Proverbs 21:1-31

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A king’s “heart,” or his faculty of thinking and reasoning, is like “streams of water” that provide growing crops with needed moisture wherever they are directed to flow. In his hand or under his control, the “heart,” mind, thinking or reasoning of the king may be turned in a manner that YHWH desires for the accomplishment of his purpose. According to the Septuagint, God will incline the king’s heart to wherever he decides to turn it. (21:1)

“In his eyes” or view, a man may regard his “way” (or the course he pursues) to be right. According to the Septuagint, he “seems righteous to himself.” This, however, is often not the case. YHWH is the one who sees what a man truly is in his inner life, for he “weighs” or examines the “heart” — the inmost self, motivation, and thoughts of the individual. The Septuagint says that the “Lord guides hearts.” (2l:2)

Offering a sacrifice may merely have been an outward act and not a genuine expression of devotion to God. To YHWH, therefore, action that springs from “righteousness and judgment” or justice (“to do right [or just] things and to be truthful” [LXX]) is more acceptable or pleasing than sacrifice (“blood of sacrifices” [LXX]). (21:3)

The “lamp of the wicked [impious or ungodly ones (LXX)]” is pride — “haughty eyes” and an “arrogant heart.” They act according to a contemptuous view of others and are arrogant at heart or haughty in thought and in their inmost selves. Therefore, their “lamp” is “sin,” for the course of life their arrogance illuminates for them is corrupt. (21:4; see the Notes section.)

Diligent persons are willing to work honestly to attain their objectives. Therefore, their plans commonly work out to their benefit. Individuals who are hasty, not giving careful consideration to their course in life, and who greedily seek to gain as much as possible for the least amount of effort or through corrupt means, are headed for want or the loss of everything they may have acquired. (21:5; see the Notes section.)

A man who acquires “treasures” or riches with a “false tongue” or with deceitful words may lose them when he is exposed as a liar and a cheat. At that time, the “treasures” will be like a puff of air that is driven away and disappears. In view of the retribution that befalls liars, they are described as persons “seeking death.” (21:6; see the Notes section.)

The “despoiling” or “robbing” in which wicked persons (the “impious” or ungodly ones) engage “will drive them away” to their ruin. This is the inevitable consequence for their unwillingness to deal justly (“ruin will be hosted by impious ones” [LXX]). According to the Septuagint, ungodly persons do not want to do righteous or just things. (21:7)

The “way of a guilty [wazár] man” (or the life course he pursues) is “crooked” or deviates markedly from what is right and just. A man who is “pure” or blameless maintains “straight” or upright conduct. (21:8; see the Notes section.)

It would be “better to live in a corner of a roof [in the open (LXX)],” or alone and exposed to the elements, than to share a house with a “contentious woman,” having to endure continual nagging and quarreling. The Septuagint rendering does not mention a “contentious woman.” It identifies the more distressing situation to be that of one’s residing in “plastered [rooms] with injustice,” or where unrighteousness exists, and in a “shared house.” (21:9)

The “soul of a wicked man,” or he himself, desires evil or whatever, though harmful to others, is to his seeming advantage. His “neighbor” or fellow will find no favor or compassion “in his eyes.” The Septuagint says that the “soul of the impious one,” or the ungodly person, “will not be shown mercy by anyone of men.” (21:10)

When a ridiculer is punished, the “simpleton,” a person without the benefit of age and experience, becomes wise, for it makes him aware of the serious consequences to which senseless conduct leads. A “wise man,” when instructed, “gains knowledge,” for he values the instruction, makes it his own, and lets it guide him. (21:11; see the Notes section.)

In the Hebrew text, the expression for “righteous one” is an adjective. It is commonly translated to apply to God, the “Righteous One,” who observes the “house of the wicked one” and also hurls “wicked ones to ruin.” A righteous person would not be in a position to overthrow wicked ones, but a just ruler could do so. Therefore, it is possible that the reference is to a righteous ruler. When the expression “righteous one” is understood to apply to any upright person, the reference to overthrowing wicked ones could be interpreted to indicate that the righteous person knows that God is the one who would do this. “The just man appraises the house of the wicked: there is one who brings down the wicked to ruin.” (NAB) According to the Septuagint, the reference is to a “righteous person,”and the translation departs significantly from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. A “righteous person understands the heart of the impious ones,” knowing the nature of their thoughts and objectives. “He despises the impious ones in [their] evils” or on account of their corrupt practices. (21:12)

A man who is in position to come to the aid of those in need but who “closes his ear to the cry of the poor,” refusing to help them, “will himself cry out and not be heard” when he comes to be in a distressing situation. People who know about the individual’s callous disregard for the afflicted will not be inclined to render assistance, and God will not listen to his pleas for help. The Septuagint indicates that there will not be anyone listening to him. (21:13)

There were times when “gifts” or “bribes” served one as a means for deliverance from a distressing or an unfavorable situation. A “secret gift” could allay anger, and a “bribe in the bosom, strong [or fierce] rage.” The bribe would be concealed in the upper fold of a garment and be given to the angry party privately. With the giving of the present or the bribe taking place in secret, no one would know the reason for the change in the attitude of the angered person, and there would be no embarrassment about what had taken place. The Septuagint says that the one who is “sparing with gifts arouses strong rage.” (21:14)

To render justice is a joy for the “righteous one”; and to evildoers, it causes dismay. Upright individuals found delight in doing what was just or right. To evildoers, justice was something terrifying, for it was contrary to their objectives. The Septuagint concludes with the thought that a “holy,” pure, or blameless person was someone “unclean to evildoers.” (21:15)

A man (an “earthling”) who strays “from the way of understanding,” engaging in senseless conduct, will inevitably or prematurely “rest” or find himself “in the assembly of the dead” (literally, the Rephaim). In this context, the designation Rephaim may refer to those who had descended to the realm of the dead like the very tall and powerful Rephaim warriors whom David and his men killed in battle. (Compare 1 Samuel 17:4-7; 1 Chronicles 20:4-8.) The Septuagint refers to the “assembly of giants.” (21:16)

A man who “loves pleasure,” or is extravagant in spending his resources to satisfy his sensual desires, will end up in poverty. One who “loves wine and oil,” engaging in sumptuous feasting and drinking and anointing himself with costly ointments, “will not be rich.” His hedonistic way of life will diminish whatever resources he may have. The Septuagint appears to indicate why a man may find himself in poverty. A “needy man loves merriment,” or having a good time, “being fond of wine and oil in abundance [literally, in wealth].” (21:17)

Corrupt individuals have no regard for others and are willing to destroy upright people whenever it is to their advantage. Therefore, at the time divine judgment is executed, the life of righteous ones is preserved at the cost of the lives of the wicked. This appears to be the thought expressed in the proverb. The “wicked” are a “ransom for the righteous, and the faithless,” untrustworthy, or dishonest one, “for the upright one.” According to the Septuagint, the “lawless one” is a “ransom [or the refuse left from a cleansing process] for the righteous one.” (21:18)

It is “better to live in a wilderness,” or in isolation and discomfort, than with a “contentious and vexatious [quarrelsome, babbling, and short-tempered (LXX)] woman.” It would be far worse for a man to be continually faced with quarreling, complaining, nagging, and angry outbursts. (21:19)

A wise man makes good use of his resources and is industrious. Therefore, “precious treasure and oil” are in his residence. He lacks nothing. In the case of the “foolish man,” he “swallows” or wastes whatever he may have. (21:20; see the Notes section.)

One who pursues “righteousness and loyalty,” kindness, compassionate concern, or “mercy” (LXX), or earnestly seeks to conduct himself in an upright, kind, compassionate, and trustworthy manner, “will find life, “righteousness, and honor.” His active concern for others will contribute to the preservation of his life and make it truly meaningful. His righteous or just dealings with fellow humans will contribute to his being treated justly or honestly and honorably. The Septuagint says that a “way of righteousness and mercy will find life and glory” or honor. (21:21)

A “wise man,” applying his fund of knowledge effectively, was able to scale a “city of mighty ones” or warriors (“fortified cities” [LXX]) and to bring down the stronghold of [their] trust, or the stronghold on which they (the “impious” or ungodly ones [LXX]) relied for protection. This indicates that wisdom is stronger than might. (21:22)

The man who “keeps,” guards, or controls “his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul” or himself “out of troubles.” He does not say senseless things nor express himself in ways that insult and anger others. (21:23)

The “name” given to a “haughty, insolent” man is “scoffer,” identifying him as a person who has contempt for others and who ridicules whatever or whoever is not to his liking. According to the Septuagint, an “insolent,” “stubborn,” and “boastful” man “is called a pest,” or a pestilent fellow, and one who bears grudges, a “transgressor” or a lawbreaker. The final phrase in the Hebrew text could be understood to refer to the haughty, insolent man as one who acts with the “fury of arrogance,” quickly taking offense and lashing out in anger. Modern translations vary in their renderings. He “acts in a frenzy of insolence.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Overweening conceit marks all he does.” (REB) He “acts with scornful effrontery.” (NAB) (21:24)

A sluggard may have a “desire,” or a need that must be filled, but he is unwilling to use his hands to labor. According to the Septuagint, “his hands prefer not to do anything.” Therefore, unfulfilled “desire” (“desires” [LXX]) “kills” him. (21:25)

Based on the previous verse, the sluggard desires earnestly (literally, “desires desire”) “all the day” or continually. He has many wants but does not do anything to meet his pressing needs, and he has nothing to give to the poor. The Septuagint says that the “impious” or ungodly one “desires evil desires the whole day.” He is continually focused on trying to satisfy his corrupt cravings. The righteous person, however, is in a position to give to the needy and holds nothing back. According to the Septuagint, the righteous one has mercy and is unsparingly compassionate. (21:26)

To the “Lord” [LXX], the “sacrifice [sacrifices [LXX]) of the wicked” (the impious or ungodly ones [LXX]) is an abomination or something loathsome, for they displease him. No sacrifice of theirs is acceptable. The Septuagint indicates the reason for God’s disapproval as being that ungodly individuals bring their sacrifices unlawfully, not complying with his law regarding acceptable offerings. According to the extant Hebrew text, it would be even more abhorrent if the individual presented a sacrifice while engaging in corrupt practices or while scheming to act unjustly to advance his base objectives. (21:27)

A “lying witness will perish,” for he would be subjected to the punishment that would be inflicted on the innocent party if his lying testimony had been believed. (Deuteronomy 19:16-21) A “man who listens will speak in perpetuity.” This could mean that a man who truly pays attention to what he hears will testify truthfully, and his words will endure as trustworthy testimony. The Hebrew text, however, does not express this thought explicitly. Therefore, translators vary in their interpretive renderings. “One who really heard will testify with success.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “A good listener will testify successfully.” (NRSV) “A truthful witness will speak on.” (REB) “He who listens will finally have his say.” (NAB) “No one who knows how to listen will ever be silenced.” (NJB) “Only a reliable witness can do the job.” (CEV) “Whoever listens to him [a false witness] will be destroyed forever.” (NIV) According to the Septuagint, an “obedient man” is cautious in his speaking, exercising care in what he says. (21:28)

A wicked man is shameless and deceptive, putting on a bold or brazen face, resorting to bluff and bluster to conceal his base objectives. According to the Septuagint, an “impious” or ungodly “man resists boldly [or impudently] with his face.” What the upright person does in relation to “his ways” depends on which reading of the Hebrew text is followed and whether the “ways” are regarded as those of the upright person or those of the wicked man. The upright person could be considered as understanding the direction that the wicked man is following and is not deceived. Another possible meaning is that the upright man “will establish his ways” or will be secure in the course that he is determined to pursue. It could also be that an upright man is being represented as giving careful consideration to his ways before starting out on a particular course of action. Renderings of translations vary in the meanings they convey. “The upright man discerns his course.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “An upright man gives thought to his ways.” (NIV) “One who is upright looks to his ways.” (REB) “The honest it is whose steps are firm.” (NJB) The Septuagint says that an “upright man himself understands his ways.” He knows where he is going or heading. (21:29)

There is “no wisdom, no understanding [no courage (LXX)], no counsel, before YHWH.” Nothing that is of human origin can succeed if it is in opposition to him or to his purpose. The Septuagint rendering may be understood to indicate that the impious or ungodly ones are without wisdom, courage, and counsel. (21:30)

Anciently, horses were used extensively in warfare. Therefore, the “horse” is referred to as being prepared for the “day of battle.” The Israelites, however, were not to rely on horses for their security but were to put their trust in YHWH, for “salvation” or “deliverance” is from him. According to the Septuagint rendering, “help is from the Lord.” (21:31)

Notes

The Septuagint rendering of verse 4 focuses on the individual. A “high-minded” or haughty man is “bold-hearted” or self-reliant in “arrogance.”

The text of verse 5 is not included in the Septuagint.

In verse 6, the Septuagint refers to the deceitful individual as pursuing emptiness “into the snares of death.”

There is uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew adjective wazár that is commonly rendered as “guilty” and only appears in verse 8 and nowhere else in the extant Hebrew text. This adjective has also been thought to modify the Hebrew noun for “way.” “The way of a man may be tortuous and strange.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) In the Septuagint, the wording relates to what God does. To persons who are “crooked,” engaging in lawless practices, “God sends crooked ways,” letting them experience the calamitous results to which their acts lead. His “works,” however, are “pure and straight” or upright. Whatever God does or may permit will never be defiled but will always be right.

In verse 11, the rendering of the Septuagint departs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “When an intemperate man is punished, the guileless” or blameless one “becomes more prudent,” benefiting from seeing the consequences from wayward conduct. “But by understanding, a wise man will receive knowledge.” Being open to learning and valuing knowledge, the wise man will obtain it.

The wording in verse 20 of the Septuagint rendering differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. A “desirable treasure will rest upon the mouth of the wise one, but foolish men will swallow it.” The “desirable treasure” could be the sound advice that proceeds from the mouth of a wise man and that treasure is always available for use. That treasure does not benefit senseless men, for they swallow it like food and do not retain it for future application or use.