Proverbs 30:19
The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.
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30:10 Slander not a servant to his master, accuse him not in small matters, to make mischief. 11-14. In every age there are monsters of ingratitude who ill-treat their parents. Many persuade themselves they are holy persons, whose hearts are full of sin, and who practise secret wickedness. There are others whose lofty pride is manifest. There have also been cruel monsters in every age. 15-17. Cruelty and covetousness are two daughters of the horseleech, that still cry, Give, give, and they are continually uneasy to themselves. Four things never are satisfied, to which these devourers are compared. Those are never rich that are always coveting. And many who have come to a bad end, have owned that their wicked courses began by despising their parents' authority. 18-20. Four things cannot be fully known. The kingdom of nature is full of marvels. The fourth is a mystery of iniquity; the cursed arts by which a vile seducer gains the affections of a female; and the arts which a vile woman uses to conceal her wickedness. 21-23 Four sorts of persons are very troublesome. Men of low origin and base spirit, who, getting authority, become tyrants. Foolish and violent men indulging in excesses. A woman of a contentious spirit and vicious habits. A servant who has obtained undue influence. Let those whom Providence has advanced from low beginnings, carefully watch against that sin which most easily besets them.The way of a man with a maid - The act of sin leaves no outward mark upon the sinners. 18-20. Hypocrisy is illustrated by four examples of the concealment of all methods or traces of action, and a pertinent example of double dealing in actual vice is added, that is, the adulterous woman. The way of an eagle in the air; either,

1. The manner of her flight, which is exceeding high, and swift, and strong. Or rather,

2. The way or part of the air through which she passeth, without leaving any print or sign in it, which though it be true of all birds, yet is here attributed to the eagle, of whom this is more true, because she flies out of sight, where neither her body nor any sign of it can be discerned.

The way of a serpent upon a rock; where she leaves no impression, nor slime, nor token where she was, as she doth in softer bodies, and as birds leave their feathers there.

The way of a ship in the midst of the sea; which though at present it make a furrow, yet is speedily closed again. The way of a man with a maid; either,

1. The various methods and artifices which young men use to entice or persuade young virgins, either to honest love and marriage, or to unlawful lust and uncleanness. Or rather,

2. The impure conversation of a man with one who goeth under the name of a maid, but is not so in truth, which is managed with so much secrecy and cunning that it can very hardly be discovered; which exposition agrees best with the foregoing. similitudes referred to it, and with the following verse.

The way of an eagle in the air,.... And so of any other bird; but this is mentioned, because it flies swiftest, and soars highest: but the way in which it goes is not known, nor can it be seen with the eye; it cuts the air, and passes through it, but leaves no track behind it which may be pointed to, and it may be said, that is the way the eagle took and flew towards heaven out of sight;

the way of a serpent upon a rock; a smooth hard rock; and wonderful it is that it should creep up it without legs; and where it leaves no impression, no footsteps by which it can be traced, as it may in soft and sandy places;

the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; it is marvellous that such a vessel should be supported upon the sea; that it should weather the storms and tempests of it; that it should be steered through the trackless ocean to distant countries; and, particularly, though it makes furrows in the waters, and divides the waves; yet these quickly close again, and there is no path to be seen in which it goes; there is no beaten road made by it, nor by the vast numbers which go the same way, which a man can see with his eyes or follow;

and the way of a man with a maid; or "to a maid" (x); the many artful ways and methods he uses to get into her company, who is kept recluse; and to convey the sentiments and affections of his heart unto her, to gain her love to him, and obtain her in an honourable way of marriage; or to decoy and deceive her, and draw her into impure and unlawful embraces: it may design the private and secret way of committing fornication with her; which sense seems to be confirmed by Proverbs 30:20. Some of the ancients, particularly Ambrose (y), interpreted the whole of this verse of Christ: "the way of an eagle in the air", of his ascension to heaven, with men his prey, taken out of the jaws of the enemy; and which is such as is beyond the comprehension of men, that one of so great majesty should vouchsafe to come down from heaven, or ascend thither: "the way of a serpent upon a rock" he understands of the temptations of Satan, the old serpent, with which he attacked Christ, the Rock; but could imprint no footsteps of his malice and wickedness on him; could find nothing in him to work upon, nor leave any sign behind him, as upon Adam: "the way of a ship in the midst of the sea" he interprets of the church; which though distressed with storms and tempests of persecution and false doctrine, yet cannot suffer shipwreck, Christ being in it: and the last clause he renders as the Vulgate Latin version does, "and the way of a man in youth"; which he explains of the journeys which Christ took, and the ways of virtue he pursued, to do good to the bodies and souls of men, which are so many as not to be numbered. But it may be better interpreted of the wonderful incarnation of Christ, his conception and birth of a virgin; which was a new and unheard of thing, and the way and manner of it quite inscrutable, and more hard and difficult to be understood than any of the rest; for the words may be rendered, "the way of a man in a maid" or "virgin"; that is, the conception of Geber, the mighty man, in the virgin; see Jeremiah 31:22. Gussetius (z) gives the mystical sense of the whole, as referring to the ascension of Christ; his coming out of the stony grave; his conversation among the people, like the tumultuous waves; and his incarnation of a virgin.

(x) "ad virginem", Glassius, Gejerus, Noldius, p. 144. No. 678. (y) De Salomone, c. 2, 3, 4, 5. (z) Ebr. Comment. p. 195.

The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.
Verse 19. - The way of an eagle in the air. You cannot by any outward sign know that an eagle has passed this or that way. Wisd. 5:11, "As when a bird hath flown through the air, there is no token of her way to be found," etc. The way of a serpent upon a rock. The snake's mode of progression by the lever-like motion of its ribs might well awake surprise, but the point is still the tracklessness of its course. On sand or soft ground its movements might be traced by the impression made. but this could not be done on hard rock; it could push itself along on such a surface without leaving any track. The way of a ship in the midst (heart) of the sea; i.e. in the open sea. You can trace a ship's course while she is near land or within sight, but when she reaches the open sea, you can follow her furrow no longer. Wisd. 5:10, "As a ship that passeth over the waves of the water, which when it is gone by, the trace thereof cannot be found, neither the pathway of the keel in the waves." The way of a man (geber) with a maid (בְּעַלְמָה); Septuagint, "The ways of a man in youth (ἐν νεότητι)." So Vulgate, Viam viri in adolescentia. But this is feeble, and almah is without doubt rightly rendered "maid," "virgin." The proverb says that the sinful act to which it alludes leaves no outward sign by which it can generally be recognized; it escapes man's knowledge. This is exemplified and confirmed in the following verse. It is not sufficient to refer the saying to the insidious arts of the seducer, by which he saps the principles and inflames the passions of his victim. The sin of unchastity is signified, which demands secrecy and affords no token of its commission. Two of the above parallels, says Cheyne, are given in a quatrain of a Vedic hymn to Varuna -

"The path of ships across the sea,
The soaring eagle's flight he knows."
Some of the Fathers and earlier commentators, and among moderns, Bishop Wordsworth, have not been content with the literal sense of this gnonic, but have found in it, as in the others, deep spiritual mysteries. Christ is the great Eagle (Revelation 12:14), who ascended beyond human ken; the serpent is the devil, who works his wily way in secret, and who tried to pass into the mind of Christ, who is the Rock; the ship is the Church, which preserves its course amid the waves of this troublesome world, though we cannot mark its strength or whither it is guided; and the fourth mystery is the incarnation of Jesus Christ our Lord, when "the virgin (almah) conceived and bare a son" (Isaiah 7:14), when "a woman encompassed a man (geber)" (Jeremiah 31:22). We can see the greater or less appropriateness of such accommodation, but the proverb must have been received by contemporaries only in its literal sense, whatever were the inner mysteries which the Holy Spirit wished to communicate thereby. Proverbs 30:19The following proverb, again a numerical proverb, begins with the eagle, mentioned in the last line of the foregoing:

18 Three things lie beyond me,

     And four I understand not:

19 The way of the eagle in the heavens,

     The way of a serpent over a rock,

     The way of a ship on the high sea,

     And the way of a man with a maid.

20 Thus is the way of the adulterous woman:

     She eateth and wipeth her mouth, and saith:

     I have done no iniquity.

נפלאוּ ממּנּי, as relative clause, like 15b (where Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion rightly: τρία δέ ἐστιν ἃ οὐ πλησθήσεται), is joined to שׁלשׁה המּה. On the other hand, ארבע (τέσσαρα, for with the Kerı̂, conforming to 18a, ארבּעה, τέσσαρας) has to be interpreted as object. accus. The introduction of four things that are not known is in expressions like Job 42:3; cf. Psalm 139:6. The turning-point lies in the fourth; to that point the other three expressions gravitate, which have not an object in themselves, but are only as folie to the fourth. The articles wanting after הנּשׁר: they would be only the marks of the gender, and are therefore unnecessary; cf. under Proverbs 29:2. And while בּשּׁמים, in the heavens, and בלב־ים, in the sea, are the expressions used, עלי צוּר is used for on the rock, because here "on" is not at the same time "in," "within," as the eagle cleaves the air and the ship the waves. For this same reason the expression, "the way of a man בּעלמה," is not to be understood of love unsought, suddenly taking possession of and captivating a man toward this or that maid, so that the principal thought of the proverb may be compared to the saying, "marriages are made in heaven;" but, as in Kidduschin 2b, with reference to this passage, is said coitus via appellatur. The ב refers to copula carnalis. But in what respect did his understanding not reach to this? "Wonderful," thus Hitzig explains as the best interpreter of this opinion elsewhere (cf. Psychol. p. 115) propounded, "appeared to him the flying, and that how a large and thus heavy bird could raise itself so high in the air (Job 39:27); then how, over the smooth rock, which offers no hold, the serpent pushes itself along; finally, how the ship in the trackless waves, which present nothing to the eye as a guide, nevertheless finds its way. These three things have at the same time this in common, that they leave no trace of their pathway behind them. But of the fourth way that cannot be said; for the trace is left on the substrat, which the man דּרך, and it becomes manifest, possibly as pregnancy, keeping out of view that the עלמה may yet be בתולה. That which is wonderful is consequently only the coition itself, its mystical act and its incomprehensible consequences." But does not this interpretation carry in itself its own refutation? To the three wonderful ways which leave no traces behind them, there cannot be compared a fourth, the consequences of which are not only not trackless, but, on the contrary, become manifest as proceeding from the act in an incomprehensible way. The point of comparison is either the wonderfulness of the event or the tracklessness of its consequences. But now "the way of a man בתולה" is altogether inappropriate to designate the wonderful event of the origin of a human being. How altogether differently the Chokma expresses itself on this matter is seen from Job 10:8-12; Ecclesiastes 11:5 (cf. Psychol. p. 210). That "way of a man with a maid" denotes only the act of coition, which physiologically differs in nothing from that of the lower animals, and which in itself, in the externality of its accomplishment, the poet cannot possibly call something transcendent. And why did he use the word בעלמה, and not rather בּנקבה [with a female] or בּאשּׁה [id.]? For this reason, because he meant the act of coition, not as a physiological event, but as a historical occurrence, as it takes place particularly in youth as the goal of love, not always reached in the divinely-appointed way. The point of comparison hence is not the secret of conception, but the tracelessness of the carnal intercourse. Now it is also clear why the way of the serpent עלי צור was in his eye: among grass, and still more in sand, the trace of the serpent's path would perhaps be visible, but not on a hard stone, over which it has glided. And it is clear why it is said of the ship בלב־ים [in the heart of the sea]: while the ship is still in sight from the land, one knows the track it follows; but who can in the heart of the sea, i.e., on the high sea, say that here or there a ship has ploughed the water, since the water-furrows have long ago disappeared? Looking to the heavens, one cannot say that an eagle has passed there; to the rock, that a serpent has wound its way over it; to the high sea, that a ship has been steered through it; to the maid, that a man has had carnal intercourse with her. That the fact might appear on nearer investigation, although this will not always guide to a certain conclusion, is not kept in view; only the outward appearance is spoken of, the intentional concealment (Rashi) being in this case added thereto. Sins against the sixth [ equals seventh] commandment remain concealed from human knowledge, and are distinguished from others by this, that they shun human cognition (as the proverb says: אין אפיטרופוס לעריות, there is for sins of the flesh no ἐπίτροπος) - unchastity can mask itself, the marks of chastity are deceitful, here only the All-seeing Eye (עין ראה כּל, Aboth ii. 1) perceives that which is done. Yet it is not maintained that "the way of a man with a maid" refers exclusively to external intercourse; but altogether on this side the proverb gains ethical significance. Regarding עלמה (from עלם, pubes esse et caeundi cupidus, not from עלם, to conceal, and not, as Schultens derives it, from עלם, signare, to seal) as distinguished from בּתוּלה, vid., under Isaiah 7:14. The mark of maidenhood belongs to עלמה not in the same way as to בתולה (cf. Genesis 24:43 with 16), but only the marks of puberty and youth; the wife אשּׁה (viz., אושׁת אישׁ) cannot as such be called עלמה. Ralbag's gloss עלמה שׁהיא בעולה is incorrect, and in Arama's explanation (Akeda, Abschn. 9): the time is not to be determined when the sexual love of the husband to his wife flames out, ought to have been ודרך אישׁ בּאשׁתּו ne. One has therefore to suppose that Proverbs 30:20 explains what is meant by "the way of a man with a maid" by a strong example (for "the adulterous woman" can mean only an old adulteress), there not inclusive, for the tracklessness of sins of the flesh in their consequences.

This 20th verse does not appear to have been an original part of the numerical proverb, but is an appendix thereto (Hitzig). If we assume that כּן points forwards: thus as follows is it with the... (Fleischer), then we should hold this verse as an independent cognate proverb; but where is there a proverb (except Proverbs 11:19) that begins with כּן? כן, which may mean eodem modo (for one does not say כּן גּם) as well as eo modo, here points backwards in the former sense. Instead of וּמחתה פּיה (not פּיה; for the attraction of that which follows, brought about by the retrogression of the tone of the first word, requires dageshing, Thorath Emeth, p. 30) the lxx has merely ἀπονιψαμένη, i.e., as Immanuel explains: מקנּחה עצמה, abstergens semet ipsam, with Grotius, who to tergens os suum adds the remark: σεμνολογία (honesta elocutio). But eating is just a figure, like the "secret bread," Proverbs 9:17, and the wiping of the mouth belongs to this figure. This appendix, with its כן, confirms it, that the intention of the four ways refers to the tracklessness of the consequences.

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