Proverbs 28:1-28

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On account of a guilty conscience and an awareness that, at any time, they may face retribution for their evil deeds, the “wicked [impious or ungodly (LXX)] flee [out of fear of being apprehended and punished] when no one is pursuing.” Righteous persons are not troubled by fear of retribution, for they deal honestly with others and maintain exemplary conduct. This enables them to live confidently, with the boldness characteristic of a lion. (28:1)

“When a land transgresses,” or a country is troubled by lawlessness and rebellion, this leads to instability, with rulers being quickly and repeatedly replaced by others or with numerous chieftains or warlords seizing power and warring with one another. According to the Septuagint, “disputes arise” on account of the “sins” of impious or ungodly people. Stability exists under the leadership of a man (or men) with “understanding and knowledge” that is reflected in the just administration of affairs. The Septuagint says that a prudent man “extinguishes” or puts an end to disputes. (28:2)

A man of limited means may come to be an oppressor of persons who have even less. When a poor man (either on his own or for a wealthy landowner) “oppresses the poor,” the effect is like a torrential rain that ruins crops and so “leaves no food” for persons with the greatest need. (28:3; see the Notes section.)

The reference to the “Torah” or “law” could be either to God’s law or to instruction in wisdom (as contained in the book of Proverbs). Individuals who “forsake the law,” or who choose to live corrupt lives, “praise the wicked,” being fully supportive of their lawless practices. Persons who “keep the law” contend with the wicked or take a stand against them for their evil deeds. (28:4; see the Notes section.)

“Evil men do not understand judgment” or justice. They live corrupt or debauched lives and, therefore, have no understanding of what it means to act in a just, honest, or upright manner. Persons who “seek YHWH [the Lord (LXX)],” earnestly desiring his approval and striving to do what is pleasing in his sight, “understand all,” or everything that is related to “judgment” or justice. Their complete understanding is apparent from their upright conduct. (28:5)

A poor man who walks in integrity, or who conducts himself in blamelessness, is better than a rich man who is corrupt “in his ways,” dealing deceitfully and fraudulently with others. The Septuagint refers to the poor person who “walks in truth” or in honesty as being better than a “rich liar.” (28:6)

A wise son is one who “keeps the law” (either God’s law or the instruction in wisdom [as set forth in the book of Proverbs]). A son who ignores the law, as a “companion of gluttons [as one who tends debauchery (LXX)],” sharing with them in their dissipated way of life, “dishonors his father.” The father is disgraced when his son pursues a debauched course of life, acting contrary to God’s law or the wise teaching he imparted to him. (28:7)

The one who “increases his wealth through interest and usury gathers it” for the person “showing favor,” kindness, or compassion to the poor. In view of the probability of retribution for an oppressor, his ill-gotten gain is represented as a temporary possession that will pass into the hands of a compassionate person. (28:8)

The person who “turns his ear away from hearing the law, even his prayer [is] an abomination.” A deliberate refusal to give heed to God’s law or instruction in wisdom makes a person’s prayers unacceptable. These prayers will not be answered, for they are disgusting in God’s sight as petitions from a person who has rejected adherence to the law or sound teaching. According to the Septuagint, the one turning away from listing to the law “has made his prayer loathsome.” (28:9)

The person who causes the upright to “stray into a bad way will fall into his own pit.” If it should be that an upright individual is deceived into taking a wrong or injurious course, the one responsible for the leading him in the wrong direction will himself experience the harmful consequences, comparable to plunging into a pit (“ruin” [LXX]). Blameless persons, however, will come into possession of good (or a good inheritance). According to the Septuagint, lawless persons will not share in a goodly inheritance. They “will pass through good things, but they will not gain entrance to them” or come to have them as their possession. (28:10)

A “rich man is wise in his own eyes,” imagining that his superior insight has made him wealthy or made it possible for him to maintain and increase his riches. The lowly man, because of possessing discernment, has the capacity to determine whether the rich man is truly wise, conducting himself in a sensible and upright manner. An insightful man, though poor, can see right through the rich man and is not deceived by outward appearances. (28:11)

When righteous persons rejoice or have sound reason for exultation, “great glory” or honor exists wherever they may be. The people in the towns, cities, regions, or lands will also be joyful, content, and prosperous in a stable environment. According to the Septuagint, abundant “glory” or honor comes to be “through the help of the righteous.” The active role of upright persons in the affairs of a community contributes to its having an honorable standing or a good reputation. When, however, evil or corrupt men rise or gain the ascendancy, a man (an earthling [a collective singular]) will hide himself, maintaining a low profile so as to avoid becoming a target for unjust treatment. The Septuagint says that, in the “places” of impious or ungodly persons “men” or people are “captured,” or seized for unjust punishment or exploitation. (28:12)

A man who “covers” or tries to hide “his transgressions” (“impiety” or “ungodliness” [LXX]), endeavoring thereby to escape deserved punishment, “will not prosper” or succeed. The man who “confesses and forsakes” his transgressions, acknowledging his wrongdoing and discontinuing it, will be shown mercy. According to the Septuagint, the persons expressing “reproofs” (apparently to those guilty of wrongs and injustices) “will be loved.” (28:13)

A man (an “earthling”) is pronounced “happy,” blessed, or fortunate because he “fears always” or continually. This could mean that he has a wholesome fear of God and of taking a wrong course that could lead to ruin. The Septuagint rendering suggests that this fear is based on discretion, respect, or reverence. A man who “hardens his heart” or stubbornly persists in conducting himself in a lawless manner “will fall into calamity” or suffer the consequences for his corrupt deeds. (28:14)

A “wicked ruler over a poor people,” one who is harsh and oppressive, is like a “roaring lion and a charging bear.” He acts mercilessly like an unreasoning and conscienceless beast. The Septuagint refers to a man who is himself poor and tyrannizes over a needy nation as being like a “hungry lion and a thirsty wolf.” (28:15)

A ruler (a “king” [LXX]) who “lacks understanding [revenue (LXX)]” also is “great in extortions” or very oppressive in dealing with his subjects. One who “hates unjust” or “ill-gotten gain will lengthen his days” or live a long time. In the case of a ruler, his administration will be stable during his lifetime. (28:16)

A man who is “burdened with the blood of a soul,” or who is bloodguilty, “will flee,” with the apparent intent of escaping merited punishment. He will be heading for the “pit,” either to hide himself or inevitably to reach the ultimate destiny or the realm of the dead. One should not lay hold of him or prevent him from taking to flight, for this would be a flight with a ruinous end in view. The Septuagint says that one who goes surety for a man accused of murder will come to be a “fugitive and not in security.” (28:17; see the Notes section.)

One who walks blamelessly “will be delivered,” or will be kept safe from the pitfalls that are associated with a wayward course of life. The Septuagint says that one whose walk is righteous “has been helped” (apparently in time of need). One who is “twisted” or corrupt “in his ways will fall.” Depending on which reading of the Hebrew text is followed, the fall could be into a pit or be sudden or unexpected. The Septuagint refers to the person as becoming “entangled.” Modern translations vary in their renderings. “A rogue will fall into a pit.” (REB) “He who is crooked in his ways will fall all at once.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “He whose ways are perverse will suddenly fall.” (NIV) “Whoever wavers between two ways falls down in one of them.” (NJB) (28:18)

One who cultivates his land “will be sated with bread.” The individual will have ample food to eat from the ripe produce. One who pursues valueless or worthless things (“idleness” [LXX]), imagining to make profits without much effort or by questionable means, “will be sated with poverty.” His pursuits will lead to results other than those he expected, leaving him with nothing. (28:19)

A man of faithful deeds, or one who does what is right (a “trustworthy man” [LXX]), will receive many blessings (“will be much lauded” [LXX]). One who hastens to gain wealth (an “evil man” [LXX]) “will not remain innocent [will not be unpunished].” His inordinate desire to be rich will cause him to resort to less than honorable means to attain his objective, and he will not go unpunished for it. (28:20)

To have “regard for faces” denotes to show partiality. This is identified as being “not good,” for showing partiality constitutes a serious failure to act justly or to administer justice. In a situation of dire need, a man “will do wrong for a piece of bread.” Perhaps the thought is that he might steal some food to satisfy his hunger and that, although he should not be treated with partiality, his desperate need should be considered as a mitigating factor when rendering a judgment about the penalty for his deed. The rendering of the Septuagint conveys a different meaning. It says that the one who does not have respect for (literally, “feel shame before”) the “faces [or person] of the righteous” is “not good,” for upright persons are deserving of being shown high regard. The man who lacks proper regard for righteous ones is willing to hand over another man (or sell him) for a “piece of bread” or practically nothing of value. Modern translations vary in the way they render the Hebrew text. “For even a morsel of bread a man may do wrong.” (NAB) “People will do wrong for a mouthful of bread.” (NJB) “Some people can be bribed with only a piece of bread.” (CEV) (28:21)

The expression “evil of eye” refers to an eye with evil or unkindly intent. In this context, a “man of evil eye” is one who is greedy and covetous or envious, hastening to gain wealth by whatever means he possibly can. He is so consumed by his inordinate desire for riches that he “does not know” or is unaware that his course can lead to “want” or poverty coming upon him. According to the Septuagint, the envious man “does not know that a compassionate man will prevail over him.” (28:22)

In the Hebrew text, the words about “reproving a man” are followed by an expression that has the literal meaning “after me.” This significance does not fit the context, and a common rendering is “afterward” or “in the end.” The man who reproves another person (“reproves the ways of a man” [LXX]) for valid reasons will gain more favor than the individual who “flatters with his tongue.” While the flattery may initially give rise to positive and pleasant feelings, these are soon nullified when the flattered person recognizes that the praise was insincere. When the one reproved is motivated to make changes that benefit him, he will appreciate the person who reproved him. (28:23)

A man who “robs his father and mother” (possibly reasoning that what they have would come to be his possession eventually or that he is entitled to whatever they may own) and who claims that he has done no wrong is a companion of a man who causes ruin. In his disregard for his parents, he is just like a man who inflicts physical harm or destroys property. According to the Septuagint, one who drives away or rejects his father or mother and thinks that he is not sinning is a companion to an impious or ungodly man (or just like him). (28:24)

A person who is “wide of soul,” has an insatiable appetite for more, or is greedy or covetous “stirs up strife.” His insatiable desire for more leads him to engage in corrupt practices that harm others and incur their anger. He is not restrained by a reverential fear of God, for he does not trust him as the ultimate provider of all that is needed. In the end, greediness does not enable a man to prosper. The person who “trusts in YHWH,” looking to him as the one who will bless his efforts to care for his personal needs and those of his family, “will be made fat” or will prosper and enjoy contentment. (28:25; see the Notes section.)

For a man to trust in his “heart” (a “bold heart” [LXX]) would mean for him to rely on his own reasoning, evaluation, or judgment in life without any regard for God and his will. A person who does this is a fool, for he senselessly rejects the wise guidance that has God as its ultimate source. The person who “walks in wisdom,” conducting himself in harmony with God’s law and the sound teaching of godly persons, “will escape,” or be delivered from, the kind of troubles that befall those who pursue a senseless course. (28:26)

The person who compassionately gives to the poor will not come to be needy. Whoever turns his eyes away from them, refusing to relieve their distress, “will be much cursed.” The text does not identify from whom the curses come. It could be from God whose disfavor the callous person comes to have or from those who are mercilessly left in their state of suffering. The Septuagint says that the one who turns his eye away from the poor “will be in much distress.” (28:27)

“When the wicked rise,” come to power, or gain the ascendancy, a “man” hides, maintaining a low profile and doing good in secret. Whenever oppressive individuals wield power, one’s coming to the aid of victims of injustice must be done in secret to be successful and to escape attention. The Septuagint says that the “righteous groan” in the places of the impious or ungodly ones. When wicked men cease to be in a controlling position because of having perished, righteous persons become many. They cease to be in hiding, and so there presence and good deeds become increasingly noticeable as if their number had significantly grown. (28:28)

Notes

In verse 3, the Septuagint rendering is, “With impious [ungodly or corrupt] deeds, a strong man harasses the poor.” The next phrase (“Like a fierce and useless rain” [rain that is destructive and not beneficial]) is completed in verse 4 (“so the ones forsaking the law praise impiety [or ungodliness], but the ones loving the law put a wall around themselves” guarding themselves as with a protective wall so as not to transgress.

After some wording that corresponds to the extant Hebrew text of verse 17, the Septuagint adds, “Discipline your son, and he will love you and give an ornament to your soul [or to you]. By no means obey a lawless nation.” The emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not” is preserved with the rendering “by no means.”

In verse 25, the rendering of the Septuagint differs significantly from that of the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It indicates that an “insatiable” or “greedy” man (or, according to another reading, an “unfaithful” or “untrustworthy” man) “judges arbitrarily” or “rashly.” “But the one who trusts in the Lord will be in care” or will be a caring, careful, or attentive person.