My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;
Verses 1-22. - 3. Third admonitory discourse, pointing out the benefits which arise from a sincere, earnest, and persevering search after Wisdom. This discourse divides itself into three parts.
(1) Vers. 1-9: a statement of the conditions which, if fulfilled, result in the highest knowledge of Jehovah - the fear of Jehovah and the knowledge of God, who is the Source of wisdom and the Protection and Ensurer of safety to the righteous.
(2) Vers. 10-19: the negatively beneficial results of Wisdom, in delivery from the paths of evil, from destructive lusts and passions, from the temptations of wicked men and wicked women.
(3) Vers. 20-22: the epilogue, or conclusion, combining encouragement on the one hand, and warning on the other. Verse 1. - The teacher here reverts to the original form of his address, as appears from the employment of the term, my son. It seems clear that it is no longer Wisdom personified who is the speaker, from the fact that the words, "wisdom and understanding" in ver. 2 are used without the possessive pronoun "my," which would have been undoubtedly inserted if this address had been a continuation of the discourse in the preceding chapter. Some of the ideas of that address, however, are restated, as the crying and lifting up the voice after Wisdom, and the conclusion, wherein the respective destinies of the pious and wicked are portrayed. The particle "if" (אֵם) is conditional, and serves to introduce the series of clauses (vers. 1-4) which lay down the conditions upon which the promises depend, and which form the protasis to the double apodosis in vers. 5 and 9. De Wette, Meyer, and Delitzsch regard it as voluntative, as expressing a wish on the part of the teacher, and translate, "Oh that thou wouldst!" and אִם, "if," is used in this way in Psalm 139:19; but the LXX. (ἐάν) and Vulgate (si) make it conditional. It is repeated in an emphatic form in ver. 3. Receive. The verbs "receive" and "hide" show that the endeavour after Wisdom is to be candid and sincere. "To receive" (לָקַה) seems to be here used, like the LXX. δεχέσθαι in the sense of "to receive graciously," "to admit the words of Wisdom." It is noticeable that there is a gradation in emphasis in the various terms here used by the teacher. Just as "commandments" is stronger than "words," so "hide" is stronger than "receive." The emphasizing is carried on in the following verses in the same way, and at length culminates in ver. 4, which sums up the ardent spirit in which the search after Wisdom is to be prosecuted in presenting it to us in its strongest form. Hide. The original (צַפַן, tsaphan) is here used in a different sense to that in which it occurs in Proverbs 1:11 and 18. It here refers, as in Proverbs 7:1; Proverbs 10:14; and Proverbs 13:22, to the storing or laying up, as of treasure, in some secret repository, and means "to lay up." The Divine commands of the teacher are to be hidden in safe custody in the memory, in the understanding, in the conscience, and in the heart (cf. Proverbs 4:21; Proverbs 7:1). The psalmist expresses the same idea in Psalm 119:11, "Thy words have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee."
So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
Verse 2. - This verse is dependent on the preceding. So that thou incline. The literal translation is "to incline;" but the inclination of the ear and the application of the heart follow as a consequence upon the precepting ideas (cf. the Vulgate, ut audiat sapientiam auris tua). The root idea of the original (קָשַׁב kashav) is "to sharpen," viz. the ear as expressed, and so to give diligent attention to the precepts of Wisdom. In Proverbs 1:24 it is rendered "to regard." To apply thine heart is to turn the heart with the whole scope of its powers, in the spirit of humility and eagerness, to understanding. As the ear represents the outward vehicle of communication, so the heart (לִב, lev) represents the inward, the intellectual faculty, the mind, or it may mean the affections as suggested by the LXX. καρδία and Vulgate cor. Understanding (תְּבוּנָה, t'vunah) is here interchanged with "wisdom," which must determine its meaning to some extent. The LXX. interpreters take it as σύνεσις, the faculty of comprehension." Like בִינָה (vinah) in Proverbs 1:2, the word describes the faculty of distinguishing or separating: but it does not appear to be here used as representing this "as a faculty of the soul, but as a Divine power which communicates itself as the gift of God" (Delitzsch). A second and perhaps simpler sense may be given to the sentence. It may mean the turning or applying of the heart in an affectionate and loving way, i.e. with full purpose, to the discrimination of what is right and what wrong. The ideas of wisdom and understanding seem to some extent to be brought forward as personifications. They are things outside of ourselves, to which we have to give attention. Religion appeals not only to the affections, but also to the intellect, as this satisfies all the yearnings of our nature.
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
Verse 3. - Yea, if thou criest after knowledge. The endeavour after Wisdom is not only to be sincere, it is also to be earnest, as appears from the "yea, if," and the verbs "crying" and "lifting up the voice," both of which frequently occur in Scripture as indicating earnestness. This earnestness is the counterpart of that which Wisdom herself displays (see Proverbs 1:20, 21). Knowledge; i.e. insight. In the original there is practically little difference between "knowledge" and "understanding" (בִּינָה and תְּבוּנָה). They carry on the idea expressed in "understanding" in the preceding verse, and thus throw the emphasis on the verbs. The LXX. and Vulgate, however, take "knowledge" as equivalent to σοφία, sapientia, "wisdom." The reading of the Targum, "If thou tallest understanding thy mother," arises from reading אִם for אֵם, but is not to be preferred to the Masoretic text, as it destroys the parallelism.
If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
Verse 4. - If thou seekest, etc. The climax in the series of conditions is reached in this verse; and the imagery employed in both clauses indicates that the search after Wisdom is to be persevering, unrelaxing, and diligent, like the unremitting toil and labour with which men carry on mining operations. "To seek" (בָּקַשׁ, bakash) in the original is properly "to seek diligently" (piel), and is kindred to "to search" (קָפַשׂ, khaphas), which again is equivalent to "to dig" (חָפַר, khaphar), the Vulgate effodere, "to dig out." Compare the expression in Job 3:21, "And dig for it more than for hid treasures." We trace in these verbs the idea in the mind of the teacher indicated above, which finds expression also in the object of the search, the silver, in its crude state, and the hidden treasures (מַטְמֹנִים mat'monim), i.e. the treasures of gold, silver, and precious metal concealed in the earth. The comparison here made between the search for Wisdom and the search for the hidden treasures of the earth was not unfamiliar to the Hebrew mind, as it is found worked out with great beauty of detail in the twenty-eighth chapter of Job. Again, the comparison of Wisdom with things most precious in the estimation of man is natural and common, and occurs in Psalm 119:72; Job 28:15-19. The same ideas and comparisons here used are presented to us in the New Testament teaching, in our Lord's parable of the man who finds the hid treasure in the field, and, in the phraseology of St. Paul, who speaks of "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," and of "the unsearchable riches of Christ." "Divine knowledge is an inexhaustible mine of precious ore" (Wardlaw). The language of the Proverbs would receive additional three from the circumstances of the reign of Solomon, the most splendid and prosperous era in the annals of the Jewish national history, in the means taken to secure the treasures of other and distant countries; the wealth and the riches of that reign (see 2 Chronicles 9:20-22) would help to bring out the idea of the superlative value of Wisdom. In no era of the Jewish national history was there such abundance of riches, such splendid prosperity, as in the reign of Solomon, whose ships of Tarshish brought "gold and silver" (see 2 Chronicles 9:20-22), and this state of things would give point to the comparisons which the teacher uses in our text.
Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
Verse 5. - Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord. Then (אָן), introducing the first apodosis, and answering to the conditional "if" of vers. 1, 3, 4. The earnest endeavour after Wisdom meets with its reward, and those that seek shall find (cf. Matthew 7:7): and thus an inducement is held forth to listen to the admonition of the teacher. Understand implies the power of discernment, but Zockler gives it the further moaning of taking to one's self as a spiritual possession, just as "find" meaning primarily "to arrive at" conveys the idea of getting possession of (Mercerus). The fear of the Lord (יְרְאַת יְחוָה, yir'ath y'hovah); "the fear of Jehovah," as in Proverbs 1:7. As it is the beginning, so it is the highest form of knowledge and the greatest good. Elsewhere it is represented as a fountain of life (Proverbs 15:27). All true wisdom is summed up in "the fear of the Lord." It here means the reverence due to him, and so comprises the whole range of the religious affections and feelings, which respond to various attributes of the Divine character as they are revealed, and which find their expression in holy worship. The knowledge of God (דַעַת ךאלֹהִים, daath Elohim); literally, the knowledge of Elohim. Not merely cognition, but knowledge in its wider sense. The two ideas of "the fear of the Lord" and "the knowledge of God" act reciprocally on each other. Just as without reverence of God there can be no knowledge of him in its true sense, so the knowledge of God will increase and deepen the feeling of reverence. But it is noticeable that the teacher here, as in Proverbs 9:10, where, however, it is "the knowledge of the holy" (דַעַת קְדשִׁים, daath k'doshim), gives the chief place to reverence, and thus indicates that it is the basis of knowledge, which is its fruit and result. The relation here suggested is analogous to that which subsists between faith and knowledge, and recalls the celebrated dictum of Anselm: "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam; sed credo, ut intelligam." Elohim, here interchanged with Jehovah, is not of frequent occurrence in the Proverbs, as it is only found therein five times, while the predominating word which is used to designate the Deity is Jehovah. But it is difficult to draw any distinction between them here. Jehovah may refer more especially to the Personality of the Divine nature, while Elohim may refer to Christ's glory (Plumptre). Bishop Wordsworth thinks that a distinction is made between the knowledge of Elohim and the knowledge of man which is of little worth.
For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.
Verse 6. - For the Lord giveth wisdom. The Lord Jehovah is the only and true Source of wisdom. The truth stated here is also met with in Daniel 2:21, "He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding." He "giveth," or more properly, "will give" (יִתֵּן yitten, future of נָתַן, nathan), wisdom; but the connection requires us to understand that the assurance applies only to those who seek after it earnestly and truly (cf. James 1:5-7). The two coefficients to our obtaining wisdom are our efforts and God's assistance. Solomon may be adduced as s striking exemplification of this; he asked for "an understanding heart," and God graciously granted his request (see 1 Kings 3:9, 12). Out of his mouth (מִפִיו, mippiv); ex ore ejus; God is here spoken of anthropologically. He is the true Teacher. The meaning is that God communicates wisdom through the medium of his Word (Delitzsch. Pi.). The law proceeds from his mouth (Job 22:22). In the Book of Wisdom (7:25), "Wisdom is the breath of the power of God." His word is conveyed to us through men divinely inspired, and hence St. Peter (2 Peter 1:21) says that "holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.
Verse 7. - Wisdom which is the foundation of security and safety, and hence is sound wisdom, is that which God treasures up for the righteous. The teacher passes to another phase of the Divine character. God is not only the Source of wisdom; he is also the Ensurer of safety, the Source of salvation to those who act uprightly. It will be noted that the use of the word is confined to the Proverbs and Job, with the exception of the two passages in Isaiah and Micah. Buckler. Besides storing up the treasures of sound wisdom, which the righteous may use and so obtain security in their uprightness, God is himself a Buckler, or Shield (מָגֵן, magen), to those who walk in innocence. This aspect of God's directly protecting power is met with in other parts of Scripture. In Genesis 15:1 he encourages Abram with the assurance, "I am thy Shield." In Psalm 33:20; Psalm 84:11; Psalm 89:18; Psalm 144:2, Jehovah is called a Shield to his saints. He renders them security against the assaults of their enemies, and especially against the fiery darts of the wicked one. Again, in Proverbs 30:5, it is said, "God is a Shield (magen) up to them that walk uprightly." It is incorrect to take מָגֵן (magen) either as an accusative after the verb or in apposition with "sound wisdom." To them that walk uprightly; literally, to the walkers in innocence (לְחֹלֵכֵי תֹם, l'khol'key thom). תֹם (thom) is "integrity of mind," "moral faultlessness," "innocence." "To walk uprightly" is to maintain a course of life regulated by right principles, and directed to right ends. He "walks uprightly who lives with the fear of God as his principle, the Word of God as his rule, and the glory of God as his end" (Wardlaw). The completeness of the moral and religious character is involved in the expression which is found also in Proverbs 10:9 and Psalm 84:11. The Vulgate translates the latter clause of the verse, proteget gradientes simpliciter, "he will protect those who walk in simplicity;" cf. 2 Corinthians 1:12 in illustration of the phrase. He layeth up; i.e. he treasures up (LXX., θησαυρίζειν), or preserves and protects (custodire, Vulgate), as a person does "treasure or jewel, that it may not be stolen" (Zockler). The majority of commentators read the Keri (יִצפֹן, "he will treasure up," future of צָפַן) in preference to the Khetib (צָפַן, perfect of same verb, with prefix וְ, "and he treasured up"), and this is the; reading adopted in the Authorized Version. The Keri implies that God does treasure up sound wisdom, while the Khetib, as Delitzsch observes, has the force of the aorist, and so represents the treasuring up as an accomplished fact. The same verb occurs in Proverbs 2:1, where it is translated in the Authorized Version by "hide," and also in Proverbs 7:1 and Proverbs 10:14 by "lay up." The laying up, or treasuring, points to the preciousness of that which is treasured, "sound wisdom." Sound wisdom. A great variety of opinions exists as to the true meaning of the word in the original, תְוּשִׁיָה (tvushiyyah), of which "sound wisdom" is an interpretation. Zockler explains it as "wisdom, reflection;" Delitzsch, as "advancement and promotion;" Dathe, as "solid fortune;" Gesenius, as "aid." The proper meaning of the word seems to he "substance," from the root יָשָׁה, "to be, to exist, to be firm." Professor Lee remarks on the word, "From the places in which it occurs, either wealth, thought, or some such sense it manifestly requires. It occurs in Job 6:13, in parallelism with 'help;' in Proverbs 2:7, with a 'shield;' in Job 1:6, with 'wisdom;' in Job 12:16, with 'strength;' in Proverbs 3:21, with 'discretion;' in Proverbs 8:14, with 'counsel' and 'understanding;' in Isaiah 28:29, with 'counsel;' and so in Job 26:3. In Job 30:22 and Micah 6:9, 'entirely' or the like seems to suit the context; see also Proverbs 18:1, and generally 'excess,' or 'abundance,' taken either in a good or bad sense, and varied by other considerations, seems to prevail in every case in which this word is used" (see Professor Lee, on Job 5:12). The parallelism of the passage before us seems to require that it should be understood in the sense of security; and transferring the idea to wisdom as the means of security. This idea is reproduced in the LXX. σωτήρια, the Vulgate salus, and the Targum incolumitas.
He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints.
Verse 8. - He keepeth the paths of judgment. This verse is explanatory of the latter hemistich of ver. 7, and points out more fully in what way God is a Protector of his saints. Some connect the Hebrew infinitive לִנְצור (lin'tsor), "to watch or keep," with "them that walk uprightly," and translate, "them that walk uprightly by keeping the paths of judgment;" but this is to transfer the idea of protection from God to such persons. The verb signifies specially "to defend, to preserve from danger," as in Proverbs 22:12, "The eyes of the Lind preserve knowledge; i.e. defend or protect it from danger." It is God who "keepeth the paths of judgment," as he alone has the power to do so. He watches over all that walk therein, guides, superin. tends, and protects them. The paths of judgment; or rather, justice, ךארְהות מִשְׁפָט (at'khoth mishpat). The abstract is here used for the concrete, and the phrase means "the paths of the just," i.e. the paths in which the just walk, or "those who walk justly" (Mercerus). This expression corresponds with "the way of his saints," just as "keep" and "preserve" are synonymous verbs, both meaning "to guard, keep safe, or protect." He preserveth the way of his saints. God does this
(1) by his preventing grace, as in Psalm 66:9, "He suffereth not our feet to slip." Cf. Hannah's song, "He will keep the feet of his saints" (1 Samuel 2:9);
(2) by angelic agency, as in Psalm 91:11, "He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways." The saints are ever under the watchful care and mighty protection of Jehovah. His saints (חֲסִידָו khasidav); i.e. the pious towards God, the godly, those in whose hearts the principles of sanctity have been implanted, and who cherish earnest inward love to God, and "walk righteously" and "speak uprightly" (Isaiah 33:15). It is remarkable that the word saints only occurs once (in this passage) in the Proverbs. During the period of the Maccabaean Wars, a party or sect, which aimed at ceremonial purity, claimed for themselves the title of Chasidim or Asidaeans (Ἀσιδαῖοι), as expressive of their piety or devotion. They are those whom Moses called "men of holiness," Exodus 22:31 (ואֲנְשֵׁיאּקֹדֶשׁ, v'an'shev-kodesh); cf. Psalm 89:5; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 89:8; Deuteronomy 33:3; Daniel 7:18, 22, 22, 25. Under the Christian dispensation, the saints are those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 John 5:1), and who are holy in all manner of conversation (1 Peter 1:25; 1 Macc. 2:42 1 Macc. 7:13; 2 Macc. 14:6); see Bishop Lightfoot, 'Colossians and Philemon,' diss. 2, p. 355.
Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path.
Verse 9. - Then (אָז, az), repeated from ver. 5, introduces the second apodosis. As the former referred to God, so this appears to refer more especially to man, and thus we have stated the whole benefit, in its twofold aspect, which Wisdom confers on those who diligently seek her. It is not to be affirmed, however, that righteousness and judgment and equity refer exclusively to man; they must represent some aspects of our relationship to God, both from the meaning of the words themselves, and because the law which regulates our dealings and intercourse with man has its seat in the higher law of our relation to God. Righteousness, and judgment, and equity. These three words occur in the same collocation in Proverbs 1:3, which see. Yea, every good path. "Yea" does not occur in the original. The expression is a summarizing of the three previous conceptions, as if the teacher implied that all good paths are embraced by and included in "righteousness, and judgment, and equity;" but the term is also comprehensive in the widest degree. The literal translation is "every path of good" (כְּל־מַעְגֻּל־טוב, cal-ma'gal-tov), i.e. every course of action of which goodness is the characteristic, or, as the Authorized Version, "every good path," the sense in which it was understood by St. Jerome, omnem orbitam bonam. The word here used for "path" is מַעְגַּל (ma'gal), "the way in which the chariot rolls" (Delitzsch), and metaphorically a course of action, as in Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 4:26.
When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul;
Verses 10-19. - Statement of the advantages which result from the possession of Wisdom, and specially as a safeguard against evil men (vers. 12-15) and evil women (vers 16-19). Verse 10. - When wisdom entereth into thine heart. There is practically little difference as to the sense, whether we render the Hebrew כִּיby the conditional "if" or by the temporal "when" as in the Authorized Version. The conditional force is adopted by the LXX. ἐάν and the Vulgate si. In the previous section of this address, the teacher has shown that the search after Wisdom will result in possession.; now he points out, when Wisdom is secured, certain advantageous consequences follow. The transition is easy and natural. The form of construction is very similar to that adopted previously. There is first the hypothesis, if we give this force to כִּי, though much shorter; and secondly the climax, also shorter and branching off into the statement of two special cases. Entereth; or, shall enter (חָבוא thavo) in the sense of permanent residence in the heart. Wisdom is not only to come in, but to rest there (cf. Proverbs 14:33). The expression is illustrated by John 14:23. The imagery of the verse is taken from the reception and entertainment of a guest. As we receive a welcome guest, and find pleasure in his company, so is Wisdom to be dear to the heart and soul. Into thine heart (בְּלִבֶּך, b'libecha). The heart (לֵב) "concentrates in it. self the personal life of man in all its relations, the conscious and the unconscious, the voluntary and the involuntary, the physical and the spiritual impulses, the emotions and states" (Cremer, 'Bib. Theol. Lex.,' sub voce καρδία). It is that in which the נֶפֶשׁ (nephesh),"soul," manifests itself. It is the centre of the life of will and desire, of the emotions, and of the moral life. Rudloff ('Lehre von Menscher,' p. 59, sqq., apud Zockler) remarks that everywhere in the Scriptures the heart appears to belong more to the life of desire and feeling than to the intellectual activity of the soul. But at the same time, it is to be noted that intelligent conception is attributed to the heart (לֵב); Proverbs 14:10; Proverbs 8:5; Proverbs 16:9. The expression seems to be put here for the moral side of man's nature; and in the Hellenistic sense, καρδία, the proper equivalent of לֵב "heart," involves all that stands for νοῦς λόγος συνείδησις, and θυμός; i.e. it includes, besides other things, the intellectual faculty. The word "soul" (נֶפֶשׁ, nephesh) is here found in combination with "heart." The other passages where they are mentioned together are Deuteronomy 6:5; Psalm 13:2; Jeremiah 4:19; Proverbs 24:12. The soul is primarily the vital principle, but according to the usus loquendi of Holy Scripture, it frequently denotes the entire inward nature of man; it is that part which is the object of the work of redemption. The homo of the soul is the heart, as appears from Proverbs 14:10, "The heart knoweth his own bitterness [or, 'the bitterness of his soul,' Hebrew]." While the "heart" (לֵב) is rendered by καρδία and ψυχή, the only Greek equivalent to "soul" (וֶפֶשׁ) is ψυχή. The two expressions, "heart," and "soul," in the passage before us may be taken as designating both the moral and spiritual sides of man's nature. Wisdom is to be acceptable and pleasant to man in these respects. It may be remarked that an intellectual colouring is given to the word "heart" by the LXX., who render it by διανοία, as also in Deuteronomy 6:5 and other passages, evidently from the idea that prominence is given to the reflective faculty. Classically, διανοία ισ equivalent to "thought," "faculty of thought," "intellect." Knowledge (Hebrew, דָעָת); literally, to know, as in Proverbs 8:10 and Proverbs 14:6; here used synonymously with "wisdom." Knowledge, not merely as cognition, but perception; i.e. not merely knowing a thing with respect to its existence and being, but as to its excellence and truth. Equivalent to the LXX. αἰσσησις, "perception," and the Vulgate scientia. Is pleasant (Hebrew, יִנְעָם, yin'am); literally, shall be pleasant; i.e. sweet, lovely, beautiful. The same word is used impersonally in Jacob's blessing of Issachar (Genesis 49:15, "And he saw the land that it was pleasant"), and also in Proverbs 24:25, "To those that punish [i.e. the judges] there shall be delight." And this usage has led Dunn to take knowledge as an accusative of reference, and to translate, "There is pleasure to thy soul in respect of knowledge;" but the Authorized Version may be accepted as correct. "Knowledge" is masculine, as in Proverbs 8:10 and Proverbs 14:6, and agrees with the masculine verb "is pleasant." Knowledge will be pleasant from the enjoyment and rest which it yields. The Arabic presents the idea of this enjoyment under a different aspect: "And prudence shall be in thy soul the most beautiful glory."
Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee:
Verse 11. - Discretion shall preserve thee. Discretion (מְזַמָּת m'zimoth), as in Proverbs 1:4, is the outward manifestation of wisdom; it tests what is uncertain, and avoids danger (Hitzig). The word carries with it the idea of reflection or consideration (see Proverbs 3:21; Proverbs 5:2; Proverbs 8:12) The LXX. reads, βουλὴ καλή, "good counsel;" and the Vulgate, concilium. Shall preserve thee. The idea of protection and guarding, which is predicated of Jehovah in ver. 8, is here transferred to discretion and understanding, which to some extent are put forward as personifications. Understanding (תְבוּנָה, t'vunah), as in Proverbs 2:11; the power of distinguishing and separating, and, in the case of conflicting interests, to decide on the best. Shall keep; i.e. keep safe, or in the sense of watching over or guarding. The two verbs "to preserve" (שָׁמַר shamar) and "to keep" (נָצַר, natsar), LXX. τήρειν, occur together again in Proverbs 4:6.
To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things;
Verse 12. - To deliver thee from the way of the evil man. The first special advantage resulting from the protecting guardianship of discretion and understanding. From the way of the evil man; properly, from an evil way; Hebrew, מִדֶּרֶך רָע (midarek ra), not necessarily, though by implication, connected with man, as in the Authorized Version. רָע (ra), "evil," "wicked," in an ethical sense, is an adjective, as in Jeremiah 3:16 (לֵב רָע, lev ra), "an evil heart;" cf. the LXX., ἀπὸ ὁδοῦ κακῆς; the Vulgate, Targum, and Arabic, a vid mala, and the Syriac, a viis pravis. "Way," is here used in the sense of "conduct," and the evil way is a line of conduct or action which is essentially wicked or evil. The teacher has already Warned youth against the temptations and dangers of the way of evil men in Proverbs 1:10-15; he now shows that discretion, arising from wisdom being resident in the heart, will be a sufficient safeguard against its allurements. From the man that speaketh froward things. Perverse utterances are here brought in contradistinction to the evil way or froward conduct. Man (אִשׁ ish) is here used generically, as the representative of the whole class of base and wicked men, since all the following verbs are in the plural, Froward things. The word תַּהְפֻכוֹּת (tah'pucoth), here translated "froward things," is derived from the root צּצּצּ (haphak), "to turn," "to pervert," and should be translated "perverseness." Perverseness is the wilful misrepresentation of that which is good and true. The utterances are of a distorted and tortuous character. The word, only found in the plural, is abstract in form, and is of frequent, though not of exclusive, occurrence in the Proverbs. It is attributed to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 32:20. It is met with again in such expressions as "the mouth of perverseness," Authorized Version "froward mouth" (Proverbs 8:13); "the tongue of perverseness," "froward tongue," Authorized Version (Proverbs 10:31); "the man of perverseness," "froward man," Authorized Version (Proverbs 16:28). What is here said of wicked men is attributed to drunkards in Proverbs 23:33, "Thine heart shall utter perverse things." The expression finds its explanation in Proverbs 6:13, 14. The spirit which indulges in this perverseness is stubborn, scornful, self-willed, and rebellious, and it is from such a spirit that discretion is a preservative. In Job 5:13 it is said that "the counsel of the froward is carried headlong" (see also 2 Samuel 22:27; Psalm 18:26; Psalm 101:4). The LXX. rendering of this word is μηδὲν πιστόν, "nothing trustworthy," which is amplified in the Arabic, quod nullam in se continet veritatem, "that which contains in itself no truth."
Who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness;
Verse 13. - Who leave the paths of uprightness. Between vers. 13 and 15 the teacher proceeds to give a more detailed description of those who speak perversely. Who leave (הַעֹזְבִים haoz'vim); literally, forsaking, but the present participle has the force of the preterite, as appears from the context. The men alluded to have already forsaken or deserted the paths of uprightness (see previous note on the word "man." The paths of uprightness (אָרְחות יֹשֶׁר ar'khoth yosher); the same as the "right paths" of ch. 4:11. The strict meaning of the Hebrew word translated "uprightness" is "straightness," and hence it stands opposed to "perverseness" in the previous verse. Uprightness is integrity, rectitude, honest dealing. The LXX. translators represent the forsaking of the paths of uprightness as a consequence resulting from walking in the ways of darkness, "O ye who have left the right ways by departing [τοῦ πορεύεσβαι, equivalent to abeundo] into the ways of darkness." Again, the ways of darkness (דַרְכֵי חשֶׁך, dar'chey kkoshek) are opposed to the "paths of uprightness" which rejoice in the light. Darkness includes the two ideas of
(1) ignorance and error (Isaiah 9:2; Ephesians 5:8), and
(2) evil deeds.
To walk in the ways of darkness, then, is to persist in a course of wilful ignorance, to reject deliberately the light of knowledge, and to work wickedness, by performing "the works of darkness (τὰ ἔργα τοῦ σκύτους)," which St. Paul exhorted the Church at Rome to east away (Romans 13:12), and by having fellowship with "the unfruitful works of darkness (τὰ ἔργα τὰ ἀκάρπα τοῦ σκότους)," against which the same apostle warned the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:11). They are ways of darkness, because they endeavour to hide themselves from God (Isaiah 29:15) and from man (Job 24:15; Job 38:13, 15). In their tendency and end they lead to the blackness of darkness forever. In Scripture darkness is associated with evil, just as light is with uprightness (see John 3:19, 20). The same association of ideas is discoverable in the dualism of the Persian system, as formulated by Zoroaster - Ormuzd, the good principle, presides over the kingdom of light, while Ahriman, the principle of evil, is the ruler of the kingdom of darkness.
Who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked;
Verse 14. - Who rejoice to do evil. Another element is here brought forward, and the description increases in intensity. The wicked not only rejoice to do evil themselves, but they exult when they hear of evil in others (cf. Romans 1:32). Such may be the interpretation, though the latter part, of the verse is capable of a different and more general rendering as signifying exultation in evil generally, whether it appears in themselves or others. The expression rendered in the Authorized Version, in the frowardness of the wicked, is in the original (בְּתַחְפֻכות רַע b'thah'pucoth ra), in the perverseness of evil, or in evil perverseness, where the combination of the two nouns serves to give force to the main idea, which is that of perverseness. This rendering is adopted in the LXX., ἐπὶ διαστροφῇ κακῇ, "in evil distortion;" in the Vulgate, in pessimis rebus; in the Targum, Syriac, and Arabic, in conversatione mala, "in a bad course of conduct;" and in the Targum, in malitiae perversione, "in the perversion of wickedness." It is not perverseness in its simple and common form that these men exult in. but in its worst and most vicious form (for a similar construction, see Proverbs 6:24; Proverbs 15:26; and Proverbs 28:5). How widely different is the conduct of charity, which "rejoiceth not in iniquity" (1 Corinthians 13:6)!
Whose ways are crooked, and they froward in their paths:
Verse 15. - Whose ways are crooked; better, perhaps, who as to their ways are crooked. This is the construction adopted by Fleischer, Berthean, Zockler, and others, though it may be remarked that the substantive אֹרַח (orakh), "way," is common gender, and may thin; agree with the adjective עֵקֵשׁ (ikesh), "perverse," which is masculine. The Targum, LXX., Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic, all make "crooked" agree with "ways," do that, grammatically, the Authorized Version may be regarded as not incorrect. Crooked (עִקְּשִׁים ik'shim); i.e. tortuous, perverse, not straightforward, (σκολιαὶ, LXX.). Symmachus translates the original by σκαμβαί, i.e. "bent." Theodotion, by στριβλαί, "twisted, crookt? Sinners, in their perverseness, are ever winding about, turning in every direction, and changing from purpose to purpose, as wayward caprice or shifting inclination, the alternations of evil propensity, happen to dictate (Wardlaw). (For the expressions "crooked ways," see Psalm 125:5.) And they froward in their paths; i.e. perverse in their paths. The root idea of the Hebrew niph. participle וּנְלוזִים (vun'lozim), translated "and they froward," is "to bend aside," "to turn away." They are turned aside to the right hand and to the left in their walk. The niph. participle נָלוז (naloz) only occurs four times in the Scriptures - here; Proverbs 3:32; Proverbs 14:2; and Isaiah 30:12. This is the last feature in their wickedness.
To deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words;
Verse 16. - To deliver thee from the strange woman. This is the second form of temptation against which wisdom (discretion) is a preservative, and the great and especial dangers arising from it to youth, owing to its seductive allurements, afford the reason why the teacher is so strong in his warnings on this subject. Two terms are employed to designate the source of this evil - "the strange woman" (אִָשה זָרָה, ishshah zara), and "the stranger" (נָכְרִיָה, nok'riyah) - and both undoubtedly, in the passage before us, mean a meretricious person, one who indulges in illicit intercourse. The former term is invariably employed in this sense in the Proverbs (Proverbs 5:2, 20; Proverbs 7:5; Proverbs 22:14; Proverbs 23:33) of the adulteress (זָרִים, zarim), and Jeremiah 2:25. The participle זָר (zar), from the verb זוּר (zur), of which זָרָה (zarah) is the feminine form, is, however, used in a wider sense, as signifying
(1) one of another nation, or one of another family;
(2) or some one different from one's self;
(3) or strange.
(1) in Isaiah 1:7 we have "Strangers devour it (your land) in your presence;" but in Exodus 30:33 "the stranger" is one not the high priest.
(2) The "stranger" is another (Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 14:10; Proverbs 20:16; Proverbs 27:2, 13).
(3) The "strange fire" (אֵשׁ זָרָה, esh zarah) is the unlawful fire as opposed to the holy fire (Leviticus 10:1); the "strange god" (אֵל זָר, el zar) is the foreign god (Psalm 81:9). But the idea of foreign origin implied in the word is more strongly brought out in the next term, נָכְרִיָה (nok'riyah), on which Delitzsch remarks that it scarcely ever divests itself of a strange, foreign origin. This word is used to designate those "strange women" whom Solomon loved in his old age, and who turned his heart aside to worship false gods (1 Kings 11:1-8), "outlandish women," as they are termed in Nehemiah 13:26; it designates "the strange wives" of Ezra 10, and Nehemiah 13:27; and is applied to Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 2:10). Again, it has to be further observed that the laws of the Mosaic code against prostitution were of a most stringent nature (Leviticus 19:29; Leviticus 21:9; Deuteronomy 23:17), and no doubt served to maintain a higher standard of morality among Israelitish women than that observed among the Midianites, Syrians, and other nations. Strong prohibitions were directed against the intermarriage of Israelites with the women of the surrounding nations; but the example set by Solomon would serve to weaken the force of these prohibitions, and would lead to a large influx of women of a different nationality. The conclusion we arrive at is that the class mentioned in the text, though not Israelitish by birth, were yet so by adoption, as the context clearly indicates (ver. 17) the fact of marriage and the acceptance of certain religious observances. Such women, after a temporary restraint, would eventually set all moral and religious obligations at defiance. and would become the source of temptation to others. The allegorical interpretation given to this passage by the LXX. is to be rejected on the ground that the previous section (vers. 12-15) speaks of perverse men. Which flattereth with her words; literally, who has made smooth her words, the hiph. perfect being used of חָלַק (khalak), "to make smooth," or "flattering." The preterite shows what her habitual practice is, and is used of an action still continuing, and so may be fitly rendered by the present, as in the Authorized Version: "She has acquired the art of enticing by flattering words, and it is her study to employ them;" cf. the Vulgate, quae mollit sermones suos, "who softens her words;" and the Syriac, quae subvertit verba sua, "who subverts her words," i.e. "uses deceit." The expression occurs again in Proverbs 5:3; Proverbs 6:24; Proverbs 7:5.
Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God.
Verse 17. - The guide of her youth (נְעוּרֶיהָ אַלּוּפ, alluph n'ureyah); properly, the associate or companion of her youth. The Hebrew, אָלּוּפ (alluph), being derived from the root אָלַפ, (alaph), "to accustom one's self to," or "to be accustomed to" or "familiar with" anyone. The word is rendered as "friend" in Proverbs 17:9; Proverbs 16:28; Micah 7:5. The idea of guidance, which is adopted in the Authorized Version, and appears also in the Vulgate dux. and Targum ducatus, is a secondary idea, and is derived probably from the relation in which the husband stands to his wife. Various interpretations have been given to the expression. It occurs again in Jeremiah 3:4, where Jehovah applies it to himself, and says, through his prophet, to the religiously adulterous Judah, "Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My Father, thou art the Guide of my youth (אַלּוּפ נְעֻרי, alluph n'ura)?" It has also been understood as referring to the woman's parents, her father and mother, who were her natural guardians. But the context seems to require that it should be taken as designating her husband. It will then be the correlative of "the wife of thy youth" of Malachi 2:14. The covenant of her God; i.e. the marriage covenant, called "the covenant of her God," because entered into in his presence. The forsaking of the guide of her youth is essentially bound up with a forgetfulness of the solemn covenant which she had entered into in the presence of God. No specific mention is made in the Pentateuch of any religious ceremony at marriage; yet we may infer, from Malachi 2:14, 15, where God is spoken of as "a Witness" between the husband and "the wife of his youth," "the wife of thy covenant," that the marriage contract was solemnized with sacred rites. The Proverbs thus give a high and sacred character to marriage, and so carry on the original idea of the institution which, under the gospel dispensation, developed late the principle of the indissolubility of the marriage tie. It is no objection to this view that the monogamic principle was infringed, and polygamy countenanced. The reason of this latter departure is given in Deuteronomy 22:28 and Exodus 22:16. The morality of the Proverbs always represents monogamy as the rule, it deprecates illicit intercourse, and discountenances divorce. It is in entire accordance with the seventh commandment. The woman who commits adultery offends, not only against her husband, but against her God.
For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead.
Verse 18. - For her house inclineth unto death; rather, she sinks down to death together with her house (Bottcher, Delitzsch). The objection to the Authorized Version is that it does not tbllow the construction of the original, the verb "sinks down" (שָׁחָה, shakhah) being feminine, while "house" (בָיִת, bayith) is invariably masculine. Aben Ezra translates, "She sinks down to death, (which is to be) her house;" but it seems better to regard "her house" as an adjunct of the strange woman. Her house includes all who belong to her. She and they are involved in the same fate. The Authorized Version is evidently influenced by the Vulgate, Inclinata est enim ad mortem domus ejus, "For her house is inclined to death." The LXX. gives a different rendering, Ἕθετο γὰρ παρὰ τῷ θανάτῳ τὸν οϊκον αὐτῆς, "For she hath placed her house beside death." So the Arabic. The "for" (כִּי, ki) refers back to ver. 16, and indicates how great is the deliverance effected by wisdom. The meaning of the passage is aptly illustrated by Proverbs 7:27, "Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death." And her paths unto the dead. The dead (רְפָאִים, r'phaim) are properly the quiet, or the feeble. They are the shadowy inhabitants or shades of Hades, the inferi of the Vulgate, and are here put for Sheol itself. Compare the ἔδωλα καμνόντων of Homer, and the umbrae, "shades," of Virgil. The word occurs again in Proverbs 9:18; Proverbs 21:16; and in Psalm 88:11; Isaiah 26:14, 19; Job 26:5.
None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life.
Verse 19. - None that go unto her return again. The fate of the companions of the strange woman is described as irrevocable. All who visit her shall not return again. The Targum reads, "They shall not return in peace." The difficulty which they who give themselves up to the indulgence of lust and passion encounter in extricating themselves makes the statement of the teacher an almost universal truth. Hence St. Chrysostom says, "It is as difficult to bring back a libidinous person to chastity as a dead man to life." This passage led some of the Fathers to declare that the sin of adultery was unpardonable. Fornication was classed by the scholastic divines among the seven deadly sins, and it has this character given to it in the Litany: "From fornication, and all other deadly sin." St. Paul says, "No whoremonger nor unclean person...hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Ephesians 5:5; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9; Revelation 22:15). The sin which they commit who have dealings with the strange woman is deadly and leads on to death, and from death there is no return, nor laying hold of or regaining the paths of life (see Job 7:9, 10). Compare the words with which Deiphobe, the Cumaean sibyl, addresses AEneas -
"Tros Anchysiade, facilis descensus Averno
Sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
Hoc opus, hic labor est."
(Virgil, 'AEneid,' 6:126-129.) O Trojan, son of Anchyses, easy is the path that leads to hell. But to retrace one's steps, and escape to the upper regions, this is a work, this is a task.
That thou mayest walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous.
Verses 20-22. - Conclusion of the discourse in which are antithetically stated the respective destinies of the good and the bad, the upright and the wicked. Verse 20. - That (Hebrew, לְמַעַן l'maan); in order that (Vulgate, ut), carries us back properly to ver. 11. The protecting power of wisdom is developed in a positive direction. Negatively, it delivers from the evil man and from the strange woman, but it does more - "it shall keep thee in order that thou mayest walk in a good way," etc. The Hebrew לְמַעַן (l'maan) is coordinate with "to deliver thee," but it serves to bring the discourse to a conclusion. Umbreit renders it "therefore," thus making what follows an inference from the preceding discourse. So the Syriac, ambula igitur, "therefore walk." In the way of good men (בְּדֶרֶך טובִים, b'derek tovim); i.e. in the way of the good, in an ethical sense, i.e. the upright, as in Isaiah 5:20. The Vulgate renders, in via bona, "in the good way." "The way of good men" is the way of God's commandments, the way of obedience. Keep. The Hebrew verb שָׁמַר (shamar) is here used in the sense of "to observe," "to attend to," but in a different sense from Psalm 17:4, "I have observed the ways of the violent man," i.e. that I might avoid them. To keep the paths of the righteous is to carefully attend to the life of obedience which they follow. The LXX. closely connects this verse with the preceding, and renders, "For if they had walked in good ways, they would have found the paths of righteousness light."
For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it.
Verse 21. - For the upright shall dwell in the land. Much the same language is met with in Psalm 37:29, "The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein forever." It is the secure and peaceful dwelling in the land which is intended (cf. Proverbs 10:30). To dwell in the land was always put forward as the reward of obedience to God's commandments (see Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 25:18; Leviticus 26:5), and the phrase conveyed to the Hebrew mind the idea of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of all temporal blessings. The love of country was a predominant characteristic of the race. Elster, quoted by Zockler, remarks, "The Israelite was beyond the power of natural feeling, which makes home dear to every one, more closely bound to the ancestral soil by the whole form of the theocracy; torn kern it, he was in the inmost roots of life strained and broken. Especially from psalms belonging to the period of the exile this patriotic feeling is breathed out in the fullest glow and intensity." The land (אָרֶצ arets) was the promised land, the land of Canaan. The word is not used here in the wider sense in which it occurs in Matthew 5:5, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." And the perfect shall remain in it; i.e. they shall not, as Rabbi Levi remarks, be driven thence nor caused to migrate. The perfect (תְמִימִים th'mimim), the holy (LXX., ὅσιοι), the spotless (immaeulati, Targum), those without a staid (qui sine labe, Syriae), the guileless (simplices, Vulgate). Shall remain; יִוָּתְרוּ (yivrath'ru), niph. future of יָתַר (yathar), properly "to be redundant," and in the niph. form, "to be left," or "to remain." LXX., ὑπολειφθήσαντι "shall remain;" permanebunt, Vulgate.
But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.
Verse 22. - But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth. The punishment of the wicked is contrasted with the blessings that are promised to the upright. Shall be cut off; יִפָרֵתוּ (yikkarethu), niph. future of כָרַת (karath), "to cut off, or destroy." LXX., ὀλοῦνται; Vulgate, perdentur.;The expression is used to convey the idea of extermination, as in Psalm 37:9 (cf. Job 18:17; Psalm 37:28; Psalm 104:35). The verb is found also in Genesis 17:14; Exodus 12:15. The earth; properly, the land. The same word (אַרֶצ arets) is used as in ver. 21. The transgressors (בּוגְדִים, bog'dim); here employed synonymously with "the wicked" (יְשָׁעִים, y'shaim), "the impious." The primary meaning of the verb from which it is derived (בָגַד, bagad) is "to cover," "to deal treacherously," and hence the word signifies those who act treacherously or perfidiously, the faithless. They are those who perfidiously depart from God, and break away from the covenant with Jehovah. LXX., παράνομοι (cf. Proverbs 11:3, 6; Proverbs 13:2, 25; Proverbs 22:12; Psalm 25:3; Psalm 59:5; Isaiah 33:1). Shall be rooted out (יסֶּחוּ, yiss'khu). This word is taken by Davidson as the future kal of נסַה (nasah), "to pluck up," and hence is equivalent to "they shall pluck up," or, passively, "they stroll be plucked up." Delitzsch remarks that it is as at Proverbs 15:25 and Psalm 52:7, active, "they shall pluck up," and this with the subject remaining indefinite is equivalent to the passive form, "they shall be plucked up." This indefinite "they" can be used of God, as also in Job 7:3 (Fleischer). The expression has been understood as referring to being driven into exile (Gesenius), and this view would be amply justified by the fate which overtook the apostate nation when both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah suffered this fate (cf. LXX. ἐξωθήσονται, "they shall be driven out"). It also derives colour from the language of the preceding verse, but the imagery appears to be derived from the cutting down and rooting up of trees. The destruction of the wicked and transgressors will be complete. They shall be exterminated (cf. Targum, eradicabuntur; Syriac evellentur; and Arabic, exterminabuntur).