Proverbs 14

 

The Hebrew in some of these verses is unusual and difficult to translate.  It can lead to differing translations, especially if liberally interpreted.  Although I have tried to follow the Hebrew grammar faithfully, at times the grammar is itself elusive.  I will try to identify the difficulties as we encounter them.

חַכְמֹות נָשִׁים בָּנְתָה בֵיתָהּ וְאִוֶּלֶת בְּיָדֶיהָ תֶהֶרְסֶנּוּ׃   14:1

Prov. 14:1   Wisdom of wives builds her house,

                               but foolishness with her own hands will tear it down.

Immediately we have a problem.  The words for wisdom of wives, the first two words, are plural, but the verb for builds is singular.  It’s possible that the Hebrew phrase consisting of the first two words could be treated as a singular noun, but that’s rather unusual.  I doubt that there are many (if any) other situations in the entire bible where this sort of treatment would be evident.  Other translators assume singular translations for the first two words.  But I wonder if the phrase noun was intended as I have suspected.  After all, I don’t believe that it was commonly understood that wives had wisdom.  Maybe making a singular phrase of the two words sort of dehumanizes the strange idea.

הֹולֵךְ בְּיָשְׁרֹו יְרֵא יְהוָה וּנְלֹוז דְּרָכָיו בֹּוזֵהוּ׃   14:2

Prov. 14:2   One walking in his forthrightness is reverent of the Lord,

                               but one perverting his ways is contemptuous of Him.

I really can’t believe the first part of this verse.  I know ”good” people who walk in their forthrightness and they are atheists.  However, the second part is certainly true.

בְּפִי־אֱוִיל חֹטֶר גַּאֲוָה וְשִׂפְתֵי חֲכָמִים תִּשְׁמוּרֵם׃   14:3

Prov. 14:3   In the mouth of a fool is a rod of pride,

                               while the lips of the wise protect them.

בְּאֵין אֲלָפִים אֵבוּס בָּר וְרָב־תְּבוּאֹות בְּכֹחַ שֹׁור׃   14:4

Prov. 14:4   Without oxen the crib is clean,

                              yet much gain is in the strength of an ox.

There is no gain without the nitty-gritty, without getting down and dirty?

עֵד אֱמוּנִים לֹא יְכַזֵּב וְיָפִיחַ כְּזָבִים עֵד שָׁקֶר׃   14:5

Prov. 14:5   The testimony of the faithful will not be a lie,

                               but a false witness will breathe lies.

This is a virtual tautology.  To be faithful means one doesn’t lie; to be a false witness means one must lie.  The definitions of faithful and false dictate this.

בִּקֶּשׁ־לֵץ חָכְמָה וָאָיִן וְדַעַת לְנָבֹון נָקָל׃   14:6

Prov. 14:6   A scorner seeks wisdom but there is none,

                               yet knowledge for a discerner is easy.

Is this because a scorner seeks wisdom only within himself?

לֵךְ מִנֶּגֶד לְאִישׁ כְּסִיל וּבַל־יָדַעְתָּ שִׂפְתֵי־דָעַת׃   14:7

Prov. 14:7   Go from a foolish man's presence,

                               as you will not encounter lips of wisdom.

חָכְמַת עָרוּם הָבִין דַּרְכֹּו וְאִוֶּלֶת כְּסִילִים מִרְמָה׃   14:8

Prov. 14:8   Understanding one's way is the wisdom of a prudent person,

                               while the folly of fools is deceit.

אֱוִלִים יָלִיץ אָשָׁם וּבֵין יְשָׁרִים רָצֹון׃   14:9

Prov. 14:9   The guilt offering of fools would be a mockery,

                               but in the midst of the upright is acceptance.

Does this verse indicate that the guilt offering of the upright is received with acceptance, whereas the guilt offering of fools would be ignored?

לֵב יֹודֵעַ מָרַּת נַפְשֹׁו וּבְשִׂמְחָתֹו לֹא־יִתְעָרַב זָר׃   14:10

Prov. 14:10   Only the heart is knowing of the bitterness of one's soul,

                               and in its joy no other can share.

I’m not sure about this one either -- at least the second part.  I have a very close friend who has been poor all her life.  Recently she received a check for an amount many times larger than she had ever known.  She was expecting it, but withheld her glee because she wouldn’t believe it until it actually happened.  When it did, she called me and told me; then she started laughing hysterically on the phone.  She couldn’t contain her happiness.  It was very soon infectious and I found that I was laughing heartily right along with her.  We were both laughing so hard, joyously, and long that by the time we were finished we were both physically and emotionally exhausted.  I’d say I had shared in her heart’s joy.

בֵּית רְשָׁעִים יִשָּׁמֵד וְאֹהֶל יְשָׁרִים יַפְרִיחַ׃   14:11

Prov. 14:11   The house of the wicked shall be destroyed,

                               but the tent of the upright shall continue to bloom.

יֵשׁ דֶּרֶךְ יָשָׁר לִפְנֵי־אִישׁ וְאַחֲרִיתָהּ דַּרְכֵי־מָוֶת׃   14:12

Prov. 14:12   There may be a path seeming upright before a person,

                               but its end may be paths of death.

I take this to mean that one must be wary even when the path we are on may seem right and safe.

                                                                                                                                    [Return to Prov. 16:25]

גַּם־בִּשְׂחֹוק יִכְאַב־לֵב וְאַחֲרִיתָהּ שִׂמְחָה תוּגָה׃   14:13

Prov. 14:13   In laughter the heart might indeed be pained,

                               and joy, its end may be grief.

Life is difficult after all.

מִדְּרָכָיו יִשְׂבַּע סוּג לֵב וּמֵעָלָיו אִישׁ טֹוב׃   14:14

Prov. 14:14   A backslider of heart shall take satisfaction from his own ways,

                               but a good person, from beyond himself.

The Hebrew of the second part of this verse is puzzling.  It has led to a traditional translation that I can’t accept.  It is something like “... and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.”  Am I to understand the author to mean that one corrupt of heart is satisfied from his own ways, but a good person is satisfied from himself?  If anything, I would imagine the inverse is true.  The former is satisfied from himself while the latter is satisfied from his ways.  But, I reasoned, if I take the meaning of the third-from-last word (which everyone else translates as from himself) and stretch its translation a bit, I can get something much more meaningful:  From beyond himself!  Now the verse makes total sense.

פֶּתִי יַאֲמִין לְכָל־דָּבָר וְעָרוּם יָבִין לַאֲשֻׁרֹו׃   14:15

Prov. 14:15   A simple person might believe in every word,

                               but one of prudence will give heed to his step.

In other words -- another metaphor? -- the simpleton believes and therefore needs not be heedful, while the prudent one is heedful.

חָכָם יָרֵא וְסָר מֵרָע וּכְסִיל מִתְעַבֵּר וּבֹוטֵחַ׃   14:16

Prov. 14:16   A wise person is fearing and will turn aside from evil,

                               but a fool could be passing in and be confident.

קְצַר־אַפַּיִם יַעֲשֶׂה אִוֶּלֶת וְאִישׁ מְזִמֹּות יִשָּׂנֵא׃   14:17

Prov. 14:17   Someone quick to anger may act foolishly,

                               and someone of schemes could be hated.

נָחֲלוּ פְתָאיִם אִוֶּלֶת וַעֲרוּמִים יַכְתִּרוּ דָעַת׃   14:18

Prov. 14:18   The simple minded inherit folly,

                               but the prudent will envelop knowledge.

שַׁחוּ רָעִים לִפְנֵי טֹובִים וּרְשָׁעִים עַל־שַׁעֲרֵי צַדִּיק׃   14:19

Prov. 14:19   The evil bow down before the good,

                               and the wicked, at the gates of a righteous person.

Is this wishful thinking, or possibly a prophecy?

גַּם־לְרֵעֵהוּ יִשָּׂנֵא רָשׁ וְאֹהֲבֵי עָשִׁיר רַבִּים׃   14:20

Prov. 14:20   A poor person may be hateful even to his friend,

                               but the lovers of someone rich will be many.

בָּז־לְרֵעֵהוּ חֹוטֵא וּמְחֹונֵן (עֲנָיִים) [עֲנָוִים] אַשְׁרָיו׃   14:21

Prov. 14:21   One despising his neighbor is a sinner,

                               and pitying the humble is his happiness.

Two concerns about this verse.  First, is the apparent error in the parentheses.  I have addressed it before.  Our first encounter with it was in Psalms Chapter 9.  See Psal. 9:13.  Enough about that.  Next we have the peculiar second part, which seems to be telling us something pretty unbelievable.  Others have ignored the pithy grammar and changed the meaning to “... but he who is gracious unto the poor, happy is he.”  Another example is “... but he who is pitying the poor, he is happy.”  Neither of these follows the Hebrew closely, taking liberties with at least two words.  I am fairly certain that both parts of this verse refer to the despising person.  After carefully considering what the author may have had in mind, I reached a tentative conclusion:  He was being facetious.  If someone despised his neighbor, would he have any regard for the plight of the humble?  No.  I imagine the author thought of this despicable person as mocking the humble, fooling himself into believing he was feeling pity, and deriving happiness from the thought.

הֲ‍לֹוא־יִתְעוּ חֹרְשֵׁי רָע וְחֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת חֹרְשֵׁי טֹוב׃   14:22

Prov. 14:22   Shall not the plotters of evil go astray?

                                But mercy and truth would be the devisers of good.

More odd Hebrew in the second part of this verse.  Others have translated it as something like “... but mercy and truth are for those who devise good.”  Again the Hebrew complication is basically ignored.  I believe the author was personifying mercy and truth as counterparts to the plotters of evil.

בְּכָל־עֶצֶב יִהְיֶה מֹותָר וּדְבַרשְׂ־פָתַיִם אַךְ־לְמַחְסֹור׃   14:23

Prov. 14:23   In all labor there may be profit,

                               but the occupation of the lips is only for poverty.

עֲטֶרֶת חֲכָמִים עָשְׁרָם אִוֶּלֶת כְּסִילִים אִוֶּלֶת׃   14:24

Prov. 14:24   The crown of the wise is their wealth;

                               the folly of fools is folly.

I believe the author had in his mind that the crown of the wise (which is their “wealth”) is wisdom itself.  Then the crown of the fool would be  folly.

מַצִּיל נְפָשֹׁות עֵד אֱמֶת וְיָפִחַ כְּזָבִים מִרְמָה׃   14:25

Prov. 14:25   A truthful witness is a saver of souls,

                               but one breathing lies is deceitful.

בְּיִרְאַת יְהוָה מִבְטַח־עֹז וּלְבָנָיו יִהְיֶה מַחְסֶה׃   14:26

Prov. 14:26   In reverence of the Lord there is confident strength,

                               and it shall be a refuge for one's children.

A parent who reveres the Lord will pass his wisdom and strength on to his children by example.

יִרְאַת יְהוָה מְקֹור חַיִּים לָסוּר מִמֹּקְשֵׁי מָוֶת׃   14:27

Prov. 14:27   Reverence of the Lord is a fountain of life

                               to turn away from the snares of death.

See Prov. 13:14 for a variation on this thought.

בְּרָב־עָם הַדְרַת־מֶלֶךְ וּבְאֶפֶס לְאֹם מְחִתַּת רָזֹון׃   14:28

Prov. 14:28   The glory of a king is in a multitude of people,

                               but a ruler without a people is a ruin.

Another bit of strange grammar and logic in the second part of this verse!  Others have mistranslated the fourth-from-last word as the want or lack [of a people].  The word is actually an idiom meaning without.  The meaning may not change much, but the intent and contrast are clearer.

אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם רַב־תְּבוּנָה וּקְצַר־רוּחַ מֵרִים אִוֶּלֶת׃   14:29

Prov. 14:29   One being slow to anger is of great understanding,

                               while one of impatient spirit is an exalter of folly.

חַיֵּי בְשָׂרִים לֵב מַרְפֵּא וּרְקַב עֲצָמֹות קִנְאָה׃   14:30

Prov. 14:30   A healthy heart sustains flesh,

                               but jealousy is the decay of bones.

עֹשֵׁק־דָּל חֵרֵף עֹשֵׂהוּ וּמְכַבְּדֹו חֹנֵן אֶבְיֹון׃   14:31

Prov. 14:31   Oppressing a poor person blasphemes one's Maker,

                               while one who considers the needy is His glorifier.

בְּרָעָתֹו יִדָּחֶה רָשָׁע וְחֹסֶה בְמֹותֹו צַדִּיק׃   14:32

Prov. 14:32   A wicked person will be cast down to his misery,

                               but one righteous will be hopeful to his death.

בְּלֵב נָבֹון תָּנוּחַ חָכְמָה וּבְקֶרֶב כְּסִילִים תִּוָּדֵעַ׃   14:33

Prov. 14:33   Wisdom will rest within a discerning heart,

                               though in the midst of fools it will make itself known.

Wisdom is regarded silently by the wise, but fools will shout whatever they consider “wise.”

צְדָקָה תְרֹומֵם־גֹּוי וְחֶסֶד לְאֻמִּים חַטָּאת׃   14:34

Prov. 14:34   Righteousness can exalt a nation,

                               while sin is the shame of nations.

רְצֹון־מֶלֶךְ לְעֶבֶד מַשְׂכִּיל וְעֶבְרָתֹו תִּהְיֶה מֵבִישׁ׃   14:35

Prov. 14:35   The favor of a king should be toward a servant who is prudent,

                              and his wrath would be shameful.

A final difficulty here in this last verse.  I believe the simple truth expressed in my translation is adequate and is faithful to the Hebrew.  But others add some words to make it seem otherwise.  They say for the second part something like “... but his wrath strikes him who deals shamefully.”  But there is no Hebrew corresponding to the words strikes him who deals.  I believe the author is contrasting a wise king who gives favor to his deserving servants with a foolish king who shows his wrath to his servants.

 

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