Proverbs 26

 

כַּשֶּׁלֶג בַּקַּיִץ וְכַמָּטָר בַּקָּצִיר כֵּן לֹא־נָאוֶה לִכְסִיל כָּבוֹד׃   26:1

Prov. 26:1   Like snow in summer or like rain at harvest time,

                               so honor is not normal for a fool.

כַּצִּפֹּור לָנוּד כַּדְּרֹור לָעוּף כֵּן קִלְלַת חִנָּם (לֹא) [לֹו] תָבֹא׃   26:2

Prov. 26:2   Like a bird wandering, like a sparrow flitting,

                               so a causeless curse will not come.

The designation of the word in the parentheses as an error is puzzling and frustrating to me.  The word means not or no.  The correction in the brackets means to him or his.  The latter meaning seems senseless in this context, and most translators ignore the so-called error.  I suspect their reason is that the negative seems necessary to understand the meaning of the verse.  A bird wandering or a sparrow flitting seems to never land.  It appears not to come to rest.  I believe that’s the meaning intended by this verse.  A causeless curse will not land.

שׁוֹט לַסּוּס מֶתֶג לַחֲמוֹר וְשֵׁבֶט לְגֵו כְּסִילִים׃   26:3

Prov. 26:3   A whip for a horse, a bridle for an ass,

                               and a rod for the back of fools!

אַל־תַּעַן כְּסִיל כְּאִוַּלְתּוֹ פֶּן־תִּשְׁוֶה־לּוֹ גַם־אָתָּה׃   26:4

Prov. 26:4   You must not answer a fool according to his folly,

                               lest you also become the same as him.

עֲנֵה כְסִיל כְּאִוַּלְתּוֹ פֶּן־יִהְיֶה חָכָם בְּעֵינָיו׃   26:5

Prov. 26:5   Answer a fool according to his folly,

                               lest he would appear wise in his own eyes.

Now how do we reconcile the seeming contradiction in these two verses?  Don’t answer a fool, answer a fool.  The sages and commentators have indeed reconciled this dilemma to their general satisfaction.  The thought is that each verse refers to a different situation.  In the case of v. 4, the fool is assumed to be unable to understand or listen to a counter-argument, so one would have to bring himself to the level of the fool to respond to him.  In the case of v. 5, if a fool makes a statement that is totally ridiculous, one must set him straight so he doesn’t believe he is correct.  Does this make sense to you?  It doesn’t to me.  I fail to see the logic in this explanation.  So ... what’s my theory?  I believe the scribe is presenting a dilemma that one faces when in the presence of a fool.  It’s a lose-lose situation.  If you answer him, you descend to his level.  If you don’t answer him, he will believe he is wise.  Then is the scribe really saying don’t allow yourself to be in the presence of a fool?  Yes, I think that’s the gist of the two verses.  I can imagine no other outcome.  There is no getting around the contradiction.  And the author of Proverbs seems to love to present riddles whenever he can.

מְקַצֶּה רַגְלַיִם חָמָס שֹׁתֶה שֹׁלֵחַ דְּבָרִים בְּיַד־כְּסִיל׃   26:6

Prov. 26:6   Cutting off feet, drinking violence,

                               sending words in the hand of a fool!

I translate the third Hebrew word in this verse as “violence.”  How does one drink violence?  As a metaphor!  Think of drinking something you love.  And then suppose you love violence.  This couplet is a bit strong, though.  Sending words in the hand of a fool is foolish and folly, not violent.

דַּלְיוּ שֹׁקַיִם מִפִּסֵּחַ וּמָשָׁל בְּפִי כְסִילִים׃   26:7

Prov. 26:7   The legs of one who is lame are as useless

                               as a proverb in the mouth of fools.

כִּצְרוֹר אֶבֶן בְּמַרְגֵּמָה כֵּן־נוֹתֵן לִכְסִיל כָּבוֹד׃   26:8

Prov. 26:8   Like forcing a stone into a heap of stones,

                               such is giving honor to a fool.

There are two words in this verse that are not well understood, the first word and the third.  Each has a prefix that should be ignored to fathom their meaning, a caph in the first and a beth in the third.  The first word, whose root is rrc, has a variety of possible meanings, among them being to bind, to cause distress, to tie up, to shut up, to besiege, and others.  The third word, which has a five-letter root with the same letters, may have meanings like  sling or heap of stones, or more modern meanings such as mortar or mine thrower (these last two can be safely ignored).  So the verse comes out in a variety of ways in the English translations, too varied to repeat here, each accompanied by its explanation.  My explanation for the above translation is that the stone that gets forced into the heap of stones gets lost and can’t be recognized any more; the same thing happens when honor is given to a fool.  It becomes indistinguishable and unrecognizable..  It basically disappears.

חוֹחַ עָלָה בְיַד־שִׁכּוֹר וּמָשָׁל בְּפִי כְסִילִים׃   26:9

Prov. 26:9   A thorn coming up in the hand of a drunkard,

                               and a parable in the mouth of fools!

רַב מְחוֹלֵל־כֹּל וְשֹׂכֵר כְּסִיל וְשֹׂכֵר עֹבְרִים׃   26:10

Prov. 26:10   The Great One, Who is bringing forth everything,

                               also employs a fool and uses transgressors.

The Hebrew of this verse is so terse that the number of variations in bible translations seems to exceed the number of words in the verse.  The first word, which I translate as the Great One, is translated by others as archer, employer, master, people, and a number of other meanings that have little if anything to do with the Hebrew of the verse.  The third word, which I translate as Who is bringing forth, also is found to have a great many variations in the English, most of which are based on something other than the Hebrew word.  Most of them -- but not all -- miss the power of this verse as I interpret it:  God uses us all.  We are all His servants, wittingly or unwittingly.  Even the fool and the transgressor have a purpose.

כְּכֶלֶב שָׁב עַל־קֵאוֹ כְּסִיל שׁוֹנֶה בְאִוַּלְתּוֹ׃   26:11

Prov. 26:11   Like a dog returning to his vomit,

                               a fool will be repeating his folly.

רָאִיתָ אִישׁ חָכָם בְּעֵינָיו תִּקְוָה לִכְסִיל מִמֶּנּוּ׃   26:12

Prov. 26:12   You see a person wise in his own eyes:

                               More hope is for a fool than him.

אָמַר עָצֵל שַׁחַל בַּדָּרֶךְ אֲרִי בֵּין הָרְחֹבוֹת׃   26:13

Prov. 26:13   A sluggard thinks, "A lion is on the road,

                               a lion in the midst of the plazas."

הַדֶּלֶת תִּסּוֹב עַל־צִירָהּ וְעָצֵל עַל־מִטָּתוֹ׃   26:14

Prov. 26:14   The door will turn on its hinge,

                               and the sluggard on his bed.

Almost all translations have for the second part of this couplet ... and the sluggard is on his bed.  I believe the implication of the latter translation is that the door is open but the sluggard hasn’t roused himself as yet.  I suspect the author is more clever and witty than to leave it at that.  My translation, which omits the missing verb is compares the open door turning on its hinges to the sluggard turning on his bed.  Funny?  I think so.

טָמַן עָצֵל יָדוֹ בַּצַּלָּחַת נִלְאָה לַהֲשִׁיבָהּ אֶל־פִּיו׃   26:15

Prov. 26:15   A sluggish person buries his hand in the bowl;

                               he wearies himself to bring it back to his mouth.

This verse is similar to Prov. 19:24.

חָכָם עָצֵל בְּעֵינָיו מִשִּׁבְעָה מְשִׁיבֵי טָעַם׃   26:16

Prov. 26:16   A sluggard is wiser in his own eyes

                               than seven who are returners of judgment.

מַחֲזִיק בְּאָזְנֵי־כָלֶב עֹבֵר מִתְעַבֵּר עַל־רִיב לֹּא־לוֹ׃   26:17

Prov. 26:17   A passerby who transgresses on a controversy not his

                               would be grabbing on to the ears of a dog.

כְּמִתְלַהְלֵהַּ הַיֹּרֶה זִקִּים חִצִּים וָמָוֶת׃   26:18

Prov. 26:18   Like a madman who shoots firebrands, arrows, and death,

כֵּן־אִישׁ רִמָּה אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ וְאָמַר הֲלֹא־מְשַׂחֵק אָנִי׃   26:19

Prov. 26:19   so is one deceiving his neighbor and says, "Am I not jesting?"

בְּאֶפֶס עֵצִים תִּכְבֶּה־אֵשׁ וּבְאֵין נִרְגָּן יִשְׁתֹּק מָדוֹן׃   26:20

Prov. 26:20   With the end of wood, the fire will go out;

                               so with there being no whisperer, contention will cease.

פֶּחָם לְגֶחָלִים וְעֵצִים לְאֵשׁ וְאִישׁ (מִדֹונִים) [מִדְיָנִים] לְחַרְחַר־רִיב׃   26:21

Prov. 26:21   Coal to burning coals, and sticks to fire,

                               and a person of contentions to make controversy burn.

We’ve seen the error in the parentheses before.  We know from Prov. 25:1 that more than one scribe prepared these chapters.  As we’ve seen both spellings at least twice, I suspect that two or more scribes spelled this word differently, and both may have been right in their day, but the spelling in the parentheses became extinct some time between then and the early centuries of the common era.                                     [Return to Prov. 27:15]

דִּבְרֵי נִרְגָּן כְּמִתְלַהֲמִים וְהֵם יָרְדוּ חַדְרֵי־בָטֶן׃   26:22

Prov. 26:22   The words of a whisperer are like things gulped greedily,

                               and they descend the innermost parts of the belly.

כֶּסֶף סִיגִים מְצֻפֶּה עַל־חָרֶשׂ שְׂפָתַיִם דֹּלְקִים וְלֶב־רָע׃   26:23

Prov. 26:23   Silver dross overlaid on earthenware:

                               Inflaming speech or a wicked heart.

בִּשְׂפָתֹו) [בִּשְׂפָתָיו] יִנָּכֵר שֹׂונֵא וּבְקִרְבֹּו יָשִׁית מִרְמָה׃   26:24

Prov. 26:24   A hater would disguise himself by his speech,

                               while within him he could make treachery ready.

The word before the left parentheses is not an error in my opinion.  The word, which is spelled in the singular, is “corrected” to plural in the brackets.  I believe it should be singular, and I’ve translated it accordingly as by his speech.  The correction would change the translation to by his lips.

כִּי־יְחַנֵּן קֹולֹו אַל־תַּאֲמֶן־בֹּו כִּי שֶׁבַע תֹּועֵבֹות בְּלִבֹּו׃   26:25

Prov. 26:25   Though his voice might be gracious,

                               you must not believe in it,

                         for seven abominations are in his heart.

The author of Proverbs likes to use the number seven.  I counted the times he’s used it:  Six!  I thought there might be seven, but I was wrong (also disappointed).  I assumed the author would be clever enough to do that.

תִּכַּסֶּה נְאָה בְּמַשָּׁאֹון תִּגָּלֶה רָעָתֹו בְקָהָל׃   26:26

Prov. 26:26   The hatred would be concealed in deception;

                               his wickedness would be revealed in the congregation.

כֹּרֶהשַּׁ־חַת בָּהּ יִפֹּל וְגֹלֵל אֶבֶן אֵלָיו תָּשׁוּב׃   26:27

Prov. 26:27   The digger of a pit shall fall into it,

                               and the roller of a stone, to him it shall come back.

I would not take this verse literally.  Digging a pit and rolling a stone must be metaphors.  They are probably metaphors for making trouble for others, setting traps, preparing to injure others.

לְשֹׁוןשֶׁ־קֶר יִשְׂנָא דַכָּיו וּפֶה חָלָק יַעֲשֶׂה מִדְחֶה׃   26:28

Prov. 26:28   A lying tongue must hate those oppressed by it,

                               and a flattering mouth can produce ruin.

 

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