Proverbs 22:1-29

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A (“fine” [LXX]) “name” or an excellent reputation is a more desirable choice than abundant wealth. “Good (LXX) favor,” or for one to be favorably regarded as a noble person, is “better than silver and gold.” Wealth and precious metals cannot buy a good reputation nor earn the favorable view of others. (22:1)

In the daily affairs of life, a rich man and a poor man meet, and outwardly the difference between them becomes readily apparent. Indicating that YHWH (the “Lord” [LXX]) does not regard the men differently (as humans commonly do) and cares about them, he is identified as “making them all [both (LXX)].” (22:2)

A prudent man sees calamity or a threatening situation and wisely hides himself from danger. The simpleton, however, does not take any precaution, passes where the troublesome situation is developing, and suffers the consequences. (22:3; see the Notes section.)

The words about the “reward” or “consequence for humility” are not linked to the rest of the proverb with a verb or a conjunction. If the conjunction “and” is understood to follow the Hebrew word for “humility,” the thought would be that humility and a “fear of YHWH [the Lord (LXX)],” or a reverential regard for him and a wholesome dread of acting contrary to his will, lead to having “wealth” (from wise use of resources and diligent labor), “glory” or honor (from living uprightly), and “life” (a meaningful life and the avoidance of a premature death from senseless acts or corrupt conduct). If the supplied verb after “humility” is understood to be “is,” the meaning would be that having a “fear of YHWH” leads to additional benefits — “wealth and glory and life.” The Septuagint identifies the “fear of the Lord and wealth and glory and life” to be the “generation,” offspring, or products of wisdom.” (22:4)

In the “way” or in the course that a “crooked” or corrupt person pursues, there are “thorns [and] snares.” It is a very hazardous way of life, for thorns can be hurtful and snares can capture and kill. The Septuagint refers to “thistles and snares” as being “in crooked ways.” The man who “guards his soul” or himself “will keep far away” from injurious thorns and harmful snares that are inherent in the course of lawless individuals. He is not tempted to adopt their evil practices. (22:5)

Usually, a boy who is trained in the way he should go or in the right way for him to conduct himself will not depart from it even when he is old. Once he recognizes the rightness of a particular course and the benefit from following it, he will not allow himself to be persuaded to change direction, adopting an injurious way of life in later years. (22:6; see the Notes section.)

In view of their power and influence, the rich rule over the poor, often having them perform menial service for them. Similarly, a borrower is a slave to the lender, for he is under obligation to him to repay the debt, placing him in an inferior position and subjecting him to the unfavorable consequences that could result if circumstances made it impossible for him to fulfill his obligation. The Septuagint expresses the concluding thought differently. “Servants will lend to their own masters.” (22:7)

One who sows “unrighteousness” or injustice “will reap emptiness,” worthlessness, or calamity, for nothing good can come from wrongdoing. Although a wrongdoer may be infuriated, the “rod of his anger will fail.” His hateful, oppressive, or corrupt dealings will not have abiding success. Retribution will inevitably catch up with him. (22:8; see the Notes section.)

The individual who is “good of eye,” looking upon needy ones compassionately, “will be blessed.” Besides having pity, he responds compassionately with aid, generously giving “his bread” to the lowly, poor, or afflicted one. (22:9; see the Notes section.)

With insults, a ridiculer provokes quarrels and fights. Therefore, driving him away can end contention, legal disputes, and abuse. The thought expressed in the Septuagint departs somewhat from the wording of the extant Hebrew text. “Expel a pest [or pestilent fellow] from the assembly, and with him quarreling will depart, for when he sits in the assembly he insults everyone.” (22:10)

To “love purity of heart” denotes to desire to be undefiled in thought, motivation, and the inmost self. A just king or ruler would choose an honest, trustworthy man as his companion for the “grace of his lips” or the gracious, thoughtful, and praiseworthy words his lips would be used to express. (22:11; see the Notes section.)

The “eyes of YHWH [the Lord (LXX)] safeguard knowledge.” His focus is on the use of knowledge for the accomplishment of his purpose. This applied knowledge is safeguarded from failing to attain the predetermined objective. YHWH overthrows the “words of the treacherous one,” not permitting that one’s expressed intentions to succeed. The treacherous individual’s plans or schemes are doomed. According to the Septuagint, a “transgressor” or lawless person “despises words,” suggesting that the individual has contempt for insightful words that would call upon him to abandon his corrupt way of life. (22:12)

A sluggard comes up with preposterous excuses to avoid work. He is represented as claiming that a lion is loose on the streets and as maintaining that he risks being killed in the squares of the city. The Septuagint quotes him as saying that a “lion [is] on the roads and murderers [are] in the squares.” (22:13)

In this context, the expression “strange women” designates women who prostitute themselves. Their “mouth” (or the seductive speech that proceeds from the mouth) is a “deep pit,” for a man who yields to the seduction is bound to experience injury. A man with whom YHWH is angry or whom he has rejected will fall into this “deep pit,” for he will experience the bitter consequences from involvement with a woman who is not his wife. (22:14; see the Notes section.)

In view of his inexperience and curiosity about forbidden things, a boy may be inclined to engage in foolish and risky behavior. “Foolishness is bound up in [his] heart,” or the inclination to act senselessly may have a strong hold on his inner self. The “rod of discipline,” or the needed and appropriate correction, “will drive [foolishness] far from him.” (22:15; see the Notes section.)

For a time, men who commit fraud or who oppress others may have a measure of success. Eventually, however, they may be exposed and suffer serious consequences for their dishonesty. Possibly the proverb relates to this. A man who “oppresses” a lowly or poor individual to make gain or to acquire possessions for himself and the one who gives to the rich to procure advantages for himself will in time experience “lack.” This and other meanings are reflected in the renderings of modern translations. “He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich — both come to poverty.” (NIV) “Cheat the poor to make profit or give gifts to the rich — either way you lose.” (CEV) “To profit by withholding what is due [possibly their wages] to the poor is like making gifts to the rich — pure loss.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Oppression of the poor brings gain, but giving to the rich leads only to penury.” (REB) “He who oppresses the poor to enrich himself will yield up his gains to the rich as sheer loss.” (NAB) The Septuagint says that the man who “oppresses the needy one makes many things his own but gives to a rich person” to make them (the things he made his own) “less” or to make them at the expense of the needy one. (22:16)

The “words of wise persons” can benefit one, for the knowledge the wise impart can provide valuable guidance for one’s life. Therefore, the admonition of the proverb is, “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge.” To apply the “heart” would mean to give full attention to the knowledge the wise teacher possessed and imparted. (22:17; see the Notes section.)

The man who kept the words of wise persons “in his belly” or his inner self would find this to be pleasant, for he wold be guided to conduct himself in a manner that would promote his well-being. Moreover, he, in turn, could share the beneficial knowledge with others, for the words of wise persons would be “established upon his lips” (as if residing there and always ready to be expressed). Regarding the “words of wise persons,” the Septuagint says, “If you put them into your heart [or your inmost self], they will gladden you at the same time upon your lips,” giving rise to the joy that comes from being able to share with others knowledge that can benefit them. (22:18)

The wise teacher imparted knowledge so that the one accepting it would come to have his trust (“hope” [LXX]) in YHWH (the Lord [LXX]), looking to him for aid and guidance. According to the Septuagint, God “may make known to you his way” or the course that he approves and that will never lead to disappointment. (22:19)

The wise teacher had committed proverbial sayings to writing, imparting “admonitions and knowledge.” If an emended reading of the Hebrew text is followed, the reference is to the writing of “thirty sayings.” The extant Hebrew text could be translated “three days ago,” which is commonly considered to mean that the writing had already been completed. Translations vary in their renderings. “Here I have written out for you thirty sayings, full of knowledge and wise advice.” (REB) “I have written thirty sayings filled with sound advice.” (CEV) “Indeed, I wrote down for you a threefold lore, wise counsel.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) The Septuagint directs the admonition to the one being taught, “But you also write them [the words of wise persons] for yourself threefold for counsel and knowledge upon the surface of your heart.” (22:20)

The wise teacher gave the reason for his having written thoughts that imparted “admonitions and knowledge.” It was to show the trustworthiness of truth, equipping the instructed one “to bring back words of truth” (a “true report” [REB]; a “true answer” [NRSV]; “the right words” [CEV])to those who had sent him on a mission. In the Septuagint, the wise teacher is represented as saying, “Therefore, I teach you a true saying and good knowledge to obey” and “to reply with words of truth to the ones questioning you.” (22:21)

Ruthless men often took advantage of lowly or poor individuals, depriving them of the little they had. Therefore, the admonition of the proverb is that one should not rob the needy one in his destitute or vulnerable state (or because he is poor) nor should one “crush the afflicted one in the gate.” In the open area near the city gate, elders functioned as judges. To crush the afflicted one would have meant to render an unjust judgment against him. The Septuagint says, “Do not do violence to someone poor, for he is needy, and do not dishonor a weak [or afflicted] person at the gates.” (22:22)

Those who defraud a poor person will have to face God in his capacity as judge. YHWH is the one who is represented as pleading the cause of the poor. Individuals who “rob” the needy are the ones from whom YHWH will “rob” their “soul” or their life, depriving them of existence. Although the Septuagint refers to the Lord as arguing the needy one’s case, it continues with the words, “and you will deliver your soul [or life] from reprisal.” (22:23)

Association with anyone given to anger or with a man known for outbursts of rage should be avoided. (22:24) Keeping company with a short-tempered man can lead to one’s adopting “his ways,” being quick to lash out in anger. The companionship will prove to be a snare for a man’s “soul,” for him as a person, or for his life. (22:25)

The “striking of hands” or the shaking of hands served to make agreements. This was to be avoided when it involved making oneself responsible for the repayment of someone else’s loan. According to the Septuagint, one was not to let oneself be shamed (literally, “shaming the face”) into going surety. (22:26) When repayment is demanded at a future time, the man who agreed to provide security may find himself without the required funds. Therefore, the lender would take away his bed (“the bed under [his] ribs” [LXX]). (22:27)

Moving or removing the ancient boundary marker that forefathers had set up was a method used to steal land. The proverb is directed against this dishonest practice. (22:28)

A skilled craftsman is in high demand. Therefore, kings or rulers would choose him to work on their projects. Instead of being a laborer for commoners, he would stand “before the face of kings” or in the presence of kings. According to the Septuagint, an “observant man and one skilled in his works should stand beside kings [or serve them] and should not stand beside [or serve] lazy men.” (22:29)

Notes

In verse 3, the Septuagint rendering differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. A “prudent person, seeing a wicked person severely punished is himself disciplined,” instructed, or corrected, “but the senseless ones, passing by [or taking no note], suffered loss.”

The Septuagint does not include a rendering for the words of verse 6 of the extant Hebrew text.

According to verse 8 in the Septuagint, the sower of worthlessness, besides reaping bad or injurious things, “will complete the plague of his works” or experience the unmitigated calamitous consequences of his corrupt deeds. The Septuagint then adds wording that is not found in the extant Hebrew text. “God blesses a happy and generous man, but the worthlessness,” emptiness, or vanity of “his works he will end.” This could mean that God would bring an end to any deeds of the generous man that could be worthless or accomplish nothing beneficial.

In verse 9, the Septuagint adds additional words after mentioning that the one showing mercy to the poor would himself be nourished in view of his giving his “own bread loaves to the poor.” “The one giving gifts gains victory” or success “and honor” (probably because of his generosity). One possible meaning for the concluding phrase about removing the “soul of the ones possessing” is that, through purchase, the “soul” or life is taken from its possessors.

The primary focus of verse 11 in the Septuagint is on God, and it then concludes with a reference to a king. The “Lord loves holy [or pure] hearts, and all blameless ones are acceptable to him. A king shepherds with [his] lips,” providing guidance for his subjects with the words his lips express.

In verse 14, the Septuagint does not mention “strange women.” It refers to the mouth of a “transgressor” or “lawless person” as being a “deep pit.” After wording that basically corresponds to that of the extant Hebrew text, the Septuagint adds, “Bad ways are before a man, and he does not love to be turned away from them, although it is necessary to turn away from a crooked and bad way.”

The Septuagint rendering of verse 15 refers to the reason for the adherence of foolishness to the heart of a boy. “But the rod and discipline [are] far away from him.”

In verse 17, the rendering of the Septuagint differs somewhat from the wording of the extant Hebrew text. “Incline your ear to the words of the wise and hear my word, and apply your heart so you may know that they are good.” The one giving heartfelt attention to the wise words would come to recognize their value.