictate or to demand. The tone he must adopt is one of entreaty as one petitioning for help or needing to be shown mercy. A rich man, however, has power and influence. He can speak in a strong, even harsh, way, for he has everything that he needs and does not have to assume the role of a petitioner. (18:23)

The opening phrase of the Hebrew text is obscure (a “man of companions — to be broken”). It has been interpretively translated in a number of ways. “Some friends don’t help.” (CEV) “Some companions are good only for idle talk.” (REB) “There are friends who point the way to ruin.” (NJB) “Some friends bring ruin on us.” (NAB) “A man of many companions may come to ruin.” (NIV) “Some friendships do not last.” (GNT, Second edition) The proverb concludes with the thought that there is a friend who “sticks closer than a brother” or who is more loyal and devoted than a brother. (18:24)

Notes

The Hebrew text of verse 1 is somewhat obscure, and translators include additional words to convey a comprehensible meaning. In the Septuagint, the significance of the proverb is clearer than in the extant Hebrew text. A “man wanting to separate from friends seeks pretexts, but he will be reproached every time.” This suggests that his excuses are unfounded, leading to his being spoken of disapprovingly. Translators have at times adopted parts of the Septuagint rendering. Others have chosen a specific significance but indicate in footnotes that the meaning of the Hebrew text is uncertain. “In estrangement one seeks pretexts: with all persistence he picks a quarrel.” (NAB) “He who isolates himself pursues his desires; he disdains all competence.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition])“Whoever lives alone follows private whims, and is angered by advice of any kind.” (NJB) “It’s selfish and stupid to think only of yourself and to sneer at people who have sense.” (CEV)

In verse 8, the Septuagint includes a proverb that does not in any way correspond to the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “Lazy ones are cast down by fear,” suggesting that fear restrains indolent persons from busying themselves with work at hand. In their case, they see obstacles (either real or imagined) to be in their way and so they remain idle. The verse concludes with the phrase, “And the souls of unmanly ones will hunger.” They are too fearful to act to obtain what they need.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 9 differs somewhat from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. A man who does not “heal himself by his labors” is a “brother” to one who “injures himself.” The rendering “heal” apparently arose from reading the Hebrew word rapháh (to be slack) as raphá’ (to heal).

The initial phrase of verse 10 in the Septuagint refers to the “name of the Lord” as being of “majestic” or “great strength.”

The first part of verse 11 repeats the words of the initial phrase of verse 15 in chapter 10.

In verse 14, the Septuagint conveys a significance that differs from that of the extant Hebrew text. It says that a “sensible servant calms a man’s wrath.” As for a disheartened man, “who can endure [him]?”

After wording that corresponds to that of the extant Hebrew text in verse 22, the Septuagint adds that the one who “casts out a good wife casts out good things” and that the one who keeps an “adulteress” is “senseless and impious.”

The proverbs found in verses 23 and 24 of the extant Hebrew text are missing from the Septuagint.