English Standard Version
Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise:
King James Bible
There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:
American Standard Version
There are four things which are little upon the earth, But they are exceeding wise:
There are four very little things of the earth, and they are wiser than the wise:
English Revised Version
There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:
Webster's Bible Translation
There are four things which are little upon the earth, but they are very wise:
Proverbs 30:24 Parallel
CommentaryKeil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament
The 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.
Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
exceeding wise or wise or made wise
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.
an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.
the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer;
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