Proverbs 281 The wicked person flees when there is no one pursuing, ▼
▼ The line portrays the insecurity of a guilty person – he flees because he has a guilty conscience, or because he is suspicious of others around him, or because he fears judgment.
but the righteous person is as confident ▼
▼ The verb בָּטַח (batakh) means “to trust; to be secure; to be confident.” Cf. KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT “bold.”▼
▼ The righteous, who seek to find favor with God and man, have a clear conscience and do not need to look over their shoulders for avengers or law enforcers. Their position is one of confidence, so that they do not flee.as a lion.
2 When a country is rebellious ▼
▼ The Hebrew word translated “rebellious” has rebellion as its basic meaning, and that is the idea here. The proverb is describing a time when sinfulness brings about social and political unrest.it has many princes, ▼
▼ Heb “many are its princes” (so NASB).▼
▼ In such a chaotic time there will be many rulers, either simultaneously or in a rapid sequence. The times of the judges or the days of the northern kings of Israel provide examples.
but by someone who is discerning and knowledgeable ▼
▼ Heb “a man who understands [and] knows”; NRSV “an intelligent ruler”; NLT “wise and knowledgeable leaders.”order is maintained. ▼
▼ The LXX reads (probably from a different underlying Hebrew text): “It is the fault of a violent man that quarrels start, but they are settled by a man of discernment.” For a survey of suggestions, see C. H. Toy, Proverbs (ICC), 495, and W. McKane, Proverbs (OTL), 630.▼
▼ This last line is difficult. The MT has כֵּן יַאֲרִיךְ (ken ya’arikh). The verb means “to prolong,” but כֵּן (ken) is open to several possibilities for meaning. J. H. Greenstone’s interpretation of it as a noun from the Hollow root כּוּן (kun) with a meaning of “established order” is what is expected here (Proverbs, 293).▼
3 A poor person ▼
▼ The MT reads “a poor man,” גֶּבֶר רָשׁ (gever rash); cf. KJV, NASB, NLT. The problem is that the poor in the book of Proverbs is not an oppressor and does not have the power to be such. So commentators assume the word is incorrect. By a slight change to רָשָׁע (rasha’) the reading becomes “a wicked ruler” [Heb “a wicked mighty man”]. There is no textual support for this change. The LXX, however, reads, “A courageous man oppresses the poor with impieties.” If “a poor man” is retained, then the oppression would include betrayal – one would expect a poor man to have sympathy for others who are impoverished, but in fact that is not the case. It is a sad commentary on human nature that the truly oppressed people can also be oppressed by other poor people.who oppresses the weak
is like ▼
▼ The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.a driving rain without food. ▼
▼ “Food” is a metonymy of effect here. The picture is of the driving rain that should cause crops to grow so that food can be produced – but does not (some English versions assume the crops are destroyed instead, e.g., NCV, TEV, CEV, NLT). The point the proverb is making is that a show of strength may not produce anything except ruin.
4 Those who forsake the law ▼
▼ Some commentators do not think that the word refers to the Mosaic law, but to “instruction” or “teaching” in general (cf. NCV “who disobey what they have been taught”). However, the expression “keep the law” in the second line indicates that it is binding, which would not be true of teaching in general (J. Bright, “The Apodictic Prohibition: Some Observations,” JBL 92 : 185-204). Moreover, Proverbs 28:9 and 29:18 refer to the law, and this chapter has a stress on piety.praise the wicked, ▼
▼ The proverb gives the outcome and the evidence of those who forsake the law – they “praise the wicked.” This may mean (1) calling the wicked good or (2) justifying what the wicked do, for such people are no longer sensitive to evil.
but those who keep the law contend ▼ with them.
5 Evil people ▼
▼ Heb “men of evil”; the context does not limit this to males only, however.do not understand justice, ▼
▼ The term translated “justice” is מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat); it refers to the legal rights of people, decisions that are equitable in the community. W. G. Plaut observes that there are always those who think that “justice” is that which benefits them, otherwise it is not justice (Proverbs, 282).
but those who seek the Lord ▼
▼ The contrast (and the difference) is between the wicked and those who seek the Lord. Originally the idea of seeking the Lord meant to obtain an oracle (2 Sam 21:1), but then it came to mean devotion to God – seeking to learn and do his will. Only people who are interested in doing the Lord’s will can fully understand justice. Without that standard, legal activity can become self-serving.understand it all.
6 A poor person ▼
▼ This chapter gives a lot of attention to the contrast between the poor and the rich, assuming an integrity for the poor that is not present with the rich; the subject is addressed in vv. 6, 8, 11, 20, 22, 25, and 27 (G. A. Chutter, “Riches and Poverty in the Book of Proverbs,” Crux 18 : 23-28).who walks in his integrity is better
than one who is perverse in his ways ▼
▼ The Hebrew term translated “ways” is in the dual, suggesting that the person has double ways, i.e., he is hypocritical. C. H. Toy does not like this idea and changes the form to the plural (Proverbs [ICC], 497), but his emendation is gratuitous and should be rejected.even though ▼
▼ Heb “and he is rich.” Many English versions treat this as a concessive clause (cf. KJV “though he be rich”).he is rich. ▼
▼ This is another “better” saying, contrasting a poor person who has integrity with a rich person who is perverse. Of course there are rich people with integrity and perverse poor people, but that is not of interest here. If it came to the choices described here, honest poverty is better than corrupt wealth.
7 The one who keeps the law ▼
▼ The Hebrew word could refer (1) to “instruction” by the father (cf. NCV) or (2) the Mosaic law (so most English versions). The chapter seems to be stressing religious obedience, so the referent is probably the law. Besides, the father’s teaching will be what the law demands, and the one who associates with gluttons is not abiding by the law.is a discerning child, ▼
▼ Heb “son,” but the immediate context does not suggest limiting this only to male children.
but a companion of gluttons brings shame ▼
▼ The companion of gluttons shames his father and his family because such a life style as he now embraces is both unruly and antisocial.to his parents. ▼
▼ Heb “father,” but the immediate context does not suggest limiting this only to the male parent.
8 The one who increases his wealth by increasing interest ▼
▼ Heb “by interest and increase” (so ASV; NASB “by interest and usury”; NAB “by interest and overcharge.” The two words seem to be synonyms; they probably form a nominal hendiadys, meaning “by increasing [exorbitant] interest.” The law prohibited making a commission or charging interest (Exod 22:25; Lev 25:36–37; Deut 23:20; Ps 15:5). If the poor needed help, the rich were to help them – but not charge them interest.
gathers it for someone who is gracious ▼
▼ The term חוֹנֵן (khonen, “someone who shows favor”) is the active participle.▼
▼ The verse is saying that in God’s justice wealth amassed unjustly will eventually go to the poor. God will take the wealth away from them and give it to people who will distribute it better to the poor.to the needy.
9 The one who turns away his ear ▼
▼ The expression “turn away the ear from hearing” uses a metonymy to mean that this individual will not listen – it indicates a deliberate refusal to follow the instruction of the law.from hearing the law,
even his prayer ▼
▼ It is hard to imagine how someone who willfully refuses to obey the law of God would pray according to the will of God. Such a person is more apt to pray for some physical thing or make demands on God. (Of course a prayer of repentance would be an exception and would not be an abomination to the Lord.)is an abomination. ▼
▼ C. H. Toy says, “If a man, on his part, is deaf to instruction, then God, on his part, is deaf to prayer” (Proverbs [ICC], 499). And W. McKane observes that one who fails to attend to God’s law is a wicked person, even if he is a man of prayer (Proverbs [OTL], 623).
10 The one who leads the upright astray in an evil way
will himself fall into his own pit, ▼
▼ The image of falling into a pit (a figure of speech known as hypocatastasis, involving implied comparison) is meant to say that the evil to which he guides people will ultimately destroy him.
but the blameless will inherit what is good. ▼
11 A rich person ▼
▼ Heb “a rich man,” although the context does not indicate that this is limited only to males.is wise in his own eyes, ▼
▼ The idiom “in his own eyes” means “in his own opinion,” that is, his self conceit. The rich person thinks he is wise because he is rich, that he has made all the right choices.
but a discerning poor person can evaluate him properly. ▼
▼ The form יַחְקְרֶנּוּ (yakhqerennu) means “he searches him” (cf. KJV, ASV) or “he examines him”; a potential imperfect nuance fits well here to indicate that a discerning person, even though poor, can search the flaws of the rich and see through the pretension and the false assumptions (cf. NAB, NASB, NIV “sees through him”). Several commentators have connected the word to the Arabic root hqr, which means “despise” (D. W. Thomas, “Notes on Some Passages in the Book of Proverbs,” JTS 38 : 400-403), but that would be both predictable and flat.
12 When the righteous rejoice, ▼
▼ The form בַּעֲלֹץ (ba’alots) is the infinitive construct with the preposition indicating a temporal clause (“when…”); the “righteous” are the subject of this clause (subjective genitive). The word may be taken as a metonymy of adjunct – the righteous exult or rejoice because they are prosperous (cf. NLT “succeed”).great is the glory, ▼
▼ “Glory” here may have the sense of elation and praise.
but when the wicked rise to power, people are sought out. ▼
▼ The meaning of “sought out” (יְחֻפַּשׂ, yekhuppas) indicates that people have gone into hiding. So the development of the ideas for this proverb require in the first line that “rejoice” be connected with “triumph” that means they have come to power; and in the second line that “are sought out” means people have gone into hiding (cf. ASV, NIV, NRSV, NLT). C. H. Toy thinks this is too strained; he offers this rendering: “When the righteous are exalted there is great confidence, but when the wicked come into power men hide themselves” (Proverbs [ICC], 500). For the verb G. R. Driver posits an Arabic cognate hafasa, “prostrated; trampled on” (“Problems in the Hebrew Text of Proverbs,” Bib 32 : 192-93), which gives a clearer result of wicked rule, but is perhaps unnecessary (e.g., Prov 28:28; 29:2). See J. A. Emerton, “Notes on Some Passages in the Book of Proverbs,” JTS 20 (1969): 202-20.
13 The one who covers ▼
▼ The Hebrew participles provide the subject matter in this contrast. On the one hand is the person who covers over (מְכַסֶּה, mekhasseh) his sins. This means refusing to acknowledge them in confession, and perhaps rationalizing them away. On the other hand there is the one who both “confesses” (מוֹדֶה, modeh) and “forsakes” (עֹזֵב, ’ozev) the sin. To “confess” sins means to acknowledge them, to say the same thing about them that God does.his transgressions will not prosper, ▼
▼ The verse contrasts the consequences of each. The person who refuses to confess will not prosper. This is an understatement (a figure of speech known as tapeinosis); the opposite is the truth, that eventually such a person will be undone and ruined. On the other hand, the penitent will find mercy. This expression is a metonymy of cause for the effect – although “mercy” is mentioned, what mercy provides is intended, i.e., forgiveness. In other passages the verb “conceal” is used of God’s forgiveness – he covers over the iniquity (Ps 32:1). Whoever acknowledges sin, God will cover it; whoever covers it, God will lay it open.
but whoever confesses them and forsakes them will find mercy. ▼
14 Blessed is the one who is always cautious, ▼
▼ Most commentators (and some English versions, e.g., NIV) assume that the participle מְפַחֵד (mefakhed, “fears”) means “fears the Lord,” even though “the Lord” is not present in the text. Such an assumption would be more convincing if the word יִרְאַת (yir’at) had been used. It is possible that the verse refers to fearing sin or its consequences. In other words, the one who is always apprehensive about the nature and consequences of sin will avoid sin and find God’s blessing. Of course the assumption that the phrase means “fear the Lord” could be correct as well. There would be little difference in the outcome; in either case sin would be avoided.
but whoever hardens his heart ▼
▼ The one who “hardens his heart” in this context is the person who refuses to fear sin and its consequences. The image of the “hard heart” is one of a stubborn will, unyielding and unbending (cf. NCV, TEV, NLT). This individual will fall into sin.will fall into evil.
15 Like ▼
▼ The term “like” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness.a roaring lion or a roving bear, ▼
so is a wicked ruler over a poor people. ▼
▼ A poor nation under the control of political tyrants who are dangerous and destructive is helpless. The people of that nation will crumble under them because they cannot meet their demands and are of no use to them.
16 The prince who is a great oppressor lacks wisdom, ▼
▼ Heb “A prince lacking of understanding [is] also a great oppressor” (both KJV, ASV similar) The last clause, “and a great oppressor,” appears to modify “the prince.” There is little difference in meaning, only in emphasis. The LXX has “lacks income” (reading תְּבוּאוֹת [tevu’ot] instead of תְּבוּנוֹת [tevunot]). C. H. Toy (Proverbs [ICC], 501) suggests deleting the word for “prince” altogether, but this emendation is gratuitous.
but the one who hates ▼
▼ This follows the Qere reading of the participle which is singular (as opposed to the plural). The implication is that this one is also a ruler, paralleling the first half. But since he “hates” (= rejects) unjust gain he will extend [his] days, meaning he will enjoy a long and happy life (cf. NIV, NRSV, CEV).unjust gain will prolong his days.
17 The one who is tormented ▼
▼ The form is the Qal passive participle. The verb means “to oppress; to wrong; to extort”; here the idea of being “oppressed” would refer to the burden of a guilty conscience (hence “tormented”; cf. NAB, NRSV “burdened”). Some commentators have wanted to emend the text to read “suspected,” or “charged with,” or “given to,” etc., but if the motive is religious and not legal, then “oppressed” or “tormented” is preferred.by the murder ▼
▼ The text has “the blood of a life”; blood will be the metonymy of effect for the murder, the shedding of blood.of another will flee to the pit; ▼
▼ The verse is cryptic; it simply says that he will “flee to the pit.” Some have taken the “pit” to refer to the place of detention for prisoners, but why would he flee to that place? It seems rather to refer to death. This could mean that (1) since there is no place for him to go outside of the grave, he should flee to the pit (cf. TEV, NLT), or (2) he will be a fugitive until he goes to the grave (cf. NASB, NIV, NCV, NRSV, CEV). Neither one of these options is easily derived from the text. The verse seems to be saying that the one who is guilty of murder will flee, and no one should assist him. The meaning of “the pit” is unresolved.
let no one support him.
18 The one who walks blamelessly will be delivered, ▼
▼ The form is the Niphal imperfect of יָשַׁע (yasha’, “will be saved”). In all probability this refers to deliverance from misfortune. Some render it “kept safe” (NIV) or “will be safe” (NRSV, TEV). It must be interpreted in contrast to the corrupt person who will fall.
but whoever is perverse in his ways will fall ▼
▼ The Qal imperfect יִפּוֹל (yipol) is given a future translation in this context, as is the previous verb (“will be delivered”) because the working out of divine retribution appears to be coming suddenly in the future. The idea of “falling” could be a metonymy of adjunct (with the falling accompanying the ruin that comes to the person), or it may simply be a comparison between falling and being destroyed. Cf. NCV “will suddenly be ruined”; NLT “will be destroyed.”at once. ▼
▼ The last word in the verse, בְּאֶחָת (be’ekhat), means “in one [= at once (?)].” This may indicate a sudden fall, for falling “in one” (the literal meaning) makes no sense. W. McKane wishes to emend the text to read “into a pit” based on v. 10b (Proverbs [OTL], 622); this emendation is followed by NAB, NRSV.
19 The one who works his land will be satisfied with food, ▼
▼ Or “will have plenty of food” (Heb “bread”); so NAB, NASB, NCV.
but whoever chases daydreams ▼
▼ Heb “empty things” or “vain things”; NRSV “follows worthless pursuits.”▼ will have his fill ▼
▼ The repetition of the verb strengthens the contrast. Both halves of the verse use the verb יִשְׂבַּע (yisba’, “will be satisfied; will be filled with; will have enough”). It is positive in the first colon, but negative in the second – with an ironic twist to say one is “satisfied” with poverty.of poverty.
20 A faithful person ▼
▼ Heb “a man of faithfulness,” although the context does not indicate this should be limited only to males.▼
▼ The text does not qualify the nature of the faithfulness. While this would certainly have implications for the person’s righteous acts, its primary meaning may be his diligence and reliability in his work. His faithful work will bring the returns.will have an abundance of blessings,
but the one who hastens ▼
▼ The proverb is not rebuking diligent labor. One who is eager to get rich quickly is the opposite of the faithful person. The first person is faithful to God and to the covenant community; the second is trying to get rich as quickly as possible, at the least without doing an honest day’s work and at the worst dishonestly. In a hurry to gain wealth, he falls into various schemes and will pay for it. Tg. Prov 28:20 interprets this to say he hastens through deceit and wrongdoing.to gain riches will not go unpunished.
21 To show partiality ▼ is terrible, ▼
▼ Heb “not good.” This is a figure of speech known as tapeinosis – a deliberate understatement to emphasize a worst-case scenario: “it is terrible!”
for a person will transgress over the smallest piece of bread. ▼
▼ The meaning and connection of the line is not readily clear. It could be taken in one of two ways: (1) a person can steal even a small piece of bread if hungry, and so the court should show some compassion, or it should show no partiality even in such a pathetic case; (2) a person could be bribed for a very small price (a small piece of bread being the figure representing this). This second view harmonizes best with the law.
22 The stingy person ▼
▼ Heb “a man with an evil eye” (as opposed to the generous man who has a “good” eye). This individual is selfish, unkind, unsympathetic to others. He looks only to his own gain. Cf. NAB “The avaricious man”; NLT “A greedy person.”hastens after riches
and does not know that poverty will overtake him. ▼
▼ The one who is hasty to gain wealth is involved in sin in some way, for which he will be punished by poverty. The idea of “hastening” after riches suggests a dishonest approach to acquiring wealth.
23 The one who reproves ▼
▼ Or “rebukes” (NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV).another ▼
▼ Heb “a man,” but the context does not indicate this should be limited only to males.will in the end ▼
▼ There is a problem with אַחֲרַי (’akharay), which in the MT reads “after me.” This could be taken to mean “after my instructions,” but that is forced. C. H. Toy suggests simply changing it to “after” or “afterward,” i.e., “in the end” (Proverbs [ICC], 504), a solution most English versions adopt. G. R. Driver suggested an Akkadian cognate ahurru, “common man,” reading “as a rebuker an ordinary man” (“Hebrew Notes,” ZAW 52 : 147).find more favor
than the one who flatters ▼
▼ The construction uses the Hiphil participle מַחֲלִיק (makhaliq, “makes smooth”) followed by the adverbial accusative of means, the metonymy “tongue” – he makes what he says smooth. This will be pleasing for the moment, but it will offer no constructive help like the rebuke would.with the tongue.
24 The one who robs ▼
▼ While the expression is general enough to cover any kind of robbery, the point seems to be that because it can be rationalized it may refer to prematurely trying to gain control of the family property through some form of pressure and in the process reducing the parents’ possessions and standing in the community. The culprit could claim what he does is not wrong because the estate would be his anyway.his father and mother and says, “There is no transgression,”
is a companion ▼
▼ The metaphor of “companion” here means that a person who would do this is just like the criminally destructive person. It is as if they were working together, for the results are the same.to the one ▼
▼ Heb “man who destroys” (so NASB); TEV “no better than a common thief.”who destroys.
25 The greedy person ▼
▼ Heb “wide of soul.” This is an idiom meaning “a greedy person.” The term נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, traditionally, “soul”) has here its more basic meaning of appetites (a person is a soul, a bundle of appetites; BDB 660 s.v. 5.a). It would mean “wide of appetite” (רְהַב־נֶפֶשׁ), thus “greedy.”stirs up dissension, ▼
▼ Greed “stirs up” the strife. This individual’s attitude and actions stir up dissension because people do not long tolerate him.
but the one who trusts ▼
▼ The construction uses the participle בּוֹטֵחַ (boteakh) followed by עַל־יְהוָה (’al-yehvah), which gives the sense of “relying confidently on the Lord.” This is the antithesis of the greedy person who pushes to get what he desires.in the Lord will prosper. ▼
▼ The verb דָּשֵׁן (dashen) means “to be fat,” and in the Piel/Pual stems “to make fat/to be made fat” (cf. KJV, ASV). The idea of being “fat” was symbolic of health and prosperity – the one who trusts in the Lord will be abundantly prosperous and fully gratified (cf. NRSV “will be enriched”).
26 The one who trusts in his own heart ▼
▼ The idea of “trusting in one’s own heart” is a way of describing one who is self-reliant. C. H. Toy says it means to follow the untrained suggestions of the mind or to rely on one’s own mental resources (Proverbs [ICC], 505). It is arrogant to take no counsel but to rely only on one’s own intelligence.is a fool,
but the one who walks in wisdom ▼
▼ The idiom of “walking in wisdom” means to live life according to the acquired skill and knowledge passed on from the sages. It is the wisdom from above that the book of Proverbs presents, not the undisciplined and uninformed wit and wisdom from below.will escape. ▼
▼ The verb form יִמָּלֵט (yimmalet) is the Niphal imperfect; the form means “to escape.” In this context one would conclude that it means “to escape from trouble,” because the one who lives in this life by wisdom will escape trouble, and the one who trusts in himself will not.
27 The one who gives to the poor will not lack, ▼
▼ The generous individual will be rewarded. He will not lack nor miss what he has given away to the poor.
but whoever shuts his eyes to them ▼
▼ Heb “hides his eyes”; “to them” is supplied in the translation to indicate the link with the poor in the preceding line. Hiding or closing the eyes is a metonymy of cause or of adjunct, indicating a decision not to look on and thereby help the poor. It could also be taken as an implied comparison, i.e., not helping the poor is like closing the eyes to them.will receive ▼
▼ The term “receives” is not in the Hebrew text but is implied, and is supplied in the translation.many curses. ▼
▼ The text does not specify the nature or the source of the curses. It is natural to think that they would be given by the poor who are being mistreated and ignored. Far from being praised for their contributions to society, selfish, stingy people will be reviled for their heartless indifference.
28 When the wicked gain control, ▼
▼ Heb “the wicked rise,” referring to an accession to power, as in a government. Cf. TEV “come to power”; NLT “take charge.”▼ people ▼
▼ Heb “a man” or “mankind” in a generic sense.hide themselves, ▼
▼ The form is the Niphal imperfect of סָתַר (satar, “to hide”); in this stem it can mean “to hide themselves” or “to go into hiding.” In either case the expression would be a hyperbole; the populace would not go into hiding, but they would tread softly and move about cautiously. G. R. Driver suggests the Akkadian sataru instead, which means “to demolish,” and is cognate to the Aramaic “to destroy.” This would produce the idea that people are “destroyed” when the wicked come to power (“Problems in the Hebrew Text of Proverbs,” Bib 32 : 192-93). That meaning certainly fits the idea, but there is no reason for the change because the MT is perfectly readable as it is and makes good sense.
but when they perish, ▼
▼ The two clauses have parallel constructions: They both begin with infinitives construct with prepositions functioning as temporal clauses, followed by subjective genitives (first the wicked, and then the pronoun referring to them). This heightens the antithesis: “when the wicked rise…when they perish.”the righteous increase.
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