Proverbs 24:1-24

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Evil or corrupt men, with deceptive, fraudulent, oppressive, or cruel means, become rich and acquire a powerful or influential position in the community. This may cause others to look enviously upon what they have achieved. Therefore, the exhortation of the proverb is, “[Son (LXX)], do not be envious of evil men, and do not desire to be with them,” the apparent intent being to enjoy like prosperity. (24:1)

The “meditating” or plotting of the “heart” of wicked men is on violence or ruin (on “lies” [LXX); gaining their base objectives through deception). Their “heart” or mental faculty is focused on how they can take advantage of others. They bring ruin to those whom they intend to exploit. “Their lips speak trouble,” for the words their lips express injure others. (24:2)

A “house” or “household” is built by wisdom. Sensible use of resources and diligent labor contribute to prosperity and a stable household. The “house” is established with “understanding.” It rests on a solid foundation when responsible persons have a good grasp of what is required to manage household affairs and are conscientious about doing so. (24:3)

With “knowledge” the “storerooms” of a house or household “are filled with precious and pleasing wealth” or with valuable possessions. Sound knowledge, when applied in caring for household affairs, leads to prosperity. (24:4)

The Hebrew text regarding a “wise man” is somewhat elliptical. It literally reads, “A wise man in strength and a man of knowledge having strong strength.” This could mean that one who is “wise in strength” or exceptionally wise is a man in the true sense of the word, and a man in possession of knowledge and who uses it aright is indeed strong. Various meanings are conveyed in translations. “Wisdom prevails over strength, knowledge over brute force.” (REB) “Wisdom brings strength, and knowledge gives power.” (CEV) “Anyone wise is mighty in force, knowledge confirms someone’s strength.” (NJB) “A wise man is strength; a knowledgeable man exerts power.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Wise warriors are mightier than strong ones, and those who have knowledge than those who have strength.” (NRSV) “A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength.” (NIV) “A wise man is more powerful than a strong man, and a man of knowledge than a man of might.” (NAB) According to the Septuagint, “better is a wise man than a strong one, and a man of insight [or an intelligent man] than one who has extensive tilled land.” (24:5)

Success in waging war depends on skillful direction or good strategic planning. A multitude of counselors or many expert advisers contribute to victory or “deliverance” from enemy threat. The Septuagint says that help comes from a “counseling heart” or a mental faculty capable of formulating sound advice. (24:6)

There is uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew word ra’mόhth. It has been linked to the verb rum, meaning “lift up” or “exalt,” and the noun ra’mόhth is commonly understood to designate “corals.” When ra’mόhth is thought to relate to being “lifted up,” the meaning of the initial phrase would be that “wisdom” is lifted up above the fool or is too lofty for him and out of his reach. Corals were anciently viewed as very precious. A senseless person, however, would not recognize their value. From this standpoint, wisdom would have been like corals to him, for he had no appreciation for wisdom or its inestimable worth. (24:7; see the Notes section.)

Anciently, in the open area adjacent to the city gate, elders handled legal cases, and business transactions were conducted there. It was a location where sound judgment and good reasoning were in evidence, and a fool would not “open his mouth,” for he had nothing of significance to say and his expressions would not be tolerated among sensible men. (24:7)

A man who schemes to do bad will be called a “master of intrigues” or one who is skilled in devising corrupt plans. (24:8; see the Notes section.)

Devising foolishness (or planning to engage in senseless or hurtful practices) is identified as “sin,” a failure to live up to accepted norms or to God’s will. A ridiculer, or a person who mocks what is right, sensible, or noble, is an “abomination” to people (literally, to “man” [the earthling]). (24:9; see the Notes section.)

If, in a day of distress (a time of difficulty or hardship), one becomes faint or disheartened, one’s strength will be limited. There will be little capacity for enduring prolonged affliction. (24:10; see the Notes section.)

When witnessing injustices and finding oneself in a position to render aid to persons being victimized, one should feel morally obligated to do so. “Rescue the ones being taken away to death; hold back those stumbling to slaughter.” The reference may be to individuals who have been unjustly condemned to be executed and whose innocence can be established before they are led away to be put to death. In the Septuagint, the admonition is to “buy back” or to secure the freedom of those about to be slaughtered, not sparing oneself from taking action or delaying to do so. (24:11)

Many may be inclined not to get involved and to justify their inaction, saying, “Look! We did not know this,” insisting that they neither knew the victims nor about their unjust condemnation. God, however, is fully aware of what individuals know and the reason for their failure to act. He “weighs hearts” or, according to the Septuagint, the “Lord knows the hearts of all.” God discerns what the thoughts and motivations of the inner self really are. He, as the one observing the “soul” or the individual (the one “forming the breath in everyone” [LXX]), knows the true situation (“knows everything” [LXX]). God will repay a man (an “earthling”) “according to his work,” including his failure to act when he is morally accountable to do so. (24:12)

Honey is a quick-energy food, and the proverb encourages eating it. “Eat honey, my son, for it is good” (the “honeycomb” is “good” [LXX]), and honey from the comb is “sweet to [the] palate” or the taste. The Septuagint refers to honeycomb as sweetening the “throat.” (24:13)

Wisdom, the capacity to use knowledge aright, safeguards one from senseless actions that can lead to ruin or a premature death. “Know” or recognize that “wisdom to your soul” or for yourself (provided “you find it” and have it in your possession) assures a “future, and your hope will not be cut off.” One’s hope will not come to disappointment, with gloom setting in and eclipsing any expectation for brighter prospects. The Septuagint says, “Your end will be good, and hope will not abandon you.” (24:14)

The exhortation is to refrain from any thought of doing injury to upright persons. “Do not lie in wait like a wicked man against the dwelling of the righteous one. Do no violence to his resting place” or his home, ravaging it. (24:15; see the Notes section.)

Like everyone else, a righteous man may experience reverses and calamities during his life. Although he may fall “seven times” or multiple times (a complete number), he will get up again. His will not be a crash from which recovery will be impossible. The wicked ones, however, will be overthrown by calamity, with no restoration in sight. According to the Septuagint rendering, the “impious” or ungodly ones “will become weak in miseries [literally, bad things].” (24:16)

The fall or misfortune of others should not be an occasion for glee. When an “enemy falls,” one should not rejoice; and “when he stumbles” or is brought low, one’s “heart” or inner self should not be glad. No one’s suffering should occasion malicious delight. (24:17) For YHWH (the “Lord” [LXX]) to see rejoicing over the fall of one’s enemy would displease him, leading to his turning his anger away from the enemy. (24:18)

One should not allow oneself to be irritated, riled up, or robbed of inner peace because of evildoers, whether it be upon witnessing their seeming success or their corrupt ways. The Septuagint says, “Do not rejoice over evildoers,” with the possible reason being their misfortune. The concluding exhortation is not to be envious of the wicked (“sinners,” persons who choose to conduct themselves lawlessly [LXX]). This admonition would apply particularly when corrupt individuals appear to be thriving and succeeding in attaining their objectives. (24:19)

There is no good or valid reason to become upset over corrupt individuals or to envy them, “for there is no future for an evil man”; or, according to the Septuagint, wicked ones will by no means come of have posterity that continues. The “lamp of the wicked [impious ones [LXX] will be extinguished.” For corrupt individuals, their future will be dark, with their life ending without any offspring to continue their line of descent. (24:20)

The “son” is exhorted to “fear YHWH” (“God” [LXX]) and the “king,” maintaining a respectful, submissive attitude and a wholesome fear of incurring their displeasure through wrong action. One way for the son to demonstrate this fear included avoiding association with those who were determined to effect a change, undermining the authority of the king. The Septuagint rendering directs the son not to disobey God nor the king. (24:21)

For people to disregard God or the king would lead to punishment. Suddenly, from either one of them, disaster or ruin would come upon rebellious ones. In the Hebrew text, this thought is framed as a question, “And who knows the ruin from them both?” According to the Septuagint, God and the king suddenly will let the impious or ungodly ones pay. “And who will know the punishments of both?” (24:22; see the Notes section.)

The next section is introduced with the words, “These also to [or from] sages.” In the Hebrew text, there is no verb and, depending on the context, the preposition preceding the noun rendered “sages” can have various meanings. Translators usually complete the thought to indicate that the wise are the source of the sayings that follow. The Septuagint, however, makes the application to wise persons. “And these things, I say to you, sages, [for you] to know.” (24:23)

The first proverbial saying is, “To show partiality [literally, to regard faces] in judgment [is] not good.” When giving preferential treatment to others on the basis of their station in life, wealth, authority, or any other factor leads to a perversion of justice. (24:23) Peoples (‘amím) will curse one who pronounces a wicked or guilty individual (an “impious” or “ungodly one” [LXX]) as innocent, and peoples (’umím) will denounce him. According to the Septuagint, the partial judge will be “despicable to nations” or peoples. (24:24) Those who rebuke individuals who deserve censure “will have delight” or will fare well (will appear as the better ones [LXX]), and a “good blessing will come upon them.” They will be held in high regard and enjoy a favorable standing in the community. (24:25)

As one kissing the lips in expression of friendship or affection is the person who “gives right words.” This could apply to a judge who renders just decisions. The proverb could also be translated to apply in a general sense. “Giving a straightforward reply is like giving a kiss.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) According to the Septuagint, “they [people] will kiss the lips” that reply with “good words.” (24:26)

The admonition in the proverb is to give priority to work that is essential for the maintenance of a household. In an agricultural society as existed in ancient Israel, work “outside” (care for animals) and “in the field” (plowing, harrowing, sowing, and harvesting) came first. Establishing a home (or building a house) followed after a man had made preparation for the support of a household or a wife and family. (24:27; see the Notes section.)

When no valid reason exists, one should not be a witness against one’s associate or neighbor. According to the Septuagint, the exhortation is, “Do not be a lying witness against your fellow countryman.” Not to make one’s “lips wide” could mean not to resort to misrepresentation, gossip, slander, or deceit. (24:28)

A person should not have a vengeful or vindictive spirit. One should not say and be determined to carry out, “I will do to him as he has done to me. I will pay the man back for what he has done.” The Septuagint rendering is similar in the wording about what one should not say, “In the manner he treated me, I will treat him, and I will pay him back for the wrong he did to me.” (24:29)

The teacher referred to himself as passing by the “field of a sluggard” and by the “vineyard of a man [an earthling] without [good] sense [literally, lacking heart].” While using many of the same words in the Greek rendering, the Septuagint conveys a different significance. A “foolish man” is “like a cultivated field,” and a “senseless man” is “like a vineyard.” Perhaps the thought is that the individual needs to be acted upon and does not himself undertake any work. (24:30)

The sluggard’s field “was all overgrown with weeds.” Either the surface of the field or that of the vineyard “was covered with nettles, and “its stone wall” (probably the wall that surrounded the vineyard) “was broken down.” Nothing had been cultivated or tended, and the wall had not been repaired. With seeming reference to the vineyard, the Septuagint says that, “if you let it go, it will become barren,” “completely overgrown” and “neglected, and its stone fences will be broken down.” (24:31)

Upon seeing the neglected condition of the sluggard’s field and vineyard and taking it to “heart,” or giving it careful consideration, the teacher did look, apparently with reflective intent, and received discipline or acquired a valuable lesson. (24:32; see the Notes section.) When, instead of performing essential work, the choice is idleness (“a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands [over the breast (LXX)] to rest” [24:33]), “poverty” is sure to come marching and “wants like a man with a shield” or like an armed man who seizes everything he desires and leaves nothing of value behind. The Septuagint indicates that lack would come quickly, “like a good runner.” (24:34)

Notes

The Septuagint rendering of verse 7 departs significantly from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It represents wisdom and good reasoning as being at the gates of the wise. “Wise persons do not turn away from the mouth of the Lord” or from the words or commands that are the expressions of his mouth.

In verse 8 of the Septuagint, the initial phrase continues with words about the wise. Instead of turning away from the expressions that come from the Lord’s mouth, “they consider [them] in the assemblies.” A new thought then follows. “Death meets undisciplined ones [or uninstructed ones].”

According to the Septuagint rendering of verse 9, the “senseless one dies in sins,” or he perishes on account of his lawless ways. A “pestilent man will be defiled by uncleanness” or as a result of his corrupt behavior and dealings.

With reference to a pestilent man, the Septuagint continues (in verse 10) that his defilement will be “in an evil day and in a day of distress, until he perishes.”

In verse 15, the Septuagint rendering departs significantly from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It instructs that one not lead the “impious one to the pasture of righteous ones,” possibly the implied intent is not to bring the ungodly one into a position where he can do harm. The concluding admonition is not be deceived by a full belly. This deception could be a sense of satisfaction and reliance on self that ignores God and fails to recognize him as the source of all blessings. (Compare Deuteronomy 32:15.)

After wording that corresponds to that of the extant Hebrew text of verse 22, the Septuagint adds other proverbs and then continues with a rendering of words from verses 1 through 14 of chapter 30 in the Hebrew text. The additional proverbs are: “A son who observes the word will be free from destruction, for he accepted [the word] with responsiveness. From a tongue, let no lie be spoken to a king, and let no lie by any means proceed from his tongue.” A “king’s tongue” is a “sword and not of flesh” (not a literal sword). “And anyone who is delivered up” to the condemnation his tongue expresses “will be crushed.” For when the wrath of a king “is sharpened” or intensifies, “men” or people are destroyed along with their “sinews” or “muscles.” “And it [the king’s tongue or the condemnation his tongue expresses] devours the bones of men and burns them up like a flame, so that they are inedible for the young of eagles.”

The Septuagint rendering of verse 27 includes much of the wording of the extant Hebrew text, but the application of the words differs. “Ready your works for departure, and prepare for the field” (or for labor in the field), and follow after me” (possibly meaning to imitate my example as your instructor), “and you will rebuild your house.”

In verse 32 of the Septuagint, the teacher represents himself as having changed his mind. He looked, apparently focusing on what he saw “to choose discipline” or “instruction.” Based on what he observed, he gained a vital lesson about the consequences of laziness.