Proverbs 25:1-28

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The section of proverbs that follows is attributed to Solomon. He may have been regarded as the originator, collector, or speaker of these proverbs. Over 250 years after the time of Solomon and during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah, his “men” (“friends” [LXX]), possibly secretaries or scribes in his court, transcribed them. This may mean that they obtained and wrote down the proverbs from a number of sources to produce one collection. (25:1; see the Notes section.)

The concealment of matters from humans for his purpose is a manifestation of God’s glory, for it reveals him to be the source of knowledge or wisdom that is completely beyond their capacity to acquire without his choosing to disclose it to them. Secretiveness in the case of kings, or a lack of clarity in their expressions or proclamations that results in hiding or obscuring knowledge, would not be considered as being to their credit. They gain “glory,” honor, or praise by searching things out and making matters understandable to their subjects. According to the Septuagint, the “glory of kings honors matters,” which could indicate that it brings glory or praise to kings when they highly esteem affairs of state and carry them out or direct them to be conducted in a laudable manner. (25:2)

The “heavens” or the skies are high above humans, and the earth or land “in depth,” or all that lies below the surface of the land, is far beneath their feet. In a comparable relationship to the subjects of kings is their “heart,” for the thoughts and plans of their “heart” or mental faculty are “unsearchable” or unfathomable — not readily apparent until rulers speak or take action. (25:3)

When dross is removed from silver, the precious metal remaining is suitable for a smith to fashion into a vessel. The Septuagint indicates that striking “unrefined silver” will result in its being purified or refined to complete purity. (25:4) Similarly, when the “wicked” (impious or ungodly ones [LXX]) are removed “from the presence [literally; before the face (slain from the face or presence [LXX])] of the king,” “his throne will be established in righteousness.” The foundation on which his royal authority rests will be one of justice, and his subjects will be treated impartially. This contributes to stability in the realm. (25:5)

In the presence of (literally, “before the face” of) a “king” or ruler, “do not [boast (LXX)] honor yourself,” endeavoring to impress him, and do not position yourself “in the place of great ones” or persons in high station. Assuming that one has an elevated status among others can lead to humiliation. (25:6; compare Luke 14:7-11.) It is better for one to be told to “come up here” (“to me” [the king], LXX) than to be given a lower position before the “face” of or in front of a “prince” or high official whom one’s “eyes have seen.” (25:7; see the Notes section.)

One should not be hasty in initiating legal action against someone, for this can have an unfavorable result. In the end, one’s associate, fellow, or “friend” (LXX) may put one to shame as a person who is in the wrong. (25:8; see the Notes section.)

Instead of making a matter public, the proverb advises arguing one’s own case with an associate, settling it with him and not disclosing a confidence to other parties. (25:9; see the Notes section.) The recommended course would avoid bringing disgrace upon one from the person who hears the things that have been disclosed (apparently the individual adversely affected by the disclosure of the confidence), and it would prevent the development of the bad repute that would not end or that could not be recalled. (25:10; see the Notes section.)

A “word spoken” at the right time and one that is suited to the circumstances is “like apples of gold in a setting of silver,” beautiful, pleasing, and precious. The Septuagint refers to the saying of a “word,” evidently one that is appropriate or wise, as being like a “golden apple in a small necklace of sardius stone” (a precious stone, commonly reddish in color). (25:11)

Words of reproof from a wise person are “like a gold ring or an ornament of gold to a listening [or obedient] ear.” The individual who is responsive will take the reproof to heart and make the needed changes in his conduct. Therefore, in relation to him, the reproof is precious like a costly ornament. The thought in the Septuagint is similar. “In a gold earring, a costly sardius stone is set [literally, bound]; a wise word in an obedient ear.” This indicates that the wise word is heeded and proves to be like a precious ornament in the responsive ear. (25:12)

The “time of harvest” is a warm season of the year and would not be one when it snows. Therefore, the “cold” or coolness of snow would be something (possibly cold water) that would bring one refreshing coolness when it is hot. A faithful messenger, one who was dependable in carrying out his commission, would have this effect on those sending him. He would refresh the “soul of his masters” or the person of his masters. (25:13; see the Notes section.)

“Clouds and wind” that do not bring rain, especially when it is needed for growing crops, are like a “man who boasts of a gift he does not give.” The “clouds and wind” suggest that it may rain, but the hope for rain does not materialize. A man who claims that he will give something but then does not follow through is likewise a source of disappointment for having given rise to a false hope. According to the Septuagint, persons “boasting over a false gift” or a present they will not give are as evident (or exposed for what they are) as “winds and clouds and rains.” (25:14)

“With patience, a ruler may be persuaded” to change his view, intention, plan, or course of action. The Septuagint says that, with patience, kings come to have a good way or success. A “soft” or gentle tongue, or a tongue used to express thoughts in a reasonable and non-challenging manner, “will break a bone [breaks bones (LXX)],” exerting sufficient strength to motivate a person in authority to abandon an entrenched position. (25:15)

Too much even of something good can be injurious. “If you have found honey [from wild bees], eat only sufficient for you.” Otherwise, you may become “sated with it and vomit it.” (25:16)

The proverb advises against wearing out one’s welcome. “Let your foot be seldom” in entering “your fellow’s house, lest he become weary of you and hate [or come to dislike] you.” (25:17)

A man who acts as a false or lying “witness against his fellow” is like one who scatters (like a “club” or a weapon [according to an emendation and the Septuagint rendering]), a “sword,” or a “sharp arrow.” He proves himself to be a person making himself responsible for bringing harm to his associate. (25:18)

In a time of trouble or distress, a faithless, undependable, or untrustworthy man would not be of any help. Trust in him would be like reliance on a bad or broken tooth that would only be a source of pain, or on an unstable foot (a foot that would cause one to slip). The Septuagint expresses a different thought. The “tooth (“way [according to another reading]) of the “wicked person and the foot of a lawbreaker will perish in an evil day” or in a time of calamity or judgment. (25:19)

Certain actions are inappropriate because they do not fit the circumstances. Taking off a garment on a cold day would be senseless. Pouring vinegar on alkali would cause it to fizz and ruin it. Both actions are as unsuitable as singing cheerful songs to a person with a “heavy heart” or one in a downcast state. (25:20; see the Notes section.)

Responding with kindness to an enemy will, in the end, prove to be a rewarding course of action. “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” (25:21) Acts of compassion or kindness will be like heaping “coals of fire on his head, and YHWH will reward you.” The compassionate response to his need may have an impact on him comparable to the adding of fiery coals on top of ore that is being refined. He may come to be ashamed about his hateful treatment. Instead of continuing to be hostile, his good qualities may come to the fore, leading to repentance and a changed disposition. Regardless of how he may later react, one’s showing kindness is the course YHWH approves and rewards. The Septuagint says, “The Lord will reward you with good things.” (25:22; see Romans 12:17-21.)

In the land where the proverb originated, the “north wind” brings rain (raises clouds [LXX]). A “tongue of secrecy,” or a tongue that discloses confidences, gives rise to indignation that becomes evident in the face or countenance (an angry look). According to the Septuagint, a “brazen face stirs up the tongue” or leads to quarreling. (25:23)

It would be “better to live in a corner of a roof,” or alone and exposed to the elements, than to share a house with a “contentious woman,” having to endure continual nagging and quarreling. The wording of the extant Hebrew text is basically the same as that of verse 9 of chapter 21, but the Septuagint rendering of both verses is not identical. In the Septuagint, the preferable situation would be to live in a corner of a roof rather than in a shared house “with an abusive woman” or wife. (25:24)

To a “faint soul” or thirsty person, cold water would be refreshing. Similar refreshment and invigoration would result upon receiving “good news from a distant country,” a country where friends or relatives may be residing or engaging in commercial activities. (25:25)

A “righteous man” who “totters,” gives way, or yields “before the face” or the person of a wicked individual comes to be “like a muddied spring and a polluted fountain.” His reputation as an upright man is tarnished or ruined. The Septuagint says that it is as improper for a righteous person to “fall before the impious one” as it would be to stop up a fountain and to pollute an “outlet of water.” (25:26)

It is not “good to eat much honey.” Excesses need to be avoided. Similarly, when it comes to “glory,” the inordinate seeking thereof is not really glory or honor. The Septuagint concludes with a different thought. It says that “honorable” or noble “words” should be esteemed. (25:27)

A “city broken through,” or with its defenses breached, and “left without walls” is vulnerable. Its situation is like that of a man without “control of his spirit” or his temper. Lacking self-control, the man is easily provoked and prone to speak and act rashly. In the Septuagint, the individual is described as a man who acts without “counsel” or sound advice. He would be one who conducts his affair without thoughtful prior consideration. (25:28)

Notes

In the Septuagint, the section of Proverbs 25:1-28 appears after the proverbs that are found in chapter 30, verses 15 through 33, and chapter 31, verses 1 through 9, of the Hebrew text. Verse 1 of this section refers to instructive or educational principles of Solomon. They are designated as adiákritoi. In other contexts, this adjective is understood to mean “impartial,” “nonjudgmental,” or “unwavering.” These lexical definitions, however, do not fit here. Among the suggested meanings for the Greek adjective in Proverbs 25:1 are “mixed” and “miscellaneous.”

In verse 7, the Septuagint makes a different application of the phrase about what the eyes have seen. It says, “Tell what your eyes have seen.” Numerous modern translations also do not link these words to the prince who was seen at the time a high position was assumed. These translations render the words as an introduction to the thoughts that follow. “What you have witnessed be in no hurry to tell everyone, or it will end in reproaches from your friend.” (REB) “What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court.” (NRSV)

The Septuagint rendering of verse 8 cautions against getting involved in a dispute so that one might not regret it in the end. Then follows a phrase that is completed in verse 10. “Whenever your friend reproaches,” disgraces, or insults “you” (25:8), “retreat to the rear; do not show contempt [for it or him]” (25:9), lest your friend reproach you and your conflict and hostility will not cease but will be comparable to death for you. Favor and friendship are liberating. Safeguard them for yourself, that you may not become an object of reproach, but guard your ways” in a conciliatory manner. (25:10)

In verse 13, the Septuagint translator rendered the words in a manner that does not fit the season of the year. “As the descent [literally, exit) of snow at harvesttime is beneficial against the heat, so a faithful messenger [benefits] those who sent him, for he benefits the souls of the ones [the persons] who deal with him.”

In verse 20, the Septuagint contains no reference to removing a garment, expresses a different thought regarding vinegar, and contains wording that is not found in the extant Hebrew text. As vinegar causes a “festering wound” to hurt, “so trouble that befalls the body grieves the heart” or the inner self. “Like a moth to a garment and a worm to wood, so grief harms the heart of a man.” A number of modern translations include elements of the Septuagint wording in their renderings. “Like vinegar on a wound is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. Like a moth in clothing or a worm in wood, sorrow gnaws at the human heart.” (NRSV) “Like one who dresses a wound with vinegar, so is the sweetest of singers to the heavy-hearted.” (REB) “Singing to someone in deep sorrow is like pouring vinegar in an open cut.” (CEV) “Decaying tooth, lame foot, such is the fickle when trusted in time of trouble: as well take off your coat in bitter weather. You are pouring vinegar on a wound when you sing songs to a sorrowing heart.” (25:19, 20, NJB)