Handbook on Proverbs- Ein Handbuch für Sprüche- von Uwe Rosenkranz


Handbook on Proverbs

by the United Bible Societies

All Rights Reserved

ISBN 0-8267-0120-5


No part of this book may be translated or reproduced in any form without the written permission of the United Bible Societies.

The text of the Revised Standard Version used in this publication is copyrighted 1946, 1952 © 1971, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U. S. A., and used by permission.

Quotations from Today’s English Version, © 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992 are used by permission of the copyright owner, the American Bible Society.

Illustrations on pages 202 (pillars), 290 (lamp), 561 (sling), and 622 (universe) are by Horace Knowles © The British and Foreign Bible Society 1954, 1967, 1972. Additions and amendments are by Louise Bass © The British and Foreign Bible Society 1994.

Books in the series of UBS Helps for Translators may be ordered from a national Bible Society or from either of the following centers:

United Bible Societies

European Production Fund

P.O. Box 81 03 40

D-70520 Stuttgart


United Bible Societies

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U. S. A.

L. C. Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Reyburn, William David.

A handbook on Proverbs / by William D. Reyburn and Euan McG. Fry.

p. cm. – (UBS handbook series) (Helps for translators)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-8267-0120-5

1. Bible. O.T. Proverbs—Translating. 2. Bible. O.T. Proverbs-Criticism, interpretation, etc. I. Title: Proverbs. II. Fry, Euan McG., 1933–. III. Title. IV. Series. V. Series: Helps for translators.

BS1465.5.R49 2000





Pillars of a building 202

A lamp 290

A sling, rod, and staff 561

An ancient concept of the universe 622


This Handbook, like others in the series, concentrates on exegetical, linguistic, and cultural problems related to the translation of Proverbs. Though the authors only address issues directly related to translation, many church leaders and interested Bible readers have found these Handbooks useful and informative, and we hope this volume will be no exception.

The format of A Handbook on Proverbs follows the general pattern of earlier volumes in the series. The Revised Standard Version (rsv) and Today’s English Version (tev) texts are presented in parallel columns, first in larger segments that will make possible an overview of each section of discourse, and then in bold print, normally verse by verse, followed by detailed comments and discussion. rsv serves as the base upon which the discussion takes place, and quotations from the verse under discussion are printed in boldface. Quotations from other verses of rsv and from other versions are printed between quotation marks and in normal typeface. tev serves as a primary model of how a translation may take shape; however, many other versions are cited as well, especially where they offer models that may be more satisfactory than those of tev. We strongly recommend that translators always try to consider two or more models and allow the mental image of the verse to sink in, before they attempt to compose a version in their own words.

Although the New Revised Standard Version (nrsv) is regarded as an update of rsv, the rsv remains the base for discussion. The reader should keep in mind that the Handbook attempts to explain the ancient Hebrew text to translators who have not learned that language. Since nrsv has succeeded in rendering the message of the ancient text in a form more easily understood by today’s reader, it reveals less correspondence with the form and shape of the ancient text than does rsv. The authors have therefore found it easier to discuss the ancient text by using rsv as the base.

A limited Bibliography is included for the benefit of those interested in further study. The Glossary explains technical terms according to their usage in this volume. The translator may find it useful to read through the Glossary in order to become aware of the specialized way in which certain terms are used. An Index gives the location by page number of some of the important words and subjects discussed in the Handbook, especially where the Handbook provides the translator with help in rendering these concepts into the receptor language.

The editor of the ubs Handbook Series continues to seek comments from translators and others who use these books, so that future volumes may benefit and may better serve the needs of the readers.


General Abbreviations of Bible Texts, Versions, and Other Works Cited (For details see Bibliography) Brown, Driver, and Briggs lexicon

bhs    Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia

cev    Contemporary English Version

frcl    French common language version

gecl    German common language version

hottp    Hebrew Old Testament Text Project

kjv    King James Version

lpd    El Libro del Pueblo de Dios

Mft    Moffatt

nab    New American Bible

neb    New English Bible

neb/reb    Agreement, neb and reb

niv    New International Version

njb    New Jerusalem Bible

njpsv    TANAKH (New Jewish Publication Society Version)

nlt    New Living Translation

nrsv    New Revised Standard Version

reb    Revised English Bible

rsv    Revised Standard Version

rsv/nrsv    Agreement, rsv and nrsv

spcl    Spanish common language version

sem    La Bible du Semeur

tev    Today’s English Version

tob    Traduction œcuménique de la Bible

Books of the Bible

Gen    Genesis

Exo    Exodus

Lev    Leviticus

Num    Numbers

Deut    Deuteronomy

Jdg    Judges

1, 2 Sam    1, 2 Samuel

1, 2 Kgs    1, 2 Kings

Neh    Nehemiah

Psa    Psalms

Pro    Proverbs

Eccl    Ecclesiastes

Song    Song of Songs

Isa    Isaiah

Jer    Jeremiah

Lam    Lamentations

Ezek    Ezekiel

Dan    Daniel

Hos    Hosea

Zech    Zechariah

Mal    Malachi

Matt    Matthew

Rev    Revelation


The following simplified system of transliteration has been followed so that those unacquainted with Hebrew will be able to understand the discussion.


The English vowels, a, e, i, o, and u, represent the nearest equivalent sounds of the corresponding Hebrew vowels. Gemination of consonants caused by dagesh forte is normally represented by the doubling of the printed consonant, but may also for simple purposes be represented by a single consonant, according to the author’s purpose. The presence of dagesh lene will not be reflected in the representation of gimel, daleth, and kaf, since the resulting difference in English pronunciation is negligible or nonexistent. If it is necessary to be more specific in the representation of a given Hebrew expression, further refinement for that item will be made. Those trained in Hebrew will, of course, refer to that text whenever they find that precise information is needed.


In the Hebrew Bible the title of the book of Proverbs is mishle, which is the first word of the text and part of the construction mishle-Shelomoh, “the mashals of Solomon.” In order to understand the nature of the book as well as to translate its title, we need to examine how the Old Testament, and particularly the book of Proverbs itself, uses the Hebrew word mashal, often rendered “proverb” in English. We also need to study the features that characterize a “proverb,” as the term is understood in English, keeping in mind the fact that most languages have a similar term that refers to traditional sayings.

The Hebrew word mashal

The Hebrew word mashal is used both as a verb and a noun. As a verb it has three areas of meaning. The first has the sense of “control” or “rule,” and may be seen, for example, in “A slave who deals wisely will rule [mashal] over a son who acts shamefully …” (Pro 17:2). The verb in the sense of “rule” is also used as a noun; for example, “When you sit down to eat with a ruler [mashal] …” (Pro 23:1). The use as “rule/ruler” appears to be unrelated to the second usage, which has to do with comparing; for example, “To thee, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like [mashal] those who go down to the Pit” (Psa 28:1), or “Man cannot abide in his pomp, he is like [mashal] the beasts that perish” (Psa 49:20; Hebrew verse 21). The third usage of mashal as a verb is related to the second. It is to speak or use a mashal; for example, “Behold, every one who uses proverbs [mashal] will use this proverb [mashal] about you” (Ezek 16:44).

Although mashal is sometimes used in the sense of comparison, which suggests a simile, there are many examples of proverbs, riddles, oracles, allegories, and parables that are called mashals but which contain no comparisons and show no likenesses. For example, mashal (in either the singular or the plural) is used to refer to a parable (Ezek 17:2), to an expression of contempt (Psa 44:14; Hebrew verse 15), or to a folk saying in 1 Sam 10:12. In Ezek 20:49 (21:5 in Hebrew) mashal refers to an obscure manner of speaking. In Micah 2:4 it describes a lament, and in Num 23:7 it is applied to a prophetic discourse. In Psa 49:4 (Hebrew verse 5) it refers to a psalm of instruction, and in Job 27:1 and 29:1 it introduces an argument or a plea. McKane calls attention to the use of mashal in reference to popular sayings in various parts of the Old Testament in which mashal has the sense of a model, illustration, or example.

It is not always necessary that the term mashal be used in every case to qualify an utterance as a mashal. For example, 1 Sam 10:11 (“What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”) is labeled a mashal in verse 12. However, in 1 Sam 19:24 the same saying about Saul is quoted without reference to its being a mashal, but is introduced by the words “Hence it is said.…” It follows that a saying need not in every case be labeled a mashal for it to be considered a mashal.

When applied to compact, traditional sayings, mashal has the sense of a popular saying, which is used as a model or example that can be generalized and applied to appropriate situations. An example is found in Gen 10:9: “therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.’ ” Nimrod served as a model hunter and the saying concerning him could be applied to anyone who was an expert hunter. Another example is found in 1 Sam 24:13 (Hebrew verse 14): “As the proverb [mashal] of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness.…’ ” Saul’s actions demonstrate his wickedness. In this saying Saul becomes the model that can be applied to anyone whose behavior is evil. And Ezek 16:44 says “everyone who uses proverbs [a form of the verb mashal] will use this proverb [another form of the verb mashal] about you, ‘Like mother, like daughter.’ ” This saying deals with the “mother” of Jerusalem and her family connections with the Hittites, Amorites, Samaria, and Sodom. The saying serves as a model for anyone wishing to say that a child’s upbringing is determined by parental influences.

Thus these and other proverbial sayings were considered as belonging to the kind of sayings called mashal outside of the book of Proverbs. The term mashal clearly included these kinds of sayings long before the book of Proverbs was compiled.

What is A “Proverb”?

We have seen that the term mashal not only includes what may be considered “proverbs” in English, but also includes many types of utterances that are often not included in the term “proverb.” Because languages differ very greatly in what can be included under the label of a “proverb,” and because there is little agreement among specialists who have attempted to give a definition of a proverb, we will now consider the main features of the wise and memorable sayings that people all over the world typically think of as “proverbs.” This listing of features or characteristics will help translators to understand the nature of “proverbs” and to determine if the word for “proverb” is an adequate title for the book of Proverbs in their language.

It is convenient to examine the features of proverbs under three headings: form, usage, and status.

Form: Perhaps the most universal feature of a true proverb is its shortness. The fact that a proverb is short and sharp makes it a saying that can be easily remembered. A proverb usually has the form of a phrase or sentence. It may or may not have alliteration, assonance, rhyme, or parallelism. Repetition of sounds or rhythmic syllables and beats give many proverbs a poetic effect that is pleasant to the ear.

A proverb normally contains a simile or metaphor whose sense may be clearly understood only by those familiar with the local culture, its values, practices, and assumptions. A proverb may take on the form of a statement, question, or command. Proverbs usually, but not always, have a fixed structure. As a result when listeners hear the first part they can often complete the remainder. Nevertheless in some societies there is a great deal of variation in the wording of traditional sayings.

Usage: We refer here to the application of wise or memorable sayings, that is, the social situations, real or imagined, in which people use them. It is in relation to these situations that the meaning of such sayings is expressed. A saying can be uttered in any kind of situation that makes its intention appropriate. In some societies traditional sayings are used in contests in which two contestants alternately recite sayings while a panel of judges rules as to their artistry and authenticity. The loser is the contestant who, after a given time, is unable to cite another wise saying.

In some societies wise or memorable sayings are sometimes used by opponents in a court case. The ability of a defendant to cite appropriate sayings may help that person win the case. Core values of the clan or tribe are sometimes expressed in public meetings through the recitation of traditional sayings. The education of the young is sometimes carried out by citing proverbs that enhance the authority of parents, elders, and chiefs. Proverbs are frequently cited in political speeches, business dealings, conversations, marriage negotiations, rivalry, and cooperative work, as well as in sermons.

Traditional sayings may be spoken or written. However, some societies, particularly in West Africa, communicate selected sayings by drumming them. Only those who understand the “talking drums” are able to decode the message of the drummed words.

Because human situations are often in conflict, traditional sayings sometimes contradict each other. They tend to reinforce traditional beliefs and to give guidance, advice, and direction. A good proverb often produces a clear picture in the mind of the listener; however, proverbs are sometimes expressed in ambiguous language that can leave the listener unsure of the instruction or advice being given. Traditional sayings are to a degree a reflection of a culture’s values. However, the values may change more than the sayings do.

Traditional sayings may be humorous, but more often they are serious in tone, as they express wisdom more than humor. They tend to be bound to social situations, and their appropriateness is related to the real or imagined situation. As they express an anonymous opinion, give advice, correct, and instruct, they apply the wisdom of the ancients to the contemporary situation. It is in this sense that most traditional sayings are tools for teaching.

Status: Here we discuss features of traditional sayings which are neither form nor usage. For example, a traditional saying is usually considered to be anonymous. Few people are aware of someone having made up a proverb. Accordingly a proverb is looked upon as being traditional and therefore carrying the weight of authority. And because it is traditional and authoritative, a proverb is viewed as expressing wisdom, the collective experience of many minds. Because proverbs are applied to concrete situations in life, they are considered to express practical rather than theoretical truths.

A Title for the Book of Proverbs

In English the title “Book of Proverbs” suggests that this book contains only the kind of popular sayings that are customarily called proverbs, in the sense described above. Therefore translators must ask themselves if the word used to translate the title meaningfully conveys to the reader the content of the book.

As the outline of the book of Proverbs shows, chapters 1–9 contain instructions in the form of poetic discourses as well as speeches by someone called “Wisdom.” Many of the “proverbs of Solomon” in chapters 10–22 and 25–29 do not have the form of wise sayings found in other languages. Furthermore, the material found in chapters 30–31 will rarely, if ever, be considered to be “proverbs.”

Accordingly, it is necessary to ask if using the word for “proverbs” as a title misleads the reader. If this is the case, as it almost always is, then translators should consider other more appropriate and revealing titles. They should consider all the possible names for traditional compositions and sayings, and discuss how they differ from one another. Only after such study will they be ready to make the best choice. Some suggestions are: “The teachings of wise words,” “Teaching to make people wise,” “What wise people taught,” “Examples from the wise,” “The lessons from the wise,” “Learning to be wise,” “The book of good advice,” “Insights into living wisely,” and “Learn wisdom and live happily.”

Content of the book of Proverbs

The book of Proverbs is made up of a variety of genres or types of literature. Also, the titles within the text and the introductory verses such as 10:1; 25:1; 30:1; and 31:1 show that the book comes from different traditions and authors. For example, 1:1; 10:1; and 25:1 introduce what follows as being connected with Solomon. 24:23 introduces words or sayings of “the wise” without naming anyone. 30:1 introduces the words of Agur, and 31:1 introduces the words that King Lemuel’s mother taught him. Not only are there different authors, but the literary, stylistic, ethical, and religious orientations vary considerably throughout the book.

The book of Proverbs consists of three sections:

1. Introduction (1:1–7)

2. Instructions and Speeches of Wisdom (1:8–9:18)

3. Various Collections (10:1–31:31)

The following paragraphs present some of the major aspects of the three sections of the book.

1. Introduction (1:1–7): This section has three divisions. Verse 1 is a title, which applies best to section 2: Instructions and Speeches of Wisdom. Verses 2–6 are a statement of the purpose of the book of Proverbs, that is, to teach the art of wise living to the immature and inexperienced as well as the mature. The Introduction concludes in verse 7 with a motto or statement that declares reverence for the Lord as the basis for wisdom.

2. Instruction and Speeches of Wisdom (1:8–9:18): This section of the book is divided for the purposes of this Handbook into twelve divisions. The Instructions or teachings consist of two kinds of material:

•    Instructions or lessons given by wise teachers to young men to encourage them to live by the ethical and religious standards of the school or circle of wise people.

•    Speeches made by Wisdom, who is represented sometimes as a female figure. Instructions are sometimes included in the speeches of Wisdom.

These Instructions vary considerably in length, but most consist of a series of verses each containing two lines and in which elements in the second line often match or repeat something of the form and/or meaning in the first line (see “Common patterns in the sayings of Proverbs” and “Parallelism in Proverbs” below). They often begin by calling for the learner’s attention. They urge the learner to act or refrain from acting in a certain way. They often state the consequences (rewards or punishments) that living wisely or foolishly will bring. The Instructions warn, give advice, and correct. They are stern in outlook. They do not seek to develop the learner intellectually but rather aim to teach ethical obedience within a religious orientation.

3. Various Collections (10:1–31:31): There are eight collections that we may recognize as separate divisions.

Collection of Solomon’s proverbs (10:1–22:16): This is the first of two collections of Solomon’s proverbs. The sayings in this collection have a regular parallelism and meter. The second of the pair of lines in a couplet typically extends or contrasts with something in the first line; for example, “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin” (10:15). These proverbs or wise sayings are context free. That is, they stand alone and do not depend for their meaning on other sayings before or after them. Although a few successive sayings may have a similar rhyme or may use identical words, there is no patterned poetic discourse.

Sometimes a group of sayings may deal with the same theme. For example, 16:1–7 are concerned with the Lord’s guidance in a person’s life. 16:10, 12–15 share the word “king.”

Collection of thirty wise sayings (22:17–24:22): This collection is said to be “the words of the wise” (22:17) and contains thirty sayings. The most remarkable fact about this collection is its similarity, and occasional identity, with the ancient “Instruction of Amen-em-Opet,” one of the Egyptian Wisdom writings. We may examine the closeness of the sayings in this collection with the “Instruction of Amen-em-Opet” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by James B. Pritchard. Page 424 of this book gives a list of the most similar passages.

A typical saying in this collection is made up of several lines in which the first two state negative or positive commands followed by one or more consequences: “Don’t promise to be responsible for someone else’s debts. If you should be unable to pay, they will take away even your bed” (22:26–27, Today’s English Version [tev]).

Collection of other wise sayings (24:23–34): This collection may be considered as an addition to the previous collection. It is introduced as a separate unit by the words “These also are sayings of the wise.” The forms of these sayings have little in common with each other.

Hezekiah’s collection of Solomon’s proverbs (25:1–29:27): The collection is introduced in 25:1 as “These also are proverbs [mishle] of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.” The first six verses speak of kings, but beyond these each saying is independent. Chapter 25 begins with several four-line observations or precepts, and is followed by a number of similes or sayings that compare or contrast two or more things; this continues through chapter 27.

Chapters 25–27 make only two references to God (25:2, 22), and there is only one reference to the righteous and the wicked (25:26). Therefore, the collection is less religious in tone. On the other hand, chapters 28 and 29 have more sayings of the kind found in the first collection of Solomon’s proverbs (10:1–22:16). For example, six sayings are identical, seven others are nearly so, four have identical single lines.

Collection of the words of Agur (30:1–9): Some scholars consider chapters 30 and 31 to be appendixes or additions to the book of Proverbs. However, the Handbook calls these chapters separate collections since they are as equally unrelated to each other as they are to previous collections. The “Agur” collection is introduced in 30:1 as “The words of Agur son of Jakeh of Massa.” Some view verses 1–4 to be the questions of a non-believer and verses 5–6 to be the reply made by a believer. Verses 7–9 are in the form of a prayer addressed to God. There are no instructions or wise sayings in this collection.

Collections of more wise sayings (30:10–33): The form of the material in this collection differs from the previous one. Here we have observations or precepts, warnings, and numerical observations based on the numbers three and four. See the comments in the commentary.

Collection of King Lemuel’s wise sayings (31:1–9): This unit is introduced as “The words of Lemuel, king of Massa, which his mother taught him.” In this collection the king’s mother advises him to avoid weakening himself with women and strong drink and to uphold the rights of the poor.

Praises for a good wife (31:10–31): The final division is an acrostic poem describing the qualities of an ideal wife and mother.

The following is a full list of the three sections of the book with their various divisions:

1.    Introduction (1:1–7)

    A.    Title (1:1)

    B.    Purpose of the book (1:2–6)

    C.    Motto of the book (1:7)

2.    Instructions and Speeches of Wisdom (1:8–9:18)

    A.    First instruction (1:8–33)

    1.    Listen to your parents’ teaching (1:8–9)

    2.    Beware of sinners (1:10–19)

    3.    Wisdom’s speech (1:20–33)

    B.    Second instruction (2:1–22)

    1.    Seek wisdom (2:1–8)

    2.    Knowing what is right (2:9–11)

    3.    Avoiding wicked people (2:12–15)

    4.    Avoiding the immoral woman (2:16–19)

    5.    Rewards and punishments (2:20–22)

    C.    Third instruction (3:1–12)

    D.    Fourth instruction (3:13–20)

    1.    In praise of wisdom (3:13–18)

    2.    Wisdom and creation (3:19–20)

    E.    Fifth instruction (3:21–35)

    1.    Wisdom gives you a happy life (3:21–26)

    2.    How to behave (3:27–31)

    3.    How the Lord deals with good and evil (3:32–35)

    F.    Sixth instruction (4:1–27)

    1.    Listen to your father (4:1–9)

    2.    Wisdom gives you long life and protection (4:10–19)

    3.    Remember wisdom and enjoy life (4:20–27)

    G.    Seventh instruction (5:1–23)

    1.    Avoid adultery (5:1–14)

    2.    Be faithful to your wife (5:15–20)

    3.    The fate of the wicked (5:21–23)

    H.    Eighth instruction (6:1–19)

    1.    Avoid other people’s debts (6:1–5)

    2.    Don’t be lazy (6:6–11)

    3.    Fate of the wicked (6:12–15)

    4.    Seven things the Lord hates (6:16–19)

    I.    Ninth instruction (6:20–35)

    1.    Rewards from accepting your parents’ teaching (6:20–23)

    2.    Avoid adultery (6:24–29)

    3.    Results of adultery (6:30–35)

    J.    Tenth instruction (7:1–27)

    1.    Wisdom will protect you from adultery (7:1–5)

    2.    A seductive woman and a foolish youth (7:6–20)

    3.    The youth falls into her trap (7:21–23)

    4.    Avoid the seductive woman or die (7:24–27)

    K.    Eleventh instruction (8:1–36)

    1.    Wisdom speaks to the people (8:1–11)

    2.    The qualities of wisdom (8:12–21)

    3.    The origin of wisdom (8:22–31)

    4.    Choose life or death (8:32–36)

    L.    Twelfth instruction (9:1–18)

    1.    Wisdom invites the ignorant to her banquet (9:1–6)

    2.    The difference between the scoffer and the wise person (9:7–12)

    3.    Stupidity invites the ignorant to her banquet (9:13–18)

3.    Various Collections (10:1–31:31)

    A.    Collection of Solomon’s proverbs (10:1–22:16)

    B.    Collection of thirty wise sayings (22:17–24:22)

    C.    Collection of other wise sayings (24:23–34)

    D.    Hezekiah’s collection of Solomon’s proverbs (25:1–29:27)

    E.    Collection of the words of Agur (30:1–9)

    F.    Collection of more wise sayings (30:10–33)

    G.    Collection of King Lemuel’s wise sayings (31:1–9)

    H.    Praises for a good wife (31:10–31)

Common Patterns in the Sayings of Proverbs

According to Scott (Proverbs, in The Anchor Bible), the essence of the wisdom expressed in every part of the book of Proverbs is “the idea of order, of norms, rules, right values, and due proportions.” Scott further comments that “this underlying idea and the proverbial patterns which it creates may be observed in the folk wisdom of many peoples, ancient and modern.”

In much of the book of Proverbs, especially from chapter 10 on, the typical unit of discourse is a single sentence short saying; for example, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” In the text these units are separate and self-contained, although there are quite often themes or key terms linking successive units in a sort of chain. In the units themselves Scott identifies a number of different patterns, which he labels as follows:

identity, equivalence, or invariable association;

non-identity, contrast, or paradox;

similarity, analogy, or type;

contrary to right order;

classifying and characterizing persons;

value, relative value or priority, proportion or degree;

consequences of human character and behavior.

Numerous examples of each pattern type can be given from Proverbs itself.

The identity pattern points out that “this is [really or always] that.” It may take various forms, such as “Where this is, that is,” “When you see this, you know that,” “Without this, there is no that,” or “When this happens, that is true.” Two examples are:

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,

but the prayer of the upright is his delight (15:8).

When wickedness comes, contempt comes also;

and with dishonor comes disgrace (18:3).

Non-identity contrasts with identity, and says that (often in spite of what appears to be the case) “this is not really that.” It often involves an element of surprise, of a situation being contrary to expectation or popular opinion. An example of this is:

Fine speech is not becoming to a fool;

still less is false speech to a prince (17:7).

The similarity pattern typically includes a simile or a metaphor: “this is like that.” Common forms are “This [situation] is like that,” “Just as this, so that,” or “This is [metaphorically] that.” One example is:

A king’s wrath is like the growling of a lion,

but his favor is like dew upon the grass (19:12).

Actions or situations that are contrary to right order are frequently presented as futile or absurd, and a mocking comparison may be made to express this. Sometimes a rhetorical question is used, such as “What’s the use of …?” or “Do you expect that …?”

Statements that classify or characterize persons tend to be general in form. In Proverbs many of these are used to describe people like “the fool” and “the lazy person.” Some of the numerical sayings “Three things that …” (see 30:15–31) are examples of this type of pattern also.

The value pattern can take different forms, with two typical expressions being “this is better than that,” and “this is worth that.” Another common form is “The more [or less] this, the more [or less] that.” One example is:

Better is a man of humble standing who works for himself

than one who plays the great man but lacks bread (12:9).

The consequence pattern points out that a situation or course of action will (inevitably) be followed by a certain result or end condition. A common structure makes a certain good or bad action or characteristic the subject of the sentence, and the remainder indicates what that action or characteristic does, causes, or produces. One example is:

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,

but every one who is hasty comes only to want (21:5).

The value for translators in recognizing and identifying these patterns is that many languages have particular forms and ways of expressing these thoughts. They may not be the same in form and structure as in Hebrew or a language like English, but they can be used very effectively in the rendering of short sayings like those in Proverbs.

When it comes to actual sayings, however, a word of caution is in order. Translators will often find wise sayings in this book which are similar to some in their own language or which express the same truth. There may be a temptation to substitute the local saying for the biblical one in order to make it more “natural.” While this may be attractive, it has the negative consequence of robbing the reader of the pleasure of discovering that the Hebrews had their own way of expressing a truth that the Hebrew writer and the reader both share. If translators are keen on drawing the connection between the Hebrew saying and its counterpart in their language, it would be better for the translator to write a booklet comparing biblical proverbs with those of his or her own language.

Parallelism in Proverbs

One of the most important aspects of translating Proverbs is dealing with parallel lines. In most parts of the book the typical unit of text consists of two parallel lines.

Many poetic devices such as wordplay, sound imitation, or gender matching are very difficult to translate, because they are closely tied to the structures of the Hebrew language. Parallel lines, however, carry the information content of a poetic text and normally can be translated into other languages. And parallel lines are the very ground upon which Hebrew poetic style is built. It is necessary, therefore, for the translator to have a clear picture of what parallel ism is and how it functions.

The most obvious feature of parallelism is that two lines stand next to each other and express similar or related thoughts. But this is not the only sort of parallelism. Two lines may be parallel in structure without having much meaning in common. In this case they say something quite different but have the same word order. Two lines may be parallel in that their consonants, vowels, or stresses are much the same. These similarities are possible due to the nature of the language, in this case Hebrew. In some of these cases it may be impossible to translate the meaning of the two lines and at the same time keep the kinds of repetitions used in Hebrew. What the translator needs to know in every context is the purpose that is served by this poetic device and how that same purpose may be expressed in his or her own language.

A word of caution is needed before we consider some examples of parallel lines in Proverbs. These examples are given only to show some of the relationships that exist between two or more parallel lines. While many short sayings are complete in themselves, every couplet or set of lines is also part of a longer discourse; that is, they fit in with all the other lines in the text. Therefore it is important to keep in mind that what is said about a pair of isolated lines may have to be modified when these are analyzed in terms of the wider discourse structure.

In the following discussion the examples from Proverbs are taken from the Revised Standard Version (rsv) as representing in English the Hebrew form sufficiently well to illustrate the principles. The first of two parallel lines is referred to as line 1 and the second as line 2. Most parallel lines in Proverbs occur in groups of only two, although there are some exceptions.

In 16:18 is the well-known saying:

Pride goes before destruction,

and a haughty spirit before a fall.

These two lines say approximately the same thing. In fact it is possible to understand the thought if we read only one line; it does not matter which. Not only does each line give essentially the same message, they are even constructed in Hebrew on the same word order of “before” + noun (attitude) + noun (consequence). Accordingly the two lines may be said to be parallel in both sense and sentence form.

In 5:22 there is a warning statement about the consequences of evil:

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,

and he is caught in the toils of his sin.

Here again the two lines say something very similar. It is not possible to read line 2 in isolation from line 1, however, because of the substitution of the pronoun for the noun “wicked.” In line 1 “the iniquities of the wicked” is matched in line 2 by “his sin”; and “ensnare him” in line 1 is matched in line 2 by “is caught in the toils [nets].” Nothing new is said in line 2 that we did not learn in line 1; it is only the way it is said that is different. Accordingly the two lines are parallel in meaning. Nevertheless they are not parallel or the same in their Hebrew clause structure. The author could have made them the same, but he chose not to do so. Line 1 has the term for evil as the subject of an active verb, while in line 2 the evildoer (“he”) is the subject of the passive verb.

6:4 is another example of two lines that are almost the same in meaning, but where line 2 cannot be understood without line 1. In this case it is because the verb in line 1 is to be understood as the verb of line 2 also, since it is not repeated in that line:

Give your eyes no sleep

and your eyelids no slumber.

In Proverbs two lines that are parallel in meaning are generally not parallel in structure. A very common structure is one in which the elements of line 2 match corresponding elements in line 1, but the order of the matching elements is reversed in line 2. The Hebrew of 1:31 says, for example:

Therefore-they-shall-eat from-the-fruit-of their-way

and-from-their-devices they-shall-be-filled.

4:11 is another example:

In-the-way-of wisdom I-have-taught-you;

I-have-led-you in-the-paths-of uprightness.

Note also 4:24:

Put-away from-you crookedness-of mouth,

and-deviation-of lips put-far-away from-you.

Not all parallel lines express the same thought, however. They may each express a related but different sense. In 1:26 Wisdom is saying to foolish people who refuse to listen to her “I will mock when panic strikes you.…” Then 1:27 continues:

when panic strikes you like a storm,

and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,

when distress and anguish come upon you.

In this verse each line expresses a different aspect of the disaster that will come. They do not say the same thing. What is common to each line is the people who have rejected Wisdom and an expression or picture of the disaster striking them. In Hebrew lines 1 and 2 are similar in form but with the order of words reversed, while line 3 is different.

A form that is often found in Proverbs is two lines that are parallel in structure, but in which some or all of the elements of line 2 are the opposites of the corresponding elements in line 1. For example 10:5:

A son who gathers in summer is prudent,

but a son who sleeps in harvest brings shame.

The common elements in the two lines are the person (“a son”) and the situation (“summer,” “harvest”), while the other elements “gathers … sleeps” and “is prudent … brings shame” are opposites or contrasts.

Other parallel lines do not have any kind of repetition. In contrast a logical relation is all that maintains a link between them. For example, the saying in 21:13 is about a hard-hearted person who deserves and gets the same treatment he or she has given to others:

He who closes his ear to the cry of the poor

will himself cry out and not be heard.

Line 1 is a descriptive clause and line 2 is the subsequent result. Here the force of the saying is carried not by the parallel line structure but by other elements.

It is no doubt true that in most cases of parallel lines in Hebrew poetry the two or more lines do not say entirely the same thing twice. Instead line 2 picks up a word or phrase in line 1 and expresses it in different words, thus giving the two lines at least something that is common to both. What is common may be based on only one or two words.

The poet does not, however, select just any word with some association or similarity in meaning for line 2. Usually, but not always, he makes a choice in both lines so that the word or phrase in line 2 goes beyond the meaning of the element it matches in line 1. In other words the biblical poet tends to create a movement from one line to the next in which the second line has a narrower focus and is more concrete, more dramatic, more picturable than the more general first line. The first line suggests a broad picture and the second line completes it by dramatizing it. Often line 2 will be more elevated in style.

In 24:13 we find these words:

My son, eat honey, for it is good,

and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste.

In this pair of parallel lines, “honey” in line 1 is matched by the more picturable “drippings of the honeycomb” in line 2. And the poetic movement from the general to the narrower focus is in “good” in line 1, which becomes “sweet to your taste” in line 2. The two lines could have been expressed in one statement saying “this is so,” but the common model for much of parallelism is “this is so and that is even more so,” in which line 2 goes beyond line 1 in being more precise and more picturable. The two lines form a unit. Line 1 takes the first step and line 2 completes it. The two lines are in a dynamic relation due to the poetic movement between them. The arrangement gives the two lines an added element of meaning, which in this example is the picture of a particular object.

To show how the tendency in the second line is to go beyond the first line an example of number parallelism is instructive. In 30:29–31 there is a unit of text which gives a picture of a king as a person of stately bearing. Verse 29 says:

Three things are stately in their tread;

four are stately in their stride.

The author is not using two numbers to make two different statements. Rather he is applying the principle that holds throughout Old Testament poetry in which any number expressed in the first line is always increased in the second line. The writer could have said something other than “four” in the second line, thus avoiding the tendency for the second line to go a step beyond the first. However, this does not happen in number parallelism. In this and other examples in Proverbs, an additional feature is usually combined with the number parallelism: the number parallelism is followed and strengthened by a sequence of pictures (the number of pictures being the same as the number in the second line) leading up to the final one, “a king striding before his people,” which is the focus of the meaning of the unit.

Another technique by which poetic movement is created between parallel lines is through the occurrence of a literal item in the first line followed by a figurative term or phrase in the second. For example, in 16:27 there is a description of the activity of “a worthless man”:

A worthless man plots evil,

and his speech is like a scorching fire.

The first line has “plots” and “evil” and these are matched by “speech … like a scorching fire.” In this case the figurative expression in the second line has the effect of dramatizing the literal sense in the first line. Figurative language tends to shift the sense to the picturable and dramatic. It is one more way of making the second line go beyond the first line, thus giving the two lines a dynamic movement, which carries meaning that is in addition to the words themselves.

Although we have called attention to the fact that the Hebrew line arrangement (as seen in rsv) often shows some kind of movement from line 1 to line 2, it does not automatically follow that the same movement will be carried across into the translation. The reason for this is that translating frequently requires adjustments due to the differences between the Hebrew language and the translator’s language. For example, it is sometimes necessary to reverse the order of the parallel lines. It may be the case that a dramatic image is used in the second line in Hebrew, but there is no equivalent expression in the translator’s language. Therefore a nonfigurative term or expression must be used. In other cases in which Hebrew does not have a metaphor, the translator may find it natural to use a vivid image. In other cases discourse considerations may require making adjustments that will change the relation between parallel lines.

Here are some questions that may help translators in dealing with parallel lines in translation:

1. What do these lines have in common: similar structures, similar meanings, both, or neither?

2. If the meanings are similar, which elements in line 1 are matched by which elements in line 2?

3. What does the second line do in relation to the first: focuses, makes more visual, makes more emphatic, makes more literary, other?

4. If the relation between the lines is a logical one, what is it: reason-result, means-purpose, condition-consequence, or something else?

With the answers to these questions we should be able to discover what adjustments will be required to translate the parallel lines in a form that is clear, faithful, and stylistically appropriate. Throughout the Handbook we will try to give advice about the important elements in parallel line structures and offer suggestions about their translation.

The Key Term, “Wisdom”

The term that expresses more clearly than any other what the book of Proverbs is about is “wisdom.” If the book has any overall theme, that theme is wisdom.

Three words that occur over and over again in Proverbs are the verb “be wise,” the adjective “wise,” which also functions as a noun, “wise person,” and the noun “wisdom.” These words all come from one Hebrew root, chakam. It is very important for translators of Proverbs to understand the meaning and use of these words in Israelite social and religious thinking.

The “wisdom” that is the subject of Proverbs is not merely intellectual and philosophical. It is practical, involving what the person who is wise does in any given situation. It is ethical, meaning that it gives moral guidance and leads to right living. And it is religious, in that its foundation is God’s wisdom; as the book states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10).

Commentaries on Proverbs generally give some sort of definition of the meaning of “wisdom.” Etienne Charpentier, for instance, says this:

Wisdom is the art of living a good life, seeking what leads to life and not to death. It is a reflection on the great human questions: life, death, love, suffering, evil, men’s relationship with God and with one another, social life, etc. (How to Read the Old Testament, page 80).

It is clear from this and other definitions, and from a reading of Proverbs itself, that the term “wisdom” covers a broad area of meaning. It actually can have a number of different meanings across the variety of contexts in which it is used; we should note particularly the following senses:

1. “Intelligence” or “shrewdness,” which many languages recognize as being the equivalent of smartness or cleverness.

2. “Good sense” or “sound judgment,” which in many cultures is regarded as the fruit of age or experience, and which is the basis of good and acceptable living.

3. “Moral understanding,” the ability to know what is right and what is wrong, and to live according to that knowledge.

4. The capacity to think about the deeper problems of human life and destiny.

When translating “wisdom” into another language, it will not always be possible to find a single term or expression that covers all the different meanings that the Hebrew term can have. So translators will need to consider which elements of meaning are in focus in each context and to use terms or expressions that are the appropriate ones for those elements. It may be helpful for translators to do a study of all the terms and expressions in their language that cover any part of the area of meaning of wisdom in Proverbs, in order to recognize the differences in sense and application between them and to discover which are most appropriate in the different contexts where the Hebrew term chakam (“wisdom”) is used. Throughout its comments the Handbook will at tempt to show what focus the term has each time it is used and to advise translators about ways of rendering it.

In Jer 18:18 there is a reference to “the wise” as a class or group of people with a particular function in society, comparable to priests and prophets. While the priests were expected to teach people the way of God, and prophets to bring messages from God, the responsibility of “the wise” was to give good advice about the life of individuals, society, and the nation. They were expected to be the advisers of kings and national leaders; and this may be reflected in some sections of Proverbs. They were also responsible for keeping and passing on the tradition of wisdom to future generations.

From different parts of the Old Testament we get a picture of wise people and a long tradition of wisdom in Israel. This tradition took in the folk wisdom and sayings of the generations; it also drew on the wisdom of other nations and groups of people. From generation to generation the sayings of the wise were passed on through their teaching, and in particular through the teaching they gave to those who were being trained to become members of their special group. Much of the book of Proverbs has the appearance of teaching being given by “the wise” to their disciples or trainees. Commentators sometimes refer to this group of people and their activity as “the Wisdom school” or “wisdom circles.”

Understanding that there was a wisdom tradition and a group of people recognized as “wise” behind the book of Proverbs (and other “Wisdom” literature in the Old Testament) may be helpful to translators. In some cultures there is a group of elders or specialists who are the recognized keepers of the tradition of wisdom, and their instruction may provide a good model for the wisdom contained in Proverbs. For other cultures just the setting of teaching wisdom that is learned and received from the past may help in giving the most appropriate setting for the text of Proverbs.

Handling Textual Problems

In addition to the difficulties that interpreters and translators face in understanding the Hebrew text of Proverbs, there are also problems with the text itself. We take as our standard Hebrew text the Masoretic text as edited and presented in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (bhs). This edition is based on the Leningrad Codex B 19A, which is regarded as the oldest dated manuscript of the complete Hebrew Bible.

In the Masoretic text itself there are a large number of notes and markings. Most of these are of little interest to interpreters and translators; but there is one type of note that often is of interest, and it occurs more than 60 times in Proverbs. This type of note tells the person reading the text (aloud) to substitute different words or pronunciations for what is actually written in the text. There seems to be a variety of reasons for making such substitutions; for example, to make the text sound better or more acceptable for hearing in public. Another reason that is important for interpreters and translators is that the written text does not make good sense, and what is to be read indicates what the ancient editor thought the text should be.

There are also many places in the margins of the text of the Leningrad Codex where there are variants found in other ancient Hebrew manuscripts. And we assume that there are similar textual variations that lie behind the translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, Syriac, Latin, and other ancient languages. The difficulties for scholars and translators in determining what is the best or most original Hebrew text are what we refer to as textual problems.

Translators who are not able to recognize or study textual problems in the Hebrew texts for themselves can find references to them in the footnotes of many of the modern translations in English and other major languages. Translations like tev, rsv, New Revised Standard Version (nrsv), New English Bible (neb), Revised English Bible (reb), and New International Version (niv) often give an indication in their footnotes when they follow a text other than the standard Masoretic text. Many times the rsv footnote has “Heb obscure” and tev “Hebrew unclear.” rsv often gives the names of ancient versions that it follows, and this is followed by a comment on the Hebrew text. In similar cases tev says “One [or, some] ancient translation[s]” and gives its translation; it then adds what the Hebrew text says, or it states that the Hebrew is unclear. An example to illustrate this is Pro 14:32 in rsv:

… but the righteous finds refuge through his integrity.p

The footnote says “Gk Syr: Heb in his death.” This note tells us that “through his integrity” is found in the Greek and Syriac translations, and is taken as the text to be translated in place of “in his death,” which is in the Masoretic text. Most of the textual changes and corrections in rsv are based on the judgment of textual scholars.

In this Handbook we will refer to textual problems many times. In particular we will discuss those problems that translators are most likely to notice and have questions about, and those that are significant for understanding and translating the wider text in which they occur. When we say in the course of such discussion that a change has been proposed in the Hebrew text, this does not mean that textual scholars or translators of a particular version simply did not like the Hebrew form; it means that in their opinion there may have been a problem in the transmission of the Hebrew text as we now have it.

In the discussion of textual problems the Handbook will frequently refer to hottp, which stands for Hebrew Old Testament Text Project. Translators of Proverbs who are able to do so should become familiar with this work, in the volume entitled Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project: Poetical Books (Volume 3). That volume presents the committee’s recommendations on selected problems from almost every chapter in the book of Proverbs. It also explains the principles used by the committee in making textual decisions (pages v-xvii).


The title of this book in English is “Proverbs,” which may mislead you. Before beginning to translate the book you are advised to read carefully “Translating Proverbs” in the introduction to this Handbook. There you will find a discussion of the extensive meaning and use of the word “proverbs” and an overview of the structure of the book.

When choosing a name or title for the book, you should first consider what is actually contained in it. A great deal of the content of this book is concerned with instructions, warnings, advice, and comparisons between the conduct of good and evil people. These are nearly always stated in pairs of parallel lines and only sometimes do they have the form and sense of a wise saying or proverb. Accordingly, you may find it more fitting to choose as a name for the book a descriptive title that applies generally throughout most of the book. Some examples include “Wise words for good living,” “Teachings that make people wise,” “What wise people taught,” “Examples from the wise ones,” “Learn to be wise,” “The book of insights into wise living,” and “Learn wisdom and live happily.”

In the comments that follow about text and translation of the individual verses you will be reminded many times to refer to the information given in the discussions in “Translating Proverbs.” Because some problems are often repeated in the text, if you are familiar with the content of the points made in “Translating Proverbs,” it will save you time and help you avoid solving the same problem over and over.


Verses 1–7 are an introduction to the entire book of Proverbs. The Introduction consists of three divisions: Verse 1 serves as a title for all the material in chapters 1–9. However, see the comments on verse 1 below. Verses 2–6 set forth the purpose, object, or aim of the book. Verse 7 is its motto.

Section Heading

You may wish to place a section heading before verse 1. On the other hand you may feel that it is more appropriate to place this heading before verse 2.

The headings that many modern translations use aim to state in a few words the purpose of the Introduction and draw mainly upon the content of verses 2–6. Here are some examples: “Prologue: Purpose and Theme” (niv), “The Value of Proverbs” (tev, excluding verse 7), “How Proverbs Can Be Used” (Contemporary English Version [cev]), “Title and purpose of the book” (New Jerusalem Bible [njb]), “Purpose of the book” (French common language translation [frcl], placed before verse 2), “What one can learn from this book” (German common language translation [gecl]).

Some other suggestions are “You can learn by studying Wisdom,” “Wisdom gives people understanding,” “How a person can become wise,” “What this book will teach you,” and “How to learn to be a wise person.”

1A. Title (1:1)

Verse 1 may be a title for the whole book. However, chapters 10 and 25 have their own titles (see 10:1 and 25:1), and 30:1 and 31:1 show the collections in those chapters are from authors or editors other than Solomon. Therefore it is best to consider verse 1 as applying only to chapters 1–9. For a discussion of an appropriate title for the entire book, see previous page.


The proverbs of Solomon: Proverbs translates the plural form of the Hebrew word mashal, which covers a much wider range of meaning than the English word “proverb.” See “Translating Proverbs,” pages 1–2. In this title the term refers to teaching or wisdom literature either spoken or written by Solomon, or attributed to his name. According to 1 Kgs 4:32 Solomon “uttered three thousand proverbs (Hebrew mashal); and his songs were a thousand and five.” This may mean that he “composed” (nrsv, tev) that many proverbs and songs, but it need not be taken that way.

The term proverbs is difficult in some languages, because even though there may be terms for different kinds of sayings, none of these may be as wide in meaning as the Hebrew term here. In such cases translators often choose a more general expression such as “wise talk,” “wise sayings,” or “good words.”

In many languages the construction proverbs of Solomon is unclear, as it is in English. It may be taken to mean, for example, that Solomon wrote these sayings, or that he owned them, or that he dictated them. The problem becomes even more difficult because chapters 1–9 may not even be recognized in many languages as being related to the kinds of sayings classed as “proverbs.” Translators seem to have two choices:

(1) to leave the construction unclear, or

(2) to translate with a term or expression that shows Solomon to be the author, such as “the ‘proverbs’ that Solomon composed.”

In either case it is advisable to provide a note to explain that the expression proverbs of Solomon may be taken to mean that the book is dedicated to him.

Son of David identifies Solomon in relation to his father, David (2 Sam 12:24).

King of Israel refers to Solomon, not to David. Many translations depend on punctuation to show that Solomon is called king of Israel. However, for public reading punctuation often fails to make clear what is meant. tev “and King of Israel” may be a helpful model in some languages. In others some restructuring, such as “King Solomon of Israel, the son of David” (cev), may be clearer.

In languages in which the title king is unknown, it may be possible to use an equivalent title such as “chief” or “the highest ruler.” If this is not satisfactory, it is often possible to say something like “who ruled over Israel.”

Some translators may find that verse 1 functions best as a heading for the Introduction and therefore may wish to place it in bold letters or in whatever form titles or headings are given in the translation. Others may find it better to render verse 1, for example, “These are the wise words spoken by Solomon who was king of Israel and David’s son.” gecl includes in verse 1 something of the purpose: “Counsel for living through Proverbs composed by Solomon.…”

1B. Purpose of the Book (1:2–6)

In the Hebrew, verses 2, 3, 4, and 6 all begin with the preposition l- “for” and the same verb form; and in each case this refers back to verse 1. This structure is shown clearly in English in njb and niv. Each of these verses states some way in which the proverbs are useful. Each verse, except verse 5, is also composed of two lines that show a similarity or paralleling of meaning. For a full discussion of parallelism, see “Translating Proverbs,” pages 10–15.

A number of English translations follow the Hebrew structure and have a single long sentence (see rsv, niv for instance). In many other languages, however, this structure is not natural or easy to understand, and a number of separate sentences are required. A good model for this approach is tev, which begins verse 2 with “Here are proverbs that will …,” and then begins the following verses with “These proverbs can …” or “They can.…” Some other languages have, for example, “The good words of this book …” and “These good words.…”

The reader of the book of Proverbs is confronted at the very beginning with a heavy load of words or expressions that overlap somewhat in their meanings. This kind of situation often requires building into the translation a certain amount of expansion or repetition so that the flow of information does not overwhelm the reader. In the comments on verses 2–6 the Hebrew terms are explained and suggestions for their translation and restructuring are given.

Division Heading

See the comments about headings under 1. Introduction above.


That men may know wisdom: Men is supplied by rsv. The literal form is “for knowing wisdom and instruction.” Note that nrsv has not kept men, a term that can be taken to exclude women, and says, “for learning about wisdom and instruction.” tev “Here are proverbs” makes clear that it is the study of the entire book of the proverbs, which are to follow, that will give a person wisdom. Both tev and cev address the reader as “you.” If the translator is to use a form of “you,” it should be plural and include both men and women, if the language makes these distinctions; in many languages the form most naturally used in this context will be “we” (inclusive). Examples of this are “These good words can give us …” and “This talk is to help us to.…”

In the Wisdom school of ancient Israel, wisdom is both the subject and aim of education. See discussion entitled “The key term, ‘wisdom’ ” in “Translating Proverbs,” pages 15–16. Wisdom is the first and most general of a series of words in verses 2–7 whose meanings are closely related. Wisdom is a religious attitude that is acquired by discipline and is defined in 9:10 and Job 28:28 as the “fear of the Lord.” As Job 28 makes clear, wisdom is hidden, a mystery that is made known to the person who seeks God, who honors and worships the Lord. At another level, the one that is emphasized most frequently in the book of Proverbs, wisdom is insight that applies in everyday, practical matters, the equivalent of sound judgment and clear understanding. That is clearly the meaning in this opening statement.

As a general principle, the first step in translating the term wisdom in Proverbs is to determine which meaning is intended in a particular context. See the discussion in “The key term, ‘wisdom’ ” in “Translating Proverbs,” pages 15–16. In the sense that it has here, “sound judgment” or “good sense,” wisdom is handled in some languages as a phrase; for example, “knowing the know things” or “seeing the spirit of things.” It may need to be expressed idiomatically in some languages; for example, “having a live liver,” “having a live head,” or “ripe eyes.”

Know wisdom translates the Hebrew literally, but the sense is to “obtain wisdom,” “acquire wisdom,” or “get wisdom.” tev has “help you recognize wisdom.” It is the teaching of this book that will enable a learner to have wisdom, and so cev says “Proverbs will teach you wisdom …,” which is a good model.

Instruction, which is also sometimes called “education,” as used here refers to a disciplined effort. In rsv and nrsv the same term is rendered “discipline” in 3:11 and is used there in parallel with “reproof,” which means to scold someone to correct their error. Instruction in this sense is not merely teaching information; it is the strict practice required to reach a goal. The same word is used in 23:13, where it is said that discipline may need to be reinforced by physical punishment. R.B.Y. Scott says “wisdom is the subject and goal of education in the Wisdom school, moral discipline is its method and process.” Some modern translations that render instruction as “discipline” are New American Bible (nab), New Jewish Publication Society Version (njpsv, also called Tanakh), niv, and njb. cev expresses the idea of discipline as “self-control.” However, Proverbs makes clear that discipline is also exercised by parents, wisdom teachers, and the Lord.

The idea of discipline may need to be rendered, for example, “to make people obey what is taught,” “to bring you to do what they teach,” or idiomatically “to command the heart.” We may then translate, for example, “These proverbs will teach you wisdom by obeying what they say,” or “These proverbs will make you wise if you command your heart to learn them.”

Understand words of insight: It is through the discipline of training that the learner comes to an understanding or grasp of the sense and significance of these proverbs. To understand refers to mental discrimination and discernment—knowing what is true and what is not. The verb translated understand is used in 1 Kgs 3:9, where Solomon prays for an understanding heart to “discern between good and evil.” Understanding in this sense is a near equivalent to wisdom.

In the expression words of insight, words refers to discourse and not to lists of individual words. Traduction œcuménique de la Bible (tob) renders it “maxims [sayings] full of meaning.” Scott says “thoughtful speech,” while Moffatt (mft) has “wise teaching.” All of these refer to the proverbs in the whole book, and translators may wish to make that clear in verse 2; for example, “This book of proverbs will give you wisdom as you obey what they say, and you will understand the deep meanings of their teaching.”


Receive instruction in wise dealing: Instruction translates the same noun as in verse 2. Receive instruction means to allow yourself to be taught. The thought expressed is again that “these proverbs will teach [train] you” or “from these proverbs you can learn.”

Wise dealing translates a noun meaning prudence, insight, understanding, good sense. This term is used in 1 Sam 25:3 to describe the practical good sense of Abigail in contrast to her ill-natured husband, Nabal (meaning “fool”). nab calls this “wise conduct,” mft “right conduct,” njpsv “discipline for success,” njb “disciplined insight”; neb and reb have “well-instructed intelligence.” tev retains the idea of conduct or practical living by translating “how to live intelligently,” which is a good model.

We may also translate, for example, “This book will teach you how to act wisely,” or “These proverbs will instruct you in the right way to behave.” In some languages it will be more natural to express “right kind of living” idiomatically; for example, “how to walk on the right path of life” or “how to sit down with a wise heart.”

Righteousness, justice, and equity: These may be three additional qualities that can be developed by the person who practices the discipline of learning from the proverbs, or they may be taken as three aspects of wise dealing. Most translators take them as additional qualities. Righteousness in the context of moral conduct refers to right behavior and was used in the legal sense of being in the right in a lawsuit (so Toy). However, the close connection between righteousness and wisdom throughout the book of Proverbs “shows that it is not simply a legal or social attitude. Righteousness and wisdom are considered as complementary forms of a single basic attitude of spiritual uprightness with the same happy consequences: life, honor, and glory” (tob notes).

Justice translates a Hebrew noun often rendered as “judgment,” which refers to both the process and the final judgment of the judge (human or God) in making legal decisions. The result of justice is that which is right, fitting, or proper. Equity refers to fairness and has about the same meaning as justice.

Although many translations express these three nouns as abstracts, it is often necessary to shift to verb phrases as in tev “how to be honest, just, and fair.” See also cev “what is right and honest and fair.” In some languages it may be necessary to express each noun as a phrase; for example, “how to live in a right way, do what is honest, and be fair to others.” Where figurative expressions are more natural, we may sometimes say “how to walk on the right path, think with one heart, and speak with one tongue.”


That prudence may be given to the simple: Prudence renders a word whose basic meaning is “crafty” or “shrewd.” It is used in Gen 3:1 to describe the serpent as “the most cunning animal” (tev). In Job 5:12 it is used in “the devices of the crafty” which are frustrated by God. However, in Proverbs the sense is more positive, giving the idea of intelligent insight. tev says “clever” and cev “smart.” nab calls it “resourcefulness,” Scott “sharpen the wits.” In some languages a verbal expression is more natural; for example, “This wise talk can open the thinking of.…” Translators should avoid words that include the idea of craftiness or trickery.

Simple translates a term referring to persons who are easily influenced for good or for bad because they lack maturity and instruction. tev calls them “inexperienced,” and tob has “naive.” In translation it is best to express, if possible, a category of persons who are immature or lacking experience, as the parallel clearly refers to young people. In some languages such people are said to be “unripe” or “the recent born.” Another way of expressing the sense is to say “some [young] people have only a little knowledge.”

Knowledge and discretion to the youth: Knowledge is the noun form of the verb “to know” used in verse 2, where it is often rendered “acquire wisdom,” “get wisdom,” “obtain wisdom,” or “learn wisdom.” Knowledge is experience and attitude as well as information. This knowledge was taught to enable young men to negotiate their way successfully in the world.

Discretion renders a term referring to the power or ability to make plans and to see clearly how to reach a goal. In 12:2 and 24:8 the word is used for plotting to do evil acts, but in this verse it is used in a good sense.

The youth refers here to a young person and emphasizes again a state of immaturity. However, the age of the person is largely defined by the context. In Exo 2:6 it refers to Moses as an infant; in 2 Kgs 4:29 it is used of the male child of the Shunammite woman. In Jdg 17:7 it refers to a grown man, and in 2 Sam 9:9 to Saul’s male servant, Ziba, who himself had sons. Although some versions (King James Version [kjv], nab) render this term by “young man,” others focus on the element of immaturity. Most do not use an expression that is exclusively male; for example, mft, neb, and reb say “the young,” frcl “the young folk,” and tev and cev “young people.” gecl may provide a good model for some: “whoever is young and inexperienced.”


As noted in the comments on verse 2, verse 5 does not begin in the same way as verses 2, 3, 4, and 6. It is a statement that interrupts the list of things that the proverbs of Solomon are useful for. Because of this some interpreters and translators regard verse 5 as a parenthesis, with verse 6 then referring back to verse 1 in the same way as verses 2, 3, and 4. niv shows this quite clearly, with verse 5 being enclosed between dashes, and Scott has it in parentheses. njb has moved verse 5 to a position after verse 6, showing in a different way that it is not considered part of the main structure.

On the other hand translations such as tev, nrsv, and reb begin a new sentence at the beginning of verse 5 which includes all of verses 5 and 6. This way of understanding the text makes the Hebrew expression “for understanding …” at the beginning of verse 6 refer back to the term skill in verse 5 rather than to the proverbs of verse 1. Translators may follow either approach.

The wise man also may hear and increase in learning: The wise man stands in contrast to the immature person of verse 4 and refers to a person who has already gained understanding and whose judgment is sound and mature. The wise man possesses the wisdom that the ancients have gathered from long experience. The use of the masculine in wise man and later in man is not intended to be exclusive. Hear means more than simply receiving information through the ears; it means being open and obedient to the teaching and thoughts that the proverbs contain. Learning likewise is not so much acquiring facts as it is getting understanding, and in this context it refers more exactly to the content of instruction. Wise persons can become wiser by applying themselves to the learning of these proverbs.

The man of understanding acquire skill: Man of understanding translates a form of the word used in line 2 of verse 2. The word is parallel with wise man and has a similar meaning, that is, a perceptive person, someone who has insight. Skill is a word that may be related to the Hebrew noun for “rope” and the verb meaning “to tie.” The idea is that of steering or guidance. Consequently Scott translates “and the discerning man may find guidance.” Note tev “give guidance to the educated.” The sense of “guidance” is that wise persons will be guided in their judgments, decisions, and conduct by the wisdom acquired from the proverbs in this book.

We may translate verse 5, for example, “Even wise people who pay attention to these proverbs will become wiser, and those with insight will find guidance.” cev offers a translation using two conditional clauses: “If you are already wise, you will become even wiser. And if you are smart, you will learn to understand.”


To understand a proverb and a figure: Verse 6 picks up the term understand from its related noun in verse 5. A proverb is the singular form of the Hebrew word that is the title of the book. For a discussion of this word, see verse 1 and “Translating Proverbs,” pages 1–2. Figure translates a term whose meaning is not entirely certain. It may be related to a word meaning to “turn” or “bend.” In Gen 42:23 the word is used to refer to the interpreter Joseph used when he spoke to his brothers. In Isa 43:27 the word is used to refer to mediators, prophets, or spokesmen who spoke to the people for God. In Job 33:23 Elihu uses the term to indicate someone who mediates as an angel between God and people.

In many languages “to turn the words” is an idiomatic way of saying “interpret.” Some scholars understand this word to refer to an unclear saying that hints at or suggests something familiar. Modern versions use a variety of expressions; for example, nab, mft, neb/reb say “parables,” njb “obscure sayings,” and tev “hidden meanings of proverbs.” The Septuagint has “dark say ings.”

The words of the wise: The ancient teachers of the Wisdom school often expressed their thoughts in obscure sayings, which required the learner to figure out the sense. Words in this context refers not to individual words but to the teachings given by wise people or the ideas and thoughts wise people taught to others.

And their riddles: A “riddle” is a game of words in which a question or series of questions are asked. These questions contain obscure clues that invite the listener or reader to discover the hidden meaning. For example, “What is quiet when it is alive and talks when it is dead?”—answer: “a leaf.” Riddles here translates a Hebrew word that, according to Toy, comes from a verb meaning to “turn aside” and involves some kind of puzzling discourse. The term is used in Jdg 14:12–14, where Samson tells a riddle about a lion to the Philistines. In 1 Kgs 10:1 it is used in reference to the difficult questions the Queen of Sheba put to Solomon to test his wisdom. In Ezek 17:2 it is used to describe a symbolic account or parable to represent a historical event; and in Num 12:8 the Lord, punishing Aaron and Miriam for speaking against Moses, uses the term as a contrast to the clear and direct communication that the Lord used with Moses.

In some languages the term for a popular proverb may include riddles as well as folk tales and other kinds of sayings. It is not necessary that the translation express the strict sense of a “riddle,” but it is important that the term or phrase used should refer to a dark or hidden saying, that is, one that is purposefully obscure in meaning, or a discourse that challenges the listener’s understanding.

If verse 5 has been translated as a parenthesis (see above), the translation of verse 6 should retain the style of verses 2–4, showing that the proverbs of verse 1 are also for the purpose of teaching or instruction. So if the translation has used “you” in verses 2–4, it is advisable to do so also in verse 6; for example, “Also, so that you can understand the meaning of proverbs and other sayings as well as the teachings and riddles of the wise ones.”

On the other hand, if verse 5 is not regarded as a parenthesis, and verses 5 and 6 are translated as a unit separate from verses 2–4, then verse 6 should continue in the same style as verse 5 (see tev).

1C. Motto of the Book (1:7)

Verse 7 is different in style, content, and purpose from verses 2–6. tev places verse 7 with verses 8–19. cev keeps it as part of verses 1–6. Most translators recognize verse 7 as holding a special position in regard to the entire book and therefore place it separately from the verses before and after it. However, in bhs, an edition of the printed Hebrew Bible, verses 7–9 are printed together as a unit.

Commentators often refer to verse 7 as the “motto” of the book. A motto in a book is a sentence or phrase adopted as representing the character and substance of the book as a whole. The thought expressed in verse 7 appears also in 9:10 and 15:33. See also Psa 111:10 and Job 28:28.

Not only is this verse the “motto” of the book which expresses its overall theme; it is also the first occurrence of the two-line “saying,” which is the most typical structural unit in the whole book. See “Translating Proverbs,” pages 10–15, for a full discussion of how to understand and translate this basic unit.

The form of this verse in Hebrew may be set out as follows:

Fear-of-the-Lord [is]



Wisdom and-instruction

fools despise


There is a clear contrast between the two lines of this saying: “knowledge” or the person who wants to gain knowledge (line 1) is contrasted with “fools” who do not care for it (line 2). This contrast is where the essential meaning and impact of the saying lie. The parallel expressions that come at the beginning of each of the lines, however, are equivalent in meaning; that is, “wisdom and instruction” are an expression of “fear” or honor towards “the Lord.” This is the essential outlook of the Wisdom school.


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: Fear in relation to God expresses a range of meanings in Old Testament contexts. For example, in Job 37:23–24 mortals are in terror and dread of God’s punishment. In Exo 9:30 Moses tells the king of Egypt that he will stop the thunder and hail, even though the king and his people are not yet afraid of the Lord God. In Jer 26:19 fear has the sense of obedience. In the case of Abraham, after he had showed his willingness to obey God and sacrifice Isaac, the angel of the Lord said to him “I know that you fear God,” which indicates Abraham’s trust in God (Gen 22:12). Here in this verse and throughout Proverbs the fear of the Lord means to respect and believe the Lord.

Lord is the common English translation of the Hebrew name of God, which is written as yhwh and pronounced something like yahweh. It is the most frequently used term for God in the Old Testament. Because the name was sacred, it was not pronounced, but instead the term ‘adonai (“my lord”) was pronounced in its place. To translate the name of Israel’s God there are several options open to the translator:

(1) Transliterate the form yahweh.

(2) Translate by a term such as “Owner,” “Master,” “Ruler,” “One who Commands,” “the Ever-Present One,” or “the Eternal One.”

(3) Use the name of a local god, unless this is considered inappropriate.

(4) Translate Lord (yhwh) and the general word for God (‘elohim in Hebrew) by the same term.

In many languages a literal rendering of fear of the Lord will mean nothing more than terror or dread, that is, being scared of what the Lord may do. If the language has an expression equivalent to “be in awe of,” this will be more satisfactory. In some languages such a thought is expressed idiomatically; for example, “to stand with your heart in your hand before the Lord” or “You must respect the Lord with a quivering liver.”

Beginning of knowledge: Beginning renders the word used in Gen 1:1, “in the beginning,” which refers to the first in an ordered series of events. In this verse it is the starting point without which nothing else can follow. It may be taken as the root, fundamental, or basic element upon which all wisdom is built. The tev footnote expresses this thought as “The most important part of knowledge is …”; the cev footnote says “What knowledge is all about is.…” In some languages “stump” or “root” is used figuratively for the source or basic element from which everything else comes, so these languages have a translation like “If a person wants to gain wisdom, the root of it is honoring the Lord.”

In some languages it is not possible to use a noun phrase such as the fear of the Lord as the subject of a clause. Accordingly it is sometimes necessary to restructure fear as an “if” clause; for example, “If you hold the Lord in awe, you will have the beginning of knowledge.” We may also translate, for example, “Whoever respects and obeys the Lord is beginning to be wise,” “The first thing about knowledge is to respect and obey the Lord,” or “The most important part of knowledge is having reverence for the Lord” (tev footnote). The frcl rendering may serve as a model translation for some: “To recognize the authority of the Lord is the A-B-C of wisdom.”

Fools despise wisdom and instruction: The second line contrasts the fool with the person who respects the Lord. Fools renders a word used in Isa 35:8 to indicate uninstructed people who mislead others. In 10:8; 20:3; and 29:9 fools are contrasted with sensible and intelligent people. Despise is not to be taken in the sense of “hate” or “loathe.” The Hebrew, like the English term, properly means to look down upon with contempt, to disdain as unworthy. It is in this sense that Esau despised his birthright in Gen 25:34. Wisdom and instruction are the same words as used in verse 2. This line may be rendered “Fools turn their noses up at wisdom and good advice” or “People who look down on wisdom and instruction are fools.”

In translation it may be necessary to make the contrast between the two lines clear by saying, for example, “but fools despise …” or “Foolish people, on the other hand, think wisdom and instruction are worthless.”

Section Two: Instructions and Speeches of Wisdom 1:8–9:18

The twelve poetic discourses whose purpose is to instruct the inexperienced begin here and continue to 9:18. For discussion of the content see “Translating Proverbs,” pages 4–8.

2A. First Instruction (1:8–33)

The first instruction consists of three subdivisions, which are given the following titles in the outline:

1. Listen to your parents’ teaching (1:8–9)

2. Beware of sinners (1:10–19)

3. Wisdom’s speech (1:20–33).

Listen to your parents’ teaching (1:8–9)

Subdivision Heading

You may not wish to use a heading for only two verses. However, for those who do, this heading may need to be reworded to say, for example, “Listen to what your father and mother teach you,” “Hear the words of your parents,” or “Learn the lessons from your parents.” Some other headings used for verses 8–19 are nab “The path of the wicked: greed and violence,” njb “The sage speaks: avoid bad company,” tob and frcl “Be on guard against evil young men,” cev “Warnings against Bad Friends,” Scott “First Discourse: The Ornament of Virtue, and the Dangerous Seductions of Crime,” niv “Warning Against Enticement,” and the Spanish common language translation (spcl) “Advice to young people.”


Hear, my son, your father’s instruction: Hear means not just passive listening but rather obeying what is taught. The sense of heeding or “pay[ing] attention” (tev) is expressed in Amos 4:1, where the prophet warns the women of Samaria of the consequences of their oppression of the poor. See also Isa 28:23 and Jer 7:13. Scott’s rendering is a good translation model: “follow your father’s instructions.” Other renderings are cev “Obey the teachings,” njpsv “heed the discipline,” neb/reb “attend … instruction.”

In many languages there is a generic word for “child” and a phrase “male child” equivalent to son, which would be used in situations where the gender of the child is in focus. Under normal circumstances, however, a man would address his son as “my child” rather than as “my male child.” If that is your situation, you will probably wish to use the generic term here, particularly since the context makes it obvious that a male youth is addressed.

On the other hand, your language may lack a generic word for child, and only have words for “son” and “daughter,” as in Hebrew. In that case “son” should obviously be used. If you feel that son is overly restrictive for your audience (see tev, cev, nrsv, and njb for examples of translations made for “inclusivist” audiences) and that the message of this part of Proverbs (chapters 1–9) should be addressed to young people of both sexes, you could include a footnote indicating that although this part addresses young males, its application is for everyone.

Note that it is only this part of Proverbs that is especially directed to young men. In other parts where a mixed audience is addressed, my son can be translated “my child/children.”

Father’s instruction: According to Deut 6:2, 7 and Pro 4:3–4, the father of a family was primarily responsible for the moral teachings given to his son. Father’s instruction is matched in line 2 by mother’s teaching. Instruction translates the same word used in verse 2.

Reject not your mother’s teaching: Reject not is a negative way of saying “listen and obey,” or Hear in line 1. Translations like tev and cev do away with the parallelism of the poetic lines by not repeating the command in the negative. tev joins “father and mother”; cev has “teachings of your parents.” Other translations reduce the two lines to one in other ways; for example, gecl has “My son, obey your parents and follow their advice.” Translators may choose to retain the parallelism here, reduce the two lines to one, or recast the whole saying; the best guide is the grammatical patterns of traditional sayings in their own languages.

Teaching translates the Hebrew torah, which often refers to the law of Moses, but in this context the term has the general sense of training or instruction.

If you are keeping the poetic parallelism, this could be rendered, for example, “My child, obey what your father instructs you, and do not refuse to do what your mother teaches you.” If the parallel lines are not to be kept, we may follow the models of tev, or cev, or say, for example, “My child, obey and follow what your father and mother teach you.”

Some translations assume that the person speaking is actually the father of the young person, and so first person pronouns are used; for example, “My son, listen well to everything that I and your mother we-two are teaching you.”


For they are a fair garland for your head: They refers to the parental instruction and teaching in verse 8, which are described by rsv as a garland. According to Scott the word rendered garland is from a rare Hebrew root meaning to “wind” or “twist,” and refers to winding cloth about the head to make a turban or head covering. A garland is a wreath made of small branches, flowers, and leaves, and is worn on the head on festive occasions.

A fair garland is literally “a garland of grace” or more likely “a graceful garland.” Translators render this expression as “graceful diadem,” “graceful crown,” or “graceful wreath.” tev has “a handsome turban,” and cev “a lovely hat.” Some other examples are “like a hat to make your head look beautiful” and “nice decoration on your head.” spcl uses a more general phrase, “a beautiful adornment.” In languages in which no head covering is used it may be best to follow the model of spcl.

Pendants for your neck: Pendants here are necklaces, chains of silver, or beads hung about the neck as adornments.

A literal translation of verse 9 may give readers the idea that the teaching of the parents is written in the turban and on the necklace. The intention, however, of the poetic imagery is to say that the teaching given by the parents to their child strengthens the character of the young person, just as an adornment adds to his or her physical beauty. Accordingly, tev makes this clear with “Their teaching will improve your character as.…” Translators may also say, for example, “Their teaching is like a lovely turban for your head and a necklace for your neck.” gecl says “They adorn you like a necklace or a splendid crown on your head.”

Beware of Sinners (1:10–19)

Verses 10–19 are the first of several warnings given to young people to advise them to avoid bad friends whose influence can lead them into crime and violence. Verses 10–14 picture sinners proposing to the young man to kill someone to satisfy their evil desires and to get rich. The evil ones claim they will share their loot with those they have enticed to join them. Verse 15 advises the young man to avoid such people. Verses 16–18 describe the character of these criminals, and verse 19 concludes the series of warnings by saying that violent people are destroyed by their own violence.

Verses 10–19 form a single poetic discourse marked by parallelism and certain other structural elements. Verse 11 spells out what is suggested by the more general “entice” in verse 10. Verse 12 extends the image in verse 11 “lie in wait for blood” to “like Sheol … swallow them alive,” which again has a matching expression in line 2. In line 2 of verse 13, “spoil” is parallel to “the precious goods” found in line 1. In a similar manner the second lines of verses 14–16 have picturable examples of the thoughts and images given in the first lines. Verse 17 states a proverb, which is then applied to the criminals in verse 18. Verse 19 is a concluding statement in which line 2 states the final condition of the violent people from line 1.

One further important structural element is the conditional clauses in verses 10 and 11 introducing the schemes of sinners to ensnare “my son.” This structure continues to verse 14. Another is the repeated command forms that are accompanied by motive or argument clauses; for example, in verse 15 the commands are followed by the arguments in verses 16–19.

Subdivision Heading

See verses 8–9 for headings used for verses 8–19. Some other suggestions for a heading here are “Be careful who you make friends with,” “Good advice from parents can help you avoid trouble,” and “Teach the young to stay away from criminals.”


My son, if sinners entice you: For My son see verse 8. Sinners is generally a description of those who do not obey God’s will as made known in the law. In this context, however, sinners are persons of bad moral character. In many languages sinners must be expressed by a verb phrase, for example, “people who do evil deeds.” In some translations people whose behavior is particularly bad are referred to, for example, “members of town gangs or robbers.” Entice has the sense of “tempt,” “allure,” or “lead astray.”

Do not consent: that is, do not “accept,” “be willing,” “give in to.” In a positive manner we may say, for example, “resist,” “say ‘no,’ ” or “stand firm.” In some languages the “if” clause must be placed after the command for a natural sequence of clauses; for example, “My child, do not give in if sinners tempt you.”


The structure of verses 11–14 sets out the words that the sinners are imagined as saying in their attempt to lead the young person astray. This can be seen clearly in rsv, which follows the Hebrew form closely.

If they say: Note that tev begins with “Suppose they say” in order to make clear that the proposals are given as an example of what sinners might suggest doing. Some other translations have “They might say to you.…” cev relates verse 10 to verse 11 by saying in verse 10 “Don’t be tempted … [verse 11] when they say.…” Similarly some translations begin verse 11 with “Those people talk like this.…” Translators may find the cev model helpful.

Come with us opens the invitation to the young person to participate with evildoers. The pronoun us is exclusive here, but it must be inclusive from the next clause onward, where the “sinners” describe what they and the young man will all do together.

Let us lie in wait for blood: Lie in wait renders a military expression referring to an ambush, that is, to hide and take someone by surprise. A common ren dering is “hide beside the road, and when somebody comes.…” Blood here means to shed someone’s blood, that is, to kill them.

Let us wantonly ambush the innocent: The imagined proposal of the sinners continues. Wantonly renders an adverb meaning “without cause,” “groundless,” or “for no good reason.” tev and cev say “for the fun of it.” Ambush, which means to lie hidden or to lurk, is parallel in sense with lie in wait. Innocent refers to people who are helpless in that they have no way to protect themselves and are unaware of the ambush being laid for them.


Like Sheol let us swallow them: The innocent persons captured in the ambush of the sinners will be killed and put in their graves. Sheol is the world of the dead, a land of gloom and darkness, a place of no return. It is commonly referred to as the Pit or the grave. Swallow is a common figure in the Hebrew for “consume,” “kill,” or “destroy.” Translators should make certain that readers do not take it in a literal sense.

Alive and whole: that is, alive and in good health. The sinners will play the role of Sheol and cause the innocent to be dragged down into the grave away from life and health.

The translation of verse 12 may require some adjustments to make certain that the picture is complete. cev does this by saying “They’re well and healthy now, but we’ll finish them off once and for all.” This translation replaces the images of Sheol and the Pit with the words “finish them off once and for all.” Compare tev, which has a similar rendering. If the translator wishes to keep the death image, it is possible to say, for example, “While they are still alive and well, we will send them to the land of the dead.”


Not only will the sinners kill the innocent; they will also rob them.

We shall find all precious goods: Find means to “seize,” “capture,” or “take away.” Precious is used in Job 28:16 to refer to gems of great value. Goods translates a noun used a number of times in Proverbs in the sense of “wealth” or “possessions.” The context makes clear that precious goods refers to highly prized material goods taken as loot.

Fill our houses with spoil: Fill does not mean to fill to overflowing as with a liquid; it has the sense of putting a lot of things in. mft says “cram our houses.” Spoil refers to the goods and property that are taken from the slain victims. For a model translation see tev.


Throw in your lot among us translates what is literally “Let your lot fall with us.” The casting of lots was a common method in the Old Testament to deter mine God’s will or to affirm a divine decision. Lots were cast to divide land, or to assign service, duty, or punishment. According to Scott the expression as used here can mean either “be one of us when we cast lots to divide the proceeds,” or figuratively “join us, associate your fate with ours.” The latter interpretation seems preferred. tev and cev understand it in the second sense as do spcl “Come and share your luck with us” and gecl “We will share the loot among us. Come do it with us.” Another translation has “You come and be a partner with us [exclusive].”

We will all have one purse: The robbers propose to share the loot they will take. We is inclusive again here. Purse or bag could refer to the bag that held the stones used in casting lots, or more probably it is used as an image repre senting the money, wealth, or possessions taken by the gang. In this case the sense is “We will share the money” or “Everyone will get a share of the loot.” cev says “If you join our gang, you’ll get your share.”


Verses 15–19 are again the voice of the teacher advising and warning the learner. They link back to the “if” or “suppose” clause of verse 11; and in some languages it will be advisable to repeat part of that clause here: “My son, if they talk like that, don’t you.…”

My son, do not walk in the way with them: My son is as in verses 8 and 10. Walk in this context is similar to the way the word is used in Psa 1:1 “who walks not in the counsel of the wicked.” Walk here means “to be associated with,” “to share in their conduct,” or “to do as they do.” cev says “Don’t follow anyone like that.…” In some languages this may need to be expressed idiomatically; for example, “Don’t put your feet where they walk” or “Stay away from the path they follow.”

Hold back your foot from their paths repeats the thought of the first line but uses other terms, foot and path. Some will find the repetition of meaning adequately stated with “Stay away from the path they follow and don’t put your feet where they walk.”


This verse, which is almost identical to the first half of Isa 59:7, breaks the connection between verses 15 and 17. It is not found in some important Septuagint manuscripts. Some scholars suggest that it has been inserted by later copyists. hottp recommends that verse 16 be placed in a note in translations that use notes. nab places it between square brackets, njb places it in italics, and mft omits it. However, most modern versions keep it without a footnote and this is recommended to translators by the authors of this Handbook.

Verse 16 gives the reason why the learner is being warned. It is stated in the form of a proverb or popular saying.

Their feet run to evil: Feet is used here as a figure of speech (a part for the whole) and represents the sinners of verse 10. Accordingly, in many languages feet must be replaced by “they” or “wicked people.” Run to evil means “hurry …,” “are in a rush …,” or “can’t wait to do something evil.”

In the second line the form of the evil is expressed in the phrase shed blood, which has the same sense as “blood” in verse 11. See tev for a model translation.


Verse 17 is a single sentence saying and serves to introduce verse 18. The two verses are closely tied together as a contrast between birds that are not stupid and evildoers who are stupid. The opening word in Hebrew (For in rsv) links these verses back to the warning in verse 15.

In vain translates an expression meaning “for no purpose,” “does no good,” “has no effect,” or “is useless.”

Net is spread: Spread renders a word that may mean spread out, or refer to the scattering of seed to bait a trap.

In the sight is literally “in the eyes of,” meaning “where the birds can see the trap.” Any bird is literally “possessor of wings”; it is a poetic expression like “winged creature” in English, and is used only here and in Eccl 10:20.

There are at least three ways to understand the meaning of verse 17 and the relation between verses 17 and 18. All are equally valid.

(1) Verse 17 can be understood to mean that birds won’t be caught in a trap they can see being set for them. And verse 18 means that evil people are setting their own trap and being caught in it. So the birds are wise and the sinners are blind and foolish.

(2) Even though the birds see the trap being baited for them, they pay no attention to the trap in order to get the bait (scattered seeds). The wicked in verse 18 are like the careless, hungry birds, so hungry for violence and wealth that they pay no attention to the trap they are setting for them selves.

(3) Verse 17 applies to the learner; that is, just as the bird avoids the trap it sees being set, so the learner will know how to avoid the dangers of life, and not be like the wicked people mentioned in verse 18.

Many modern versions favor the first understanding. For a model translation following this interpretation see tev. Another way of expressing this is: “Birds have the right thinking—if a bird sees a person setting a net, it won’t get caught.”

The cev footnote follows the third interpretation: “Be like a bird that won’t go for the bait, if it sees the trap.”

But these men refers to the wicked robbers described in verses 11–14 who tempt the learner to join them.

Lie in wait is the same expression as the one used in verse 11 where the wicked people lie in wait for other people’s blood. In verse 18 they prepare their own deaths.

There is a full parallelism in verse 18 in which the second line repeats the sense of the first line using other words. Set an ambush translates the same word used in verse 11. For their own lives translates “for their own souls [Hebrew nefesh]” meaning “for their own physical lives.”

Two ways in which we may render verse 18 are, for example:

•    People who rob others set the trap that will destroy them. They lay an ambush to take away their own lives.

•    Robbers are killed in their own traps. They are destroyed by their own ambushes.


Verse 19 concludes this subdivision by summing up all that was said by way of warning and argument in verses 15–18.

Such are the ways: Ways renders the Hebrew text. nrsv has followed the Septuagint, which has “end,” meaning “destiny” or “fate,” the final result that is reached by obtaining gain by violence. Gain is used without any qualification in the Hebrew text, but the sense is “unjust, wrongful gain,” as used in connection with extortion in Ezek 22:13.

It takes away the life of its possessors: It refers to getting gain or wealth by violent acts. Possessors refers to the people who do these violent deeds, the robbers. The sense of verse 19 is that everyone who robs to get wealth is destroyed. cev says “The wealth you get from crime robs you of your life.” See also tev. In some languages this must be expressed as a simile rather than as a metaphor: “It is like what they steal destroying them.” A common idiomatic rendering is: “Killing and robbing is the road to death!”

Wisdom’s Speech (1:20–33)

Verses 20–33, which contain the first speech of Wisdom, have a chiastic structure. See the glossary at the end of this Handbook for the meaning of chiasmus. We may display this structure as follows:

A Introduction: an appeal for listeners


B Address to the simple, scoffers, and fools


C Wisdom makes known her thoughts


D Reason for the announcement


E Announcement of judgment


D’ Reason for the announcement


C’ Wisdom makes known her thoughts


B’ Fate of the simple and fools


A’ Conclusion: an appeal for a hearer


Verses 20–33 are unrelated in theme to what came before them and what comes after them. This subdivision, however, is similar in style and sense to chapter 8. Each verse consists of two parallel lines, except verses 22, 23, and 27, which each have three such lines.

Throughout this unit Wisdom is personified, that is, is presented as a speaking person. The Hebrew word for Wisdom is feminine, and Wisdom is repre sented as a woman here and in chapters 8 and 9. She is represented in 8:22–31 as a supernatural being who was with God at the time of creation.

Subdivision Heading

Some of the headings used for this unit in modern versions are “Wisdom in Person Gives Warning” (nab), “Wisdom Speaks” (cev), “Wisdom speaks: a warning to the heedless” (njb), “Appeal and warning from Wisdom” (frcl), “Wisdom warns” (gecl), “Invitation from wisdom” (spcl), and “Wisdom Calls” (tev). Some languages are not able to speak of wisdom as the agent of an action. In those cases we may need to say, for example, “The one who has wisdom warns the people,” “The wise one speaks to the people,” or “Wisdom is like a person calling to the people.”


Wisdom cries aloud in the street: Wisdom renders a word that Scott calls “an archaic Canaanite form.” It is found elsewhere in 24:7 and in Psa 49:3 (Hebrew verse 4). There is no apparent reason to translate it differently than the word used in verses 2 and 7.

Personification is a regular aspect of rhetorical style in most languages; in some, however, it may not be used for a term or concept like Wisdom. There are also some languages in which Wisdom is equated with intelligence, and the word is not personified merely by using a capital letter. In such cases there are two ways to handle the personification:

(1) Convert to a simile; for example, “Wisdom is like a woman crying out in the street.” In this case Wisdom will be replaced in some of the verses that follow by the appropriate pronouns.

(2) Another possibility is to use an honorary feminine title, for example, “Mother Wisdom.”

(3) If that solution is not workable, it may be necessary to explain the personification in a note. The note may say something like “In verses 20 and 21 Wisdom is presented as a speaking person, a woman. Verses 22–33 contain her speech.”

Cries aloud in this context means “call out to,” or “ring out a shout,” to get the attention of people in the noise and confusion of a busy market scene. Street refers to the areas outside the houses in a town setting.

Markets translates a word referring to the town square located inside the city in front of the gate. The street and markets were gathering places for people. See Amos 5:16 and Ruth 4:11 (“at the gate”).

She raises her voice: She and her are feminine pronouns in the Hebrew and refer to Wisdom. Raises her voice is literally “gives her voice” and means “makes her voice heard” or “causes them to listen to what she says.”


On the top of the walls is literally “on the top of noise.” The image is of a noisy crowd. Here rsv has chosen to follow the Septuagint. nrsv has revised to say “At the busiest corner.” hottp recommends “in the most noisy places.”

At the entrance of the city gates describes more precisely the place spoken of in the second line of verse 20. This is the part of the city where legal and other public matters were handled. In translation it is not always necessary to mention the city gates, as it is the function of this part of the city that is important. It is frequently called “the public square” or in some languages “the village courtyard.”


Verses 22–33 contain Wisdom’s message to the people. In many languages it will be necessary to add “She says: …” or “This is what she says: …” at this point.

Verses 22–27 are addressed to the people mentioned in verse 22 using “you [plural].” However, verses 28–32 switch to “they.” Some modern translations keep the “you” form throughout. See tev.

How long? is not a question about time; rather it opens a rhetorical question meaning “All the time you are being foolish. It is time to stop” or “You have been foolish for too long. Stop being foolish.”

Simple ones renders the same word as used in verse 4; however, here it refers not just to immature and inexperienced people but rather to those who, as Toy says, “love ignorance, and deliberately refuse to listen to instruction in right living.” Many versions use terms equivalent to “silly,” “stupid,” or “foolish.” In verse 7 fools are described as despising wisdom. Such people are contrasted often to the wise who listen to advice. Foolish people not only reject the highest wisdom, they literally love foolishness.

In some languages such persons are described by bad body parts such as “black livers,” “gourd heads,” or “rotten heart people.”

In the second line rsv and many other versions supply How long? to intro duce the parallel question. The Hebrew does not repeat the question form. Scoffers renders a term used in Psa 1:1 and Isa 29:20 that refers to people who openly scorn or ridicule God and religion. The term is used often in Proverbs for a person who expresses contempt for wisdom. In some languages scoffers is expressed figuratively as “people who shake their finger at” or “… wag their head at.” Delight in in the second line matches love in the first line.

Fools hate knowledge: Fools renders a noun whose verb form is found only in Jer 10:8, where it means “to be foolish.” Toy says the noun refers to a person who is “insensible to moral truth and acts without regard to it.” Hate is used here in the same way as in Micah 3:2. It is in contrast with love and delight in in the first two lines. Knowledge is the same word as used in verse 7. To hate knowledge is to “reject” or “refuse” it.


Give heed to my reproof: Wisdom is addressing her words to the simple ones, the scoffers, and the fools mentioned in verse 22. Give heed, as the rsv footnote shows, is literally “turn,” an expression that sometimes means to “listen to” or “pay attention to.” Reproof translates a word used frequently in Proverbs; reproof is the correction given to someone who is at fault. My reproof means the correction, reprimand, rebuke, or scolding that Wisdom gives the foolish. A translation of the whole line that expresses this says, “Now I speak to you to correct you, and you must listen!” Another renders reproof as “speak strongly to you about letting go your bad behavior.”

Behold, I will pour out my thoughts to you: Behold calls attention to the importance of what is about to follow. cev combines the three lines of this verse and begins “Listen as I correct you and tell you.…” Pour out my thoughts is literally “pour out my spirit.” The tob note is instructive at this point: “The spirit of wisdom may mean its inspiration which gives religious intelligence for human conduct (compare the sense of spirit in Job 32:8). It may also mean the Spirit promised by certain prophets (Isa 11:1–4; Joel 3).”

In any event Wisdom is likened to a fountain of water, a gushing spring for the person who will accept her instruction. Translations differ considerably in this line. nab has “pour out to you my spirit,” njpsv “speak my mind,” njb “pour out my heart,” gecl “I open to you [plural] the treasure of my wisdom.”

It seems best to understand “my spirit” (my thoughts) in terms of what characterizes Wisdom, who is the speaker here. Her essential characteristic is wisdom, and therefore we may say something equivalent to tev “I will give you good advice” or spcl “I will fill you with wisdom.”

I will make my words known to you: This line repeats the thought of the previous line. My words means “my thoughts,” “my decisions,” “what I think.” Since the people refuse to listen to the words or thoughts of Wisdom, she tells them how she will treat them with scorn.


Verses 24–25 state the reason why Wisdom will mock at those who reject her invitation. Each verse consists of two lines that have essentially the same meaning.

Because I have called and you refused to listen: Called here has the sense of “invited” or “advised.” Listen is not expressed in the Hebrew but is the obvious sense of refused.

Stretched out my hand refers to the gesture of beckoning or inviting someone to come toward the one calling.

No one has heeded: Heeded renders a verb meaning to pay attention, so some translate “No one has paid any attention to me.” cev says “You completely ignored me.”


Ignored all my counsel: To ignore is to pay no attention, to treat something as unimportant or of no value. This is sometimes expressed idiomatically as “turned your back on.” Counsel is used here in the sense of “advice.”

You would have none of my reproof is literally “You did not want.…” Re proof is the same Hebrew term as used in verse 23.

We may translate verse 25, for example, “You [plural] paid no attention to the advice I gave you, and you refused to let me correct your ways.”


Verses 26 and 27 are closely linked in meaning. Verse 26 has two parallel lines and verse 27 three.

I also will laugh at your calamity: I also serves to indicate that Wisdom also has her turn to scorn them as they have done to her. neb/reb say “I in turn shall laugh.…” tev and cev express also as a consequence “So when you get into trouble, I will laugh.…” Calamity refers to suffering, trouble, or disaster. Calamity must often be expressed as a verb phrase, for example, “when you suffer” or “when something awful happens to you.”

I will mock when panic strikes you: Mock means to “deride,” “ridicule,” or “make fun of.” In some languages mock is expressed as a figurative expression, for example, “smack the lips at” or “clap the hands at.” Panic renders a word used in Lam 3:47 and refers to terror or fright. Strikes you is literally “comes [to you].”


When panic … like a storm is literally “when your terror comes like a storm.”

Whirlwind in the second line represents an intensification of storm in the first line. A whirlwind refers to a destructive and violent wind as in Job 27:20. Calamity translates the same Hebrew word used in verse 26.

When distress and anguish come upon you: Distress and anguish are the equivalents of “worry and trouble” or “pain and misery.” neb omits this line, but reb has kept it. There is no reason for translators to drop it.


In the Hebrew text of verses 28–32, “they” replaces “you [plural].” The pronoun refers to the people mentioned in verse 22. Some modern versions keep the “you” form in these verses, and this is recommended to translators.

Then they will call upon me: This line is the reverse of the first line of verse 24. Then means at the time they call in their trouble, that is, after the distress and anguish take hold of them. Call upon me means “to call on me to help them” or “ask me for help.” Note that tev has “call for wisdom.”

But I will not answer: Answer must be rendered in a way that is suitable for the way call … me is used. In some languages this will be, for example, “I will not listen,” “I will pay no attention to you,” “I will not hear you,” or “I will not come.”

They will seek me diligently: Seek matches call in the previous line. Seek … diligently translates a word meaning to look for intently and is used, for example, in Job 7:21 of God seeking Job after he has died. tev says “look for me everywhere.” The thought of verse 28 is expressed elsewhere in Jer 11:11; Micah 3:4; and John 7:34.


Verses 29 and 30 give the reason for verse 28.

Because they hated knowledge is the same as in verse 22. See there for comments. The sense of hated knowledge is “rejected” or “refused.” Rather than hated knowledge some languages prefer the form “you did not want to have knowledge.” Translators may find it best to use a verb phrase to express the sense of knowledge; for example, “You refused to learn.” frcl says “You have refused to learn to live.”

Did not choose the fear of the Lord: Not choose is used as a matching term for hated in the first line of this verse. Did not choose may be rendered “You did not follow,” “You turned against,” or “You would have no part in.” Fear of the Lord is the same as in verse 7.


It may be necessary to make clear that verse 30 continues the reason given in verse 29. We may say, for example, “Also, you wanted none of my advice” or “Neither would you let me counsel you.” Counsel renders the same word used in verse 25.

Despised all my reproof: Despised is used in verse 7 where it is said that “fools despise wisdom.” See there for despise. In verse 23 Wisdom asked the people to pay attention “to my reproof,” that is, to the correction Wisdom gives to the fools because of their errors. The sense is the same in this verse. We may translate, for example, “Also, you did not accept my advice and you refused to let me correct you.” cev has “You rejected my advice and paid no attention when I warned you.” See also tev.


Verse 31 states a consequence of the fools’ refusal to be corrected by Wisdom. Therefore translates the common Hebrew connector. A fuller expression is “On account of all this.…”

Eat the fruit of their way is an idiomatic way of saying that people must suffer the consequences of their conduct. Many translations keep the literal expres sion, but some exceptions are tev “So then, you will get what you deserve,” spcl and frcl “You [plural] will suffer the consequences of your conduct.” On the other hand some languages keep the idiom by saying “Their acts bear fruit and they will have to eat them.”

In languages in which this idiom will create misunderstandings, it is advisable to avoid the figurative language and follow tev, spcl, or frcl. Other idioms that are quite commonly used in this kind of context are “you will get the pay [or, reward] for all your bad behavior” and “you will reap the harvest of your bad behavior.”

And be sated with their own devices: Be sated means to be filled or gratified to the point of being stuffed. Devices here refers to mental activities such as evil plans, schemes, or intentions that may or may not become actions. njb has “So they will have to eat the fruits of their own ways of life, and choke themselves with their own scheming,” cev “Now you will eat the fruit of what you have done, until you are stuffed full with your own schemes.” frcl has “You will suffer the consequences of your conduct, you will be filled to the point of disgust by the results of your plots.” See also tev.


Verses 32–33 serve as the conclusion to chapter 1 and are in the form of a general rule.

The simple are killed by their turning away: The simple are those referred to in verse 22 who love ignorance. Turning away refers to turning way from or refusing instruction in right living. Their refusal to listen to instruction causes their death.

Complacence renders a word that means here to be at ease by neglecting or ignoring what should be done. Fools translates the same word used in verse 22. This line is translated by cev as “self satisfaction brings destruction to … fools,” and by tev as “Stupid people are destroyed by their own lack of concern.” We may also say, for example, “Indifference destroys foolish people” or “Paying no attention to what should be done destroys fools.”


Verse 33 contrasts the reward of the wise with the fate of fools.

But he who listens to me will dwell secure: But, which translates the common Hebrew connector, marks the contrast between verses 32 and 33. We may also say, for example, “on the other hand …,” “however …,” or “unlike those people.…” It is possible to return to the “you” form in verse 33 and thus make the application directly to the persons addressed in verses 22–32; for example, “But if you listen to me, you will.…” Listens translates the same Hebrew verb as that rendered “hear” by rsv in verse 5. See there for comments. Dwell secure means “be safe,” “have security,” or “live in peace.” This condition contrasts with the destruction of fools in verse 32.

Be at ease in the second line matches dwell secure in the first. Ease has the sense of having peace of mind, not being troubled by anxious thoughts and fears.

Without dread of evil: Evil here is not evil power but rather “trouble,” “diffi culties,” or “misfortune.” spcl says “but he who pays attention to me will live in peace and without fear of danger.” gecl says “But whoever listens to my words is spared from anguish and trouble.”

2B. Second Instruction (2:1–22)

The Hebrew text of chapter 2 contains twenty-two lines, which is the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. However, this is not an acrostic poem in which each succeeding line begins with the next letter of the alphabet. Some scholars have recognized a different structure in which the poem is organized into six stanzas or groups of lines. The first three stanzas are marked by the Hebrew letter aleph (English A). This letter begins the second word (“if”) of the first stanza (verses 1–4) and is the opening letter of the next two stanzas (verses 5–8 and 9–11). With verse 12 the marking letter shifts to lamed (English L). This letter marks the center of the chapter and is the first letter in the second half of the Hebrew alphabet. It is the opening letter of verses 12, 16, and 20, marking three stanzas that are also identified in the discourse structure of the chapter: verses 12–15, 16–19, and 20–22.

We may show the relationship between the stanzas in the chapter as follows:

Call to follow the teacher’s advice and seek wisdom (verses 1–4),

which will result in knowing God (verse 5),

because it is the Lord who gives wisdom (verses 6–8).

It will also result in growth in understanding, and protection (verses 9–11):

being saved from wicked people (verses 12–15),

being saved from immoral women (verses 16–19),

and leading to the reward for right living (verses 20–22).

This chapter seems to have a special introductory function since its themes are later taken up as the subjects of separate discourses.

Seek Wisdom (2:1–8)

Subdivision Heading

The Handbook uses more headings than most modern translations, and you are not required to follow its example. Headings used by some modern versions include “The blessings of Wisdom” (nab), “Wisdom, a hidden treasure” (tob, verses 1–9), “Wisdom, a safeguard against bad company” (njb), “Wisdom keeps one from evil” (frcl), “Wisdom: a treasure and a protection” (gecl), “Moral Benefits of Wisdom” (niv), “Wisdom and Bad Friends” (cev, verses 1–15), “The Rewards of Wisdom” (tev), and “Benefits offered by wisdom” (spcl).

If you wish to use a heading for the first subdivision of the chapter, these suggestions may be of help: “How wisdom can help you,” “Wisdom can teach you how to live,” and “Wisdom can save you from trouble.”


The speaker in chapter 2 is the teacher of wisdom, not Wisdom herself.

My son is the person the words of the teacher are addressed to. See the comments on 1:8.

If you receive my words: This is the first in a series of conditional clauses that combine together in meaning and emphasize the necessity of discipline in the pursuit of wisdom. In Hebrew this conditional clause is not followed by the result clause until the other conditional clauses in verses 3 and 4 have been given. In some languages such a series of isolated “if” clauses will create an unnatural style since the reader may expect the result to follow immediately. Where this is the case, you may find it more natural to shift from conditional clauses to commands in verses 1–4 and then to state the results of obeying these commands as a consequence starting in verse 5. In some translations, for instance, verse 1 begins “[My] child, you must listen to my words and.…” Note that this is the model of tev and cev. You is singular and masculine in gender as it refers to My son. Receive in relation to words means to accept, acquire, obtain, or in this context to learn. My words refers to the words, thoughts, or ideas the teacher or wise one speaks.

Receive my words is sometimes rendered idiomatically; for example, “Put my words in your heart,” “Write my words on your heart,” “Swallow the words I give you,” or “Open your ears to my teaching.”

Treasure up my commandments with you: Treasure up translates a verb used in Psa 17:14 that tev renders “stored up.” The sense here is that of saving, guarding, or keeping hidden something precious. Commandments are usually the laws and instructions given by Yahweh to his people. In this context, however, the term refers to the instructions given by the teacher of wisdom. cev says “my instructions” and tev “what I tell you to do.” gecl gives a good model translation for verse 1:

•    My son, pay attention to what I say to you. Guard my advice like a treasure.


Verse 2 continues the conditional sense from verse 1. The Hebrew verb construction marks this as a dependent clause, reflected in many English translation by the forms making … inclining, or “turning … applying” (niv). This verse adds to verse 1 by describing the attitude required of the person who obeys the commands referred to there. If you have chosen to use the conditional marker in verse 1 (rather than following the tev pattern), it would be good to repeat this marker at the beginning of verse 2.

Making your ear attentive to wisdom: The first part of this line is found in Psa 10:17; the sense is to give attention or listen.

Inclining your heart to understanding: Incline your heart to … is another idiomatic expression meaning “commit yourself to …” that is used in such places as Psa 119:36 and 141:4. A number of translations render the idiom as “work hard to get understanding” or “try hard to understand.” Heart in English and many other languages gives the impression of an emotional element. However, in the Old Testament the heart is the seat or center of the intellect and will. Toy comments: “the brain (not mentioned in the OT) was not regarded by the ancients as having intellectual significance.” Understanding renders the same root as used in 1:5.

We may translate verse 2, for example:

•    Listening to my words that give you wisdom and thinking about what they mean.

•    Paying attention to what the wise one teaches you and understanding its meaning.


Verses 3 and 4 each have two clauses and are each introduced by an “if.” With verse 1 they form a series of three conditional statements all of which must be fulfilled in order for the results or consequences given in verses 5–22 to follow. As a conditional structure this series must therefore be expressed as “If … and if … and if … then …” and not as “If … or if … or if … then.…” niv is a good model for this particular structure: “(1) My son, if …, (3) and if …, (4) and if …, (5) then.…”

Yes, if you cry out for insight: Yes renders the Hebrew particle that normally introduces a clause of reason, but in this clause it marks the repetition of another “if” clause that must be fulfilled in addition to the previous “if” clause. In translation it is often omitted, but see the comments in the previous paragraph for a caution about this approach. Cry out here means to call out to someone for the purpose of getting something. Accordingly, tev and cev say “beg for,” njb has “plea,” and frcl has “ask for help from.” Insight translates the same word as used in 1:2.

Raise your voice for understanding strengthens the sense of begging or pleading in the first line. The two lines are parallel and essentially the same in meaning, so cev reduces them to “Beg as loud as you can for good common sense.” tev keeps the parallelism with “Yes, beg for knowledge; plead for insight.” gecl combines the lines by saying “Call understanding and insight for help.” frcl has “Ask intelligence for help, call reason to your aid.”


If you seek it like silver: Seek in this expression is to look for something just as people mine the earth to find silver. The Hebrew has “seek her,” in which “her” refers back to wisdom in verse 2. cev makes this quite clear with “Search for wisdom.” What is emphasized is the diligent effort that must be made to obtain wisdom. A good description of the effort spent in searching the earth for precious minerals is found in Job 28. Silver is generally known, although in some languages it is known through the use of a borrowed term.

Search for it is parallel in meaning to seek it in the first line.

As for hidden treasures: The word rendered treasures refers to something hidden, as it was the custom to bury valuables in the ground or in holes in the rocks. For examples of this practice see Job 3:21; Jer 41:8; Matt 13:44. As in the case of the other “if” clauses, it may be more natural to translate this verse as a command and to say, for example,

•    Look for it [wisdom] as hard as you would dig for silver in the ground or as you would search for a hidden treasure.


Verse 5 introduces the first results that follow from the conditions or commands in verses 1–4.

Then you will understand the fear of the Lord: Then marks the logical consequence of having carried out all the conditions or of having obeyed the commands. In some languages it may be clearer to begin verse 5 by saying, for example, “Do all those things and.…” If verses 1–4 are restructured as commands, verse 5 may begin “If you do those things, [here is what will happen] …” (see tev). You continues to address the learner who is referred to as “my son” or “my child” in verse 1. Fear of the Lord or “fear of Yahweh” is the same as in 1:7. Understand means to know to fear the Lord. See tev or, as frcl says “Do that and you will know how to respect the authority of the Lord.”

Find the knowledge of God: Knowledge of God is an expression that occurs elsewhere only in Hos 4:1 and 6:6. The equivalent expression “knowledge of the Most High” also occurs in Num 24:16. The full expression must often be rendered as “to know God.” tev says “you will succeed in learning about God.” However, “learning about” does not seem to give the full sense intended. It is better to say something like “You will succeed in knowing God.” gecl offers a good model translation: “Then you will also learn to know who God is and to take the Lord earnestly.”


Verses 6–8 are the basis for the affirmation made in verse 5. The reason the seeker of wisdom will understand the fear and knowledge of God is because all knowledge comes from God.

For the Lord gives wisdom: The Lord gives wisdom may also be expressed, for example, “all wisdom comes from the Lord” (cev), or “the Lord is the source of wisdom.” Another way of expressing this is “Only the Lord can make a person wise.”

From his mouth come knowledge and understanding: This line reproduces the sense of the first line in metaphorical language. We may translate, for example:

•    His words bring knowledge and understanding.

•    We know and understand things because of him.

If it is necessary to do away with the parallelism, we may say, for example,

•    The Lord gives us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.


Verses 7 and 8 expand the reason given in verse 6 by naming additional acts the Lord does for the upright.

He stores up sound wisdom for the upright: Stores up translates the verb rendered “treasure up” in verse 1. Sound wisdom renders a word that is found in Isa 28:29 and Micah 6:9, but otherwise only in Job and Proverbs. There is some doubt about the precise meaning of the word. Toy suggests that the sense is the power to act, achieve, help, or deliver, and favors the last of these as a match for shield in the next line. Modern versions have a variety of renderings such as “ability,” “success,” “advice,” “counsel,” and “victory.” frcl, spcl, tev, and gecl all say “help.” cev has “helpful advice” and adds “or wisdom” in its footnote. In light of shield in the parallel line, a word such as “help,” “protection,” or “deliverance” seems appropriate.

In many languages to store up good sense, help, or deliverance may make little or no sense. The thought to be translated is that the Lord makes these available and provides or gives them to the upright. The upright refers to persons who conform their lives to right conduct or who live as they should. The word is used in Job 1:1 to describe the moral character of Job.

He is a shield to those who walk in integrity: A shield is an image of protection and defense. This image must sometimes be stated as a simile, for example, “The Lord is like a shield.” In languages in which shields are unknown, it is often necessary to replace the actual image with the idea the shield represents; for example, “He protects” or “He defends.”

Those who walk in integrity matches the upright in the first line. Integrity translates a word meaning “perfect,” “complete,” or “blameless.” Walk in followed by an abstract quality is commonly used in the Old Testament to mean to live or to conduct yourself in a particular way. Here the sense is as in Psa 26:1 “do what is right” or “live in the right way.” tev calls such people “honest.” cev has “who live as they should.” gecl says “All who follow him [the Lord] with sincere hearts find in him protection and help.” In some languages figures are used; for example, “He helps those who walk straight paths, and he defends those who go about with one heart.”


Guarding the paths of justice: Guarding or watching over continues the thought of protection in verse 7. Paths translates a different word than that used in 1:15. However, the sense is the same as in 1:15. See also “path of life” in Psa 16:11 and “paths of righteousness” in Psa 23:3. Justice renders the same word as in 1:3. The full poetic expression is equivalent to “He stands guard over the course of justice,” which must often be rendered in less formal language, as in tev, for example, or “He makes certain that people act fairly.” spcl has “He guards those who deal fairly with others.”

Preserving the way of his saints: Preserving translates a different verb than the one rendered guarding in the first line, but the two words have essentially the same meaning in these contexts. The way matches the paths in the first line and refers to the lives of his saints. Saints renders a noun meaning people who are faithful or loyal. The word is related to the noun usually translated as “steadfast love.” These people are called by this term because of their loyal or faithful relationship with God. In many languages the term “saints” or “holy people” as used in everyday speech often has meanings that are not biblical. Note that nrsv has changed saints to “his faithful ones.” tev says “guards those who are devoted to him,” and gecl “and he himself [the Lord] watches over the faithful.”

Knowing What is Right (2:9–11)

Verses 9–11 develop a further consequence of verses 1–4 and deal with growth in moral understanding. Verse 9 begins the same way as the first consequence in verse 5.


tev marks this as a second consequence of verses 1–4 by referring back to those verses here: “If you listen to me, you will know.…” This may be a helpful model for some languages.

Then … righteousness and justice and equity: For these three qualities see comments on 1:3. neb/reb make a change in the text that replaces equity with “keep,” that is, “keep only to the good man’s path.” However, hottp gives the Hebrew text at this point an “A” rating, which means the committee considers equity to be certain.

It appears that every good path is unrelated to what goes before it. However, every good path is to be understood as the fourth element that the learner of wisdom will understand. The sense of every good path is “what is right conduct,” “the right way to live,” or “the practice of doing what you should do.” tev offers a model translation.


For wisdom will come into your heart: We recall from 2:2 that the heart in Hebrew refers to the center of the intellect and not the seat of the emotions. For most likely indicates a relationship of cause and effect: wisdom entering the heart results in the person understanding righteousness and justice. Other ways of expressing wisdom will come into your heart are “Wisdom will control your mind” (cev), “wisdom will sink into your mind” (neb/reb), and “wisdom will be welcome to your mind” (mft).

Knowledge will be pleasant to your soul: Knowledge matches wisdom, and soul is paired with heart, giving these two lines essentially the same meaning. tev, which departs from poetic language more often than other well-known ver sions, states this verse as “You will become wise, and your knowledge will give you pleasure.” We may also say, for example, “Wisdom will fill your heart and knowledge will put joy in your soul.” If heart and soul cannot be spoken of in this way, we may suggest, for example, “You will become a wise and joyful person.”


In verse 11 the language returns to the image of guarding and protecting from verse 8.

Discretion will watch over you: For discretion see 1:4. Watch over translates the same word as “preserve” (rsv) in verse 8. In languages in which it is unnatural to speak of an abstract noun functioning as a person, some adjust ments must be made. See comments on 1:20. If direct personification cannot be used, we may suggest, for example, “Discretion and understanding will be like guards who will keep watch over you” or “Discretion … will protect you like a guard keeps watch over somebody.”

Many translators will find that the two lines of this verse can best be reduced to one because of their similarity in form and meaning.

Avoiding Wicked People (2:12–15)

Verses 12–15 describe the first danger the follower of wisdom will be protected from, that is, danger from the influence of evil people. This is a particular application of the general statement in verse 11.


Delivering you from the way of evil: Delivering means saving, rescuing, or setting free. As the verb form of delivering does not show who does this action, it may refer to “wisdom” in verse 10 or “discretion” and “understanding” in verse 11. cev takes it to be wisdom: “Wisdom will protect you from evil schemes.” Others like gecl, spcl, and tev take the subject of delivering to be the two nouns of verse 11. Another way of expressing the idea of being delivered is “Then you will not follow people who do evil or.…”

From men of perverted speech: Men is literally “man,” but the word is used here in a collective sense. The reference is not limited to males, as tev “people” indicates. Perverted translates a word whose basic meaning is “turned around.” It refers to that which is turned away from the right path or whatever is opposed to the right way of living and thus is wicked or bad. Bad people are characterized by their bad conduct and by their speech. Here speech reflects the thought and life of these persons. nrsv says “those who speak perversely,” njb “whose speech is deceitful,” frcl “from men with deceptive words,” and cev “from those liars.” In some languages persons who speak deceptively are described in figurative terms; for example, “people who speak with two tongues,” “people with two faces,” or “those who talk with two hearts.”


This verse continues the description of evil people.

Who forsake the paths of uprightness: Forsake means to abandon, give up, or turn away from. Paths of uprightness is as in verse 8 “paths of justice.” Uprightness translates the same word used in 2:7. The meaning of this line may be expressed as “They [evil people] abandon the right way” or “They stop doing what is good.” More idiomatically we may say, for example, “They give up following the good path” or “They stop walking on the right path.”

To walk in the ways of darkness: Those who abandon the right way of life choose to live their lives in darkness, which is an image of wickedness or evil. See Psa 107:10, 14. Unless darkness in the translator’s language has a different meaning, it is best to use it. Otherwise we may translate, for example, “to walk on the path of evil,” “… where evil people walk,” or “to live in a bad way.”


Who rejoice in doing evil: In verse 13 these persons live in darkness, but in this verse they go even farther; they rejoice, that is, they are happy in doing evil or living in a wicked way. cev marks the greater intensity in verse 14 with “Most of all they enjoy.…” We may also say, for example, “Who are happy when they do bad things” or “They are even glad to do evil deeds.”

Delight in the perverseness of evil: Delight translates a different word than that used in 1:22, but with the same sense and matching rejoice in the first line. Perverseness is the same term as used in verse 12 and means little more than the badness of evil. frcl translates “They enjoy doing bad [things] and take pleasure in wickedness.” We may also say, for example, “They feel good when they do bad things and when they deceive people,” or, using a verb in each line, “They enjoy doing evil and are happy to tell lies.”


Men whose paths are crooked: Men is supplied by rsv; the Hebrew is literally “their [masculine] paths.” nrsv has “those whose paths.” Translators may wish to begin a new sentence with “They are people.…” Crooked refers here to people being devious or deceptive. They are described in Deut 32:5 as “a perverse and crooked generation.” If a language does not express deceptive conduct by the image of crooked or twisted paths, another natural figure should be used.

And who are devious in their ways: This line means the same as the first one. In some languages figurative language may be used in one line and non figurative in the other; for example, “They walk on crooked paths and they are dishonest people” or “They are deceitful people and speak with two tongues.” In other cases it may be necessary to use figurative expressions in both lines. It is also possible to combine the two lines and say, for example, “people whose way of life is not straight.”

Avoiding the Immoral Woman (2:16–19)

Verses 16–19 describe the second danger the follower of wisdom will be protected from, that is, danger from the immoral woman. This is another consequence of the conditions in verses 1–4.

The theme in these verses is resistance to the attractions of an immoral woman. This same theme is dealt with in chapter 5, in 6:24–29, in chapter 7, and in 9:13–18.


In Hebrew this verse begins with the same expression as verse 12.

You will be saved from the loose woman: The passive construction in rsv may be changed to the active, as the Hebrew may be read “She will save, deliver, rescue you” or “Wisdom will save you.” Another expression of the meaning of be saved from is given by some translations: “You will be able to reject … the woman.”

Loose woman: Note that the rsv footnote says “strange.” “Strange” has been understood to mean “ethnically foreign,” “married to someone else,” “shameless,” or “adulterous.” However, verses 17–19 describe a woman who has broken away from the restraints of her own husband and community and has become free to satisfy her own desires without regard for the consequences. Many societies use a word for “prostitute” that includes a woman in these conditions. Other languages will refer to such a person as a bad woman or a woman who walks anywhere. cev calls her “a sinful woman” and tev says “any immoral woman.”

From the adventuress with her smooth words: Adventuress, as the rsv footnote shows, is literally “foreign woman,” and this term matches the sense of loose woman in the first line.

Smooth words: In Psa 55:21 “smoother than butter” refers to a person who speaks hypocritically. However, here in verse 16 smooth words are flattering, seductive, beguiling, enticing words. If loose woman refers to an ethnically foreign woman as some interpreters suggest, the smooth words may refer to the foreign accent of the woman.

frcl gives a good model translation for verse 16:

•    In this way you will avoid being seduced by the flattering words of a woman who is not yours.

Since the situation described in this verse is something that is possible rather than a present situation, some translations restructure the verse to say, for example, “If a woman [who is another man’s wife] wants to seduce you with her smooth talk, then wisdom will protect you and you will not do what she says.”


Verse 17 describes the immoral woman referred to in verse 16.

Who forsakes the companion of her youth: Although this may be unknown in some societies, people have most often heard of it happening, particularly in cities. Forsakes is to abandon, leave, or depart from. The sense of companion of her youth is clearly “her husband,” as the next line speaks of her marriage vows.

neb renders the first line “who forsakes the teaching of her childhood.” This change is based on a change of one vowel point in the Hebrew word for companion, which gives a word meaning “education.” However, hottp rates the Hebrew text as a “B” and recommends translating as “companion,” which has in this context the more precise sense of her partner, that is, the man she married when she was young.

Covenant of her God: The marriage obligation is seen here as an agreement, pledge, or pact with God not to commit adultery (Exo 20:14). As Toy points out, very little is known of the nature of marriage ceremonies in pre-Christian times. Covenant … God may refer to the making of a promise or to the idea that God is a witness to the marriage. Both ideas are expressed in Mal 2:14.

Some translate this expression as a reference to the woman’s marriage vows; for example, cev “who breaks her wedding vows,” tev “[who] forgets her sacred vows.” Others show her as being unfaithful to God; for example, gecl renders the whole of verse 17 “She has forsaken her own husband and so has also broken faith with God.” frcl says “a woman who is unfaithful to her first partner and who has thus betrayed her God.” spcl renders it “Who abandons the partner of her youth and forgets her pledge to God.” All of these are good translation models.


For her house sinks down to death: Interpreters have found this line difficult. The figure of the loose woman leading “my son” to death is found also in 5:5; 7:27; and 9:18. The same imagery is used in the Akkadian “Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World.” See Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by James B. Pritchard, page 107. nrsv changes house to “way,” but hottp rates house as “A” and supports the rsv rendering. Since the expression is figurative it may refer to the road to her house, to the men who go to her house, or to what goes on in her house as leading to death. As Scott says, death in the book of Proverbs means untimely, premature death, the penalty for living foolishly. tev offers a good translation model. Another is spcl “To take the road that goes to her house is to take the road that leads to death.”

And her paths go to the shades: Her paths may be taken to mean the path she follows, and so her way of life. But paths may also refer to the paths that lead to where she lives. Shades as used in Job 26:5 and Psa 88:10 refers to the spirits of the dead in Sheol. Here shades refers more generally to Sheol or the place of the dead. Because the second line repeats the first so closely in sense, cev reduces the two lines to one: “The road to her house leads down to the dark world of the dead.” Some translations say “If you go with this woman to her house, it is like going on the road to the place of the dead.”


None who go to her come back: This refers to entering her house for the purpose of having sex with her. Both tev and cev say “visit her.” Translators should use the natural expression that is used for paying a visit to a prostitute. Come back means to return to life in the community.

Nor do they regain the paths of life: This line affirms figuratively that such persons go to their deaths, that is, they do not find their way back to the world of the living.

Rewards and Punishments (2:20–22)

Verses 20–22 bring chapter 2 to a conclusion by stating the consequence that will follow for the person who obeys the voice of wisdom and the conditions in verses 1–4. See headings at the beginning of this chapter.


So you will walk in the way of good men: As in the other subdivisions of the chapter, this may need to be especially introduced to relate it to the conditions at the beginning; for example, “If you have obeyed the voice of wisdom, then.…” Walk in the way means “follow the example,” “live the way,” or “follow the path.” Good men is literally “the good.” Most modern translations avoid language that refers only to males here.

And keep to the paths of the righteous: Paths of the righteous has the same sense as “paths of uprightness” in 2:13. See there for translation.


Verses 21 and 22 form a poetic conclusion to the chapter, contrasting the reward that good people will have with the punishment that awaits the wicked. Each of the verses consists of two parallel lines that are almost identical in meaning, with the lines of verse 22 being opposite in sense to the lines of verse 21.

For the upright will inhabit the land: For upright see verse 7. Inhabit the land means to live, dwell in the land of Israel. See Deut 4:1–2; Psa 37:3, 11, 29. To dwell in the land is to receive the LORD’s favor and blessing. From the writer’s point of view the land may be said to be “this land” or “our land.” To translate as the land may appear to mean any land or more generally the earth.

And men of integrity will remain in it: Men of integrity translates the plural adjective form of the term rendered “integrity” by rsv in verse 7, and the same word is rendered “whole” by rsv in 1:12. In the context of our verse it refers to people who are blameless, honorable, and innocent of wrongdoing. nrsv says “innocent.” neb has “blameless men,” which reb has changed to “the blameless.” cev says “innocent.” It refers back to the land in the first line.


But the wicked will be cut off from the land: This contrasts the consequences for the wicked with those for the upright. The wicked, used here in Proverbs for the first time, generally refers in the Old Testament to those who refuse to acknowledge or obey God. In the book of Proverbs it is a term used for people who are foolish in that they disobey the teaching of divine wisdom. The wicked are often referred to in translation as “bad people,” “people who do wrong,” and sometimes figuratively as “people who do not walk on God’s road” or “people who throw God’s wisdom aside.”

Cut off refers to the action taken against people who because of their wickedness have no place or claim in the land God promised to Israel, and therefore do not belong to the community in life. Cut off is figurative language, and its meaning may be expressed as “removed” or “taken away.” In some languages a different figure is more natural, such as “thrown out” or wiped out.” For those languages that are not able to use a passive construction, tev “God will snatch” is a good model.

And the treacherous will be rooted out of it: Treacherous is used in Job 6:15 to refer to a stream bed that goes dry and betrays the thirsty traveler who expects to drink from it. See also Jer 15:18. It matches the wicked in the first line and refers to deceitful, undependable, and untrustworthy people. Rooted out means to be violently uprooted or snatched away. It refers to the land of promise, the same as in the first line. In some languages the garden metaphor is expanded to say “pulled out just as someone pulls out weeds from a garden.”

2C. Third Instruction (3:1–12)

Chapter 3 consists of three major divisions. The first division (verses 1–12) has six exhortations or encouragements to act or to refrain from acting in a certain way. Each of these is followed by a promise of reward. The exhortations are found in verses 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11. The promises occur in verses 2, 4, 6b, 8, 10, and 12.

Division Heading

Translations vary in the number of headings used in chapter 3. Some that have only one heading for the whole chapter are tev “Advice to the Young,” spcl “Recommendations for acquiring wisdom,” and niv “Further Benefits of Wisdom.” Of those that have a heading referring just to verses 1–12, nab has “Attitude toward the Lord,” njb “How to acquire wisdom,” cev “Trust God,” gecl “Acceptance by God and people,” and frcl “Wisdom and obedience to God.”


My son, do not forget my teaching: As in chapter 2 the teacher of wisdom is speaking to the learner. For My son see 1:8. Do not forget is a negative way of saying “Remember!” What is to be remembered is the content of the instruction: “Do not forget all that I have taught you.” Teaching renders the Hebrew word torah, as used in 1:8 where the learner was advised not to forsake his mother’s “teaching.” The term should not be translated as “law” in these contexts, even though the law lies behind and supports the teaching given by the wise ones.

But let your heart keep my commandments: Heart, as in 2:2 and 2:10, refers to the mind. My commandments was used in 2:1 to refer to the instruction given by the teacher of wisdom. The two lines of this verse are parallel, with the same meaning expressed in a negative way in the first line and then in a positive way in the second line. Keep is equivalent to do not forget, that is, it means “remember.” The Hebrew term basically means “guard” or “preserve.” tev has “remember,” reb “treasure.” In other parts of the Old Testament to keep … commandments (in mind) often has the sense of “practice,” “obey,” “put [them] to use,” and some take that to be the meaning here also (“and obey them,” cev).


This verse explains the reward that is given for keeping the commands in verse 1.

For length of days and years of life: For, together with the subject and verb they will give at the end, links this verse to the previous verse as the reason why the learner should treasure the words of the teacher. Length of … life is “many days and many years” or a long life, as promised in the traditional language of Exo 20:12.

Abundant welfare will they give you is literally “They will add peace [Hebrew shalom] to you,” where shalom refers to peace, prosperity, wholeness, health, and completeness of life. It is remembering and practicing the wisdom teachings that will bring the learner this reward. cev says “They will help you live a long and prosperous life.” See also tev. frcl says “Thanks to my advice you will experience well-being and have a long and happy life.”


Let not loyalty and faithfulness …: Loyalty and faithfulness are a combination of qualities that occur in such passages as Gen 24:49; Exo 34:6; Deut 7:9; and Psa 25:10 and express the ideal relationship between people or between God and people. The two words overlap considerably in their meanings. In Gen 47:29 the word rendered loyalty (Hebrew chesed) is used of the relationship of Joseph to his father Jacob and in Exo 34:6 of the relationship of the Lord to his own people. An essential element in loyalty is love, and the word is sometimes translated as “love.” njb says “faithful love.”

The idea of being “loyal” is sometimes stated in figurative language, for example, “to keep every word spoken to someone” or “to follow faithfully in someone’s tracks.”

Faithfulness may be described as a state of trustworthiness or dependability. A person who is faithful is one in whom complete confidence may be placed.

Let not … forsake you: The two qualities of loyalty and faithfulness are somewhat personified in that the learner is told not to allow them to forsake or depart from him. In some languages these abstract nouns must be expressed in another form, with the real subject you as the subject of each sentence; for example, “Do not cease to be loving and faithful to others,” “Do not give up being a loyal and dependable person,” or “Always be loyal and reliable in everything you do.”

Bind them about your neck: It is apparent that loyalty and faithfulness cannot literally be tied around the neck. Therefore, the clause has a figurative sense, that is, “Wear them like something tied around your neck.” The image probably suggests a necklace as in 1:9 or a signet ring hung on a cord as in Gen 38:18. cev says “Let love and loyalty always show like a necklace.” frcl says “Keep those qualities like a precious ornament.” If it is not natural to say “Wear them like …,” it may be possible to say “Carry them with you like a precious jewel” or “Put them on like you put on a ring.”

Write them on the tablet of your heart: This line is lacking in some manu scripts of the Septuagint. hottp considers it to be a line added by a copyist, gives it a “C” rating, and recommends that it be omitted. However, most modern translations keep it, and translators are advised by the authors of the Handbook to do the same.

This expression is found elsewhere only in 7:3 and in Jer 17:1, but the same thought is found in Deut 30:14 and Jer 31:33. In Deut 6:9 the commandments of the Lord were to be written on the doorposts of the houses and on the gates to remind people of them as they went in and out. In ancient times tablets were made of stone or clay. The term tablet would have led Jewish readers to think of the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written (Deut 5:22).

The expression is used here figuratively and is a graphic way of saying “Keep them in your memory” or “Don’t forget them.” Some languages use the literal expression “to write something on the heart.” If this is not a natural way of speaking in your language, it may be best to keep the expression more general with, for example, “Keep them fresh in your memory” or “Put them into your mind.”


Verse 4 states the consequences of verse 3, just as verse 2 gives the consequences of verse 1. tev makes verse 4 a consequence of verse 3 by saying “If you do this.…”

So you will find favor and good repute: So, which introduces the consequence, translates the common Hebrew connector. Find favor means to be accepted, approved, or well thought of. Repute, as the rsv footnote shows, is a correction of the Hebrew text, which has “understanding” (“Cn” in the footnote stands for “Correction”). hottp, however, rates the Hebrew text as “B” and suggests that “good intelligence” may also be taken to mean “good success” or “good behavior.”

In the sight of God and man: In some languages translators may find it more natural to make God and man (“people,” nrsv) the actors of the verb. cev does this by saying “God and people will like you and consider you a success.” In some languages a somewhat more formal rendering of the verse is possible, for example, “If you do this, you will be loved and approved by God and by people.”


Verses 5–12 continue with the series of commands or exhortations for the learner to act. However, from here on these relate the learner to the Lord rather than to the wisdom or words of the teacher.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart: Trust means to rely on, depend on, have confidence in. Trust with God as the goal or object means to regard him as the source of wisdom and power in all things and therefore worthy of your entire confidence. The act of trusting is sometimes expressed figuratively as “putting your heart in the hands of” or “laying your liver on someone.” The Lord translates the personal name of Israel’s God, Yahweh. With all your heart means with all your mind, with the full force of the mental faculties, totally and without reservation. In translation, as in the Hebrew, this may need to be expressed through a bodily figure of speech.

And do not rely on your own insight: Rely renders a word meaning to lean or support oneself. It is used in 2 Sam 1:6 of Saul leaning on his spear and in 2 Kgs 5:18 of the king of Syria leaning on Naaman’s arm. It takes on the extended sense of trusting (the Lord) in Isa 10:20. Insight translates the same word as used in 1:2 and 2:3, and refers to comprehension, understanding, or intelligence.

In some languages the contrast between the two commands in this verse is more naturally stated by placing the negative command (line 2) before the positive command (line 1). For example, frcl says:

•    Do not trust in your own intelligence, but rather put your entire confi dence in the Lord.

Some languages express this as

•    Don’t think that your own understanding is enough to help you. You must trust God with all your thinking.


In all your ways acknowledge him: Your ways refers to your undertakings, everything you do. Acknowledge him is to know him, have an intimate acquain tance with him, be aware of him. In the present context it is not simply an intellectual awareness of God’s existence but acceptance of God’s presence to guide and direct your life. tev renders this “remember the Lord.” cev has “Always let him lead you,” which is a good model for translating.

And he will make straight your paths: Make straight renders a verb that means to smooth out, make level, or remove the obstacles in preparing a roadway. See Isa 40:3 and Psa 5:8. We may translate by keeping the figurative expression; for example, “He will show you the right path” or “He will make your path level.” The nonfigurative sense may be expressed, for example, “He will show you what to do” or “He will direct your life.” Some translations introduce this line with “If you do this, he will.…”


Be not wise in your own eyes is another form of the command given in line 2 of verse 5. The point of this warning is to avoid thinking that you are wise and therefore forgetting that the Lord is the source of wisdom. njb says “Do not congratulate yourself on your own wisdom,” Scott “Do not pride yourself on your wisdom,” and gecl “Don’t hold yourself to be wise and skilled.”

Fear the Lord, and turn away from evil: For fear the Lord see 1:7. Turn away from evil is also used in describing Job in Job 1:1. The sense of this expression is “Refuse to do evil things,” “Don’t do evil acts,” or “Do nothing that is bad.” Some languages have figurative expressions similar to the Hebrew in this context; for example, “turn your back on bad behavior,” or “give your backside to what is bad.”


This verse is a consequence of verse 7 and states that the content of line 2 of that verse leads to physical healing or soundness of body.

It will be healing to your flesh: It points back to verse 7. Since this line introduces a consequence, it may be appropriate to say, for example, “Then …,” “In that way …,” or “If you do that.…” The Hebrew of this line is literally “Healing shall be to your navel.” Healing is probably to be understood as “health.” There is similarity of form in Hebrew between the word “navel” and the word that the rsv, like the Septuagint, has translated as flesh. Some ver sions say “body” instead of flesh.

And refreshment to your bones: It is necessary to look at this second line before suggesting how best to translate the whole verse. The line is literally “and drink [as in Psa 102:9] for your bones.” The rsv note is “or medicine.” Just as “navel” is used figuratively in the first line, so is bones in the second line. gecl, for example, renders the whole verse as follows: “That is a medicine that will keep you in good health and keep your body refreshed.” Note that tev speaks of “healing your wounds and easing your pains.”


Honor the Lord with your substance: To Honor means to hold in high esteem, to recognize someone as being great and worthy. In relation to the Lord it means to give respect or to speak highly of. In some languages this is expressed as “Show that the Lord is great,” “Show that the Lord is wonderful,” or “Show how much you respect the Lord.”

Substance has here the sense of agricultural produce or crops, as is seen from verse 10. This is the only verse in Proverbs that requires the learner to conform to the religious practice of ancient Israel. See Exo 23:19; Num 28:26–31; and Deut 26:1–15. The two lines of this verse follow a typical pattern of Hebrew poetry in which an element in the first line (substance) is narrowed in meaning in the second line (first fruits). Accordingly, we may translate substance as “wealth,” “possessions,” or “money.”

And with the first fruits of all your produce: First fruits were offered by the worshipers of Israel at their yearly harvest festival, sometimes called the Festival of Weeks (Lev 23:15–21). The first grain harvested was believed to belong to the Lord, as was the firstborn male child or animal. In some contexts the word used here refers to wine, oil, and honey, as well as to grain. In translation the first fruits may be called “the first part of the harvest that is given to God.” In some translations a footnote may be required to explain this custom.


Verse 10 states the consequence of verse 9 and should be clearly introduced to show this.

Then your barns will be filled with plenty: Barns renders a word referring to places where grain crops are stored. In many areas there are small mud or stone structures of various shapes for storing dry crops. In areas where there are no crops grown that are stored for eating or for supplying seed, a descriptive term or expression will often be required, for example, “store place,” “shed for keeping grain,” or “place for hiding food.” If the passive construction cannot be used, we may need to say, for example, “Then you will have much food in your store place” or “Food will fill up your storehouses.”

Plenty translates a term that is normally used in a very general sense. Therefore, interpreters often change the word slightly to get “wheat,” as does the Septuagint in this case. Some translations say “corn” in the British English sense of cereals in general. hottp says the word translated plenty can mean both “fullness” and “corn/wheat.” tev uses the more general “grain,” which refers to the seeds of any cereal grass such as wheat or oats.

And your vats will be bursting with wine: Vats refers to large containers, sometimes cisterns carved out of stone, tubs, or wooden vessels for holding the juice of grapes as it ferments into wine. In Matt 9:17 wine is stored in skins. The word rendered vats may also refer to the wine press. The picture presented in this line is of wine vats or presses running over because they cannot contain the abundance of wine. Wine translates a word that refers to new wine, that is, grape juice in the early stages of fermentation. The wine crop is mentioned along with olive oil and grain as one of the major crops of the land of Canaan (Deut 7:13; Neh 5:11). The abundance of grain and wine is a symbol of prosperity throughout the Old Testament.

In the translation of verse 10, particularly where grapes are not grown and wine making is unknown, it may be necessary to supply the name of another fermented drink or use a borrowed word and explain the significance of wine making in a note.


Verses 11 and 12 represent a change of topic by introducing the idea that those who “trust in the Lord” may experience pain or adversity. Some commentators suggest that this paragraph is placed here to correct the thought that might be taken from verses 5–10 that prosperity always comes to the person who honors the Lord.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline: For My son see 1:8, 10. This form of address often marks the beginning of a new theme in the early part of Proverbs. Despise translates a word having nearly the same meaning as that used in 1:7 and 30. The learner is cautioned not to reject, refuse, or, as cev says, “turn away.” In some languages this warning may be expressed as “Don’t throw it behind you.” Discipline renders a word used in 1:2, 3, 7, and 8, where rsv translates it as “instruction.” However, in the present verse it refers to correction, rebuke, or warning. The Lord’s discipline is the correction or rebuke that the Lord gives. We may say, accordingly, “Do not refuse it when the Lord corrects you” or in a positive way “When the Lord corrects you, accept it.” frcl says “My son, accept the Lord as your educator.”

Or be weary of his reproof: Be weary translates a verb used, for example, in Gen 27:46, where Rebekah says to her husband “I am weary of my life because of the Hittite women.” There, as here, the sense is to hate, loathe, be disgusted with. The teacher of wisdom asks the learner not to be disgusted or to hate the reproof or punishment the Lord gives.

We may translate verse 11, for example:

•    My child, do not resist it when the Lord corrects your ways, and do not resent it when he punishes you for the wrong you do.


Why a good person should suffer is a theme in the Prophets (Jer 20:7–8), the Psalms (Psa 37; 73:12–14), and the Wisdom writings (Job 5:17; 9:22–24; 10:1–3). In this verse the connector for introduces the reason why a person should accept or welcome the Lord’s correction.

The Lord reproves him whom he loves: Reproves renders the active verb form of the noun reproof used at the end of verse 11. Here we may say, for example, “corrects the faults,” “punishes the mistakes,” or “rebukes the wrongs.” The matching pair love and delight were used in 1:22 in reference to being simple and scoffing. To love means to have affection for someone and in some languages is expressed figuratively; for example, “to hold in one’s heart” or “to keep someone in one’s mind.”

As a father the son in whom he delights: There is some problem with the second line of this verse. rsv follows the Hebrew text as we have it, “like a father.” However, the Septuagint translators understood the Hebrew text they had to mean “and he makes suffer.” Therefore neb says “and he punishes a favorite son,” which reb retains as “and he punishes the son who is dear to him.” The hottp committee was equally divided between those favoring the present Hebrew text and those favoring the Septuagint. As a result the committee recommended that translators choose one text and place the other one in a note. Some modern versions avoid the use of father and son in favor of the inclusive “parent” and “child”; for example, cev “just as parents correct their favorite child.” See also tev. Delights translates a different word than the one used in 1:22. The sense here is to be pleased with, to take pleasure in. Both tev and cev are good models.

2D. Fourth Instruction (3:13–20)

The second division of chapter 3 consists of two poems. The first (verses 13–18) tells how fortunate the person is who finds the gift of wisdom. The second (verses 19–20) explains that creation is based on wisdom.

Division Heading

Some translations introduce a heading before verse 13; for example, nab and cev “The Value of Wisdom,” njb “The joys of wisdom,” gecl “From the worth of wisdom,” and frcl “Wisdom and happiness.” You may wish to follow the placing of headings as in the Handbook. On the other hand, you may find that one heading for verses 13–20 is adequate.

In Praise of Wisdom (3:13–18)

The poem in verses 13–18 has as its main theme the reward, both material and spiritual, that wisdom brings. In the material sense, long life, wealth, and honor (verse 16) sum up what the people of Israel hoped for as blessings from God.


Happy is the man who finds wisdom: Happy renders the same Hebrew word used in Psa 1:1 and 94:12. It is a term used often in the Old Testament to describe a fortunate person, someone deserving congratulations. In translation a term that suggests luck or chance should be avoided. Note cev “God blesses.…” Man translates the Hebrew ‘adam, but this is to be understood as a collective referring to people in general. Finds is not the result of a chance event but rather the result of seeking or searching. In some languages this may need to be expressed as “who looks for and finds.” Wisdom is not an object that may be lost and found but a reward that comes from disciplined effort on the part of the learner. Note tev “who becomes wise.” We may also say, for example, “who discovers wisdom” or “who learns what wisdom teaches.”

Gets understanding: Wisdom and understanding are used as a matching pair here, as in 2:2.


This verse is another example of parallelism in which the respective elements of the two lines match and the second line repeats and emphasizes the meaning expressed in the first.

For the gain from it is better than gain from silver: The sense of this line is similar to that expressed in 8:19 in which the value of wisdom is said to be greater that the value of gold and silver. Gain refers to profit that is made by trading, dealing, buying, and selling. It is used here in a figurative sense because people do not literally make merchandise of wisdom; the sense is “what people gain when they discover wisdom.” As an alternative interpretation gain may be understood as what wisdom gains, that is, “her income.” nrsv translates “for her income is better than silver.”

And its profit better than gold: Its refers to finding wisdom (getting understanding) in verse 13. Profit translates a word often used to refer to agricultural produce but is sometimes, as here, used more generally for income and so is a match for gain in the first line. cev has a good model translation: “Wisdom is worth more than silver; it makes you much richer than gold.” This means wisdom gives you more wealth than gold can give.


She is more precious than jewels: She refers to wisdom and the clause must often be rendered as “Wisdom is more valuable than.…” In some languages the noun “wisdom” must be repeated in almost every statement from this verse down to verse 18. Precious in reference to jewels has the sense of commanding a higher price, of having greater value. The meaning of the word rendered jewels is uncertain. The ancient versions use a variety of translations. In Lam 4:7 the word is used to indicate ruddiness of complexion, and so it is rendered “coral” by some interpreters. Some prefer “pearls,” but in light of the uncertainty it is probably best to use a general term such as jewels or “precious stones.”

Nothing you desire can compare with her: This kind of statement must often be restructured in other languages, for example, “You desire many things but none of these things is as good as she is” or “Of all the things you want, she surpasses them all.” Here again it may be necessary in some languages to replace the pronouns with the word for wisdom.


In this verse wisdom is pictured as a generous person with gifts in her hands that she offers to those who come to her.

Long life is in her right hand: Long life is literally “length of days,” meaning many years of life. Wisdom is said to hold these in her right hand. The unstated sense is that she gives them as rewards to those who seek her. If a straightfor ward translation suggests that she merely holds these in her hand, it will be better to express the action of giving; for example, “Wisdom gives you …,” or “Wisdom offers you.…” See tev.

In her left hand are riches and honor: The use of left hand does not indicate a smaller or less significant gift, but rather the two hands suggest a full and complete gift. In languages in which the left hand will impose an unwanted interpretation, it will be better to combine the lines and say, for example, “In her hands she offers you long life, riches, and honor.” Riches renders the noun form of the verb meaning to become rich, to have an abundance of possessions. Honor in the Hebrew reflects the verb whose root meaning is to be heavy, weighty, or burdened. Its sense is similar to that of riches.

In some languages honor is expressed as people’s attitude toward the individual; for example, “They say he/she is great,” “Everyone looks up to him/her,” “They all bow before him/her,” or “They cover their mouths in his/her presence.” In this verse we may say, for example, “Wisdom also gives you riches and makes people respect you.”


Her ways are ways of pleasantness: Her ways refers to the guidance, direction, or leading that wisdom provides. Pleasantness renders a word meaning “delightful,” “gracious,” “agreeable,” or “lovely.” We may translate, for example, “She will guide you along pleasant paths” or “Wisdom will lead you graciously.” cev says “Wisdom makes life pleasant.”

All her paths are peace: Paths translates the same word as used in 1:15. Her paths are not to be taken as the paths that she owns but rather the paths she leads people along, that is, “where she leads you.” Peace renders the Hebrew shalom that refers to well-being, safety, and security. Some translators may find it more natural to render the second line as “Wisdom will guide you safely” or “She will direct your way securely.” See tev.


She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her: Tree of life is a traditional image referring to health and long life. It may be taken from Gen 2:9 and 3:22 (see also Rev 2:7 and 22:2), or it may be just a commonly used image. The same expression is used in 11:30 and in 15:4. Tree of life is not just a “living tree.” It picks up the idea of long life as a gift of wisdom expressed in verse 16. Lay hold means to seize or grasp, usually in the physical sense, but the term is used here in the sense of grasping with the mind or holding firmly in the heart.

Is a tree of life may have to be adjusted in translation to say, for example, “is like a tree of life,” “is a tree that gives long life”; or it may be necessary to replace the figure of the tree and say, for example, “She gives life” or “Wisdom gives life to.” There is no suggestion that this carries the idea of an existence after death. If something more than the word life by itself is needed, it is sufficient to say “long life” or “many years of life.”

Those who hold her fast are called happy: Hold … fast renders another word with a very similar meaning to lay hold in the first line. The repetition of thought serves to emphasize the idea of getting or holding firmly to wisdom. Called happy in the Hebrew is literally “are blessed,” “happy,” or “fortunate.” It uses a form of the same word that begins this poem in verse 13. This happiness is a result of people’s attachment to wisdom. As spcl says:

•    Wisdom is life for those who get it;

happy are those who keep hold of it!

We may also translate, for example:

•    Wisdom is like a tree that gives people long life. Fortunate are those who hold on to it.

Wisdom and Creation (3:19–20)

Verses 19 and 20 relate creation and the operation of the natural world to wisdom. The thoughts expressed in these two verses are found again in 8:22–31. See also Job 28:23–28 and Psa 89; 104; and 139.

Subdivision Heading

Some translations place a heading at this point. Headings used for this subdivision are, for example, “God’s Wisdom in Creation” (nrsv) and “Divine Origin of Wisdom” (Scott).


The Lord by wisdom founded the earth: The Lord continues the use of Israel’s name for God, which first occurred in 1:7. Wisdom is used here as a characteristic of the Creator, not as something outside of him; note that tev and cev have “his wisdom.” For passages that display God’s wisdom in creation see Job 9:10; 38 and 39; Psa 104:24; 136:5; Isa 40:12–14; and Jer 10:12.

Founded reflects the idea of laying a foundation, which in turn depicts something of the ancient view of the earth. Most modern translations use a word equivalent to “created.” Some languages do not express the relationship between the Lord and wisdom using a term like by as in rsv. In some cases it is possible to say, for example, “The Lord used wisdom to create the earth” or “Because the Lord is wise he created the earth.”

By understanding he established the heavens: See verse 13 for understanding. Established matches founded, and heavens refers to the sky. The wording of this line may follow that of the first. However, some may find it more natural to follow a structure such as cev “By his wisdom and knowledge the Lord created heaven and earth,” or “… sky and ground.”


By his knowledge the deeps …: Knowledge translates the same word used in 1:4, where it matches “prudence” in the first line. Deeps translates a word used mainly in poetic discourse for rivers, seas, and oceans, and in this case refers to the ancient view of the waters beneath the earth.

Broke forth: The idea expressed briefly here is developed more extensively in 8:24–28. The language may be taken from Gen 7:11 in which “all the fountains of the great deep burst forth” at the beginning of the flood. On the other hand the reference may be to Gen 1:2. tev takes it in a general sense: “caused the rivers to flow.” frcl attempts to keep the ancient picture of the earth by saying “By his knowledge the waters beneath [the earth] gushed forth upon the land.”

And the clouds drop down the dew: In the ancient view the sky or heavens had windows through which the water (rain and dew) fell to the earth. Here the dew, which probably includes rain as well, is said to fall from the clouds. See Job 28:25–26 and 36:27–28. tev says “the clouds give rain to the earth.”

2E. Fifth Instruction (3:21–35)

With the address “My son,” which often signals a new theme, the remainder of chapter 3 (verses 21–35) abruptly switches to describe the security and protection that the Lord gives to the person who follows the instruction of wisdom. This division has three subdivisions. Verses 21–26 describe the security and protection that come from the Lord. Verses 27–31 urge a person to practice kindness. Finally, verses 32–35 contrast the rewards given to the upright with the punishments that are kept for the wicked.

Wisdom Gives You a Happy Life (3:21–26)

Subdivision Heading

Some translations place a heading before verse 21. frcl, for example, has “The Lord protects the wise.”


My son, keep sound wisdom and discretion: For My son see 1:8. Keep is the same Hebrew word as “guarding” in 2:8. Sound wisdom is as in 2:7. For discretion see 1:4. A footnote in rsv shows that this is actually the second line in the Hebrew text.

Let them not escape from your sight: As the Hebrew text stands there is nothing in verse 20 that them can refer back to. It most naturally relates to sound wisdom and discretion in the other line of this verse. Various suggestions have been made to retain the Hebrew clause order, but most interpreters and translators agree to transpose the two lines. Escape renders a verb meaning to depart, leave, or go away. Your sight is literally “your eyes.” The idea is not that wisdom should be visible to the eyes but that it must never be far from the mind, thoughts, or heart; as cev says “Always keep them in mind.”


They will be life for your soul: They refers again to sound wisdom and discretion in verse 21. Life for your soul is another way of expressing long life, which is promised in verse 16. Soul translates the Hebrew nefesh, which refers here to the person’s physical existence. The sense of this line is “They will give you a long life” or “Because of them you will have a long life.”

Adornment for your neck: In 1:9 the instruction given the child by its parents is said to be like a necklace. In 3:3 the learner of wisdom is advised to bind loyalty and faithfulness about the neck. In this context the adornment is expressed by the term “fair” in 1:9. See there for comments. Verse 22 affirms again that the person who possesses true wisdom will be granted not only long life but graciousness, an attractive and desirable characteristic. Some modern translations avoid the two-line parallelism and say, for example, “They will give you a long and pleasant life.” cev has “They will help you to live a long and beautiful life.”


Then you will walk on your way securely: Then marks verse 23 as a further consequence of possessing wisdom. Walk … securely (and stumble in the next line) may be used figuratively to represent living with assurance (and failing to do so). However, in the light of verse 24, it probably is best to take these verbs as referring to going about the daily business of life. Walk on your way is equivalent to “go on your way” or “go about your life.” frcl has “Go forward with assurance.” Securely means safely, without threat or danger.

Your foot will not stumble: This line repeats and strengthens the idea expressed in the first line. Stumble means to trip while walking or running. The word is often used figuratively of making a moral false step or doing wrong. The literal expression is “strike your foot.” This expression is also found in Psa 91:12, with the addition “against a stone.” In that passage the guidance is given by angels. Here it is given by wisdom. Some translations render this line simply “and you will not fall over.”


If you sit down, you will not be afraid: Sit down follows the wording of the Septuagint. The Hebrew text has “lie down” in both lines and is recommended by hottp in that form to translators. The verb rendered “lie down” means to lie down to rest or to sleep. Some translators distinguish between the nature of “lie down” in the two clauses. For example, spcl says “When you take your rest” and “when you go to bed.” frcl has “In the evening you will lie down without fear and at night your sleep will be peaceful.” Afraid refers to any kind of fright, threat, dread, or terror.

Sleep will be sweet: Sweet is used in the sense of pleasant, peaceful, sound. The same expression is used in Jer 31:26. We may also say, for example, “You will sleep peacefully” or “You will have a pleasant night’s sleep.”


nab makes a division of the chapter at this point rather than at verse 21 or verse 27 as most other versions do. It heads this division “Attitude toward Fellow Men.”

Do not be afraid of sudden panic: Sudden describes an event that happens without warning. It comes as a complete surprise. neb changes the vowels of the word translated sudden to get “fools,” and this is continued by reb. However, hottp gives the Hebrew text an “A” rating and supports rsv. Panic translates the same root as “afraid” in verse 24. The sense is sudden fear, fright, terror. The nature of this fright is not stated, but it may be understood from the second line. tev and cev call this “sudden disasters.” spcl has “sudden dangers.”

Or of the ruin of the wicked when it comes: Ruin renders a word that can mean a storm or disaster. See rsv footnote. Ruin of the wicked means the storm or disaster that destroys wicked people. nrsv says “the storm that strikes the wicked.” tev uses a comparison: “disasters, such as come on the wicked like a storm.”


For the Lord will be your confidence: For introduces this verse as the reason for the encouragement given in verse 25. Confidence refers to trust, faith, reliability. In the context of verses 24–25, confidence has the sense of courage, hope, security in the presence of threatening conditions. We may translate, for example, “The Lord will give you courage,” “The Lord will keep you safe,” or in some languages idiomatically “The Lord will make your liver quiet.”

Will keep your foot from being caught: The thought is that of the foot being caught in a trap or snare. The foot represents the whole person; accordingly spcl translates “He will prevent you from falling into a trap.” frcl says “he will remove every trap from your steps.” cev is nonfigurative with “the Lord will protect you from harm.” See also tev.

How to Behave (3:27–31)

Verses 27–31 urge the learner of wisdom to practice kindness. These verses express negative commands addressed in the masculine singular form.

Subdivision Heading

Some versions place a heading at this point; for example, “Right relationships among people” (gecl) and “Love your neighbor” (frcl).


The theme in this verse is found also in 11:24, 26; 14:21, 31; 17:17; 21:26; and 27:10.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due: Withhold or “hold back” means to refuse to do the good and right thing for someone. Stated positively we may say, for example, “Do whatever is good” or “Do good to.” From those to whom it is due is literally “from its owners” or “to whom it belongs.” See 11:24. The sense seems to be “to the person who needs it.” Therefore a possible rendering is “Do not refuse to do good to anyone who is in need” or “Do not hesitate to do good to.…”

When it is in your power to do it: In some languages it will be more natural to begin the verse with this clause, for example, “Whenever it is in your power to …,” “If someone needs something and asks you for it …,” or “If you have the chance to help someone.…” For the whole verse we may say:

•    Whenever you are able to do so, do good to the person who is in need.

gecl says

•    Whenever anyone needs help and you can help them, then never hesitate to do so.

frcl offers another model:

•    Any time it is possible for you [to do good] do not hesitate to do good for those in need.


Do not say to your neighbor, “Go and come again …”: This verse is an encouragement to give promptly and willingly. Your neighbor may be another person, someone you interact with, a fellow citizen, or, more intimately, a friend or companion. Verse 27 shows this to be a person who has need of something. Go and come again or “Go away and come back later” is the first part of what is not to be said to the person in need.

Tomorrow I will give it is the completion of the quote and a way to delay acting on the neighbor’s request or need.

When you have it with you: It refers to the thing that has been requested or the thing that the neighbor is in need of. You is the person who is addressed by the teacher of wisdom, and who is cautioned not to behave in this way.

Translators may find it awkward to translate this verse in the rsv form. By switching to indirect address it may be possible to get a clearer expression of the meaning. For example, cev has

•    Don’t tell your neighbor to come back tomorrow, if you can help today.

In some cases this may need to be expanded to say, for example,

•    Don’t tell your neighbor to come back tomorrow to get something, if you can give it to him today. (See also tev.)

As in the previous verse, it will be more natural in some languages to put the last clause at the beginning:

•    If you are able to help your neighbor when he asks for something, don’t say, “Come back tomorrow and I will give it to you.”


Do not plan evil against your neighbor: Plan evil means to plot or scheme to do harm or injury. In some languages to plan evil is expressed as “Don’t put it in your heart to do bad things against” or “Don’t think up ways to harm.”

Who dwells trustingly beside you: Trustingly renders the same word as translated “securely” by rsv in verse 23 and refers to the peace and safety in which the person lives while depending on the goodwill of those who live around him. Making evil plans against such people is to betray their confidence. frcl says

•    Do not plan to do bad to your friend because he lives close to you in trust.

We may also say, for example,

•    Don’t think up evil ways to hurt the person living nearby who puts his confidence in you.

A translation that places the negative command at the end of the verse says

•    The people of your group live close to you and think you are their friend. Don’t think of doing wrong to them.


Do not contend with a man for no reason: Contend means to dispute or quarrel. Man translates the Hebrew ‘adam and refers to anyone, not just a male. Note that nrsv has revised man to “anyone.” For no reason translates an expression that was used in 1:17 to mean “in vain” or “for no purpose.” As used here the sense is similar, that is, “without a cause or reason.” cev says it well in idiomatic English: “Don’t argue just to be arguing.”

When he has done you no harm: This clause restricts arguing to cases in which harm has resulted. In some languages it will be more natural to begin with this clause and say, for example, “If someone has done you no harm, do not argue with them. There is no cause to argue.” gecl says “Don’t argue needlessly with someone who has done you no harm.”


Do not envy a man of violence: Envy here means to desire what someone else has. It is assumed violent people obtain goods or wealth that may lead others to be envious of their ill-gotten fortune. Psa 37 gives reasons for not being envious of wrongdoers. In Psa 18:48 the psalmist gives thanks that God has delivered him from “men of violence.” Violence refers not only to cruel behavior but to any kind of unlawful, high-handed, or dishonest dealings.

Do not choose any of his ways: This is well expressed by cev as “or follow their example.” We may also say, for example, “or do the things they do” or “or act the way they do.”

How the Lord Deals with Good and Evil (3:32–35)

Verse 32 may be viewed as a conclusion to the prohibitions listed in verses 27–31. At the same time it introduces verses 33–35, which also contain a contrast between the rewards that are given to the good and the punishments that are kept for the wicked.


For the perverse man is an abomination to the Lord: Perverse, a word found mostly in wisdom literature, is based on a verb meaning to turn aside or depart. The form it has here takes on the meaning of devious, deceitful, or dishonest. Man is supplied by rsv; nrsv says simply “the perverse” An abomination is the noun form related to a verb meaning to be hated, abhorred, or corrupt. It is often used of something that is physically revolting or repulsive to the senses. In translation it may be more natural to say, for example, “The Lord hates a deceitful person” or “A lying person makes the Lord disgusted.”

But the upright are in his confidence: Upright refers to straightness of character in the sense of honesty and integrity in relations with others. See 2:7. The upright are those who are contrasted with the deceitful. The word rendered confidence means intimacy or friendly relations. It is used in Job 19:19 “all my intimate friends.” It is also used in Job 29:4 “when the friendship of God was upon my tent.” frcl says “but he gives his friendship to honest people.” We may also say, for example, “but he befriends those who are upright,” and sometimes idiomatically “but he is the friend of all who have good hearts” or “he trusts straight people and tells his thoughts to them.”


The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked: Curse when spoken by a human person calls upon the supernatural to carry out punishment; when spoken by God, as here, it is a pronouncement of punishment on someone or something. It is equivalent to a sentence given by a court or a spell in sorcery. The house of the wicked refers to the household or family of those who are wicked. For wicked see 2:22. It may be more natural to express the thought of this line as active, such as “The Lord puts a curse on the homes of wicked people,” or as a passive “The homes of the wicked are cursed by the Lord.” One translation has “The Lord says wicked people will be ruined with their families.”

But he blesses the abode of the righteous: Bless, when God is its subject, means to pronounce good or to give favor to. Bless, as with curse, is taken to be a verbal act. In some languages this line may need to be expressed, for example, “but the Lord shows his kindness to.…” The righteous refers to good people, those who are contrasted with the wicked or bad people. See 2:20. Their abode refers to their circle of friends or family; it is used here in the same sense as house in the first line.


Toward the scorners he is scornful: Scorners are people who ridicule or make fun of others. There is no indication in this context that the scorners are ridiculing God or religion; but since they are contrasted in the next line with the humble, it appears that they think of themselves as superior or greater than others. We may render this line, for example, “He mocks those who mock others” or “He makes fun of those who make fun of others.”

But to the humble he shows favor: Humble renders a word that is related to a verb meaning “bowed” or “bent” and may suggest someone who bows beneath a hostile force, such as a slave or a suffering, poor person. Shows favor is literally “gives grace,” which means he is kind, gracious, good. The Septuagint form of this verse, “The Lord resists the proud, but shows favor to the humble,” is quoted in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5.


The thought expressed in this final verse is found also in 11:2; 12:8; 13:5; 14:19; and 22:29.

The wise will inherit honor: The wise refers to persons who have acquired the teachings of wisdom. Inherit is not to be taken in the literal sense of receiving possessions from a dead relative. The sense here is getting, obtaining, or receiving. Honor (see verse 16), which is praise, respect, or recognition, is given by those who recognize a person as being wise. A typical translation of this line is “People will give a big [or, good] name to the person who is wise.”

But fools get disgrace: Fools are persons who “hate knowledge” (1:22) and who “take no pleasure in understanding” (18:2). Disgrace translates a word that contrasts with honor in the first line and so has the sense of shame, dishonor, or contempt.

The rsv note shows that the Hebrew text says “exalt” in place of get. hottp rates the Hebrew as a “B” and gives the word as “lifting up.” However, taking the verb to mean “exalt,” “lift up,” or “carry away” seems to result in an unsatisfactory translation. Many suggestions have been made to change the word rendered “exalt,” but none has produced an appropriate rendering. Perhaps the best approach for translators is to use a verb similar in meaning to inherit in the first line; this is the approach taken by versions such as reb, njb, and gecl (see below).

cev uses two passive constructions for this verse:

•    You will be praised if you are wise, but you will be disgraced if you are a stubborn fool.

This may be adjusted to say, for example,

•    People will praise you if you are wise, but they will shame you if you are a fool.

gecl offers another model:

•    Whoever is wise and skilled wins honor, but perfect fools earn nothing but shame.

2F. Sixth Instruction (4:1–27)

Chapter 4 has three subdivisions, whose content is based on the instructions given by a father to his son or sons. There are general exhortations or commands, both positive and negative, as well as reasons why these instructions should be followed. The first subdivision speaks of the rewards that come from following a father’s teaching about wisdom, just as the father received them from his father (verses 1–9). The second subdivision cautions the son to pursue the path of wisdom and avoid the way of the wicked (verses 10–19). The third subdivision continues to urge the son to follow the way of wisdom and to benefit from its rewards (verses 20–27).

Listen to Your Father (4:1–9)

Subdivision Heading

Some translations that have a heading for verses 1–9 are frcl “Acquire and keep wisdom,” cev “Advice to Young People,” gecl “Wisdom—the best thing you can get,” tob “Wisdom is a good acquisition,” and Scott “Wisdom as an Inheri tance.” The Handbook heading may need to be adjusted to say, for example, “Listen to the teachings of your father” or “Pay attention to your teacher.”


Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction: Hear is the same as in 1:8, where the command is in the singular. In this verse it is addressed in the plural to sons, which tev and nrsv render as “children.” cev keeps the singular “my child.” O is included in some English translations to indicate that the sons are being formally addressed; there is nothing equivalent in the Hebrew text. Some interpreters think that the plural sons represents here a school or circle of students or listeners. Note, however, that only the singular form “my son” is used in verses 10 and 20.

In 1:8 “father” is the father of the son being addressed. In this context the father is general, that is, a father. Some interpreters think that a father is not to be taken literally but figuratively in the sense of “teacher” or “wise person.” It must, however, be kept in mind that the intimate relation of father (and mother) to the learner is signaled by these kinship terms and that learning wisdom is part of a family inheritance, as seen in verses 3–4.

In verse 2 the speaker refers to himself using first person pronouns as the one who gives teaching and instruction. So it seems likely that a father in this verse is also a reference to the speaker. Therefore cev replaces a father’s instruction with “my teachings.” An example of the way the first person reference is handled in some other translations is “[My] child, I am your father, and you must listen to the things I teach you.”

Instruction renders the same word used in 1:8 and has the sense of teaching or the content of what the father teaches his sons. See also 1:2.

And be attentive, that you may gain insight: Be attentive renders a word used mostly in poetic texts. It is used, for example, in Psa 17:1 “attend to my cry,” which is expressed in tev as “pay attention to my cry for help.” In translation it may be necessary to indicate what the sons are to pay attention to, for example, “Pay attention to what I teach you” or “Listen carefully to my words.”

Gain insight: Note that the rsv footnote shows the Hebrew text is literally “know insight.” The thought is that the learner will know the deep and important meanings revealed in wisdom and its instructions. Insight, as in 1:2, refers to understanding, discernment, or comprehension. frcl says “and you will know how to be intelligent.” It is also possible to render this line “If you listen well, you will become intelligent.”


I give you good precepts: This is the father’s or teacher’s claim to be heard. Give is used in the sense of teach or show. In the Hebrew you is plural to agree with sons or “children.” Good used with precepts refers to the positive effect these will have on the learner. Precepts translates a word used in 1:5, which refers to learning that is received or handed down from a teacher. In the active sense it means what is taught, and so tev has “what I am teaching you is good.” frcl says “I am transmitting to you sure knowledge.”

Do not forsake my teaching: Forsake, as used in 2:13, means to abandon, give up, or turn away from. Teaching translates the Hebrew torah, which was used in 1:8 in the sense of teaching or instruction. You may find it more natural to express this as a positive command; for example, “Remember my teaching” or “Keep in mind what I teach you.”


In verses 3–9 the teacher recalls his own father’s instruction.

When I was a son with my father: rsv follows the Hebrew literally. The father is identifying himself as having been a young learner like his own children. frcl expresses the thought well “I too had a father who educated me.” spcl says “I also have been a son.” See tev “… little boy.”

Tender, the only one in the sight of my mother: Tender in this context means young in years and refers to a small child. The only one means the only child. The emphasis is upon being an only child, not the firstborn. In many languages the only child in a family is given a special name. In the sight of is literally “in the face of” and means receiving special care and love from the mother as there were no other children. Some understand tender to refer to the relationship between the child and the mother; for example, njb “in my mother’s eyes a tender child …” and frcl “I was tenderly loved by my mother.” gecl suggests another model: “When I was a child my father instructed me; my mother was so tender with me because I was her only child.” In a number of languages the second line of this verse is placed first so that it does not interrupt the flow of thought from the first line into the next verse; for example, “I was the only child of my mother and she loved me very much. When I was a small boy, my father taught me.…”


He taught me, and said to me: This line is introductory to the quoted material that begins in the second line. Some translate it as “This is what he would say” or “Here is what he used to teach me.”

Let your heart hold fast my words is literally “Let your heart keep my words. Heart is used to represent the mind and intellect. In the Hebrew it is the heart that keeps things in mind. Refer to 2:2. We may also say, for example, “Keep my words in your thoughts,” “Keep my words in your memory,” or “Remember the teachings you learn from me.”

Keep my commandments, and live: This line is identical to one in 7:2. It expresses the same thought as the previous line, with my commandments replacing my words. Commandments is the same word as used in 2:1 and 3:1, where it refers to the instruction, orders, or teaching given by the person who is wise. The result of keeping these lessons is life, which here, as in 3:2, refers to a long and happy life. In some languages the command to live addressed to someone who is already alive is nonsense. In such cases it is better to say, for example, “and live a long life” or “and live a happy life.”

In some languages my commandments must be expressed in the same way as my words. In such cases the two lines are often combined to say, for example, “Put my words well in your thinking and follow them, and you will live well.”


In verse 5 rsv, but not nrsv, has reversed the order of the Hebrew lines to obtain more clarity of thought. The Handbook normally follows the order of rsv, but in this case follows the Hebrew order.

Get wisdom; get insight: The repetition emphasizes the importance the speaker attaches to these two qualities. It is not necessary to repeat the verb, unless that will give the sense of urgency in the line. We may say, for example, “Get wisdom and insight” or “Obtain wisdom and understanding.” In some languages this line will require other verbs, for example, “Learn to be wise and learn to understand.” If “understand” requires an object, it may be possible to say, for example, “and understand what I teach you.”

Do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth: This line reinforces what is said in the second line of verse 2. Turn away from means to abandon or give up. The words of my mouth is a figurative way of saying “What I have taught you” or “my instructions.”


Do not forsake her: Forsake is as used in verse 2. Her refers to wisdom, which is pictured as a person in both lines of this verse and again in verses 8 and 9. However, in languages in which wisdom cannot be spoken of in this way, it may be necessary to say “wisdom” instead of using the feminine pronoun.

And she will keep you: Keep is used here in the sense of watch over, protect, or look after. You in the Hebrew is masculine singular, as it refers back to the speaker who is quoting his father’s direct address to him. In languages in which wisdom cannot be personified, it may be necessary to use a simile here; for example, “and wisdom will protect you just as one person protects another.”

Love her, and she will guard you: Love her (see 8:17) may need to be rendered as “love wisdom.” Because wisdom is seen as a person again, this line may be handled in the same way as the first, or the two lines may be reduced to one; for example, “Do not forsake wisdom, but love it, and it will protect you and guard you just as a person helps another person.”

Guard renders a word meaning to watch over, to keep safe from danger, or to protect.

You may find that verse 6 can be restructured meaningfully by switching from the commands to an “if” clause; for example, cev says “If you love Wisdom and don’t reject her, she will watch over you.” Some others say, for example, “If you hold wisdom, she will look after you. If you love her, she will always protect you.”


The whole of verse 7 appears to interrupt the continuity between verses 6 and 8. Some scholars propose that verse 7 be omitted, following the Septuagint. neb reverses the order of verses 6 and 7. However, reb places verse 7 in a footnote. The Handbook recommends that verse 7 be retained between verses 6 and 8.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom: Here the Hebrew has two disconnected phrases that are literally “First thing of wisdom. Get wisdom.” This line, whatever its origin, seems to say that wisdom is the most important thing, and therefore, you should obtain it. See tev. njb has “The first principle of wisdom is: acquire wisdom.” The njb footnote goes on to say “to win wisdom one must first realize how essential it is and that it demands self-sacrifice.”

And whatever you get, get insight is literally “and with all your getting [possession], get insight.” This line again places the highest importance on obtaining insight or understanding. For insight see 1:2. frcl renders verse 7

•    To acquire wisdom make an effort to learn what it is; be ready to give whatever you possess to become intelligent.

La Bible du Semeur (sem) has

•    This is the beginning of wisdom:

obtain wisdom,

at the cost of all you own get discernment.

We may also say, for example,

•    Nothing is more important than becoming wise. You may get many possessions, but good sense is the best of all.


Prize her highly and she will exalt you: Prize translates a verb that can mean to lift up, esteem, or value. However, the Hebrew is not entirely clear. Some translations say “love her” or “love wisdom.” Exalt here means to honor, which in some languages is expressed as “she will say you are great” or “wisdom will say you are great.” See tev.

She will honor you if you embrace her: You may find that it is more natural in your language if the “if” clause is shifted to the beginning of this line; for example, “If you embrace her [wisdom], she [wisdom] will bring you honor.” For honor see 3:9.

It seems that in verses 8–9 the intended image is that of a bride. frcl says in this verse

•    Clasp wisdom like a beloved woman. If you embrace her, she will make you noble and great.

cev has

•    If you value Wisdom

and hold tightly to her, great honors will be yours.

The terms used for “clasp” or “embrace” should be appropriate for the transla tor’s culture.


Verse 9 completes the quote from the teacher’s father. These lines refer to the ancient wedding custom of the bride placing a garland of flowers or a crown on the head of the groom.

She will place on your head a fair garland: See 1:9 for the translation of fair garland.

She will bestow on you a beautiful crown: A crown is sometimes described as a beautiful headpiece, “the [special] hat worn by a king or queen.”

Translators understand verse 9 in two ways: (1) wisdom will give these symbols of honor to you, or (2) wisdom will be these symbols for you. rsv translates according to the first understanding. Following the second interpretation we may translate, for example,

•    Wisdom will be for you like a beautiful wreath and splendid crown for your head.

In languages in which wreaths and crowns are unknown we may say, for example,

•    Wisdom will be for you like beautiful flowers and a splendid covering for your head.

Wisdom gives you long life and protection (4:10–19)

Verses 10–19 may be divided into two parts. In verses 10–13 wisdom gives long life and protection. In verses 14–19 the ways of the wicked are to be avoided.

Subdivision Heading

Many translations place a heading before verse 10: cev “The Right Way and the Wrong Way,” frcl “Avoid the behavior of evil people,” gecl “Wisdom—the surest path,” tob “The education of the wise gives life,” Scott “The Two Ways of Life,” Nueva Biblia Espanola “The two roads,” and El Libro del Pueblo de Dios (lpd) “Wisdom is a guide for the road.”

If you wish to adapt the Handbook heading for these verses, here are some suggestions: “Wisdom will make you live a long life and will protect you,” “With wisdom there is life and protection,” and “Wisdom will take care of you.”


Hear, my son, and accept my words:

That the years of your life may be many: See 3:2, 16, 18. You may find it is better to restructure this verse with an “if” clause followed by a result; for example, “My son, if you will accept my teachings [what I tell you], you will live a long time” or “If you will obey what I teach you, child, you will have a long life.”


I have taught you the way of wisdom: As in 2:12 and 13, where way identifies the life or manner of living of evil people, here way of wisdom is the kind of life that wisdom teaches, and this is often expressed as “the path of wisdom” or “the right way to live.”

I have led you in the paths of uprightness is literally “I have made you walk in the tracks of uprightness.” This line is parallel to the first line with almost exactly the same sense. For uprightness see 2:13. We may render verse 11, for example:

•    I have taught you good sense and the way to live right.

•    I have taught you how to have good sense and to walk on the straight path.


When you walk, your step will not be hampered: Walk in this line and run in the next are used figuratively to refer to whatev er action or decision a person may take. A similar expression occurs in Job 18:7. In languages in which walk and run cannot be used figuratively in this way, it is better to switch to other expressions that give the meaning in plain terms; for example, “When you undertake something in your life, you will succeed,” “When you decide to do something, it will go well with you,” or “When you make plans, everything will turn out well.”

The word rendered hampered in this context means to be impeded or to run into obstacles or hindrances so that you cannot go forward. cev translates “Your road won’t be blocked.” We may also say, for example, “When you go ahead, the way will be open for you.”

And if you run, you will not stumble: This line is parallel to the first line, with an increase in intensity due to the switch from walk to run and from be hampered to stumble. Stumble renders a different word than that used in 3:23, but the sense is the same.


Keep hold of instruction, do not let go: Keep hold is another figure that means to dedicate yourself firmly to, be faithful to, or trust fully in. In languages in which Keep hold of has another meaning or only a literal sense, adjustments will be required in translation. The figurative expressions in this and the following line express the importance of commitment to the kind of education in these chapters. Instruction translates the same word as used in 1:2, 3. Do not let go translates a command meaning to relax, withdraw, give up. In some languages it is expressed figuratively; for example, “do not lose heart” or “do not drop your hands.”

Guard her, for she is your life: In verse 6 it is wisdom that will “guard you” (tev). In this verse the learner is told to guard or watch over instruction. The sense of this command is for the learner to attach himself to understanding, to keep it always near him, that is, as the guide to his life. She is your life equates instruction or “education” with life. In 3:2 wisdom gives long life and here it is the source of life for the learner. In some languages she is your life may be expressed, for example, “education is what makes you live,” “… gives you life,” or “… is the foundation of your life.”


The series of exhortations now changes from positive commands to warnings about what to avoid. In verses 14–15 the teacher advises the learner to stay away from evil people. In verses 16–17 he describes the ways of the wicked, and in verse 18 the way of the righteous is contrasted with the way of the wicked in verse 19.

Do not enter the path of the wicked: See 1:15 for the same advice. Enter the path is figurative language meaning to live as they do, do the things they do, or be like them. These words are still addressed in the masculine singular to the learner, the “son” in verse 10.

And do not walk in the way of evil men: This line is parallel to the first line and has the same sense. Walk, unlike the word in verse 12, means to go forward or to advance. However, “walk” is only an adequate rendering if it can be used in a figurative sense, as in verse 12. If not, we may say, for example, “and do not act like evil people” or “do not behave like evil people.” Note that nrsv has changed evil men to “evildoers” to make it inclusive.


Avoid it; do not go on it: Avoid here means to shun or keep away from, and it refers to the path or way of evildoers. In translation it may be necessary to say, for example, “Stay away from their path” or “Do not walk on it.” If the figure must be changed to an expression of the meaning in plain terms, we may say, for example, “Avoid their way of life” or “Do not live the way they live.” Do not go on it repeats the first command to avoid the path of evil people. We may translate, for example, “do not walk where they walk” or “do not go where they go.”

Turn away from it and pass on: If in your language turn away from in this context has a meaning that is different from “avoid,” “refuse,” or “reject,” then another suitable figure or an expression of the meaning in plain terms should be used. It may be possible to say, for example, “Refuse their kind of life,” “Keep away from …,” or “Hold back from.…” Pass on continues the image of move ment away from evil people’s influence, which may be expressed nonfiguratively, for example, “Pay no attention to them” or “Think nothing more of them.”

The series of four imperatives in this verse makes a strong impact as the climax of the warning to avoid the ways of evil people. Translators should be able to reproduce this in most languages; one typical rendering is “Don’t go this way! Keep away from these bad things! Leave them! Go only on your own way!”


Verses 16 and 17 describe characteristics of evil people and provide a reason why the learner should avoid them.

For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong: Unlike the psalmist, who sleeps soundly because the Lord protects him (Psa 4:8), the kind of evil people described here cannot rest unless they have done wrong to someone. The sense, as is shown from the parallel line, is not that they stay up and avoid sleep in order to commit some crime, but rather that their evil consciences will not let them be at peace until they have done something evil. For a model rendering see tev.

They are robbed of sleep unless they have made some one stumble: This line almost repeats the first line. Robbed translates the passive form of a verb meaning to seize or tear away. It is used in a literal sense in Gen 21:25 of a well that Abimelech’s servants had violently taken from Abraham’s men. In Hebrew, as in English, people said that someone was robbed of sleep if thoughts or worries prevented sleep. In languages where “rob” or “steal” are not used in this way, it will be necessary to use an expression of the meaning in plain terms; for example, “They are unable to sleep unless they have made.…” To avoid the misunderstanding that the evildoers are using the night to commit their crimes, some translations say, “If they have not … they lie on their beds but can’t sleep.” Stumble translates the same word as used in verse 12 and has the same sense as there. cev brings together the two uses of the word sleep: “They can’t sleep or rest until they do wrong.…”


For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence: In this verse evil people are described in terms of bread and wine. Violence refers to bad actions that cause others to suffer. It may be physical or ethical. Bread of wickedness in the first line and wine of violence in the next line are handled in four ways by translators: (1) in their literal form as in rsv; (2) wickedness and violence describe the manner in which bread and wine are obtained; for example, reb “The bread they eat is gained by crime, the wine they drink is got by violence”; 3) as a figure, for example, frcl “They fill themselves with evil and intoxicate themselves with violence”; (4) as a plain statement, for example, “They are constantly wicked and violent.”

Since all of these are possible, you must decide which of the four is best in your language or what kinds of adjustments must be made to make clear the intended sense. For example, if you choose to follow approach (3), it may be possible to say “They gobble down evil like a person eats bread, and they fill themselves with violence like a person gulping down wine.” If the images of bread and wine are unsuitable, general terms or terms for local food and drink may be used. One translation says “Evil and violence are their food and drink.”


As the opening But indicates, verses 18 and 19 contrast the righteous person with the wicked.

The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn: The path of the righteous refers to the life of good people, the way of life of those who are good, or as cev says, “The lifestyle of good people.” The light of dawn is literally “light of brightness” and is understood by many to be as in rsv or as in cev “sunlight at dawn” or tev “sunrise.” In this simile the path of the righteous is compared to the rising and increasing morning light. The sense may be that the way of the good person is clear and secure, not threatened with unseen dangers. Or it may describe the effect of a righteous life—as opposed to spreading violence, it sheds light.

Which shines brighter and brighter until full day: The Hebrew is literally “going and shining [meaning it shines more and more, or shines ever more brightly] until the day is established,” that is, until the sun is at its brightest. The whole verse is well expressed by frcl:

•    The conduct of the good [just] is like the light of dawn whose brightness increases until it is broad daylight.

If a literal rendering of the figure is meaningless, the verse may be translated, for example, as “The life of the good person is safe and clear to the end.”


The way of the wicked is like deep darkness: The way of the wicked is again the life, the way of life, or the lifestyle of the wicked. Their life, or the way they live, is compared now to deep darkness, which translates a word used in Exo 10:21 of the kind of thick darkness that covered Egypt, “a darkness to be felt.” Languages often have special names or ideophones for total darkness, the blackness of night, to describe this quality of darkness. The sense of this simile is opposite to that of the simile in the previous verse, picturing the life of bad people as uncertain and perilous.

They do not know over what they stumble: This clause is the consequence of the first; for example, “It is so dark they cannot see what trips them” or “… what makes them stumble.” It may be necessary in some languages to state at the beginning that these people stumble: “They fall down but they can’t see what.…” As the context shows, the reference is to uncertainty and misfortunes in life.

Some interpreters think a better contrast between verses 18 and 19 is obtained by reversing their order. If you find this contrast more natural, gecl provides a model for this by placing verse 18, the positive image, at the end. In this case the two verse numbers are written together.

•    The life of those who disregard God is like the darkness of night. They fall down and do not know what made them stumble. But the life of those who obey God is like the sunrise; it becomes brighter and brighter until it is broad daylight.

Remember Wisdom and Enjoy Life (4:20–27)

Verses 20–22 are a reminder to remember wisdom and enjoy life. They advise the young learner to pay close attention to the teacher’s instruction (verses 20–21), and the consequence is life and health (verse 22). The subdivision concludes in verses 23–27 with advice about living a life that is “straight,” using figurative language referring to various parts of the body.

Subdivision Heading

The Handbook suggests a heading here for verses 20–27. We may adjust the Handbook heading to say, for example, “Don’t forget what I teach you and you’ll be strong in body” or “Remember the lessons I taught you and have a good life.” Some translations that place a heading before verse 20 are frcl “Be steadfast in your conduct,” gecl “Wisdom—a help that lasts a lifetime,” and Scott “On Self-Discipline.”


My son, be attentive to my words: My son is as in 1:8. Be attentive means “pay attention to”; see verse 1.

Incline your ear to my sayings: This form is often used in the second of two parallel lines in poetic discourse. It means the same as be attentive in the first line but is more literary. cev translates the whole verse “My child, listen carefully to everything I say.”


Let them not escape from your sight is literally “Don’t let them depart from your eyes.” Them refers to the words or sayings used in verse 20. For the meaning of this expression see 3:21.

Keep them within your heart: Keep translates the same word and concept as in 4:4. This is the positive side of the negative command in the first line. Keep them within your heart means to think, remember, and reflect on them. Many languages express the idea of retaining something in the mind as guarding or keeping in the heart, liver, or stomach. In some languages this thought is expressed as “keep it warm in your innermost.”


Verse 22 gives a reason for the command in verses 20–21.

For they are life to him who finds them: The sense of this line is “My sayings give life,” “… will cause a person to live,” or “… will bring life to the one who.…” See tev. Some versions such as nrsv and reb express this in the plural “… to those who find them.” Finds must not be translated by a word that means “find without searching.” Find suggests in this context discovering or locating something as a result of searching. If no such word for find exists, it is better to follow tev “understands.”

And healing to all his flesh: Another form of this expression occurs in 3:8. See there for discussion. Healing, as in 3:8, refers to the result of healing, which is a cure or health. His refers to whoever finds these teachings. His flesh in this context may refer in the narrowest sense to the body and in a broader sense to the whole being of the individual. Accordingly, translators differ considerably. For example, niv says “health to a man’s whole body,” spcl has “health to the one who finds them,” frcl “health to all who accept them,” and cev “good health for you.” njb “health to all humanity” depends on omitting the pronoun from all his flesh, and takes the sense to be “all people,” that is, all humanity. The Handbook does not recommend this textual change to translators.

In some languages it is more natural to make the person the subject of the sentence; for example, “The person who understands these words will have good life and will not become sick” or “If you accept my words, you will.…”


Verses 23–27 close chapter 4 and this subdivision. The teacher uses as images various body parts from the heart to the head and finally to the feet.

Keep your heart with all vigilance: Keep your heart means to guard your thoughts; see tev. In some languages this is expressed as “Watch your mind,” “Keep a hand on your head,” or “Take care of your thoughts.” According to Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon (bdb), with all vigilance is literally “above all guarding,” that is, “more than anything else you may guard.” njb translates “More than all else, keep watch over your heart,” and njpsv has “More than all that you guard, guard your mind.” We may also say, for example, “The most important thing you can do is be careful what you think” or “The most important … is to think good thoughts.”

For from it flow the springs of life: The thought expressed here is that what people think, what is in their minds, determines how they will act. See Matt 15:19. From it means “from the heart [mind].” The word rendered flow the springs usually refers to the extremity or border of a geographical territory, but in association with life it seems to have the sense of a source or place of origin. The thought is that a person’s life is somehow determined by the thoughts stored in the heart or mind: “Everything you do comes out of your heart.” cev says “Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life.” tev translates this verse into very direct language and may serve as a model for translation.


Put away from you crooked speech: Put away is literally “cause to go away.” The question is whether the learner is being told to avoid others who have crooked speech or not to speak that way himself. Most popular language versions take it in the second sense. Crooked speech is literally “crookedness of mouth,” and this expression is also used in 6:12. The word translated crooked refers to anything that is falsely spoken, lies, or deception. In some languages the equivalent expression is “Do not speak with a double tongue” or “Don’t speak with two mouths.”

And put devious talk far from you: Devious talk is literally “perverse lips” and refers to any kind of speech that is misleading, untrue, or deviating from what is acceptable. This line repeats and broadens the sense of the first line, and so some translations combine the lines to say simply “Don’t ever use lies or any kind of bad talk.”


Let your eyes look directly forward: Understood literally this may be a command to the learner to avoid shifting his eyes away from the person he ad dresses or, as tev says, “Look straight ahead.” It may be taken in a figurative sense, however: “Uprightness of conduct symbolized by straightforwardness of look” (Toy). It may also be taken as leading up to the next verse: “Keep looking straight ahead.… Know where you are headed” (cev).

And your gaze be straight before you: This line shifts from eyes in the first line to a smaller part of the eyes, literally “the eyelids.” The thought may be that if a person tells the truth, he should not have any problem looking straight ahead of him. This sense is well expressed by frcl: “Let your eyes be fixed well on anyone in front of you; look straight ahead of you with openness.”

In many societies to look straight into the eyes of the person being addressed is considered to be rude. If you decide to follow an understanding of the text which relates to the way people look each other in the face, you must carefully study the problems related to eye contact in communicating in order to avoid giving a wrong impression. A note may be in order to explain the equivalent sense in your language. A rendering that follows the approach of cev above (see also reb) will avoid this difficulty. One simple translation of the verse is “Look straight ahead to where you are going. Don’t look around.”


Take heed to the path of your feet: The rsv footnote shows that the word translated Take heed to is uncertain in meaning. The literal sense is “to make level,” and so some say “Make a level path for your feet,” meaning “be careful as you go.” Others take the expression to mean to plan, consider, or ponder. Note tev “Plan carefully.…” Path translates a word that refers to the track made by a wheel or foot. The expression is metaphorical and is expressed well by tev “Plan carefully what you do.…”

Then all your ways will be sure: Be sure translates a verb meaning to be carried out properly, to be done in a correct manner. For this clause frcl has “commit your steps to a sure direction.”


Do not swerve to the right or to the left: Swerve translates a form of a verb meaning “to turn.” This refers to deviating or turning from a straight line course. Verses 24–26 advise the learner to speak straight, look straight, and walk straight. In verse 27 the command is to avoid turning or moving suddenly away from the straight line ahead. Right and left do not refer here to any quality such as good or bad. Together they serve to make clear that no turning away from the straight line is permitted.

Turn your foot away from evil: Note that tev begins the verse with this clause, rendering it “Avoid evil.” It then picks up the beginning of the first line “and walk straight ahead.” The second part of the first line is then rendered “Don’t go one step off the right way.” frcl is also a good model: “Do not stray, neither to the left nor to the right. Keep yourself from evil.”

2G. Seventh Instruction (5:1–23)

Chapter 5 has three subdivisions, most of which concern the importance of accepting the instruction of the teacher and avoiding adultery. The first subdivision takes up the theme of adultery (verses 1–14). The second subdivision warns the learner to be faithful to his own wife (verses 15–20). The third subdivision deals with the fate of the wicked (verses 21–23).

Avoid Adultery (5:1–14)

Verses 1–2 introduce this subdivision by appealing to the learner to pay attention to the wisdom of the teacher. Verses 3–6 describe the “loose” woman. Verse 7 again appeals to the learner to listen to the teacher’s instruction and verses 8–11 return to the dangers of adultery. Finally verses 12–14 explain that the learner’s failure is due to his rejection of moral correction.

Apart from verses 11 and 14, every verse in this subdivision is composed of two parallel lines, with the second line repeating or expanding the thought of the first line using different words. In a number of cases this pattern helps us to understand the meaning of difficult words or expressions.

Subdivision Heading

Most modern versions do not divide this chapter into more than two subdivisions. Some that use a single heading for the whole chapter are cev “Be Faithful to Your Wife,” njb “Against adultery. Where the wise man’s love should be,” tev, niv, nab “Warning against Adultery,” and spcl “The easy woman, destruction of the man.” The Handbook heading may be reworded to say, for example, “Follow the instruction of your teacher,” “Do what your teacher tells you,” “Obey your teacher,” or “Stay away from adultery.”


My son, be attentive to my wisdom: Note that tev and nrsv have “My child,” although the person addressed in this chapter has a wife (verses 15–20). cev, which has also used “my child” in previous chapters, recognizes that “child” is not appropriate in this chapter and has changed to “My son.” Be attentive is as in 4:1 and 20. My wisdom means “the wisdom I teach” or “the wise things I say.”

Incline your ear to my understanding: For incline … ear see 2:2 and 4:20. My understanding refers to what the teacher understands and passes on to his pupils and so refers to the content of the education he gives, that is, “my teachings” or “what I teach you.” This is essentially the same as my wisdom in the first line.

If the two lines of the verse would be too repetitive in translation, or if it is difficult to find alternative words for wisdom and understanding, it may be desirable to restructure in the way tev does, linking the two verbs together and then the two nouns. Because of the way the sentence continues in the next verse, translations in some languages restructure the second line to say, for example, “I want to give you good thoughts and understanding (2) so that you will.…”


Verse 2 is the consequence of verse 1.

That you may keep discretion: Discretion is used in 1:4; 2:11; 3:21. Here, as there, the word refers to the ability to make wise choices and to use good judgment. cev says “sound judgment.” Note tev “behave properly.”

And your lips may guard knowledge: This line has caused interpreters some difficulty. Some argue that lips do not guard or keep knowledge but that they guard speech. They conclude that lips has been copied by mistake into verse 2 from verse 3. However, hottp rates your lips may guard as “B”, and recommends that this expression be understood as a contrast with “the lips of a loose woman dripping honey” in the next verse. If we follow the hottp recommendation, this line may be understood as “May your lips guard [watch over] knowledge,” and verse 3 will begin “Don’t be like the loose woman whose lips drip honey.” tob takes lips to mean speech: “Your speech will keep knowledge.” frcl has “and you will speak with full knowledge.” gecl translates the whole of verse 2 as “Then you will keep a clear head and will have the necessary wisdom to have the right thing to say.”


For at the beginning of this verse introduces what follows as the teacher’s wisdom and insight. Verses 3–6 describe what is called by rsv a loose woman, as in 2:16. The advice to stay away from such a woman begins with verse 8.

The lips of a loose woman …: A loose woman is interpreted by some as a foreign woman, one who is not an Israelite. See 2:16. However, it seems clear from the context that the writer has an immoral or seductive woman in mind rather than an alien female. Because there is reference later to the husband of the woman, some translations express loose woman as “[if there is] a woman leaving her husband and looking-desiring you.…”

Lips … drip honey is a figurative expression. The image is seen in Psa 19:10 (Hebrew verse 11), where it describes honey dripping from the honeycomb, that is, the cells of wax filled by the honey bees. For honey see 24:13. In our verse the sweet words of the woman are compared to honey dripping from a honeycomb. By contrast in Song 4:11 the lovely bride is described as having honey and milk under her tongue. The sense of the figure in this verse is that of a seductive, tempting female. This is expressed in one translation as “… makes sweet talk to pull [seduce] you.” Another possible interpretation of drip honey is kissing (Scott). This seems very appropriate in the context of seduction, and is followed by tev.

And her speech is smoother than oil: The rsv footnote shows that speech is literally “palate,” which is the roof or top of the inside of the mouth. In Job 12:11 Job speaks of the palate as tasting food. Psa 5:9 (Hebrew verse 10) says literally, “They make smooth their tongues” as a description of flattery. Oil refers to olive oil and not to oil taken from below the ground.

The figurative expression in line 2 is taken by many to refer to insincere but charming flattery, alluring words that excite the man’s lustful desires. Many languages use images such as these to speak of seduction and flattery. If, however, oil is not a suitable metaphor for flattery, then local expressions may be substituted. If no figurative language is available, it may be possible to say, for example, “The lips of the bad woman speak words that attract men and flatter them.” In some languages to flatter is “to make the heart swell” or “to blow air into the ear.”

Note tev “her kisses as smooth as olive oil.” The whole verse is expressed in one Pacific language as “The mouth of another man’s wife may be as sweet as sugar, and her kissing very delightful, but.…”


In the structure of this verse the second line does not simply repeat the thought of the first line in other words; it extends the sense by adding a second picture to that given in the first line.

But in the end she is bitter as wormwood: In the end means the final result, after having a relationship with her, when it is all over and done. cev says, “But all that you really get from being with her.…” Some other translations say, “But when you’ve finished with her.…” Wormwood is usually a symbol of suffering as the result of injustice. See Amos 5:7; 6:12. It is a plant from which a bitter-tasting juice is made and used as a medicine. See Fauna and Flora of the Bible, pages 197–198, and Lam 3:15. If a medicine made from a local plant is known for its bitter or foul taste, it may be used here. Quinine is an example that is known in some parts of the world. The thought expressed in this line is what at first appeared so pleasant ends up like bitter tasting medicine. If there is no local plant that can serve, it may be possible to say, for example, “but that woman turns out to be like a bitter tasting plant” or “but after some time that woman is like poison.”

Sharp as a two-edged sword: This figure, which is literally “sword of edges,” is also used in Psa 149:6. It refers to that which causes wounds and pain. If the image of the sword is not suitable here, it may be possible to substitute a knife or other sharp instrument. It is also possible to include the nonfigurative meaning; for example, “and she wounds a person like a knife cuts them.”


Her feet go down to death: For a similar expression see 2:18. Her feet refers to her way of living and to her leading or taking her victim where she goes. We may say, for example, “If you follow her …” (cev) or “If you go with her.” See tev.

Her steps follow the path to Sheol: This line follows the sense of the first line very closely. Her steps refers to her movements, going in the direction of death, which is again the way she conducts herself, her style of life, as in the first line. The rsv note shows that the Hebrew text has “lay hold of,” which is also used in Psa 17:5. This is apparently an idiom meaning to follow or keep to the path, which is parallel to go down in line 1. For Sheol see 1:12. frcl translates “Her conduct drags [you] down to death, her steps lead straight to the grave.” cev has “If you follow her, she will lead you down to the world of the dead.” Another expression of the whole verse is “This kind of woman will take you straight to the place of dead people.”


The meaning of the Hebrew text of part of this verse is uncertain. It appears to say that the way of the adulterous woman is unstable and does not lead to life. In this way verse 6 states negatively what verse 5 says positively.

She does not take heed to the path of life: that is, “She does not follow the path that leads to life.” Path of life refers to the good way that gives the learner a long life. This contrasts with the way that leads to death or takes someone down to death, where “death,” as in verse 5, is a premature death resulting from living foolishly or without wisdom.

Her ways wander, and she does not know it: Here the idea is that she takes the wrong road, misses the way, gets lost, and is not even aware that she is on the wrong road. As frcl says “She does not follow the road that leads to life, she misses the [right] road without knowing it.”


The theme of avoiding adultery is interrupted in verse 7 by appealing again to the learner to pay attention to the instruction of the teacher.

And now, O sons, listen to me: The appeal for attention from the learner follows the common pattern used in 1:8; 3:1; 4:1, 10; and 5:1. And now serves as a transition from the description of the seductive woman in verses 3–6 to the call for attention. In some languages this transitional marker is not translated. For O sons see 4:1. The plural sons in the Hebrew text is questionable because, aside from the plural verb forms in verse 7, the pronouns, referring back to sons in the rest of the chapter, are always singular. The Septuagint as well as the Vulgate have the singular. Therefore, in languages that mark singular and plural, it is advisable to say “my son” or its equivalent and use the singular pronouns.

Do not depart from the words of my mouth as a negative command means “Do not reject [give up or forget] what I have taught you.” The positive-negative structure of the verse in Hebrew will be good style in some other languages. But this line may also be stated positively; for example, “Always remember …” or “Keep in mind.…” For words of my mouth see 4:5.


In verse 8 the teacher picks up again his instruction to the learner to avoid adultery.

Keep your way far from her is literally “Keep your ways far from her,” which means “Stay away from her.” Her refers to the woman spoken of in verses 3–6, but it may be necessary in translation to make the connection with those verses by saying, for example, “Stay far away from that kind of woman.”

Do not go near the door of her house: The sense of this line is the same as that of line 1, with the positive-negative contrast, Keep your way fardo not go near. Door … house refers to the place where she lives. The sense is “Do not even go near her house” or “Don’t even go near where she lives.” frcl says, “Don’t even approach the threshold of her house.” We may also say, for example, “Don’t even pass near the shadow of her house.”


Lest you give your honor to others: Honor translates a word that refers to splendor or dignity, or sometimes to vigor or strength. There are different ways to interpret this line. Some understand that the learner will lose his honor, reputation, and respect by going to the woman, and that others who stay away from her will take away that respect. cev says, “You will lose your self-respect”; in a number of languages this is expressed as “… lose your good name.” Others understand this as advice not to place your honor and wealth at the mercy of other people. Following this line of reasoning frcl translates, “Don’t place yourself at the mercy of another man,” and spcl says, “So that you don’t give away your wealth to others.”

And your years to the merciless: The verb give from the previous line is to be understood here. Another textual variant has “strangers” in place of merciless. This seems to be a better match with others in the first line. However, hottp rates merciless, that is, “cruel,” as a “B” and supports rsv. The question that must be asked is: Who is the “cruel” or merciless person? frcl, which understands this person to be the husband of the adulterous woman, translates this line “Do not let a cruel husband destroy your life.” Note that tev is more general. gecl has a rendering that may serve as a model: “Otherwise you will be without honor and her cruel husband will kill you to get what you have acquired over many years.” Some others that are similar say, “… and her husband will have no mercy on you. He will kill you while you are still young.”


Lest strangers take their fill of your strength: Strangers, which refers to aliens, foreigners, non-Israelites, translates a different word than “others” in verse 9. Take their fill means to satisfy their desire (for your wealth). In some languages this thought is expressed as “Strangers will eat your money.” Strength, as the rsv footnote indicates, may refer to a person’s power or might and in this context is best understood as wealth.

And your labors go to the house of an alien: Your labors means the same as your strength in line 1, “all that you have worked for” or “all the money you have saved.” To the house of an alien means to the family, household, or hands of a foreigner. One translation that joins the two lines together says for the whole verse: “All the good things you have worked hard to get will go into the hands of other people.”


At the end of your life you groan: At the end may refer to the time of old age when the learner’s wealth is gone, or the end of a life of immoral living. We may say, for example, “when you are finished,” “when your life is over,” or “when you die.” See tev “on your deathbed.”

When your flesh and body are consumed: Flesh and body are literally “flesh and muscles” and refer to the physical body or the whole person, personality and being. Consumed is literally “finished” as a result of having lived an immoral life.


    And you say, “How I hated discipline”: This may be taken as a statement or as a “Why did I?” rhetorical question as in tev. Either way the quotation is to be understood as said with remorse and regret. The word How in How I hated … has the sense of “How bad for me that I …” or “Too bad that I did not love.…” Discipline translates the word rendered “instruction” in 1:2 and “disci pline” in 3:11. Here the sense is “correction.”

My heart despised reproof!: My heart matches I in the first line and represents the thinking, reflective part of the personality. Despised renders a word meaning to scorn or treat with contempt, and matches hated in line 1. Refer to 1:7, 2 for despise. Reproof is as in 1:23, and is similar in meaning to discipline. reb translates verses 11–12: “When you shrink to skin and bone you will end by groaning and saying, ‘Oh, why did I hate correction and set my heart against reproof?’ ” cev has “(11) When it’s all over, your body will waste away, as you groan (12) and shout, ‘I hated advice and correction!’ ”

In some languages translators feel that a short opening expression of feeling is required before the string of questions or statements in the speech that runs through this verse and the next two. For example, one translation begins, “I am so stupid! Why was my head big, and I would not let others put me straight?”


I did not listen to the voice of my teachers: that is, “I did not obey the instruction my teachers gave me” or “I paid no attention to what my teachers said.”

Or incline my ear … instructors: For incline … ear see 5:1. My instructors is literally “those who instructed me.”

The two lines of this verse are very close in meaning. Translations that often do not repeat two such lines make verse 13 one line; for example, “I paid no attention to my teachers” (cev). See tev for another handling of this verse.


This verse closes the subdivision on the note of the “final” or utter ruin of the young person who has rejected instruction.

I was at the point of utter ruin: or “I was almost ruined.” Ruin is literally “in all evil.” The sense here seems to be that through his foolish behavior he had become the victim of the worst kind of evil, which could mean death or, more likely, dishonor, disgrace, or terrible shame.

In the assembled congregation: The two words assembled and congregation have the same meaning and refer to the assembling or gathering together of this man’s community to examine his offense. It represents a public meeting and many translators render the two words by something equivalent to “public assembly,” “in public,” or “in the open where everyone saw it.” We may render verse 14, for example, “I was about to be brought down to total disgrace in the sight of everyone.”

Be Faithful to Your Wife (5:15–20)

Verses 15–20 use a number of images such as water, cistern, well, springs, fountain, hind, and doe to appeal to the learner to be satisfied with his own wife rather than going after another person’s wife.

The pattern of two parallel lines in each verse continues in this subdivision with few variations.

Subdivision Heading

Some modern translations that place a heading before these verses are: tob, “The woman of your youth,” frcl “Love the woman you chose when she was young,” sem “The beauty of faithfulness,” and lpd “Marriage fidelity.” The Handbook heading may be reworded to say, for example, “Don’t be disloyal to your wife,” “Be faithful and love your wife,” or “Don’t go after other women.”


Drink water from your own cistern: The teacher continues to address the learner with a proverb whose figurative language instructs him to have sexual relations only with his wife. Since this subdivision is addressed to a man who is married, some translations feel it is necessary to begin, “If you are married, think only of your wife, stay with her.…” A cistern is an underground chamber used to catch rainwater for storing. Cisterns, like wells in the next line, were often dug in the ground and lined with limestone plaster to keep them from leaking. They were also sometimes hollowed out of rock. The scarcity of water made it essential to guard cisterns and wells closely. The emphasis in this verse is on the private use of water from a cistern. The thought expressed here is “Just as you drink water from your own cistern, so you should have sex only with your own wife.”

In languages in which cisterns are unknown and the meaning of the figure is unclear, it may be necessary to avoid the images of cisterns and wells. In that case we may say by use of a simile, for example, “Be faithful to your own wife, just as you drink water from your own spring.” The figure of water from the cistern may also suggest that the man should find refreshment from his own wife just as he does from the refreshing water. In that case we may say, for example, “Refresh yourself with your own wife as you are refreshed from your own spring.” frcl says, “Your wife is like a spring of pure water. Drink from that spring!” Another translation that keeps the figurative language but suggests the comparison of sexual thirst with thirst for water is spcl: “Calm your thirst with the water that flows from your own well.”

Flowing water from your own well: This line adds little to the first one. Well refers to a hole dug in the ground that gathers water from the underground water table. If you have words for both cisterns and wells and you wish to retain the images without further clarification, gecl offers a model: “You have your own spring and your own well which flow with clear water. So drink from these sources!”

In some languages translators try to make a stronger note of warning at the beginning of the verse by using a negative command; for example, “Do not go to the well of another man. Stay with your own wife and sleep only with her, just as a man drinks water from his own well.”


Although the sense of the proverb in verse 15 is reasonably clear, we cannot say the same for this verse. The Hebrew text can be read as a question or as a statement of consequence, and hottp accepts both as ways to understand the first line. In either case verse 16 seems to develop the thought begun in verse 15. It is also not clear whether the figures of springs and streams of water in this verse are pictures of the wife, as “cistern” and “well” are in verse 15, or whether they refer to the sexual activity of the man. Some translations understand the figures one way and some take it the other. See the comments in the final paragraph on this verse.

Should your springs be scattered abroad: Springs refers to water that comes to the surface and flows from beneath the ground. Scattered abroad means to be dispersed, spread away from its place of origin.

Streams of water in the streets: Streams translates a word used in Job 38:25 for channels that carry rainwater. Here it seems to mean flowing currents of water. Streets translates a word referring to open areas in a town, town plaza, or square. These are public gathering places. Streams as well as springs are commonly used in the Old Testament as sources of enjoyment or pleasure. In contrast with “cisterns” and “wells” that are located on the owner’s property, streams and springs are more likely to be at a distance.

Translations of this verse are of two kinds: (1) those that retain the figurative language either as statement, negative command, or rhetorical question and (2) those that seek to interpret the meaning of the figurative language. rsv is of the first kind. Note that it keeps the figurative language and asks a rhetorical question. neb/reb use a negative command: “Do not let your well overflow into the road, your runnels of water pour into the street.” njpsv uses a statement: “Your streams will gush forth in streams in the public squares.”

Literal renderings of verses 15 and 16 may give the reader the impression that they are simply advice about conserving water. As a result it is likely that the reader will see no connection between “the wife of your youth” in verse 18 and the water images in verses 15–17. It is recommended, therefore, that a meaningful rendering should suggest in some way what the images in these verses represent, even though interpreters and translators do not all understand them alike.

If you have used nonfigurative language in verse 15, it is advisable to continue to do so, as is necessary, in verses 16–17. However, if you have used a mixture of figurative and nonfigurative language in verse 15, it may be possible to continue in verses 16 and 17 with figurative language. The only way to be sure is by testing with enough readers.

In verse 16 only tev understands springs scattered abroad to mean having children with other women, and “will do you no good” refers to those children as belonging to someone else’s household. frcl, which made clear in verse 15 that the cistern is “Your wife … pure water” is able in verse 16 to keep the figurative language and say, “Do not let its water flow in the street and be scattered in the public squares.” spcl retains the images, but signals through the verb “spill” that it refers to semen or male sperm, “Don’t spill the water from your spring; don’t waste it in the street.” There are some languages in which “water” is used more generally for a range of fluids, including those from the human body, and readers in some of these languages will easily see a reference to semen here. cev suggests sexual relations outside the marriage with “And don’t be like a stream from which just any woman may take a drink.”


Let them be for yourself alone: This verse repeats and strengthens the command in verses 15–16. Them refers back to the “cistern” and “well” in verse 15 and the “springs” and “streams” in verse 16, which are images of female and male sexuality. If the average reader will again not follow the essential sense, it is better to make some adjustments in this verse. cev, which understands verse 16 to refer to having sex with other women, says in verse 17, “Save yourself for your wife.”

And not for strangers with you: Some interpreters and translators take this as advice not to share your wife with others. However, a more probable interpretation is “Don’t share your sexual pleasures with other women.” Note that tev takes this line to mean that children should belong to their father and help him and not strangers.


Verses 18–20 say in literal and figurative language what verses 15–17 said in figurative language only.

Let your fountain be blessed: A fountain is not an artificial jet of water, as may be seen in city parks or gardens, but rather a spring of water flowing out of the ground. Your fountain refers to the man’s wife, who is here the source of his pleasure. The sense of blessed is seen in the parallel word in the second line rejoice. Blessed has the sense of joy or happiness. This happiness is to come from the man’s wife. Therefore tev has “be happy with your wife.…” If you find the imagery clear, you may follow a model like spcl, “Blessed be your own fountain!” The meaning of this is made clear by the second line.

Rejoice in the wife of your youth: Wife … youth may call attention to the youthful age when the couple married. tev introduces verse 18 as a consequence of what is said in verses 15–17: “So be happy with.…” The happiness expressed here is satisfaction from the pleasure found in sexual relations with her. We may say, for example, “Enjoy relations with the woman you married when you both were young.”


A lovely hind, a graceful doe: This line seems to be parenthetical, that is, something added about the wife in verse 18. It is outside the regular pattern of two parallel lines to each verse. A hind refers to a female deer and is used also in Job 39:1. Graceful in reference to a deer calls attention to the beauty of form and movement. A doe here refers to a female mountain goat. tev shows this line to be a comment on the wife in verse 18 by its punctuation. cev begins a new sentence with verse 19 “She is beautiful and graceful.…”

Whether or not you will apply this description to a woman will depend upon the usage of your language. In some cases other local animals will need to be substituted. If the image of a graceful animal is inappropriate, it may be necessary to say, for example, “a beautiful and graceful woman” or “a woman as beautiful and graceful as a …” and supply the appropriate comparison.

We may note that there is a chiastic (A-B-B-A) structure in the remainder of this verse and the next verse. It forms the conclusion of this part and may be set out as follows:



Her (your wife’s) breasts let them satisfy you at all times,



With her love be infatuated always.



Why be infatuated … with another woman,



Clasp the breasts of a stranger?

This literary feature has the effect of highlighting the main advice that the learner should be satisfied with the love of his own wife.

Let her affection fill you at all times with delight: Affection fill … with delight is literally “Let her breasts always satisfy you.” A change in the vowels of the Hebrew word for “breasts” gives “love.” However, most translations take “breasts” as a symbol or image of love, affection, or charm. njpsv translates literally: “Let her breasts satisfy you at all times.” tev says “charms.” frcl takes “breasts” as representing the whole body and says “May her body always fill you with joy.”

The word rendered fill means to drink your fill or to be intoxicated. It is used in 7:18, where rsv translates “let us take our fill of love.” In this verse gecl has “Her breasts should always intoxicate you.” tob has “Intoxicate yourself with her love.” mft translates “let her breasts give you rapture,” where “rapture” refers to an intense state of emotion or ecstasy.

Be infatuated always with her love: This line closely parallels the previous one, so infatuated renders a word that matches the one meaning “intoxicated” in the first line and means to stagger from being drunk. It is used in Isa 28:7, where rsv translates “These also reel with wine.” Infatuated is misleading in this context because it suggests that the love or emotional attachment is foolish and temporal. If the idea of being drunk with her love is unsatisfactory, we may say, for example, “Let her love excite you” or “Let her love make you happy.”


Why should you be infatuated, my son, with a loose woman: This verse is expressed as a “Why?” rhetorical question by rsv and tev. Others prefer a negative command. Infatuated translates the same word as used in verse 19, but here the sense of a foolish and temporary attachment is correct.

Embrace the bosom of an adventuress?: Embrace means to hold in the arms, hug, clasp to the breast. Bosom, as used elsewhere in 17:23 and 21:14, refers to bribes and secrecy. Here it refers to the breasts and represents the sexual attraction of the woman. Adventuress translates the word for a foreign female as used in 2:16 and matches the term in the first line that refers to an adulterous woman. frcl translates verse 20 as “My son, why should you desire another man’s wife? Why should you look for pleasure in a woman who is not your own?”

A translation of the verse highlighting the terms that are parallel with the previous verse says, “Son, don’t be thinking of another man’s wife and of handling her breasts.”

The Fate of the Wicked (5:21–23)

Verses 21–23 bring chapter 5 to a close by reminding the learner that the Lord watches all he does. A man is caught by his sin, and because he lacks self-control he is destroyed.

This short subdivision has the character of a general statement that is not closely related to the content of the previous verses. It is similar in this respect, and in its content, to 1:32–33; 2:21–22; and 3:33–35. In Hebrew the pairs of lines in each of these verses show a chiastic (X-type) pattern, which has a heightening effect:

(21) before the eyes of the Lord


the ways of a man




all his paths


he watches

(22) his iniquities ensnare him


the wicked person




in the toils of his sin


he is caught

(23) he dies


in the lack of discipline




and in his great folly


he is lost

Subdivision Heading

If you wish to follow the Handbook heading before these verses, it may need to be adjusted to say, for example, “This is how the wicked person comes to his end” or “A wicked person’s sins will catch him like a trap.”


For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord: This verse is introduced by a particle that marks it as a reason. Here the learner is reminded that the Lord watches over people and so they should conduct themselves in the right way. A man is general and refers to everyone. njb says “human ways,” tob “each one,” and gecl “everyone.” A man’s ways means “everything a person does” or “all that we [inclusive] do.”

The eyes of the Lord is a common expression in the Old Testament and means “the Lord sees” or, as cev says, “The Lord sees everything.”

He watches all his paths: The sense is very much the same as in the first line. He refers to the Lord. Watches (see rsv footnote) translates a word that means “weighs” or “makes level.” The sense of weighing a person’s ways is that the Lord takes account of, or thinks about, what that person does, whether it is good or bad. nrsv and niv render the sense “he examines all.…” Paths was used in 4:11 with the literal sense of tracks. We may translate verse 21, for example, “The Lord sees everything we do and he knows all our ways.”


The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him is literally “his own sins will trap the wicked,” that is, “A person will be trapped by his own sins.” For the whole verse cev has “Sinners are trapped and caught by their own evil deeds.” Ensnare is used here of catching something in a trap.

And he is caught in the toils of his sin: Toils is literally cords, ropes, or bands and refers to a net for catching small birds or animals. Toils of his sins means the net his sins have made. Without the image of the net we may say, for example, “He is caught in his own sins.” Using the idea of the net we may say, for example, “He is caught in his sins like a bird in a net.”


He dies for lack of discipline: For a similar thought see 1:30–32. The possession of wisdom promises the learner a long life in 3:16. Here it is the absence of discipline, that is, lack of self-control, inability to say no to desires, that leads to a shortened life and premature death.

Because of his great folly he is lost: Again the sense is almost the same as in the first line. Folly translates the same word as used in Psa 69:5 (Hebrew verse 6), “thou knowest my folly.” In 22:15 folly is “bound up in the heart of a child” and is driven out by the “rod of discipline.” This kind of foolishness or lack of thought is sometimes expressed as having a narrow heart or a mindless head. Note tev “utter stupidity.”

Lost renders a word that means to go astray and is used here in a moral sense. It may also refer to death. Some translators make a slight change in the Hebrew to get a word meaning “he will perish.” However, “go astray” seems to give a clear meaning and can be used in parallel with the first line. njb says, “For want of discipline, he dies, led astray by his own excessive folly.” cev restructures these lines to say, “They get lost and die because of their foolishness and lack of self control.” Both of these are good models for translators.

2H. Eighth Instruction (6:1–19)

The eighth instruction is divided into four subdivisions. Verses 1–5 deal with the subject of promising to pay other people’s debts. Verses 6–11 are cautions against laziness. Verses 12–15 speak again of the fate of the wicked, and verses 16–19 list seven things the Lord hates.

Avoid Other People’s Debts (6:1–5)

Subdivision Heading

Some modern translations use a heading for verses 1–5: njb “On surety rashly offered,” tob “The dangers of surety,” frcl “Avoid taking on someone’s debts.” You may find it necessary to reword the Handbook heading to say, for example, “Don’t promise to pay back money other people have borrowed,” or “If you promise to pay other people’s debts, you may be sorry.”


The Hebrew text, as seen in the rsv, has in verses 1–2 two long “if” clauses, which are followed in verse 3 by a command. This may require some restructuring to make the sense clear. One way is to shift the “if” clauses to negative commands, and then continue to verse 3 by saying, for example, “But if you have been caught.…”

My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor: For My son see 1:8. The situation given here is imagined, and translations should reflect that fact. For example, cev says “My child, suppose you.…” Become surety means to accept the responsibility to pay the moneylender if the borrower of the money fails to pay. The Hebrew word means to give a pledge and was used in ancient Israel as a promise to do something. An example is that in Gen 43:9, where Judah pledges to Jacob that he will be surety for Benjamin’s safe return. The meaning of become surety may have to be spelled out fully in some languages; for example, “If another man has borrowed money, and you have promised to pay this money back if he is not able to.…”

Neighbor translates the noun form of a verb that means to associate with. Neighbor is not necessarily to be thought of as someone who lives nearby. The word is more equivalent to “companion,” “friend,” “colleague,” or more generally “another person.” Refer to 3:28.

Have given your pledge for a stranger: In rsv this clause is not marked as conditional, but the parallel structure makes it so; nrsv begins “if you have.…” This line is literally “If you have struck your palms [hand] with a foreigner.” This gesture refers to concluding an agreement and is similar to shaking hands to signal that two parties have agreed to do something. For an example of such an agreement see the case of Jehu and Jehonadab in 2 Kgs 10:15. Some take the word stranger to refer to an alien or non-Israelite and conclude, therefore, that it is a case of making a pledge to a total stranger and so is a very careless and unwise thing to do. Refer to 5:10. Toy and other interpreters see the words rendered by rsv as neighbor and stranger not as contrasts but as matching in meaning. It is for this reason that tev and cev reduce the two words to “someone.” nrsv has revised rsv stranger to “another” in its text and has placed stranger in a footnote. reb has revised neb in the same way. The warning is, accordingly, not to become surety for anyone.

In some translations this verse is marked as a warning by concluding with words like “[If …,] what you have done is not good.”


If you are snared in the utterance of your lips: There are two ways to understand verse 2:

(1) as another “if” clause, or

(2) as a consequence clause following from the conditions in verse 1.

Translators are divided on this issue. tev, which uses a question continued from verse 1, follows the first option, but cev the second one with “Then you are trapped by your own words.” nrsv has changed the rsv “if” clause to a consequence. If it is the thought of the writer that not every one will default on their debts, then the “if” clause is appropriate in verse 2. However, there is no apparent way to settle that question and so either solution may be followed.

Snared renders a verb that refers to catching or trapping something in a baited trap. In this case the promise to repay the debt is the trap. The language is figurative, but it may be necessary to use nonfigurative language in translation; for example, “if you are in trouble because.…” Utterance of your lips is literally “words of your mouth.” See the rsv footnote. rsv and others have followed the Septuagint here because the next line in Hebrew is again “words of your mouth.” hottp rates “words of your mouth” as “B” and recommends it as “the words of your mouth” or “the promise of your mouth” in both lines.

Caught in the words of your mouth: This line repeats the first. Caught is parallel to snared and renders a word meaning to capture or seize that is also used of catching something in a trap.

Translators who keep the parallel lines may follow various models. For example, mft says, “If you have snared yourself with your own words, and trapped yourself by promises.” tev keeps the parallelism, using “Caught by … words, trapped by … promises.” cev, on the other hand, reduces the parallelism by saying, “Then you are trapped by your own words.”


In this verse rsv has two series of commands that are separated by a reason for the commands. For clarity in the flow of thought it may be necessary to switch the first two lines of this verse. In this way verse 3 would begin with “You have come into your neighbor’s power.” See under verse 4 for an example of restructuring the whole verse. The discussion of the lines in this verse follows the rsv order.

Then do this, my son, and save yourself: Then renders a term that marks a transition from the “if” clauses in verses 1–2 to the commands in verse 3. Do this may need to be restated as, for example, “This is what you should do,” “Follow these instructions,” or “Now do as I tell you.” For my son see 1:8. Save yourself means here to free yourself from your troubles, to escape or get out of your difficulty. One translation, for example, says, “Son, you must get out of this prison quickly.”

For you have come into your neighbor’s power is literally “You come into the palm [hand] of your neighbor,” which means “You have fallen into the control of …” or “Your neighbor now has control over you.” Since this situation is clearly very dangerous, some translations render the sentence “It is no good that you stay underneath this other man. So.…”

Go, hasten, and importune your neighbor: Go means to take immediate action. Hasten translates a verb whose form and meaning appear to have the sense of tread on, trample, or crush down. Although tev renders it “hurry,” it appears in this context to mean to “humble yourself.” Note the rsv footnote. Some take it to mean mire or mud, and so it expresses the thought of getting down in the mud, an image of humbling yourself. One translation says, for example, “It doesn’t matter that you have to put yourself down and be ashamed, just go.…”

The word rendered importune is better translated “plead” or “beg.” The Hebrew text does not say what should be pleaded for. However, the context makes clear that it is a plea to be released, freed from the promise to pay the other person’s debts. Accordingly tev says, “beg him to release you.” frcl has “insist that he free you.”


Give your eyes no sleep expresses the urgency of getting free from this commitment. The language is figurative and means “Don’t waste a moment” or “Do so immediately.”

And your eyelids no slumber repeats the thought of the previous line in somewhat more poetic terms. Note how tev has retained the parallelism with “… go to sleep or even stop to rest.”

One example of restructuring verses 3–4 runs as follows: “If you have done this, you are in the power of this man. But there is a way for you to escape from your difficulty. Go immediately to see this man and beg him to set you free. Don’t sleep. Don’t delay. Go now.”


Save yourself like a gazelle from the hunter: Save yourself translates the same verb as in verse 3 and means to save your life or escape with your life. Ga zelle renders a word that refers to a fast-running and graceful antelope. Gazelle is used here to emphasize the need to move swiftly. For a description and illustration of this animal see Fauna and Flora of the Bible, pages 33–34. If the gazelle or a similar antelope is unknown, another animal known for its speed may be used. Hunter, as the rsv footnote shows, is literally “from the hand.” hottp rates the Hebrew text as “B” and suggests that “from the hand” can be taken to mean “out of the hand” or “out of the trap.”

Like a bird from the hand of the fowler: This line is a parallel illustration to that in the first line. Bird here is a general word and probably refers to a small bird. The verb used in the first line is understood in this second line and may need to be expressed. From the hand means from what the hand does, that is, grasp, catch, or take hold of. The Septuagint says “from the net,” as in the Hebrew of Psa 91:3. The fowler refers to a person who traps fowls, that is, a bird hunter. njb says “break free like a gazelle from the trap, like a bird from the fowler’s clutches.” We may also say, for example, “Free yourself from the promise to that debtor as a deer or a bird escapes from a hunter.”

Don’t be Lazy (6:6–11)

Verses 6–11 warn the learner to avoid poverty through self-discipline. The ant is used as an example of diligent and industrious conduct. The theme of verses 6–11 is repeated in 24:30–34. See also Sirach 22:1–2.

Subdivision Heading

Some headings used for these verses by modern versions are frcl “Avoid being lazy,” njb “The idler and the ant,” tob “The lazy person,” and spcl “Warnings to lazy people.” We may reword the Handbook heading to say, for example, “Learn from the ant,” “How laziness can ruin you,” or “What lazy people can learn from ants.”


Go to the ant, O sluggard: This advice is similar to that in Job 12:7 in which Job advises his friends to learn from the birds and animals. See also Pro 30:25. Go means to go and observe or learn. We may say, for example, “Watch how the ants live,” “Watch the ants and learn how they do things,” or “Watch the ants at work and learn from them.” The ant is thought by some interpreters to refer to the harvester ant found commonly in the eastern Mediterranean area and many other regions of the world. Although the harvester ant stores grain in its underground nests, it also causes considerable damage. Ant is singular in the Hebrew, but it is to be taken in a collective sense. The author is advising the learner to watch not one single ant, but a colony of ants at work. See Fauna and Flora of the Bible, page 1.

For the change to the new topic, some translations use a short attention-getting sentence, such as “You lazy people, I have got a word for you [like this]: Go and look at the good work of the ants.…”

Consider her ways, and be wise: Consider means here to observe, look at, watch, reflect on, or ponder. Ant is feminine in Hebrew, and so her ways refers to how the ants live, what they do, as in verses 7–8. Be wise in the Hebrew is a command in the masculine singular addressed to the sluggard. We may translate, for example, “so that you may be wise,” “and you will become wise,” or “so you may learn something about wisdom.”

Verse 6 may be translated, for example, “Lazy one, watch the way the ants work. Think about their ways and learn from them” or “Lazy people can learn by observing the life of ants.” See tev.


Without having any chief, officer or ruler: Chief is used of the clan leaders or commanders of men of war in Josh 10:24. The word rendered officer is used in the Old Testament to refer to a judicial, civil, or military person responsible for organizing the people. Ruler is a general term for someone who commands or governs the affairs of people. The purpose in using three terms is apparently to emphasize that the ants, in the teacher’s view, do not require an elaborate system of control. They perform their duties without an administration. tev uses all three kinds of overseers. cev reduces them to a single term by saying “Ants don’t have leaders.”

It is apparent that the teacher’s understanding of the elaborate structure of an ant colony is quite limited in terms of present-day knowledge.


She prepares her food in summer: She is the singular ant. You may need to say something equivalent to “Ants prepare …” or “They prepare.…” Prepare is to be taken in the sense of storing up or gathering and storing. In some societies this must be expressed as “put away for the time when food is short” or “… for hard times.” Food is literally “bread,” but the sense is general and refers to food that ants gather and store. We may say, for example, “In the summer they carry their food into their nests.” In place of summer it may be necessary to say “during the harvest season” or “the time when people harvest their crops.” Some languages speak of summer as the dry season or the rainy season. Translators should be careful to use a time expression here that is appropriate to the activity of ants in their own area.

And gathers her sustenance in harvest: The parallel terms gathers and prepares should be appropriate for the activities of ants. Sustenance is parallel to food in the first line and has the same meaning. Harvest refers to the gathering of crops from the fields or gardens. In some languages this is expressed, for example, “when it is time for people to bring in crops from their gardens.” In cultures where some food is grown and harvested throughout the year, this can be rendered, for example, “when there is plenty of food” or “in good times.”


In verse 9 the teacher again addresses the lazy person directly and somewhat satirically, as if mocking him.

How long will you lie there, O sluggard?: How long is a question that can be taken as expecting an answer about the length of time, or as a rhetorical question meaning something like “You must want to sleep forever!” or “Will you never get up?” When gathering crops at harvest time, workers must work long hours so as not to leave the grain too long in the fields. The sluggard, however, is seen here as sleeping.

When will your arise from your sleep?: This line may also be rhetorical. We may translate the two lines of this verse, for example, “Are you going to lie there and sleep all day? When are you ever going to get up?” or “You lazy people want to keep sleeping, don’t you? When will you ever get off your beds?” Some translators may find it more natural to switch the order of the two lines.


Verse 10 may be taken either as the continuation of the teacher’s remarks or as the reply made by the lazy one.

A little sleep, a little slumber: If taken as the words of the teacher, little before sleep and slumber adds to the sarcasm directed at the “sluggard” who has just been asked when he is going to stop sleeping. If these are the words of the lazy person, the sense is “[Let me] take a little more sleep.…” Slumber renders a word that suggests being drowsy from lack of activity.

A little folding of the hands to rest: Folding of the hands or crossing the arms over the chest is in preparation for relaxing and sleep. A similar expression is used in Eccl 4:5, where it signifies the inactivity of a fool. Rest renders a word that means to lie down for resting. It is the same word as “lie” in verse 9.

For verse 10 as the words of the “the sluggard,” see tev. Another similar rendering is “All the time he says, ‘I’ll just lie down on my back a little bit and have a rest.’ ” gecl understands verse 10 to be spoken by the teacher but quoting the lazy learner: ” ‘Just a little snooze,’ you say, ‘only a moment of shuteye and the hands laid in the lap.’ ” A version that addresses lazy people generally in the plural says, “You say, ‘It doesn’t matter, we [exclusive] want to sleep a little bit more. We want to rest for a short time and then we’ll get up.’ ”


And poverty will come upon you like a vagabond: Here poverty (Hebrew “your poverty”) refers to having no means to support yourself, a lack of goods or money. A vagabond means a person who moves about, a wanderer. In the context of ancient times persons who wandered about on the roads were there to rob, and so the term is more exactly “robber” or “bandit.” Note that nrsv has changed vagabond to “robber.” It is the condition of laziness in the previous verse that brings about poverty, which is compared here with the sudden appearance of a highway robber.

And want like an armed man: As in the first line want is literally “your want,” that is, your needy condition, your lack of the things needed for living. The verb come in the first line is to be understood in this line also. An armed man is literally “a man with a shield.” This expression may refer to a soldier who has left the army to become a highway robber or bandit. Because the two lines are so similar in meaning, some translations reduce them to one. See tev. We may also say, for example, “And while you sleep you will become poor as if a robber had taken all your goods and as if an armed bandit had left you with nothing.”

Fate of the Wicked (6:12–15)

Verses 12–14 describe the acts of wicked people, and verse 15 tells what will happen to such persons.

Subdivision Heading

Most modern versions do not place a heading before these verses, but njb and frcl have “Portrait of a scoundrel” and spcl “Characteristics of a bad person.” The Handbook heading may need to be reworded to say, for example, “Here is what will happen to an evil person” or “This is the way of the wicked.”


A worthless person, a wicked man: Worthless renders a descriptive word used in 1 Sam 25:25 by Abigail to characterize her husband Nabal who had offended David. It describes a person of no account, a good-for-nothing. Person translates the Hebrew ‘adam, which can refer to a person of either gender. A wicked man is an evil person.

Goes about with crooked speech: Goes about means such people go here and there and do these things wherever they are. Crooked speech is literally “crooked mouth” as used in 4:24. See there for comments. frcl says, “The one who spreads false words is a nobody and an immoral person.” cev links verse 12 closely to verse 13 by saying “(12) Worthless liars go around (13) winking.…”


This verse continues the description of the wicked person’s actions.

Winks with his eyes, scrapes with his feet: Winks is also used in 10:10, where this gesture is linked with making trouble. This expression is used in Psa 35:19, where it is in parallel with “rejoice over me.” tev renders it there as “smirk with delight over my sorrow.” It is most likely a sign of insincerity and deceit. Scrapes … feet is not used elsewhere in the Old Testament but is an additional gesture similar in sense to the ones before and after it.

Points with his finger: This is a third gesture that the wicked person uses to communicate deceit.

Translators must pay particular attention to the significance of gestures and their meanings, as in different cultures these particular gestures may carry different meanings than what is intended here. The wicked person is here a de ceiver, and as he says one thing he is busy making gestures to someone to show that he really means something different. In order to make this clear, it may be necessary to say, for example, “(12) A worthless and evil person goes around telling lies, (13) and while he does, he winks, and points with his foot or his finger.” We may also avoid naming these particular gestures by speaking more generally; for example, “and so he makes signs with his eyes, his foot, and his finger to hide his lies.”


With perverted heart devises evil: Perverted is used of crooked speech or lies in 2:12. In reference to heart it refers more to thoughts and images of the mind which are evil. Devises evil is equivalent to the expression rendered “plan evil” in 3:29.

Continually sowing discord is literally “all the time sending forth strife,” which means to make trouble, cause difficulties, or stir up strife.


Therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly: Therefore marks verse 15 as a conclusion of this subdivision. We may say, for example, “Because of that …” or “That is the reason.…” Calamity refers to distress or suffering. See comments on 1:26.

In a moment he will be broken beyond healing: This line is parallel with the first line but adds to the extent of the disaster that will come. Broken means that the wicked person will be crushed, destroyed, or ruined. Beyond healing means that the destruction cannot be reversed. The person cannot be made whole again, and so we may say, for example, “He is destroyed and brought to death” or “He is ruined and he dies.”

Seven Things the Lord Hates (6:16–19)

Verses 16–19 list seven human failings that are said to be things the Lord hates. These wrongs are a repetition of the sins of the evil person in verses 12–15.

Subdivision Heading

Translations that have a heading before verse 16 include frcl “What the Lord detests” and njb “Seven things that are abhorrent to God.” The Handbook heading may be adjusted to say, for example, “Seven sins the Lord will not accept” or “The Lord will reject these seven sins.”


The increase by one in the second line (six … seven) is typical of number parallelism in Hebrew poetry. For other examples in Proverbs see 30:15, 18, 21, 29. See also Deut 32:30; Psa 62:11 (Hebrew verse 12); and Job 5:19. See “Translating Proverbs,” page 13. The increase from six to seven is not a sudden change in the writer’s mind but rather a rhetorical style in which emphasis is placed on the second number by contrasting it with the number in the first line, which is one less. With number parallelism in other parts of the Old Testament, the numbers are not meant to be exact numbers but have the sense of an indefinite number, that is, a large or important number. In Proverbs, however, the parallel lines are always followed by a list that has the number of items indicated by the number in the second line. And some commentators suggest that the intention of this structure is to highlight or focus on the final line, that is, the final item in the list.

There are six things which the Lord hates is literally “These six the Lord hates.” The reference is to sins or bad conduct among people, and so cev says, “There are six or seven kinds of people the Lord doesn’t like.”

Seven which are an abomination to him: In the Old Testament various acts such as eating unclean food, worshiping idols, and sacrificing children are said to be an abomination to God. An abomination refers to anything that is hated, abhorred, or regarded as disgusting. To him is literally “to his soul.”

If you do not find it appropriate to keep the number parallelism in your language, you may wish to say, for example, “There are seven things the Lord hates to see people do. They are.…” This is the approach of tev, which combines the two lines of verses 16 and then lists the seven things the Lord hates.

frcl departs from the way most translations handle number parallelism. That version says “There are six things …” then lists the six. Following the sixth in verse 19, it then says, “But there is also a seventh” and then gives the rest of verse 19. You may wish to consider this arrangement in your translation.

Some translations do not state the number of sins at all before listing them; for example, “(16–19) There are some kinds of behavior that are bad in the sight of the Lord, and that he doesn’t like at all. They are: being proud, telling lies, … The Lord doesn’t ever want to see these things.” This example also repeats part of verse 16 at the end for the sake of natural style in the language.

In verses 17–18 it is best to keep the body parts if at all possible. Verse 17 lists the first three of the seven sins.

Haughty eyes, a lying tongue: Verse 17 may need to be closely connected to verse 16. If you have said in verse 16, for example, “… kinds of people the Lord doesn’t like,” then verse 17 can begin “People who have …” or “People who do.…” Haughty eyes as used in Psa 18:27 (Hebrew verse 28) is a figure for pride or arrogance. The expression is used in that verse as a contrast with being humble or lowly. If the image of haughty eyes cannot be used, you may find an equivalent figure related to the eyes or another feature of the face or head. If not, it is also possible to use nonfigurative language and say, for example, “proud” or “arrogant.” A lying tongue may need to be adjusted in some languages to say, for example, “a double tongue,” “a forked tongue,” “two mouths,” or some other image.

Hands that shed innocent blood: Shed … blood means to kill, murder, or take away someone’s life. Innocent refers to people who are not guilty or have done no wrong. See comments on 1:11. The line then means “people who kill others who have done no wrong.” See tev.

In verse 18 the fourth and fifth sins are added.

A heart that devises wicked plans: Heart refers to the thoughts of the mind. For devises … plans see 3:29, where the same Hebrew verb is used.

Feet that make haste to run to evil: This is an example of a Hebrew figure of speech in which part of something represents the whole; feet here represents the whole person. In poetic discourse it may be best to keep this figure unless a wrong meaning results. This line pictures a person who cannot wait to do evil and may be translated, for example, “whose feet rush to find something wicked to do” or “who hurries to do something evil.”

Verse 19 adds the sixth and seventh sins to the list.

A false witness who breathes out lies: False witness is used in Psa 27:12 of persons who tell lies in court against the psalmist. In that verse those liars are said to breathe out violence. Here they are said to breathe out lies. This expression may refer to the endless flow of their lies or to the ease with which they lie. See 14:5 for the same expression. It is often translated “telling lies in court.”

A man who sows discord among brothers: Man is supplied by rsv. nrsv has revised to say “one who.…” Sows discord is as in verse 14. Brothers need not be restricted in sense to literal brothers but may be taken to refer to people who have a close association, such as friends or family members. cev says, “or stir up trouble in a family.”

We noted above (on verse 16) that the order of the items in these verses may be significant. In some of the number parallelism sequences in Proverbs there is clearly a progression to the last item, which is more important, more signifi cant, the real focus of the structure, the point of the saying. This is the case with 30:18–19 and 30:29–31; it may be the intention in all the other occurrences. Scott comments on 30:18–19: “In this type of the numerical proverb, as in vss. 29–31, the climactic fourth line points the parallel in man to what is observed in the external world.”

If this applies to 6:16–19, it means that the thing that Yahweh hates most is the final item, “someone who stirs up quarrels between brothers.” It is the seventh item that is the real “abomination.” And if this is the truth, then we can easily enough see each of the first six items in the list as actions that contribute to and serve to bring about the final abomination. The frcl way of doing this passage may be intended to give focus to the final item in the list.

2I. Ninth Instruction (6:20–35)

The ninth instruction has three subdivisions. The first concerns the rewards that come to those who obey their parents’ teaching (verses 20–23). The second returns to warnings against adultery (verses 24–29). And the final subdivision describes the punishments that result from adultery (verses 30–35).

Rewards from Accepting Your Parents’ Teaching (6:20–23)

Verses 20–21 introduce this subdivision with the usual command addressed to “my son” to obey his parents. In verses 22–23 the instruction of the parents is described as a guide, guard, and light.

Subdivision Heading

You may find it necessary to modify the Handbook heading. Here are some suggestions: “Follow your parents’ instruction,” “Obey your parents and be happy,” or “Let the teachings of your father and mother guide you.” Most modern versions include verses 20–23 under a heading regarding adultery.


My son, keep your father’s commandment: This whole verse is very similar to 1:8. See there for comments. For comments on commandment see 2:1. For mother’s teaching see 1:8. See also 6:23.


Bind them upon your heart always: Bind translates the same word as used in 3:3. Bind … heart is a figurative way of saying “Keep them in your mind,” “Always think about them,” or “Never let them leave your thoughts.” Note tev “locked in your heart.”

Tie them about your neck: See 3:3.


When you walk they will lead you: The picture created in this line is that of the learner walking behind a guide or leader. Note that the rsv footnote shows the Hebrew text has “it” in place of they. The reference is to the commandments and teachings, so they is more natural for many languages. Walk is to be taken in a general sense of “anywhere you may go.” It is not in contrast to some other form of movement, such as running or jumping.

When you lie down, they will watch over you: Lie down means for the pur pose of sleeping, that is, “When you go to bed” or “While you sleep.” Watch over means to guard, protect, or take care of. The language is clearly figurative, and in some languages it must be shifted to a simile; for example, “watch over you as a night watchman [guard] while you sleep.”

When you awake, they will talk with you: This may need to be adjusted to say, for example, “… will talk to you like a friend.” Talk is to be taken as more than making conversation, for example, “to give advice,” “to instruct,” or “to counsel you.” gecl says “They will lead you in your work, protect you while you sleep, and counsel you when you are awake.” Note also tev “… protect you at night, and advise you during the day.”


For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light: The words translated commandment and teaching are the same as in verse 20. Judaism has held that the teaching (Hebrew torah) is the written law while commandment (Hebrew mitswah) is the application of the written law. However, it is important to consider the meanings of these terms in their contexts. Although modern translations differ in their treatment of this line, most take commandment and teaching to refer to the same as in verse 20. See tev “their instructions.” niv has “these commands … this teaching.” gecl makes the reference to verse 20 even more direct by saying, “What father and mother have taught you is.…”

A lamp refers to an oil lamp, that is, a container holding olive oil and a wick. If it is not natural to say that a commandment is a lamp, it may be necessary to shift to something equivalent to “… gives light like a lamp” or “… shows the way like a lamp in the dark.” The teaching (is) a light may have to be adjusted in a similar way. It is also possible to reduce lamp and light to one by saying, for example, “Their instruction is like a light in the dark” or “What they teach you brings light like a lamp burning in the dark.”

The reproofs of discipline are the way of life: Reproof, which means to correct, rebuke, or scold, is the same as used in 1:23. Reproofs of discipline refers to the corrections that come from the application of discipline and training. This expression may also be taken as “correction and training.” Way of life is the goal of correction and so tev has “can teach you how to live” and cev “will lead you through life.” We may also say, for example, “Correction and discipline will show you how to live.”

Avoid Adultery (6:24–29)

In this subdivision, as in 5:1–20, the teacher again takes up warnings against adultery. Verses 24–25 continue to say that the parental commandments and teachings are to enable the learner to avoid the charms of “bad women.” Verse 26 contrasts the price paid to a prostitute with that paid for adultery with another man’s wife. Verses 27–28 ask rhetorically if it possible for the adulterer to go unpunished, and verse 29 answers that question negatively. For alterna tive headings see those before 5:1.

Subdivision Heading

Some translations that place a heading before verse 24 include frcl “Beware of adultery” and tev “Warning against Adultery.” We may also say, for example, “Don’t sleep with another man’s wife” or “Don’t take another’s woman.”


To preserve you from the evil woman: It may be necessary to begin verse 24 with a new subject, such as “Those teachings” or “They.” Preserve renders a verb meaning to keep from, protect, or guard. Woman is singular, but the sense is collective, “evil women.” Evil is defined in the following lines as a flattering adventuress and as a prostitute. Although hottp classifies evil woman as a “C” and so accepts that there is considerable doubt as to the Hebrew text here, it recommends this form rather than “neighbor’s wife” or “another’s wife” as occurs in the Septuagint, which is followed by a number of modern versions including nrsv.

From the smooth tongue of the adventuress: Smooth tongue is a figurative way to speak of seductive flattery (see 2:16). Flattery is the use of praise or exaggeration to obtain some advantage over the person being falsely praised. Psa 5:9 (Hebrew verse 10) says “they make their tongues smooth,” which means they engage in insincere flattery. Many languages have idiomatic ways of expressing the idea of flattery or of a flatterer.

Adventuress (see 2:16) translates “the strange woman.” The term is taken by a number of versions and interpreters to mean a woman who is another man’s wife. We may render verse 24, for example, “They will protect you from the ways of a bad woman and from the smooth talk of another man’s wife.”


Do not desire her beauty in your heart: Desire is used here in the bad sense of seeking to satisfy a selfish desire or to lust after something. The warning is that the learner should not want this woman because of her beauty or charms or, as cev says, “Don’t let yourself be attracted by the charm” See tev “… tempted by their beauty” In your heart means in your mind and thought.

Do not let her capture you with her eyelashes: Capture you, which is literally “take you,” may be understood as “provoke you” by a change of vowels. This change is followed by some modern versions, but hottp rates the Hebrew text as “A.” Capture in this context means to seduce or lead astray. Some languages say “Don’t let her eyes trap you.” Eyelashes is literally “eyelids,” which appears to be used in terms of the way the woman attacks the man with her eyes. Some translations say “her glance.” tev has “don’t be trapped by their flirting eyes.” frcl has “don’t let yourself be seduced by her bewitching look.”


The connector for renders the Hebrew word that marks this verse as the reason for avoiding the temptation described in verse 25.

A harlot may be hired for a loaf of bread: Note that rsv follows the Septuagint; for the literal Hebrew see the rsv footnote. The sense of this line seems to be that a prostitute costs no more than a piece of bread. A harlot is “a prostitute” (nrsv, tev, and most versions), a woman who exchanges sex relations with a man for goods or money. A word for “prostitute” should be carefully chosen so that the reading of the word in public does not cause embarrassment. In some languages “prostitute” is expressed by expressions such as “woman who takes men to her house,” “woman they all sleep with,” or “woman who sells herself.”

May be hired is not in the Hebrew text but is understood, according to rsv. Note, however, that nrsv says “for a prostitute’s fee is only a loaf of bread.” The word rendered loaf is literally “a round,” which refers to the small round pieces of Middle Eastern bread, sometimes called “pocket bread.” This is because the two sides of the bread form a pocket when torn open. Where such shapes of bread are unknown, it is better to say “a piece of bread.” njb has “a hunk of bread.” Where bread is not used it is advisable to shift to a more general word such as “a bit of food” or to use a bit of the most commonly eaten food in the area where the language is spoken.

But an adulteress stalks a man’s very life: But introduces the contrast between the two kinds of women the man is entangled with. Adulteress is literally “a man’s wife.” rsv stalks translates the word for hunt as the activity of a hunter. It means to approach the prey or victim silently. A man’s very life is literally “the precious soul,” where “precious” in regard to material things means “highly prized” or “costly.” The costly, valuable life in the second line is contrasted to the almost worthless scrap of bread in the first line.

There are two ways to interpret this verse:

(1) a prostitute costs little compared to what a man will pay for having relations with another man’s wife, or

(2) a man having sex with a prostitute is reduced to nearly nothing, but having sex with another’s wife will cost him his life.

Some translations that follow the first interpretation are gecl “For a prostitute you pay no more than for bread, but for another man’s wife you will pay with your life”; cev “A woman who sells her love can be bought for as little as the price of a meal. But making love to another man’s wife will cost you everything”; and frcl “It is the case that for a prostitute one gives up a little bread, but for a married woman one risks his whole life.”

Following the second interpretation are translations such as sem “Because of a wicked woman, one can be reduced to a scrap of bread, and the adulterous woman puts at risk a precious life” and Osty “For a prostitute a man is reduced to a crumb of bread, but a married woman catches a precious life in a trap.”


Can a man carry fire in his bosom: Fire may be an image of sexual passion; or it may be meant to picture the consequences of the man’s actions. If your translation has addressed the learner with “you” singular, that form can be continued here. Bosom (see 5:20) can refer to the breast, or to the middle part of the outer garment, which was pulled up to make a carrying pocket. gecl translates “Can a person carry fire in the pockets of his clothes …?” In some languages the style of clothing worn or lack of clothing make this difficult to express. However, we may say, for example, “If you carry fire in your clothes …” or “If you carry fire next to your body.…”

And his clothes not be burned?: that is, “and not burn your clothes?” or “and not burn you?” In some languages this rhetorical question is better expressed as a negative statement: “You can’t carry fire … without being burned.” Some languages require the question to be answered in the negative. njb says “Can a man carry fire inside his shirt without setting his clothes alight?” spcl has “He who puts fire on his chest will certainly burn his clothes.”


Or can one walk upon hot coals: Hot coals refers to the burning coals (char coal) made from wood.

And his feet not be scorched?: Feet refers to the soles of the feet. The same adjustments apply to this rhetorical question as in verse 27.


So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife: This line compares the adulterer to the person who gets burned in verses 27–28. There should be a clear connection between verse 29 and the two verses before it. If you have used rhetorical questions in those verses, for example, then verse 29 may begin “Neither can you sleep with someone else’s wife.…” Goes in to is an indirect way of saying “has sexual relations with.” See tev “sleep with.” For neighbor see 3:28–29. Neighbor’s wife can be translated in this verse by “another man’s wife” or “someone else’s wife.”

None who touches her will go unpunished: Touches, like goes in to in the first line, is an indirect way of referring to sexual contact. It is not to be taken as simply touching. In some languages, however, “to touch a woman” carries the sense of having relations with her, and so the literal translation will carry the correct sense. Go unpunished is literally “will not be innocent,” which means “will be guilty” and therefore “will be punished.” It is not certain whether the punishment will come as the result of the law taking action or whether, as in verses 34–35, it is the angry husband who takes revenge on the adulterer. We may restate this line positively, for example, “Anyone who sleeps with her will certainly be punished.”

Results of Adultery (6:30–35)

These verses speak entirely of the man who is an adulterer and describe the consequences of his adultery. In verses 30–31 he is compared to a thief. In verses 32–33 he is considered to be foolish and disgraced. In verses 34–35 the adulterer is the target of the offended husband’s revenge and no amount of gifts will save him from that husband’s vengeance.

Subdivision Heading

The Handbook heading may be modified to say, for example, “How the adulterer is punished,” “The adulterer is a foolish person,” or “Here is what happens if you commit adultery.”


Do not men despise a thief if he steals: As the rsv footnote shows, this verse may be understood either as a question expecting a positive reply or as a negative statement. rsv represents the former and nrsv the latter: “Thieves are not despised who steal only to satisfy their appetite when they are hungry.” tev and cev put alternative translations in their footnotes.

Men is supplied by rsv; the Hebrew has “Do they not despise.” Despise, a word meaning to show contempt or to consider as vile, is used in 1:7; 11:12; 13:13; and 14:21. Thief … steals refers to someone who steals or takes away objects he can carry without being seen.

To satisfy his appetite when he is hungry: This line makes clear that hunger is the thief’s motivation for stealing. Appetite translates the Hebrew “soul,” which expresses the idea of desire or want. In some languages when he is hungry must be expressed as “hungering for food.” frcl translates this verse “One does not scorn a thief when he has stolen to calm the hunger in his stomach.”


And if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold: This verse presents the thief in verse 30, whose poverty led him to steal food, as being a person who owns property. According to some commentators this is strange and may have resulted from copyists incorporating marginal notes into the text. hottp has no comment and translators cannot solve the apparent conflict. Caught, which is passive, means to be captured or taken. Pay is not the payment of a fine to the authorities but probably means, as in Exo 22:1–4, 7, replacement of the stolen object to the original owner. Sevenfold means the thief will give back seven times as much as he stole.

He will give all the goods of his house: Give means he will surrender or turn over all that he owns. See tev “… everything he has.”


He who commits adultery has no sense: This verse speaks again of the adulterer and follows the thought of verses 27–29 more than it contrasts with 30–31. Only a stupid person would put fire in his clothes or walk on hot coals. This, however, is the kind of person who commits adultery, that is, sleeps with another man’s wife. Has no sense is literally “lacks heart,” that is, lacks good sense.

He who does it destroys himself is literally “he who does it [goes to bed with another man’s wife] is a destroyer of his own soul.” Destroy with self as the object means to ruin, corrupt, or make worthless. frcl says “he causes his own loss” and gecl “he injures his life.” We may also say, for example, “He will make himself worthless” or “You will end up as nothing.”


Wounds and dishonor will he get: As verses 34–35 show, the wounds (Hebrew “wound”) and dishonor are a result of the action taken by the vengeful husband of the woman. Get renders the Hebrew “find” and the whole expression must often be restructured to say something equivalent to tev “beaten up.” spcl says “He will have to face blows.” Dishonor means to be held in contempt or scorn, to be looked down upon, or to be shamed. In some languages this idea is expressed idiomatically; for example, “to take away the swollen heart” or “to set him beneath all the rest.” In many languages this line is naturally expressed as “People will beat him and despise him.”

And his disgrace will not be wiped away: Disgrace, which matches dishonor in the first line, is the same word used in 2 Sam 13:13, where Tamar says “where could I carry my shame?” (cev “I’ll be disgraced forever!”). Wiped away, blotted out, or erased translates a verb commonly used of removing such things as tears, sins, or memory. Here the adulterer’s shame or disgrace cannot be taken away or canceled.


For jealousy makes a man furious: Jealousy refers to the feeling of resentment and suspicion of a rival, and in this case a rival for the affection of the jealous husband’s wife. Man translates a word that emphasizes maleness. It is used, for example, in Job 38:3 where the Lord challenges Job “Gird up your loins like a man.” In this context a man means any man or men in general; therefore some translations say, “Men always get very angry if someone else sleeps with their wife.” Furious renders a word that means heat or emotional rage. It describes a person who acts violently as in a fit of anger.

He will not spare when he takes revenge: Will not spare is better translated by nrsv as “he shows no restraint.” We may say, for example, “He does not hold anything back” or “He lets himself go completely.” Takes revenge means to punish someone in return for injury or insult, that is, to retaliate or pay back. cev translates verse 34 “because a jealous husband can be furious and merciless when he takes revenge.” We may also say, for example, “The husband of the woman who commits adultery is jealous and becomes heated with anger; and when he takes revenge, he shows no mercy.” If the first line has been translated as referring to men in general, this line can also be in the plural: “Jealous husbands get very angry and pay back with great strength the one who did wrong to them. They have no mercy.”


He will accept no compensation is literally “He will not lift the face of every ransom.” “Lift the face” means to look at or to consider; that is, he will not pay any attention or he will not look at any payment that is offered him. Compensation is to be understood as payment offered to the offended husband to prevent revenge or a trial that could result in the death of the adulterer.

Nor be appeased though you multiply gifts: Appeased renders a verb meaning to agree, consent, or accept. nrsv says “and [he] refuses a bribe no matter how great.” Multiply gifts means to give all kinds of bribes or to bribe over and over in order to prevent the husband from taking action. This verse may be translated, for example, “He will not accept a large sum of money to end his anger.”

2J. Tenth Instruction (7:1–27)

The tenth instruction is completely taken up by observations about and warnings against the immoral woman. The Handbook divides this passage into four subdivisions. Verses 1–5 assure the learner that faithfulness to the teacher’s instructions will preserve him from the immoral woman. In verses 6–20 the teacher describes how he has observed a foolish youth going to the woman’s house, and then how the seductive woman lures him to her bed. Verses 21–23 describe how the youth takes the fatal step to follow her. Finally verses 24–27 again warn the learner to avoid becoming her victim.

Wisdom Will Protect You from Adultery (7:1–5)

Verses 1–4 are again introductory instructions for the learner to pay close attention to the teacher’s words and to make wisdom his close friend. Verse 5 explains that the purpose of an intimate relation with wisdom is to protect the learner from the flattery of the adulterous woman.

Subdivision Heading

Because the theme of adultery began in 6:24 and continues to 7:27, some translations do not use a new heading before chapter 7. Also most do not place a heading before these introductory verses. Some that use one or two headings in chapter 7 are spcl “The snares of the adulterous woman,” niv “Warning Against the Adulteress,” frcl “An adulterous woman seduces a youth,” and gecl “The faithless woman.”


My son … words: See 2:1.

Treasure up … you: See 2:1.


Keep my commandments and live: See 4:4.

Keep my teachings as the apple of your eye: Hebrew has no verb in this line; rsv supplies keep from the previous line. Apple translates a Hebrew word that is literally “little man,” perhaps taken from seeing the small reflection of the person looking into the pupil of someone else’s eye. The word refers to the small circular opening in the center of the eye through which the light passes to the back of the eye. It is the very seat of vision and is used here, as in Psa 17:8, as an image for something precious or highly valuable. In Psa 17:8 and also in Lam 2:18 and Zech 2:8 (verse 12 in Hebrew), the Hebrew uses another expression “daughter of the eye.” In some languages the pupil of the eye is called “the child of the eye” or “the fruit of the eye.”

Translators handle apple of your eye in various ways. In some languages the rendering “… as you look after your eye[s]” carries the sense very well. Some like cev avoid any reference to the eye and say “your greatest treasure.” gecl has “like a treasure.” If the image of the pupil of the eye or the eye itself is not associated with the idea of precious value, it may be best to give the meaning of the figure; for example, “Treat my teachings as your most precious belonging” or “… as your most valuable possession.”


Bind them on your fingers: In 3:3 the learner was instructed to bind the teachings on his neck. See also 6:21. It is not certain if this refers to the winding of prayer bands around the finger and arm as in Matt 23:5. It may refer to the image of wearing of a ring; this is used as a simile in translations that say, for example, “Put them firmly in your thinking like a ring which is always on your finger.” cev “Keep them at your fingertips” avoids the literal sense and means “keep them ready for use.” Note tev “Keep … with you all the time.”

Write them on the tablet of your heart: See 3:3.


The two lines of this verse are parallel and very close in meaning. The association of wisdom with sister and friend is a close and intimate relationship.

Say to wisdom, “You are my sister”: rsv uses direct address, but it is also possible to say, for example, “Call wisdom your sister” or “Let wisdom be like a sister to you.” In languages that make a distinction between older and younger sister, “older sister” will normally be appropriate. gecl says “Consider [regard, look upon] wisdom as your sister.”

Call insight your intimate friend: For insight see 1:2. Intimate friend translates the term for kinsman used of Boaz in relation to Ruth’s dead husband in Ruth 2:1 and 3:2. The term carries with it a sense of obligation. “Best friend” or “closest friend” is a good rendering in this context.


    To preserve you from the loose woman: For loose woman see 2:16. This verse states the aim and purpose of verses 1–4. In some languages this verse is better handled as a new sentence. One translation says, “These things [wisdom and insight] will keep you far away from …”; another begins, “If the wife of another man wants to entice you and sleep with you, then wisdom will fence you in and.…”

From the adventuress with her smooth words: See 2:16.

A Seductive Woman and a Foolish Youth (7:6–20)

In these verses the teacher reports seeing a young man going at night to visit an adulteress (verses 6–9), and then describes how the woman manages to capture the young man and lure him into her house with her smooth talk (verses 10–20).

This subdivision has the form of a poetic narrative.

Subdivision Heading

This heading may need to be reworded to say, for example, “What I saw in the night,” “A foolish young man becomes the victim of a seductive woman,” or “A youth is seen going to visit someone else’s wife.”


For, which begins this verse, is a literal translation of the Hebrew connecting word. Since this is the beginning of a new paragraph or part of the text, a connecting word is not appropriate in many languages. Most English versions omit the word here.

At the window of my house: As this is the opening of a short narrative, the translation should show this. Note tev “Once I was looking out.…” We may also say, for example, “One night I was watching …” or “It happened one night like this.…” Window should not be translated as if it were a glass window. It refers to an opening, probably on a veranda covered by vines growing over a trellis. The observer is able to look out without being seen.

I have looked out through my lattice: This line may need to be worked into the first to say, for example, “One night as I was looking out through the lattice on my house.…” Lattice refers to an open framework of strips of metal or wood, overlapped or overlaid in a crisscross pattern. hottp rates as “A” the first person singular I, as in rsv. This is the teacher speaking of his own observations. By contrast the Septuagint has “she,” referring to the woman in verse 5 and the one in verse 10 who meets the young man in the street. The Handbook encourages you to follow the Hebrew text, as in rsv.

In languages in which lattices are unknown it may be possible to refer to vines that grow around the entrance of a house or to an opening in the wall that serves as a window and may be closed by a shutter of some kind. A shutter is a screen or covering behind the window opening that hangs or is hinged and has louvers or cracks through which the outside may be seen.


I have seen among the simple: Simple translates the same word as in 1:4, where it refers to immature or inexperienced young people.

I have perceived among the youths: Youths is literally “sons,” which means “young men.”

A young man without sense: Without sense is literally “lacking heart” as in 6:32. See there for comments.

The repetitions in this verse are such that cev reduces the whole verse to “some foolish young men.” Note that tev keeps a longer form that moves the focus of attention from the many to the individual who will be followed in the narrative. This change of focus is expressed another way in the translation “I saw young men going along the road. They did not have good sense. But one of them was very stupid. (8) This young man.…”


Passing along the street near her corner: The young man is walking along the street. His walking is described from two perspectives: he is near the corner and is headed for a certain house. Corner, in reference to streets, is the place where two roads or streets join or intersect.

Taking the road to her house: We may need to make clear what her house refers to. No reference has been made to a woman since verse 5, and there it was not a particular woman who was being spoken of but any adulterous female. Accordingly, it may be necessary to identify her house. tev does this with “where a certain woman lived.” frcl says “where one of his women lived.”


In the twilight, in the evening: The word rendered twilight can mean the dim period of morning light when the sun is still below the horizon or the twilight of evening. Here it is the evening when nighttime is approaching.

At the time of night and darkness: This line seems to go beyond the first in terms of passing from twilight of evening to darkness of night. The word rendered time by rsv is the same as the word for “pupil of the eye” in verse 2. Here it is taken by hottp to mean “middle of the night.” This, however, seems to conflict with the sense in the first line, and so rsv and others (without a footnote) make a slight change in the Hebrew word to get time. nrsv supports rsv, as does also tev “in the evening after it was dark.” No doubt the poetic movement of thought from twilight to “middle of the night” is normal in Hebrew parallelism. However, from the point of view of meaningful text, rsv and tev are better and are recommended.

Translators may find that verse 9, which expresses the time of the action in this short narrative, fits more naturally at the beginning of verse 8. In that case we may reverse the order of verses 8 and 9 by translating, for example, “(8–9) Late in the evening as night was approaching, a young man was walking along the street near the corner where a certain woman lived.”


Verses 10–12 describe the mannerisms of the prostitute.

And lo, a woman meets him: Lo translates a Hebrew word that draws attention to what is about to be said as a new action or point of drama in the narrative. Woman is the general word and does not have any other sense than an adult female human. Translators should make it clear that this is the woman already mentioned in verse 8; tev does this by the pronoun “she.” The New Living Translation (nlt) says “the woman.” Meets him means that she and the youth come together at the same place, either by chance or by arrangement, and probably the latter according to verse 8.

Dressed as a harlot, wily of heart: The Old Testament nowhere describes how prostitutes dressed. We know, for example, that Tamar wore a veil to catch Judah in Gen 38:14–19, but her veil was partly to prevent Judah from recognizing her. cev says “She was dressed fancy like a woman of the street.” nlt says “dressed seductively.” Some others have “Her clothes showed that she was a prostitute.” Most modern versions, including tev, do not assume to know more than rsv states.

Wily of heart is literally “guarded in heart,” an expression that may mean that she acts secretly in regard to her husband. Certainly she makes no secret of her intentions to the young man. niv says “with crafty intent.” Other translations say, “She followed her plan.” Some languages express such deceit as having “a double heart” or “a black liver.”

Some translations restructure this verse so that the actions of the woman are described in their proper sequence in time; for example, “This woman was dressed up like a prostitute and thinking of seducing the young man. So she went out to meet him.”


She is loud and wayward: Loud is a possible translation, but not a certain one. The word can also mean to be in turmoil as used in 1 Kgs 1:41 and Psa 42:5, 11 (42:6, 12 in Hebrew). The woman’s loudness may be a way of covering up her being wayward, which refers to her being reellious or stubborn. A wayward person is someone who is in opposition to others. In this case she is probably opposed both to her husband and to the rules of her community.

Her feet do not stay at home: Her feet is a poetic way of saying “She does not stay at home.” gecl says “She was so rash and unrestrainable that she never stayed at home.”


Now in the street, now in the market: The restless woman is described as always on the go outside of her house. Now … now means “at one moment she is in the street and the next moment she is in the market,” because she is looking for her victim. Street and market are the same as in 1:20. See there for comments.

Lies in wait translates a military expression meaning to set up an ambush to take someone by surprise.

You may find it more natural to begin verse 12 with the main subject; for example, “She lies in wait for a man, sometimes in the street and sometimes in the market” or “All the time she is going round in the road and in the market place to find [catch] a man.”


In verses 13–18 the woman invites the young man to share her sacrificial meal and describes the perfumed bed they will enjoy.

She seizes him and kisses him: The woman grabs hold of the youth. In this combination of verbs it may be more natural to follow those translations that say, “She puts her arm[s] around him.…” Kiss in the Old Testament normally refers to the gesture of greeting or taking leave of close relatives. The kiss that has sexual significance is mentioned only here and in Song 1:2 and 8:1. In some languages the equivalent of kiss is hug, embrace, press the body against, or push the lips together.

With impudent face: This expression is literally “she hardens her face” and probably means to put on a bold front (see 21:29) or to do something without showing shame or regret. A number of translations have “She looked him straight in the eye and said.…”


I had to offer sacrifices: The expression rendered sacrifices refers to the “peace offerings” set forth in Lev 7:11–17. According to 1 Sam 9:11–13 part of the sacrifice was offered to the Lord while the rest was eaten by the offerer along with others. The underlying sense is that the woman is inviting the young man to her house to share the meal with her. Some translations bring this out; for example, “There is meat in my house, because today I made a sacrifice.…” According to verses 16–19 the woman’s motivation is clearly to have sex with the youth and not merely to share the meal, although that is no doubt an added attraction for the young man.

Offer sacrifices is difficult in languages in which sacrificing of animals is unknown. In some languages it is necessary to use descriptive expressions such as “I have killed an animal and burned it as a gift to God.”

Today I have paid my vows: Vows refer to promises made to God to do or to abstain from doing something. Paid my vows means that the woman has kept her promise by offering the sacrifice. According to Lev 7:16, if the sacrifice was made in payment of vows, the meat had to be eaten by the following day. This may explain the tev rendering “[I] have the meat from the sacrifices” (similarly cev).


So now I have come out to meet you: So introduces this verse as the result of verse 14. Come out is spoken with reference to her house that she has left to come into the street. To meet you is as in verse 10.

To seek you eagerly, and I have found you: Seek you eagerly is literally “seek early your face,” which seems to mean to meet with you or to know you. See tev “I wanted to find you.” Found you should express in translation a finding that results from searching and not just as casual encounter.


I have decked my couch with coverings: Several words in verses 16–17 are uncertain. Decked renders a word that occurs only here in the Old Testament. It appears to mean “spread” or “covered.” Couch is used in parallel with bed in Job 7:13. The couch used for resting or sleeping would be found in the homes of wealthy people. In a simple house couch would refer to a pallet on the floor. In languages that do not have both couches and beds, it is sufficient here to speak of “my bed.”

Coverings is a noun form of the verb translated decked and is used elsewhere only in 31:22, where it refers to articles of fine cloth in the well-kept household of the ideal woman. cev says “The sheets on my bed.” See also tev.

Colored spreads of Egyptian linen: Colored spreads is another term describing a luxury that occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. Linen does not translate the usual Hebrew word for linen. Similar words in Syriac and Arabic suggest that the sense is that of colored material. However, since it is said to be from Egypt, it may refer to linen. tev says “sheets of colored linen from Egypt,” and cev has “sheets on my bed are bright-colored cloth from Egypt.” Either of these is a suitable translation model.


I have perfumed my bed with myrrh: Perfumed is literally “sprinkled.” Myrrh is a gum that comes from a bush or shrub in Arabia and India and has a pleasant, scented odor.

Aloes and cinnamon: The term aloes refers to a fragrant wood used also as a perfume. Cinnamon is taken from the inner bark of an evergreen tree. It was used both as a spice and as a perfume. For further information on all three items, see Fauna and Flora of the Bible, pages 90–91, 108–109, and 147–149. In translation we may say, for example, “I have put perfume made from myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon on my bed.” In languages in which these articles are unknown, it may be possible to substitute local materials. If this is not suitable, we may say, for example, “I have perfumed my bed with fragrant odors from the east” or “… with sweet odors that are made far away.”


Come, let us take our fill of love till morning: Come may need to be rendered more familiarly as “Come with me.” Some link this with the following verbs and say, “Come and sleep with me.” Take our fill is literally “drink our fill,” which is figurative for “have as much sex as we can.” Love here is a plural form, and Toy says about it and the parallel word in the second line that the two words are used in the Old Testament only in a sexual sense. Till morning has the sense of “the whole night long” or “all night until morning comes.”

We may translate this line, for example, “Come home with me and let’s make love till morning” or “Come with me and we will sleep together all night long.”

Let us delight ourselves with love: Delight means to enjoy or take pleasure in doing something. Here the context makes it clear that the sense is to enjoy the act of having sex. tev “We’ll be happy in each other’s arms” expresses the thought, if not the form, of this line.

In rendering this verse translators need to be sensitive both to the natural idiomatic ways of referring to sexual activity and to what words and expressions must be avoided for public reading and discussion. Some say, for example, “… [sleep with me] and we-two will play and be happy all night.”


In verses 19–20 the woman gives the youth assurances that her husband will not catch them.

For my husband is not at home is literally “because the man is not in his house.” The use of “the man” in place of “my man” may suggest that the woman is distancing herself from her husband so as to encourage the young man. Most modern translations, however, do not make a point of this, although gecl says “The man is not at home.”

He has gone on a long journey: A long journey is literally “on the road far off,” which may also be aimed to relieve the young man of possible fear of being caught by an angry husband. We may translate, for example, “He is off on a long trip” or “He is traveling far away.” Some translators feel that it is necessary to make clear the point of saying this; so they say, for example, “You don’t need to be afraid of my husband—he’s gone a long way away.”


In verse 20 the woman gives further assurances that her husband will not be back soon.

He took a bag of money with him: Money is literally “silver.” This would probably not be minted coins but bulk silver to be weighed. The underlying sense is probably that such a large quantity of money is for purchasing, if he is a merchant. Some translations bring this out: “… and he took a lot of money.”

At full moon he will come home: The word translated full moon occurs elsewhere only in Psa 81:3 (Hebrew verse 4) with a slightly different spelling. That passage also refers to “our feast day.” That would mean either the Festival of Shelters or Passover. According to Lev 23 the Festival of Shelters began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and Passover began on the fourteenth day of the first month. In each case this means at full moon. The woman may be relating his return to the festival or may be using the expression full moon as a date, that is, “the middle of the month.” Accordingly tev says “He won’t be back for two weeks.” This is based on the assumption that verse 9 refers to the time of no moonlight. If that is correct, the tev rendering is adequate. Most modern versions have “until full moon” or “until the middle of the month.”

In order to make this verse follow more naturally from the previous verse, some translators adjust it as follows: “(19) he’s gone far away and he won’t be coming back quickly (20) because he took a lot of money with him. In two weeks’ time he might come.”

The Youth Falls into Her Trap (7:21–23)

In these verses the young man is seduced by the woman’s speech and actions. So he goes off with her and does not know it will cost him his life.

Subdivision Heading

We may adjust the heading to say, for example, “The young man walks into her trap,” “She persuades him to follow her,” or “He is like an animal ready for slaughter.”


With much seductive speech she persuades him: Seductive speech renders a word that refers to convincing, influencing, persuasive talk. In 1:5 it is used of learning and in 4:2 of (good) teaching. In the context of this narrative it refers to speech or acts that are alluring, tempting, or enticing. Persuades translates a verb meaning to bend or turn and here refers to the woman’s turning the young man away from what he should do to what she wants him to do.

With her smooth talk she compels him: For smooth talk as alluring flattery see 2:16; 5:3; 6:24; and 7:5. She compels means she forces, pressures, or obliges him. It is not likely that he offered much resistance. tev says “he gave in.” Since the two lines are very similar in meaning, some translations combine them to say, for example, “She used sweet talk to persuade and arouse him.” cev says “she tricked him with all of her sweet talk and her flattery.”


All at once he follows her: All at once may suggest that the young man was hesitant and then suddenly began to follow the woman, or that after her seductive speech in verse 20 he is suddenly on his way following her. Some interpreters have changed the Hebrew word rendered All at once to another similar word meaning “simpleton” or “fool,” and so neb says “Like a simple fool he followed her.” reb says “He followed her, the simple fool” This change in the text is not favored by most, and hottp, which rates the text as “B,” says it means “suddenly” or “thoughtlessly.” In this case we may say, for example, “Without giving it another thought, he followed her.”

As an ox goes to the slaughter: An ox is an adult castrated bull used chiefly as a work animal. See Fauna and Flora of the Bible, pages 62–63. Slaughter means to kill an animal for its meat. The thought expressed in this simile is that the animal has no idea that it is going to be killed and eaten. The young man follows the woman without any idea of the consequences. If the cow, bull, or ox are unknown, it may be possible to substitute a local animal that is killed for food. If this is not possible, then the simile can be modified by saying, for example, “He followed her without a care” or “He went along with her without thinking what might happen to him.”

Or as a stag is caught fast: rsv and tev show in their footnotes that the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain. The Hebrew word translated caught fast is found elsewhere only in Isa 3:18, where rsv says “anklets” and tev “ornaments … on their ankles.” Some interpreters understand it to refer to fetters, that is, shackles or chains put on the ankles of prisoners. This would give a meaning “and like shackles [chains] to punishment the fool,” which is not adequate. Some have suggested a slight change in the form “like chains” to “in chains” and get “and a fool goes to punishment in chains.” The Septuagint, which has “dog,” and the Vulgate, with “lamb,” apparently understood that the simile concerned an animal, as in the line before it.

Modern versions vary greatly in the translation of this line. However, they separate into two main groups:

(1) those that have an animal being captured and

(2) those having a fool being punished.

hottp, which rates the text as “C,” favors the interpretation of the second group.

You may select any model from among those given here; however, you are advised to follow one that most naturally suits the requirements of meaning in your language. Translations following the first interpretation include niv “like a deer stepping into a noose,” nrsv “bounds like a stag toward the trap,” mft “like a dog cajoled to the muzzle,” and neb/reb “like an antelope bounding into the noose.” See also tev. Some examples from the second interpretation are cev “like a fool on the way to be punished,” njb “like a madman on his way to the stocks,” and frcl “He stupidly hands himself over to punishment, bound hand and foot.”


Till an arrow pierces its entrails: This line links up well with the two animal similes before it. In some parts of the world this description is understood and translated as the sharpened stakes (spears or arrows) that are placed in a pit used to trap large animals.

Some interpreters, however, believe the lines of this verse are out of order. For example, neb/reb place the three lines of rsv in the order of 2, 3, and 1: “Like a bird … he did not know … until the arrow pierced.…” You may find this a helpful adjustment. A similar rendering is obtained by repeating “he does not know” in both lines 1 and 3; for example, “He doesn’t know that an arrow is going to stick into him, just like a bird flying to a trap doesn’t know.…” Note also, however, how tev connects line 1 to the last line of verse 22 and begins line 2 as a new sentence. Line 3 in rsv is a very fitting closure for the teacher’s narrative.

Entrails is literally “liver.”

As a bird rushes into a snare: Rushes means to go suddenly, in a hurry. A snare here is a bird trap baited with grain to attract birds. The word for bird is not a bird of prey but a small bird.

He does not know that it will cost him his life: He refers to the young man in the story and not the bird in the line before. If there is any doubt, it is best to replace he with “that young man.” It will cost him his life is literally “it for his soul,” but the sense as given in rsv is correct. The teacher does not say in what way it will cost him his life, but the best understanding of the sense is contained in 2:16–19. Cost him his life is sometimes expressed as “he will pay with his life for what he has done” or “he will die as a result of what he has done.”

Avoid the Seductive Woman or Die (7:24–27)

In this final subdivision of chapter 7, verse 24 introduces the warning against the seductive woman by appealing to the learner to pay attention to the teacher’s words. Verse 25 states the warning, and verses 26–27 state again that for the victims of the adulterous woman the consequences are death.

Subdivision Heading

The Handbook heading may be reworded to say, for example, “Keep away from adulterous women or you will die,” “Here is the punishment for going with her,” or “Leave her alone or you will pay with your life.”


And now, O sons, listen to me: The Hebrew And now marks the beginning of the closing advice and may be rendered by an expression that has that function in the translator’s language. In English note tev and niv “Now then.…” In some languages the direct address by itself is the natural way to start: “Children, listen to me!” O sons is as in 4:1 and 5:7. Listen to me is as in 5:7.

Be attentive to the words of my mouth: For be attentive refer to 4:1 and for words of my mouth see 4:5.


Let not your heart turn aside to her ways: Turn aside translates the same verb as used in 4:15. This caution or command means “Don’t let your heart be influenced” or “Don’t be led astray.” For heart see 2:2. Her refers again to the loose woman from verse 5, as verses 24–27 pick up again the general warning there. Some translations render this line as “Don’t let your insides be aroused to follow this sort of woman.” To avoid a passive construction others say, “Don’t let this sort of woman lead you astray.”

Do not stray into her paths: This line is parallel and very similar in meaning to line 1. Stray means to wander, go about without destination or purpose, or drift from the group or boundary. frcl says “don’t leave the good road to follow her.”


The conclusions in verses 26–27 are similar to the thoughts expressed in 2:18–19 and 5:5–6.

For many a victim has she laid low: This line is literally “for many are the wounded she has made fall.” The sense is that the loose woman has wounded and brought death to many people. For the whole verse cev says “Such a woman has caused the downfall and destruction of a lot of men.” See tev.

Yea, all her slain are a mighty host: Yea translates the common Hebrew connector, which here affirms what follows as do the words “truly” or “indeed.” Slain translates the common verb meaning to kill with ruthless violence. Her slain means the men she has killed. A mighty host refers to numerous or countless men.

The loose woman is seen here as a murderess. There is nothing in the text that suggests she sets out to destroy the young man she seduces.


Her house is the way to Sheol: Compare this line to 2:18 and 5:5. See also 9:18. It is not simply Her house as a building, but rather what takes place in her house. Accordingly, some translate “To go to her house is …” or “Visiting her in her house.…” For Sheol see 1:12. We may translate this line, for example, “When you go to her house you are on your way to the world of the dead,” “Go to her place and you will go on to your grave,” or “The road to her house is the road to the graveyard.”

Going down to the chambers of death: Chambers of death is an expression parallel to the name Sheol, similar to what is found in 2:18 and 5:5. Chambers renders a word meaning “rooms.” Sheol is here pictured as a house with many rooms. We may translate verse 27, for example, “Visit her house and you will go to the world of the dead, straight to your grave.” The teacher’s purpose in using such strong metaphorical language is to paint as vivid as possible a picture of the painful consequences of adultery.

2K. Eleventh Instruction (8:1–36)

The eleventh instruction has four subdivisions. The entire chapter is taken up with wisdom, personified as a woman as in 1:20–33. It tells what she is and does, and records her message to the people. This is the second speech by Wisdom, the first being 1:22–33. There are some similarities and many differences between the two speeches.

Verses 1–3 provide the setting for this speech, which is similar to the setting in 1:20–21. In verses 4–11 Wisdom addresses the people generally, as well as the simple and the foolish in particular. Verses 12–16 describe her qualities, and the rewards awaiting those who love wisdom are explained in verses 17–21. In 22–31 Wisdom explains her origin, and in 32–36 a contrast is drawn between the wise and those who reject wisdom.

Wisdom Speaks to the People (8:1–11)

Verse 1 introduces verses 2–3, which describe the setting where Wisdom calls to the people. Verse 4 addresses the call from Wisdom to people in general and verse 5 to the simple and foolish in particular. In verses 6–9 Wisdom guarantees that all her ways are true. In verses 10–11 she affirms that her words are more valuable than precious metals or jewels.

Subdivision Heading

The Handbook heading may be reworded to say, for example, “Here is where Wisdom calls” or “The place Wisdom calls to the people.” Both cev (for this subdivision) and tev (for the whole chapter) use the heading “In Praise of Wisdom.”


Does not wisdom call: The whole verse is a rhetorical question in Hebrew, and this feature is reproduced by rsv and some others. However, the effect of the rhetorical question is to draw attention to the speaker and the speech that follows in the rest of the chapter; and many languages do this in other ways. In English, for instance, tev has “Listen!…” and reb “Hear how wisdom calls.…” Wisdom is as in 1:2 and is again personified as in 1:20–33. For call see 1:21, where rsv renders the same Hebrew verb “cries out.” In some languages that require an object for the verb “call,” translators say something like “… calls out for us [plural, inclusive] to listen to her.”

Does not understanding raise her voice?: Understanding is as in 2:2. Raise her voice is the same as in 1:20. Since this line is very similar to line 1, some translations combine the two lines to say, for instance, “Everybody, listen! Wisdom is like a woman who stands and calls out to us.”


Verses 2–3 describe the setting where Wisdom calls to the people. See 1:20–21.

On the heights beside the way: On the heights is literally “On top of the high places.” The word for “high places” is often used in reference to the heavens, to the tops of mountains, and to Zion. Its use in relation to the city means the highest points or locations in a city. These are the places where a person can be most easily seen by those in the streets below. Beside the way or “along the road” pictures Wisdom as standing beside the busy road where people pass by. In many languages it is more natural to begin this verse with the subject and verb, which are at the end in Hebrew. We may say, for example, “She [Wisdom] stands on the highest places in the town beside the roads.”

In the paths she takes her stand: In the paths is literally “at the place of the paths” and has the sense of “at the crossroads” or “where the roads cross each other.” Takes her stand is “places herself” or “stands.”


This verse is similar in structure to verse 2, with the subject and main verb she cries aloud placed at the end in Hebrew. These are better placed first in many languages.

Beside the gates in front of the town: See 1:21. Wisdom stands at the busy entrance to the town where the town gate or entry and exit are located and calls out to the people there. This open area is the place where business and public affairs are transacted. In front of the town means at the town entrance.

At the entrance of the portals: This expression repeats the sense of beside the gates. It is not the gates or doors that are meant so much as the entrance way or space that can be closed off by the gates. We may translate verse 3, for example, “At the entrance to the town she calls out.”

Some translations combine verses 2 and 3 as a single sentence; for example, “She is like someone who stands on a hilltop, and at the roadside, and where two roads meet, and near the gate of the big town wall, calling out loudly to us.”


To you, O men, I call: The quoted words of Wisdom begin with this verse. You is plural. Men is a rare plural form in the Hebrew Old Testament; the sense is “everybody.” One translation says, for instance, “Everybody! I’m talking to you all.”

My cry is to the sons of men: Her cry is addressed to everyone, not just to male adults. See tev. frcl says, “I address the whole world.” njb translates the whole verse: “I am calling to you, all people, my words are addressed to all humanity.”


In verse 4 Wisdom makes her appeal to people generally. However, in verse 5 she addresses a particular group, the simple and the foolish, as she did in 1:22.

O simple ones, learn prudence: For O see 4:1. Simple ones in the Hebrew is a masculine plural adjective and refers to people who are immature and inexperienced, as in 1:4 and 1:22. In some languages such people are described as “people whose thinking is like that of children.” Learn translates the word used for “understand” and “insight” in 1:2. Prudence is as in 1:4, and means “sound judgment,” good sense in practical matters.

O foolish men, pay attention: Foolish men renders a masculine plural noun (“fools”) as used in 1:32. rsv has expressed the masculine form with the word men; however, see below. Pay attention translates an expression that is literally “understand heart.” The first of these words can mean by itself pay attention, but the addition of “heart” confuses the sense. The Septuagint translators seem to have changed one consonant to get “be in heart.” Others take “understand heart” to match learn prudence in the first line. tev provides a good model based on this. frcl says “You who are foolish, learn to have good sense. You, who are stupid, become intelligent.” gecl has “You who are greenhorns [immature], learn to be mature! You who are uneducated, be smart!”


Hear, for I will speak noble things: Hear means “Listen to me” or “Listen to what I say.” The sense of for is as given in cev: “Listen, because.…” Noble things renders a word that suggests a foreign ruler or prince and so things associated with such a royal person. Although some interpreters change one vowel to get “that which is right,” which makes a better parallel with the second line, tev takes noble things to refer to Wisdom’s “excellent words.” cev says, “Listen, because what I say is worthwhile.…” frcl has “… what I am going to say is important.” All these are satisfactory translation models.

From my lips will come what is right is literally “from the opening of my lips right things.” “Opening of my lips” represents a shift from speak in the first line to a figurative expression here. What is right renders a word meaning “even” or “level,” and in ethical contexts like this, it refers to what is fair, just, or equitable.

Some translations combine the two lines of this verse; for example, “Put your ears [listen] to the good and straight talk I want to give you.”


For my mouth will utter truth: Mouth is literally “palate,” the roof or top of the inside of the mouth. This is a rare use of “palate” to represent the mouth. It may also be seen in Job 31:30. Utter means to speak. Truth is normally taken to mean that which is consistent with fact or reality, what is real or genuine, and the opposite of “falsehood.” In the Old Testament truth is saying or doing that which conforms to God’s standards. It is understood here that truth means “only the truth” or “nothing but truth” (reb), and this may need to be expressed in some languages.

Wickedness is an abomination to my lips: Wickedness in this context stands in contrast to truth in the first line and so refers to whatever is false. tev says “lies,” frcl “false speech.” For abomination see 3:32. We may translate this verse, for example, “Every word I speak is true; I hate every kind of lie.” Some versions (niv, njb) take the Hebrew connector that begins the second line as making that line the reason for the first line: “I will speak only the truth, because I hate lies.”


All the words of my mouth are righteous: This line says essentially the same as the first line of verse 7. Righteous means “right,” “straight,” “clear,” or “honest.”

There is nothing twisted or crooked in them: This line repeats in the negative what was affirmed in the first line. Twisted, which means to coil, wind, or entwine, is used figuratively here to represent something spoken in a false, distorted, or misleading manner. Crooked is the same word as used in 2:15 in relation to paths. A noun from the same root is used in 4:24 in connection with speech. Many languages have figurative terms such as crooked to express the idea of false and misleading speech. One translation spells out twisted or crooked in everyday language, saying “I don’t deceive, and I don’t lead people on the wrong road.”


They are all straight to him who understands: They refers to the words spoken by Wisdom. Straight in reference to speech is the opposite of “twisted” and “crooked” and therefore means “straightforward,” “clear,” or “honest.” Him who understands means the intelligent person, the person who has insight and good sense.

If you have been using direct address, you will want to continue doing so here; for example, “If you have understanding, you will find my words are honest.”

And right to those who find knowledge: This line is very similar in meaning to the first line. Right is as in verse 6. See 1:4 for knowledge. In this verse people with understanding or insight will have no difficulty understanding Wisdom’s teaching. This line may be translated as direct address, as in the first line: “If you seek knowledge, you will find my words are right.”


Take my instruction instead of silver: Take expresses a command in the second person masculine plural form and has the sense of accepting, receiving, or choosing what is offered. See 1:3. In a context that speaks of “taking” one thing out of two that are mentioned, the term “choose” is very natural in English, as in the tev and reb renderings. My instruction is the instruction or teaching that Wisdom gives. Instead of silver is literally “and not silver,” which means “rather than silver” (reb, njb), or “in preference to silver.” Some translations render this line “Let me teach you, because my words are better than silver.”

And knowledge rather than choice gold: As there is no verb in this line, the verb take from the first line is to be understood here also. For knowledge see 1:4. Choice gold refers to gold that is of the highest value and purity. See tev “finest gold.”


For wisdom is better than jewels: For introduces this verse as the reason for following the advice in the previous verse. Better is taken here to mean “of greater value” or “of more worth.”

All that you may desire cannot compare with her: All … desire means “all the things you can desire” or “the thing that would give you the greatest pleasure.” Nothing can compare with wisdom.

In this verse a change to direct address is again advisable, if it has been used in previous verses: “For I am better … cannot compare with me.” Compare tev, which also moves “I am Wisdom” from verse 12 to the beginning of this verse.

2K-2. The Qualities of Wisdom (8:12–21)

The claims Wisdom makes for herself in this subdivision go far beyond what she said in her first speech in 1:20–33. In these verses Wisdom describes her attributes, that is, those virtues that tell who she is and what she does. In verses 12–14 she describes herself as having knowledge and sound judgment. She hates arrogance and lies. She carries out the plans she makes. In verses 15–16 she is in control of all political powers. In verse 17 she loves all who love her and in 18 has wealth and honor to give to all who find her. In verse 19 Wisdom compares her fruit to gold, and in verses 20–21 she walks in the ways of justice and gives wealth to those who love her.

Subdivision Heading

Some modern versions place a heading before verse 12. For example, njb has “Wisdom sings her own praises,” cev “Wisdom Speaks,” and frcl “Wisdom introduces herself.” The Handbook heading may be reworded to say, for example, “This is what wisdom is like,” “Wisdom describes herself,” or “Wisdom says, ‘Here is what I am like.’ ”


I, wisdom, dwell in prudence: I, wisdom is Wisdom speaking and identifying herself. This is more naturally expressed in English as “I am Wisdom” or “Wisdom is who I am.” Translations that have expressed this at the beginning of verse 11 often do not repeat it here. Dwell in prudence, as the rsv footnote shows, is obscure, that is, uncertain as to its meaning. Various attempts have been made to modify the word rendered dwell. One change gives the sense of “neighbor” or “companion.” cev follows this and translates “Common Sense is my closest friend.” Another approach is to change the vowels of the word rendered dwell to give “I cause to dwell,” which carries the sense “I cause someone to possess.” neb follows this change and translates “I bestow shrewdness …,” and this is retained by reb. However, hottp rates the Hebrew as “B” and recommends keeping dwell with the meaning “I am at home with prudence.” Prudence, which first appeared in 1:4, refers to the use of good judgment, common sense, or good sense. njb follows the recommendation of hottp by translating “I, Wisdom, share house with Discretion.” spcl says “I, Wisdom, live with intelligence.” If the personification is a problem for the language, it may be possible to shift to a simile and say, for example, “I am called Wisdom, and I live with common sense like two people living together.”

And I find knowledge and discretion: Find is something of a problem here. Some interpret the Hebrew word as meaning “I have in my power” or “I possess,” a meaning that Whybray claims is not otherwise found in biblical Hebrew. neb changes the vowels of the word translated find to give “I cause to find” and translates “[I] show the way to …” (also reb). hottp recommends “I find” or “I find out [discover].” spcl offers a model based on hottp’s recommendation: “I know how to find the best advice.” Knowledge and discretion are as in 1:4.


The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil: Some interpreters regard this line as a later addition, possibly made by a copyist. The verse has three lines rather than the usual two and it appears to interrupt the flow of Wisdom’s speech. Nevertheless, it is in the Hebrew Bible as we have it, and hottp rates the text here as “A.” Fear of the Lord is the same as in 1:7. Hatred renders the same word as in 1:22. The sense of this line is “The way to honor the Lord is to hate things that are evil” or “If you wish to respect the Lord, you must hate what is evil.”

Pride and arrogance and the way of evil: Pride is having an excessively high opinion of yourself. Arrogance is very close in meaning to Pride and refers to an attitude of superiority held by a person who thinks he or she is superior to others. The way of evil means wicked ways, evil conduct or behavior.

And perverted speech I hate: Perverted speech is literally “a perverted mouth.” See 2:12 for comments. rsv, like the Hebrew sentence, places the verb hate at the end of the third line. A more natural translation of this verse is “If you honor the Lord, you will hate evil. I hate pride, arrogance, evil ways, and deceitful talk.”

Some languages translate this verse more idiomatically; for example, “Honor the Lord and hate evil ways. Things that are disgusting to me are people who carry their noses in the air and look down on others as well as those who behave badly and talk with two tongues.”


This verse is similar to Job 12:13, in which wisdom, might, counsel, and understanding are said to be with God. See also Isa 11:2. In our verse it is Wisdom who claims to possess these qualities.

I have counsel and sound wisdom: Counsel, which refers to advice, guidance, or planning, was first used in 1:25 and 30, where Wisdom’s guidance is only for individuals. However, this term is also used in 2 Sam 17:7 and 1 Kgs 1:12 in reference to political and military advice. It has this kind of political sense here. Sound wisdom refers to wise dealings in everyday, practical matters. A translation that brings out the sense of these terms says “I give good thinking to people and I help them to do good work.”

I have insight … strength: Insight (see 3:5) is the capacity to determine the true nature of things and usually has a sense close to that of “intelligence.” The word rendered strength normally is used of the political or military power of kings, as in 2 Kgs 18:20.

The text of the second line in Hebrew is strange, and because of this it is translated differently by the various versions. It is literally “I insight to me and strength.” “To me” is the same expression that begins the first line, which is usually rendered “I have” or “belongs to me.” The most common rendering, as found in rsv and nrsv, may be regarded as a translation of the Hebrew, as also reb and tev. A bhs footnote suggests a variant Hebrew text, literally “to me insight to me strength,” which could be translated the same way. hottp, however, which rates this line as “B,” makes two recommendations for its translation:

(1) “I am understanding/insight; to me belongs the power,” or

(2) “I, Understanding/Insight, possess the power.”

The rendering of njb “I am perception: power is mine” apparently understands the text in this way.

We may translate verse 14 by staying fairly close to the form of the text and saying, for example:

•    I give guidance and deal wisely. I have intelligence and power.

•    I plan ahead and understand things. I see the way things are and I am powerful.


By me kings reign: By me means “by means of me,” “through me,” “through my power,” or “I allow.” frcl says “Thanks to my help.…” See also tev. We may also say, for example, “I enable kings to rule” or “I make it possible for chiefs to rule their people.”

And rulers decree what is just: Rulers renders a word that refers to leaders generally. Decree is to set forth or impose an official decision or rule that people are forced to obey. What is just means laws or rules that are fair, or, as tev says, “good laws.”


By me princes rule: This line repeats the first line of verse 15. Princes does not refer to the hereditary sons of kings but more generally to rulers, leaders, officials, or authorities.

Nobles govern the earth: Nobles, which is also used in Job 12:21 and is translated by rsv there as “princes,” refers to a class of persons in authority. The Hebrew of this line is literally “nobles, all judges of righteousness.” hottp has made two recommendations regarding the Hebrew text: it gives a “C” rating to “righteousness” and a “B” rating to “all judges.” That committee suggests verse 16 be translated “by me princes govern, and the nobles, all those who govern righteously.” This is followed by nrsv: “by me rulers rule, and nobles, all who govern rightly.” rsv follows the Septuagint. neb follows another Hebrew text and says for this whole line “from me all rulers on earth derive their nobility” (reb similar).

Since both hottp and nrsv are ambiguously worded, we may follow tev or cev, which says “Every honest leader rules with help from me.”

Because of the repetition between verses 15 and 16, and because of the difficulty in some languages of finding a number of different terms for various types of rulers, some translations combine the two verses; for example, “I help kings and leaders to rule their countries well, and to make good laws so that their countries follow right behavior.”


I love those who love me: The text of bhs has “those who love her,” but rsv, like most commentaries and translations, follows the variant footnote “loves me.” We may translate, for example, “I love everyone who loves me.”

Those who seek me diligently find me: Seek … diligently is the rsv translation of the intensive form of the verb to seek. frcl says “Those who love me, I love them in return. Those who look for me are sure to find me.”


Riches and honor are with me: Refer to 3:16 for Riches and honor. There is no verb in the Hebrew of this verse, but in line with the general context with me suggests these are things that Wisdom grants or gives to those who seek her. We may say, for example, “I have riches and honor” or “I give you riches and honor.” A fuller expression of the sense of this line is, for example, “I have power to make you rich people and to make people honor you.”

Enduring wealth and prosperity: While wealth renders a term commonly used in Proverbs, enduring translates a Hebrew word that occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. The verb form of this word means to advance or move forward. Whybray suggests that it can be used figuratively in regard to space, time, value, and quality; and in light of the context, enduring is probably correct. Some versions say “lasting.”

Prosperity, which is literally “righteousness,” is even more of a problem. There are two main interpretations of the word in this context. rsv, niv, nrsv, reb and others understand it to refer to success or good fortune. Here it is the fruits of “righteousness” rather than righteousness or justice itself. The reward for being righteous is prosperity, particularly in view of the parallelism of the two lines. Prosperity may be translated, for example, “make you win [be successful] in everything.”

The second view is that “righteousness” should be retained in the translation, as in kjv and the Living Bible. McKane supports kjv and argues “What wisdom gives essentially is a way of life which possesses ethical fitness and equity.” In this case “righteousness” may be translated by such terms as “rightness,” “fairness,” or “justice.” njb has “saving justice.”


My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold: Fruit is used figuratively to mean “what I produce,” “my gifts,” or “the gifts I give.” Gold (see 3:14) is the term used in poetic discourse to refer to this precious metal, which is known nearly everywhere, although sometimes through words borrowed from another language. Fine gold refers to a purer form of gold, one that contains little or no other elements such as sand. In some languages the expression is “gold, even better than the most expensive gold.”

My yield than choice silver: The figurative language continues. Yield renders a word that refers to the produce from a crop. Choice is the same word used with gold in verse 10. It is possible to translate fruit and yield literally, but you may find it better to shift to expressions that are not figurative and say, for example, “What I give you is better than gold or even better than the most costly gold, and what you receive from me is better than the best silver.” The verse may also be reduced to “What I give you [or, what you get from me] is more valuable than the finest gold or the best silver.”


I walk in the way of righteousness: Walk is figurative and refers to the manner of life, what someone does, a person’s conduct or behavior. The way of righteousness is what justice and right living require. We may express the meaning of the figure by saying, for example, “I live in a way that is right” or “I do the things that are right.” Keeping the figurative language we may say, for example, “I stay on the road that rightness shows me,” or, as frcl says, “I am found on the road that leads to justice.”

In the paths of justice: This line repeats the way of righteousness by substituting paths and the usual Hebrew word for justice, equity, or fairness. cev renders the two lines “I always do what is right.”


    Endowing with wealth those who love me is literally “causing those who love me to inherit wealth” or “giving wealth as an inheritance to those who love me.” Wealth, used only here in the Old Testament as a noun, refers to a great amount of accumulated money or financial fortune. In some translations this line is expressed as “I make those who love me rich people.”

And filling their treasuries: Treasuries translates the plural of a word meaning “storehouse,” a building used for storing, keeping, or safeguarding valuable materials of all kinds. We may translate, for example, “I [will] fill their houses with valuables” or “I fill their storehouses full of precious things.”

The Origin of Wisdom (8:22–31)

The content of verses 22–31 has been at the center of much discussion in recent years. The style and language differ significantly from that in the rest of chapter 8. Similarities with Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Canaanite texts have been pointed out. However, as Whybray emphasizes, the Lord, rather than Wisdom, is the central figure in these verses. Wisdom is not engaged in an independent creative act and, aside from the Lord as creator, Wisdom has no independent existence.

In verse 22 it is the Lord who creates Wisdom, and in verses 23–25 the creation of Wisdom is seen as taking place before the world, the oceans, and the mountains were formed. In verse 26 it is again God who made the earth with Wisdom present, and in 27–29 Wisdom was present at the creation of sky, clouds, springs, and the earth’s foundation. In verses 30–31 Wisdom was the joy of the Lord and rejoiced in the human race.

Subdivision Heading

Some modern versions place a heading before this account: njb “Wisdom as Creator,” nrsv “Wisdom’s Part in Creation,” and lpd “Wisdom in creation.” The Handbook heading may be reworded to say, for example, “Where wisdom came from,” “How wisdom began,” or “This is the beginning of wisdom.”


The Lord created me at the beginning of his work: Lord was first used in 1:7. See there for comments. Created renders a word that has caused considerable dispute. The word is used, for instance, in 1:5; 4:5, 7 with the sense of getting or acquiring skill, insight, or wisdom. It is used in 20:14 to refer to buying something. In Gen 4:1 it is used of Eve giving birth to Cain, where the verb is a wordplay on Cain’s name. In Deut 32:6 it means “create,” as it does in Psa 139:13, where the psalmist speaks of God creating him in his mother’s womb. The Septuagint and some of the other ancient versions say “create,” and this is followed by rsv, nrsv, and tev.

In the translation of poetry it is important to remember that the language is highly figurative. Accordingly, if the word is taken to mean “to give birth,” as Eve does to Cain in Gen 4:1, or “acquire,” “get,” or “obtain,” it does not mean that the Lord literally gave birth to Wisdom nor that he acquired Wisdom who was already in existence before creation. If the translation of these terms may suggest the literal events, it is best to say “create,” that is, “to cause to be” or “to make.”

The beginning of his work is literally “the beginning of his way.” See the rsv footnote. “Way” is used in the same sense here as in Job 26:14, where “way” refers to the acts, doings, workings of God or what God does. The beginning is understood variously by interpreters because the Hebrew does not say “at the beginning” or “in the beginning.” The word rendered beginning stands in apposition to me, that is, beginning explains me rather than being the time when me (Wisdom) was created, as rsv has it. nrsv has a note on beginning which says “Or me as the beginning.” The meaning is “The Lord created me first of all” (tev). reb has “The Lord created me the first of his works.” We may also say, for instance, “I was the first thing that the Lord created.”

The first of his acts of old: First translates a word that is again in apposition to me in the first line and matches beginning in sense. Acts, which matches work, translates a word meaning “doings” or “workings.” Of old means “from long ago” or “before the oldest [of his works].” frcl restructures the two lines of this verse by saying “The Lord created me a long time ago, as the first of his works, before all the rest.” Another translation says “Long, long ago, when the Lord was about to make everything, he made me first.”


Ages ago I was set up: Ages ago translates another time expression that emphasizes the antiquity of Wisdom. The word rendered Ages ago refers to the dim and remote past or future and is often translated as “everlasting.” Here the reference is to the most remote past, that is, “in the most distant past,” or as tev says, “in the very beginning.” Set up may mean “placed in position,” but that is somewhat unlikely and certainly unclear. The Hebrew verb upon which set up is based is much disputed. Some believe that the verb root means “to knit” or “to weave,” as used in Job 10:11: “[You] knit me together with bones and sinews.” See also Psa 139:13. hottp considers the Hebrew text a “B” and accepts both “I was established” and “I was fashioned” as translations. In any event the language is figurative and continues the thought of “create” in verse 22. Accordingly something like “fashioned” (made) or “woven” is suitable. tev avoids the poetic image of “woven” and says “I was made,” while cev says “gave life to me.”

At the first, before the beginning of the earth: At the first renders a term related to “at the beginning” in verse 22. Beginning of the earth may need to be adjusted to say, for example, “before God began to create the earth.”

A translation that combines verses 22 and 23 expresses them as follows: “A very long time ago, when God hadn’t made this world yet, at the time he started his work, the first work he did was that he made me.”


When there were no depths I was brought forth: Depths here most likely refers to the oceans rather than to the waters that existed in Gen 1:2 “when darkness was on the face of the deep.” Brought forth is literally “I was born.” In some translations this is expressed as “I arrived.”

When there were no springs abounding with water: Springs or fountains refers to water that rises to the surface of the ground and flows. Abounding is literally “made heavy.” This line may be rendered, for example, “When there were no flowing springs” or “… no springs flowing with water.”


The text that runs from verse 24 to verse 30 consists of a long series of time clauses with only five main clauses: “brought forth” twice in verses 24–25, “I [was] there” in verse 27, and “I was …” twice in verse 30. In many languages one or more of the main clauses will need to be repeated for the sake of style and clarity in this long sequence. See below for further comments.

Before the mountains had been shaped: Shaped renders a word used in Job 38:6 of God sinking or settling the earth on its bases, which, according to Job 9:6, are the footings on which the pillars that support the earth rest.

Before the hills, I was brought forth: Hills is parallel to mountains in the first line. Many languages must reduce mountains and hills to a single term. We may need to shift I was brought forth from the second line to say, for example, “I was born before the Lord made the mountains or the hills.” Brought forth is the same as in verse 24.

The sense of before … is expressed in some languages by saying, “and at the time when he [God] had not made the mountains yet.” In languages where there are no mountains or hills, it may be necessary to distinguish between the two by saying, for example, “before the very high lands and before the other lands.”


Before he had made the earth with its fields: The word rendered fields is the plural of the word used in 1:20, where it refers to the areas in a town outside the buildings. Here it means the areas outside the town, that is, the open country side, usually translated as in rsv. In some heavily forested areas the only open areas are the cultivated plots.

Or the first of the dust of the world is literally “the head of the dust.…” “Head” in this context seems to mean “the first bit” or, as tev says, “the first handful.” Dust in the plural form as here is to be taken as “soil.” World renders a word meaning the entire expanse of the earth. The word is equivalent here to the earth. In any event there was no thought of the earth as a ball spinning in space.

This verse is a place where some languages repeat the main clause that is found in verses 24 and 25. In one translation, for example, a new sentence begins, “When I arrived [was born] the Lord had not yet made the earth and there were no food gardens.”


In the earlier verses Wisdom claims to have been created first. In verses 27–30 she claims to have witnessed God’s acts of creation.

When he established the heavens, I was there: Established renders a word meaning to “set in place” or to “fix” something firmly in place. This line may need to be modified to say, for example, “I was present [or, I was with him] when he put the heavens in their place.” For the heavens see 3:19.

When he drew a circle on the face of the deep: Drew translates a word meaning to cut, engrave, or inscribe. The word translated circle occurs in a similar passage in Job 22:14, where it refers to the horizon or the line where the sky and the land seem to meet at a great distance. In this case it is the meeting line of the sky and the ocean. Deep is the same word as used in verse 24 and rendered “depths”; its meaning is “oceans.” We may translate this verse, for example, “I was present when the Lord placed the sky above and when he drew the line of the horizon around the ocean” or “… and he marked the place where the sky and the sea would meet.”


When he made firm the skies above: Made firm or made strong is used in regard to making something strong or resistant; for example, the repaired temple in 2 Chr 24:13. Skies renders a word meaning dust or clouds and in this context refers to the sky or the sky with its clouds. Some translations render this line “when he put the clouds in the sky.”

When he established the fountains of the deep: Established, as the rsv footnote shows, is uncertain in its meaning. Some interpreters change the word slightly to get a rendering like that of rsv. Others take it to mean to restrain or control. The Septuagint says “made secure.”

Fountains translates the same word rendered “springs” in verse 24. Fountains of the deep refers to the waters beneath the earth that were thought to supply the oceans and rivers with water. We may translate, for example, “I was there beside him when he put the clouds in the sky and when he made the springs that fill the oceans.”


This verse, like verse 30, has three lines instead of the usual two. It is another place where some translations make a new sentence and repeat the main clause from verse 27; for example, “And I was there [with him] when he.…”

When he assigned to the sea its limit: The sense of this line is “when he fixed a boundary for the ocean” or “when he told the ocean how far it could go.”

So that the waters might not transgress his command is literally “and the waters do not exceed his mouth.” The expression “exceed … mouth” is used in narrative passages such as 1 Sam 15:24, in which Saul says to Samuel, “I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord.…” The thought in this verse is similar to that in Job 38:8–11. The limit imposed upon the oceans is the place where the waves are to come on the shoreline and no farther.

We may translate the first two lines as “I was there when the Lord set a boundary for the oceans and commanded them not to overflow their shores.” In languages in which oceans are not known, it may be necessary to speak of lakes or rivers.

When he marked out the foundations of the earth: This line goes with verse 29 as another time clause similar to the first line of the verse. Marked out translates the same root as that rendered limit in the first line and the one rendered “drew” in verse 27. Foundations of the earth is a common description of the bases upon which the earth rests in such passages as Job 38:4; Psa 24:2; 82:5; and 104:5. Foundation refers to the lower part of a structure or building upon which the rest of the structure rests. In areas in which local buildings lack such foundations it may be necessary to say, for example, “I was there when he set the earth on its resting place.”


Then I was beside him like a master workman: Beside him means “close to” in terms of space, that is, “near him” or “next to him.” rsv supplies like, which makes the expression a simile, but the Hebrew text does not have like. The central problem concerns the word rendered master workman, which the rsv footnote says may also be understood as “little child.” The only change nrsv makes in this line is to change master workman to “master worker.” The word rsv translates as master workman occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament and is possibly a word borrowed from Akkadian where it meant “skilled craftsman,” that is, a person who is clever in making or building things.

Others interpret the word to be related to a Hebrew root meaning to care for children as a nurse or foster parent; see Num 11:12; Ruth 4:16; 2 Kgs 10:1. A change in a vowel of this word gives a word meaning “a nursed or fostered child, an infant.”

Many modern translations use such words as “craftsman” or “architect” in their text and, like rsv, place “child” in their footnotes. Some use “child” in the text and place “craftsman” or its equivalent in the footnote. hottp is of the opinion that both of these solutions are only partly correct. It agrees that the text can mean either “little child” or “master craftsman.” The committee makes two recommendations:

(1) if “little child” is chosen, the translation may say “I was with him as a child”; or

(2) if “master craftsman” is chosen, this does not refer to Wisdom but to God and so should be translated “I was with him who is the master crafts man.”

In relation to the second recommendation, however, we should note that of the English versions which use a term like “master craftsman” only njb makes it refer to God, while the others, including rsv, nrsv, niv, and tev, all make the term refer to Wisdom. niv says, for instance, “I was the craftsman at his side.”

I was daily his delight: Daily means every day or all the time. The Hebrew says “I was delight,” but the rsv follows the Septuagint. Delight refers to something in which people take pleasure or joy. It is used, for example, in Psa 119:24 “Your instructions give me pleasure” (tev). Translations that use “child” in verse 30 tend to use terms that emphasize the kind of pleasure a small child gives to a parent. A common rendering is “I made him happy.”

Rejoicing before him always: Rejoicing renders a verb meaning to act joyfully or to celebrate. It is used in 1 Sam 18:7 of the women who sang and danced as they greeted David on his return from defeating the Philistines. The only place it is used in reference to children playing and dancing is in Zech 8:5. Wisdom is represented here as dancing to celebrate creation.


Rejoicing in his inhabited world: Rejoicing is the same word as in verse 30. Inhabited world is literally “in the world of his earth” and simply means “his world” or “his earth.”

And delighting in the sons of men: Sons of men refers to mankind, humanity, the people of the world. In verse 30 Wisdom dances or celebrates to give the creator delight; in this line she herself is delighted. In verse 30 the order was “delight … rejoice” while in verse 31 the order is reversed to rejoicedelight. This is a poetic device used by the author to create a chiasmus (X-structure, see the glossary at the end of this Handbook) as the closure for the poem. tev says, “happy with the world and pleased with the human race.” We may also say, for example, “I celebrated [danced and sang] because I was happy with his world, and full of joy because of the people in the world,” or more briefly “I was happy to see the world and happy to see the people in it.”

Choose Life or Death (8:32–36)

These verses pick up the speech of Wisdom that was interrupted by the poem on the origin of Wisdom in 22–31. In these closing lines Wisdom describes those who listen to her as being happy and says that those who find her also find life, but the end of those who hate her is death.

Subdivision Heading

Some modern versions place headings before these verses: frcl “Happy is the person who listens to Wisdom,” njb “The supreme invitation,” lpd “Happiness for the ones who find wisdom,” and Osty “A new call from wisdom.” The Handbook heading may be reworded to say, for example, “Wisdom says ‘I can give you life or death’ ” or “Be happy and choose to live.”


And now: This is not a reference to time but a transition to the conclusion. Some translations indicate that this is a continuation of Wisdom’s speech by words like “And Wisdom went on to say this.…”

My sons, listen to me: My sons is strange in that Wisdom nowhere else addresses people in this way. My sons is one of the forms of address used by the teacher of wisdom. See also 5:7 and 7:24. Although the form is odd in this context, it is in the text and must be translated. In a number of languages something like tev “young people” will be appropriate. Listen to me is also a common expression of the teacher. See 5:7; 7:24.

Happy are those who keep my ways: Happy is the same as in 3:13. See comments there. Keep my ways is the equivalent of “keep my words” as in 7:1, meaning “do what I say,” “obey my teachings,” or “follow in my paths.” The way of wisdom is, according to verse 20, “righteousness,” that is, fairness, justice, doing what is right. The whole line may also be translated as a conditional sentence: “If you do what I tell you, you will be happy.”


Hear instruction and be wise: Hear is a plural command addressed to “my sons.” Instruction renders the same word as used in 1:2. Hear instruction is equivalent to “Obey my teaching” or “Listen to what I teach you.” Some translations have “Let me teach you.” Be wise may be treated as a command, as in rsv, or as a result of listening to Wisdom. Treated as a consequence we may say, for example, “You will be wise,” “You will become wise,” or “You will have wisdom.”

And do not neglect it: Neglect here means to reject, give it up, or let it go. The Hebrew does not express it. However, it or “them” as referring to the instruction or teaching of Wisdom may be required in translation.


Happy is the man who listens to me: Happy is the same as in verse 32. Man translates the Hebrew ‘adam, which refers to anyone and not exclusively to an adult male. nrsv says “Happy is the one who.…” Note the plural form in tev.

Watching daily at my gates: Watching means keeping watch or being vigilant. Daily is literally “day day.” Gates can refer to the door of a house or room, or to the gates at the entrance to a town. In light of the figurative use of 9:1, it is best to take gates as referring to the door or entry to Wisdom’s house. neb/reb say “threshold,” which refers to the stone or plank that lies under the door. It is used poetically as an equivalent to “entrance” or “doorway.”

Some take the image of watching … gates to refer to suitors (male lovers) waiting to be joined to their love, Wisdom. Others see Wisdom as keeping the members of her court waiting outside the gates of her palace. Still others suppose those at the door are students coming daily for instruction.

Waiting beside my doors: Waiting matches watching in the second line. Here the element of hope or anticipation is added. Those waiting expect to receive something from Wisdom. Doors is literally “doorposts of my doors” in which “doorposts” are the upright timbers between which the door swings. This more detailed form is only the usual variation in the parallel line. It does not change the meaning of “doors” in the previous line. frcl offers a model translation: “Happy are those who listen to me, who are present every day at my door and who keep vigil at the entrance of my house.”


The opening connector For presents verses 35 and 36 as the reason why young people should heed the advice given in verses 32–34.

He who finds me finds life: For similar expressions see 3:2, 13, 18; 4:22; 8:17. Finds life is an expression that requires some adjustments in translation, as finds life is not the same as locating something that is misplaced. Finds life returns to the theme of long life in 3:2 and may be rendered “He who finds me finds a long life” or “He who discovers who I am will be given a long life.” If you are using the second person, this may be rendered, for example, “If you find me, you will be given a long life.” The plural “those who …” is also a suitable translation in many languages; see tev.

And obtains favor from the Lord: Favor or “acceptance” is what the Lord gives. We may translate, for example, “and the Lord will accept you” or “and the Lord will be pleased with you.”


This verse contrasts the person who fails to find Wisdom with the fortunate person in verse 35.

But he who misses me injures himself: Misses renders a verb meaning to “miss the mark [or, the way]” and so to “go wrong,” “stray away,” or “sin.” Injures translates a verb meaning to do physical or moral violence to someone. We may say, for example, “harms” or “hurts himself.” If “you” is used, we may say, for example, “But if you don’t find me, you harm only yourself.”

All who hate me love death: Hate is as in 1:22, 29; 5:12. We may also say, for example, “If you hate me, you love death,” or as cev says, “… you are in love with death.” Love death carries the image of injury in the first line to a more intensive poetic level. It has the sense of “being on the path that leads to death” or “headed toward the grave.”

2L. Twelfth Instruction (9:1–18)

Chapter 9, which is the twelfth instruction, is the conclusion to the section Instructions and Speeches of Wisdom. The first two speeches by Wisdom are found in chapters 1 and 8. This chapter is not another speech by Wisdom, but a contrasting picture of two invitations to a feast: in verses 1–6 Wisdom invites the ignorant to her banquet; in verses 13–18 Folly invites them to her banquet. Between the two invitations is inserted a comparison of the scoffer and the wise person (verses 7–12).

Wisdom Invites the Ignorant to Her Banquet (9:1–6)

Verses 1–2 tell what Wisdom has done to prepare for the feast she is to hold. In verses 3–6 she sends out her servants to invite simple people to come and dine with her and leave the ignorant ones behind.

Subdivision Heading

Some modern versions place a heading before these verses. frcl has “Wisdom’s Invitation,” njb “Wisdom as hostess,” and tob “The invitation from Lady Wisdom.” Some use a single heading for the chapter; for example, spcl “The contrast between wisdom and foolishness,” gecl “The invitations from Wisdom and Foolishness,” and nab “The Two Banquets.” The Handbook heading may be reworded to say, for example, “The ignorant are invited to Wisdom’s feast,” “Wisdom holds a feast for people who are ignorant,” or “You who are simple come to my party.”


In verses 1–2 Wisdom is pictured as an industrious, active woman in contrast to the foolish woman of verses 13–14.

Wisdom has built her house: Wisdom’s house is first referred to in 8:34. This line does not suggest that Wisdom had someone else build her house for her but rather makes clear that she is the builder. njb says, “Wisdom has built herself a house.” In languages that have difficulty with the personification here, we may need to shift to a simile and say, for example, “Wisdom is like a carpenter who builds a house” or “Wisdom has built her own house, as a builder does.”

She has set up her seven pillars: rsv follows the Septuagint with set up. The Hebrew has “hewn,” which means formed or shaped by chopping with an ax-like tool. nrsv translates the Hebrew “she has hewn her seven pillars.” hottp gives a “B” rating to “hewn,” and this is recommended to translators as the preferred text. Pillars are slender, vertical supports or columns.

There has been much debate about the existence of houses with pillars in Israel during the Old Testament period. However, it is now known from archeology that some houses of the rich had seven pillars supporting the portico, which is a porch or walkway with a roof leading to the main entrance of the house. The expression seven pillars has likewise been the object of much guesswork. However, what seems certain is that the house described here represents an image of luxury and, from the widespread use of seven as a perfect number, a complete and ideal or perfect building. All of this is to say that Wisdom has built a comfortable and permanent place for herself to live, in contrast to Folly’s house, which is associated with the dead and Sheol in verse 18.



She has slaughtered her beasts: Slaughtered, the same word as used in 7:22, refers to killing animals for their meat. The Hebrew does not use a word meaning beasts. It says literally “slaughtered her slaughtering.” This expression suggests the killing of various animals for a feast and not for religious sacrifice. This contrasts with the “sacrifice” offered by the adulterous wife in 7:14. In translation it is best to avoid naming any particular kind of animal that was killed and butchered. cev says, “She has prepared the meat.…” In order to make it clear that this refers to preparing food for a feast, some translations say, for example, “She has killed and cooked …” or “She has killed an animal for a feast.”

She has mixed her wine: Mixed, as in Isa 5:22, refers to mixing spices into the wine to give it a variety of tastes. A rendering of this in one language says, “She has made her wine sweet.” Wine renders a word meaning fermented wine. The combination of meat and wine was the chief food and drink at feasts in 1 Sam 16:20 and Dan 10:3. If wine is unknown, the name of a local fermented drink may be suitable as a translation. If this is not satisfactory, a borrowed word or a general noun like “drink” may be used. “Strong drink,” “powerful drink,” or “sweet drink” is sometimes used as a descriptive phrase. It should be remembered that these images represent the teachings of Wisdom, the true content of her banquet.

She has also set her table: Set … table means to prepare the table by placing food on it. Table is to be understood either as a mat or hide placed on the floor or, as it later became, a low platform around which guests reclined as they ate. cev avoids any reference to the table by saying, “Her feast is ready.” You may find this a happy solution to the translation of table, which in the world of today often carries with it the suggestion of chairs.


She has sent out her maids to call … town: This verse may not be entirely clear because call (literally “she calls”) and in verse 4 “says” both have Wisdom as the subject. Some interpreters, therefore, take sent out to mean that she “sent away” or “dismissed” her maids. However, most modern versions translate as in rsv and make it clear that the words of the invitation are those of Wisdom, but are called out by the maids. Maids refers to female servants. To call means to invite; the servants shout the invitation as a public announcement.

The highest places in the town is the same expression used with Folly in verse 14. The exact nature of this place is uncertain, but rsv and tev are both appropriate renderings of the Hebrew plural term. Town is better translated by “village” than by a term suggesting the equivalent of a large city.


The first line of verse 4 contains the words of Wisdom’s invitation as announced by her servant women. In some languages translators make this clear by saying, “They call out … like this: ‘Everybody! Wisdom says.…’ ”

Whoever is simple, let him turn in here: Whoever means “everyone who is.…” Simple refers to people who are immature and lacking experience, those needing knowledge and understanding. See 1:4. Let him … here may be rendered more naturally in English as “Come to my house” or “Come where I am.” frcl says “Come running this way.” For languages in which “me” and “my” would only refer to the speakers, that is, the servant women, some translations say, “Come to Wisdom’s house.”

To him who is without sense she says: rsv does not put this line in quote marks but takes these words to be added by the author or by the servants. Either way they are not part of the invitation from Wisdom. Who is without sense is literally “one lacking heart.” This is the same expression as used in 6:32 as a description of the adulterer. She refers to Wisdom, and it may be necessary in translation to make this clear: “Wisdom says to you.”

It is also possible to handle verses 4–6 as one quote by adjusting verse 4 to say, for example, “Everyone who is ignorant or foolish is invited,” and then to continue the quote in verse 5.


Come, eat of my bread: Bread translates a word that refers to food in general and is better rendered as “my food” or “the food I have prepared for you.”

Drink of the wine I have mixed: For the words see verse 2. neb/reb say, “taste the wine that I have spiced.”

For languages in which wisdom must be referred to in the third person, this verse may be translated, for example, “Come and eat with her, and drink the sweet wine she has prepared.”


Leave simpleness, and live: rsv follows the Septuagint with simpleness. Note that the Hebrew has “simple ones.” tev translates the Hebrew with “Leave … ignorant people.” hottp, which gives the Hebrew text an “A” rating, recommends both the sense of rsv and tev, that is, “abandon foolishness” or “abandon foolish people.” And live is a consequence of giving up the company of ignorant or foolish people. In many languages it will be necessary to say “and you will live” (niv, reb, njb). In some cases it will be more natural to reverse the order and say, for example, “If you wish to live, stop making friends with …” or “If you wish to live, stop being ignorant.”

And walk in the way of insight: Walkway means “live so that you will have insight” or “do as insight shows you.” For insight see 1:2. Insight refers to discernment, perception, or understanding. cev says “let understanding guide your steps.”

The Difference between the Scoffer and the Wise Person (9:7–12)

It is generally agreed that verses 7–12 do not fit into the theme of invitations from Wisdom and Folly. Some interpreters assume, however, that these verses have been inserted to separate the two invitations. Others see them as an isolated collection of sayings.

To keep the two invitations together mft, for example, places verses 13–18 immediately following verse 6, and places verses 7–12 after verse 18. On the other hand, Scott places verses 10–12 after verse 6 and verses 7–9 after verse 12. That translation places 13–18 at the end. However, nearly all modern versions keep all the verses as in rsv and tev, and the Handbook recommends that you do the same in your translation.

Verses 7–9 are related to each other in that they discourage trying to correct a scoffer but encourage giving advice to a wise person. Each verse is in the form of a popular saying or proverb, and they are linked by the repetition of the words “reprove,” “scoffer,” and “wise man.” Verse 10 repeats part of the motto of the book found in 1:7. In verse 11 Wisdom seems to be the speaker and promises to add to the length of the learner’s life. Finally verse 12 contrasts the wise person and the scoffer.

Subdivision Heading

Some headings used for this subdivision are njb “Against cynics,” cev “True Wisdom,” tob “The wise one and the doubter,” and frcl “The wise one and the proud one.” The Handbook heading may need to be reworded to say, for example, “Compare the mocker and the wise” or “How the wise differ from the scoffers.”


He who corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse: Corrects means to reprove, admonish, or scold someone for the purpose of improving their behavior. Scoffer translates the same word as used in 3:34, where it is in contrast with “the humble.” Here it refers to a person who resists correction and instruction. Such people think they are above being improved. frcl says “the proud,” and tev “conceited people,” which expresses the idea well in English. The sense of abuse is probably “contempt.” To be treated with contempt in this context is to receive disrespect or dishonor, as used in the command not to dishonor father or mother in Deut 27:16. We may translate gets himself abuse as “gets disrespect in return.” The full line may be rendered, for example, “If you correct a conceited person, he will show you nothing but disrespect.”

He who reproves a wicked man incurs injury: This line is very similar in meaning to line 1. Reproves matches corrects in the first line. Wicked is a masculine singular adjective in the Hebrew text but is to be taken in a general sense, as in nrsv “the wicked” or tev “evil people.” Injury is literally “his blemish,” which is not entirely clear. Some take this word to mean that the moral defect in the evil person is passed on to the one who reproves him. neb has “and you will put yourself in the wrong,” while reb says “you will acquire his faults.” This interpretation does not seem to fit the context as well as rsv. spcl combines the two lines: “Correct the insolent and the evil person, and they will only succeed in insulting and offending you.” cev has “Correct a worthless bragger, and all you will get are insults and injuries.”


Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you: Reprove translates the same word as used in line 2 of verse 7. Scoffer is as in verse 7. Hate is as in 1:22, where the fool is a person who hates knowledge.

Reprove a wise man, and he will love you: This line is the first of three very similar lines, which contrast with the three previous lines. Reprove repeats the word from the previous line. Wise man translates a masculine singular noun but is best understood in a general sense and not as referring exclusively to a male adult. nrsv says “the wise.” See tev. cev translates “if you correct someone who has common sense.…” Love you is the literal rendering of the Hebrew, but this may not be adequate in other languages. Some other renderings are tev “respect you,” neb/reb “will be your friend,” and spcl “you will win his appreciation.”


Give instruction to a wise man, and he … still wiser: As the rsv footnote shows, the Hebrew text lacks the word instruction. The text says “give to a wise man,” which hottp rates as “B” and suggests two expressions to translate it: “Give to the wise man [person]” or “Give the wise man [person] an opportunity.” Many languages have difficulty with the first, as there is no object expressed. The second expresses “opportunity” as the thing that is given. This may be ambiguous, but it is workable in some languages.

The failure of the text to carry the word instruction (or something equivalent) may simply be an example of ellipsis, the omission of a word or phrase necessary for the complete structure of the sentence but not for the meaning. If this is the case, we are not dealing here with a textual problem. frcl says, “What you say to a wise person increases his wisdom.” See tev. We may also say, for example, “Teach a wise person and that person will be yet wiser” or “If you teach …, that person will.…”

Teach a righteous man and he will increase in learning: This line is very similar in meaning to line 1. Teach matches give instruction in the first line. Righteous man or “righteous person” is an upright, honest person for whom “the fear of the Lord” in verse 10 is the basis of wisdom. In 12:26 the righteous person is defined as someone who “turns away from evil.” The wise person and the upright person are equated in these lines. Increase in learning means “he will add to his knowledge” or “he will learn even more.”


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: This is the same as the first line in 1:7, except that wisdom replaces “knowledge.” See comments on this line in 1:7.

Knowledge of the Holy One is insight: This line, like the first, affirms that wisdom or knowledge are not independent things but belong to God and are available to those who honor the Lord. Holy One in the Hebrew is literally “the holy ones,” a plural expression used in the Old Testament to refer to saintly persons, heavenly beings, or angels. For examples see Psa 34:9 (Hebrew verse 10); Job 5:1; 15:15; and Zech 14:5. Although some interpreters take the plural to refer to “holy men,” the parallelism requires it to refer to God. Accordingly cev translates as “Holy God.” The Holy One is used as a title for God and is sometimes expressed as “God who is sacred.” Since the reference is clearly to God, it is not always necessary to find a word for Holy that can be applied to God. It is possible, for example, to use a pronoun in the second line by saying “and knowing him gives a person insight.” For insight see 1:2. Two renderings of this line in Pacific languages are: “The Lord is sacred and completely righteous, and if someone wants to understand the meaning of things, they must know the Lord well,” and “God is wholly good and righteous; and if you want to get good understanding, you must first know him.”


By me your days will be multiplied: In 3:2 and 4:10 the teacher uses expressions like this when speaking of his own words or teachings. Some of the ancient versions have “by it” in place of by me, thus making a connection back to “fear of the Lord” and “knowledge of the Holy One.” However, it seems more likely that me refers to Wisdom. In that case it will be clearer to say, for example, “Thanks to wisdom, you will live a long time” (spcl) or “I am Wisdom. If you follow me, you will live …” (cev). Days … multiplied is a biblical way of saying “You will live a long life.”

If by me is the original text, this line is the only place in verses 7–12 where Wisdom is referred to in the first person. Some translations prefer to keep the third person reference by saying, “Wisdom will make you stay a long time on the earth.”

Years will be added to your life: This line repeats the thought of the first one with years replacing days. Note that tev reduces the two lines to one.


If you are wise, you are wise for yourself: Many efforts have been made to give a clear meaning to this verse, but there is little agreement among interpreters. What seems clear is that the verse has no direct connection with the previous verses and seems to express something that is not found elsewhere in the book of Proverbs. The Hebrew wording, as seen in rsv, seems to say that if you are wise, your wisdom benefits only yourself, and in the same way the scoffer alone is responsible only to himself. However, this attitude seems to be contrary to the teacher’s urging the learner to get wisdom and thus to share the benefits with the teacher and the wise.

The Septuagint translators seem to have recognized the problem in this verse and so reversed the clauses to say, “If you are wise for yourself, you will be wise also for your neighbors.”

If you scoff, you alone will bear it: that is, “If you refuse learning, you alone will suffer for it.” The second line is the contrast of the first. tev is recommended as a good model for the entire verse.

Stupidity Invites the Ignorant to her Banquet (9:13–18)

Verses 13–18 depict Foolishness as offering a banquet of her own. Verses 13–15 describe this woman and the setting in which she invites simple people to her feast. Verses 16–17 contain the words of her invitation, and verse 18 concludes this short poem by referring to the dead, which is the opposite of Wisdom’s invitation to life.

Subdivision Heading

Some versions place a heading before verse 13; for example, frcl has “The invitation from Stupidity,” cev “A Foolish Invitation,” njb “A silly woman apes Wisdom,” and tob “The invitation from Lady Foolishness.” The Handbook heading may be reworded to say, for example, “A lady called Stupidity invites you to her feast” or “An invitation to a deadly party.”


h Verse13
in Hebrew is unclear.

A foolish woman is noisy: A foolish woman is taken by some as a title and name; for example, neb/reb “The Lady Stupidity, tob “Lady Foolishness,” and gecl “Mrs. Foolishness.” Whether we treat this as a title and name or simply as a name, the word rendered foolish or “stupid” is personified as a woman who is the counterpart to the personified wisdom in verses 1–6. You may find it necessary to shift to a simile, as in tev: “Stupidity is like a loud, ignorant, shameless woman.” The word rendered noisy was translated “loud” in 7:11 to describe the adulterous woman.

She is wanton and knows no shame: The rsv footnote on wanton shows that it has changed an uncertain Hebrew word to one that agrees with some of the ancient versions. This word, like the one rendered foolish, occurs only here. Interpreters derive the word from two different roots, so that some translations have “simple” or “ignorant,” while others say “persuasive” or “seductive.” rsv wanton, which follows the latter, refers to an immoral or shameless person. Note that tev prefers “ignorant.” The tev rendering is recommended to translators.

Knows no shame is literally “does not know what.” rsv shame is based on the Septuagint. However, hottp rates the Hebrew text as “B” and recommends “she understands nothing whatsoever.” We may also say, for example, “she is a complete fool” or “she is totally ignorant.”


She sits at the door of her house: The setting of this banquet is simply a house with no elaborations such as those described for Wisdom’s house in verse 1. For door of her house see 5:8.

Takes a seat on the high places of the town is the same as used in verse 3. By using the connector “or” tev makes it clear that the two lines refer to different places.


Calling … pass by: This is the same as Wisdom does in verse 3, and also 1:20–21 and 8:1–3.

Who are going … way: The scene is one of busy people coming and going in the public streets. They are intent upon their own affairs. See tev.


Verses 16–17 are the words Stupidity calls out to the people.

This whole verse is a repetition of verse 4.


The lines of this verse sound like the quotation of a popular saying.

Stolen water is sweet: A reference to water is also made in 5:15, where it is used as a warning against adultery. Here Stolen water refers to sexual pleasures that are forbidden and so must be enjoyed in secret.

Bread eaten in secret is pleasant: Bread renders the same word as in verse 5 and may refer to food generally. This line is probably a strengthening of the first line. Some interpret it to refer to the criminal acts that tempt young men to get easy money as in 1:11; 4:14–17; and 6:12–15. For a good translation model see tev or cev “Stolen water tastes best, and the food you eat in secret tastes best of all.”


But he does not know that the dead are there: But introduces the contrast between the invitation and the consequence, which is death. He refers to the simple person invited to her feast, but may be expressed as plural. See tev “her victims.” Dead translates the word rendered “shades” in 2:18 and refers to the spirits of the dead gathered in Sheol.

That her guests are in the depths of Sheol: Her guests is literally “her called ones”; in this context it means those who have accepted her invitation. In the depths means in the deepest parts. In 7:27 the house of the adulterous woman is next to Sheol, the world of the dead. gecl translates this verse, “But whoever accepts her invitation does not know that inside at her table sit the ghosts of the dead. Whoever crosses her threshold, steps into the world of the dead.” You may find this a helpful model for your translation.

Section Three: Various Collections 10:1–31:31

Chapter 10 marks a break in content and form with chapters 1–9. In this large section of the book there are eight collections of material that we can recognize as separate from each other. These are:

A. Solomon’s proverbs (10:1–22:16)

B. Thirty wise sayings (22:17–24:22)

C. Other wise sayings (24:23–34)

D. Hezekiah’s collection of Solomon’s proverbs (25:1–29:27)

E. The words of Agur (30:1–9)

F. More wise sayings (30:10–33)

G. King Lemuel’s wise sayings (31:1–9)

H. Praises for a good wife (31:10–31)

In most cases there is a statement in the text itself that marks the beginning of the collection; see 10:1; 22:20–21; 24:23; 25:1; 30:1; 31:1. For a discussion of the contents of each of these collections, see “Translating Proverbs,” pages 5–7.

Section Heading

Most versions that use headings have a separate heading for each collection and no main section heading for chapters 10–31 together. We recommend this approach to translators also. See below for advice about a heading at 10:1.

3A. Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs (10:1–22:16)

Although we encountered a few popular sayings or traditional proverbs in the earlier chapters, chapters 10–22 consist almost entirely of individual sayings each made up of a short sentence of two lines. In chapters 10–15 most of these sayings have parallel lines that contrast; that is, the second line often contrasts in some way with what is said in the first line; for example, “Being lazy will make you poor, but hard work will make you rich” (10:4, tev).

On the other hand, in chapters 16–22 a different form of saying is the most common. In these sayings the second line, instead of contrasting with the first line, affirms, extends, or exemplifies what the first line says; for example, “Everything the Lord has made has its destiny; and the destiny of the wicked is destruction” (16:4, tev).

Another form found in all these chapters is that which says one thing is better than something else; for example, “Better to eat vegetables with people you love than to eat the finest meat where there is hate” (15:17, tev).

You will notice that in rsv and tev there are no headings within the texts, and this is also true in most modern translations. The reason for the absence of headings is that these sayings, for the most part, appear to be arranged with little regard for theme or subject matter. Although there are many sayings about poverty and wealth, honesty and dishonesty, work and idleness, they are not grouped together by the theme they share but are scattered throughout the various chapters. These sayings are often called “sentence literature” because they tend to be sentences without a context.

In sentence literature the individual sentences are not linked together in larger discourse units or structures. We can often observe, however, a kind of “chain” structure in these chapters of Proverbs in which there are links between verses that follow one another. The links may be through repeated words or structures, or similarity of theme. In some parts of the world people like to repeat their traditional sayings when they are together in certain social groups; and in this situation one saying brings another to mind and an oral chain of sayings develops which is similar in many respects to the sort of chain structure found in much of the text of Proverbs.

Without dividing this large division of Proverbs into formal units, the Handbook will point out links between sentences wherever they can be seen.

The instructions in chapters 1–9 were clearly addressed to the young learner often called “my son.” In these chapters, aside from 10:1 and 5, no such audience is singled out. The sayings are for the most part observations and generalizations that arise out of nearly every aspect of daily living, although many of them are advice, admonitions, or warnings.

Division Heading

Most modern translations like rsv and tev provide a heading for the sayings in this division. However, because there is a similar one to this at 25:1, some translations refer to the sayings beginning in chapter 10 as “The first collection of Solomon’s proverbs.” njb says “The major collection attributed to Solomon.” frcl has “Collection of proverbs on the moral life.” The heading used by the Handbook for this division may need to be reworded to say, for example, “Here are some of the proverbs that King Solomon wrote,” “These are proverbs that King Solomon spoke,” or “King Solomon’s proverbs.” For the translation of the word “proverbs,” see “Translating Proverbs,” pages 1–2.



The proverbs of Solomon: This is the heading for the collection of sayings that follows.

The social standing and success of a family depended upon the character of the son or sons as the heir or heirs of the family property. This saying contrasts the effects on family relationships of being wise or foolish.

A wise son makes a glad father: A wise son is a son who has the good sense to make wise decisions in every day affairs. As in 1:8, many modern translations prefer to use an inclusive term for son; for example, njb and nrsv have “a wise child.” tev and others say “wise children.” Makes … glad translates the causative form of the verb to rejoice. The sense is to make happy, fill with joy. Note tev “make their fathers proud of them.” Father is handled in three ways in translation: (1) as father in the singular, (2) as “fathers” in the plural to agree with children (tev), or (3) by combining father and mother in the same line.

But a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother: In Hebrew the element of contrast in this verse and those that follow is expressed simply by the common connector (“and” or “but”) placed at the beginning of the second line. Most translations render this in English as “but.” In other languages translators are advised to use the terms and constructions that are commonly used to express contrast, rather than giving a literal rendering of “but.” In some languages it is natural for the two lines simply to follow one another without any connecting term, with readers or hearers understanding the element of contrast from the content of the lines. Foolish renders the same root as used of the noisy adulterous woman in 9:13. This quality contrasts with that of the wise son in the first line and may be expressed, for example, as “senseless,” “silly,” or “stupid.” Sorrow renders a noun that expresses the opposite of glad in the first line, that is, sad or unhappy.

We may render this verse, for example,

•    If you are a wise son, you will make your father happy,

but if you are stupid you will make your mother sad.

If such a rendering gives the impression that only the mother will be sad, it is better to combine father and mother as “parents”; for example,

•    If you are wise, you will make your parents happy,

but if you are stupid you will make them sad.


Treasures gained by wickedness: This line may be taken as a warning to the sons of verse 1. Treasures refers to material objects of value such as wealth or goods. The Hebrew says literally “treasures of wickedness,” which means wealth obtained unjustly or from wrong means, that is, “ill-gotten wealth.” Note that tev (“Wealth you get by dishonesty”) switches to direct address.

Do not profit: In Job 21:15 Job asks “What profit do we get if we pray to him?” The sense is “What advantage?” Here we may say “have no advantage” or “will do no good.” njb has “Treasures wickedly come by give no benefit,” and reb says “No good comes of ill-gotten wealth.” We may also say, for example, “It does no good to get riches dishonestly.” A more direct approach is “If you follow bad ways and become rich, your money will not make you live well.”

But righteousness delivers from death: This line is repeated in 11:4b. Righteousness contrasts with wickedness here and in a number of other verses in this chapter. Since wickedness in the first line refers to all manner of wrong or evil ways of obtaining wealth, righteousness refers to being good, fair, just, or honest. Delivers from death is understood in various ways by interpreters and translators. The thought may be that right living and honesty, in contrast to dishonesty in the first line, guarantee a person a long life, as is suggested in 3:2. In this case the thought may be translated “honesty saves you from an early death” or “right living will give you a long life.” In some languages it is unnatural for a quality such as goodness or honesty to save or deliver a person. However, gecl offers a model translation in which God is introduced as the one who saves: “but God saves from an early death the one who obeys him.” Another rendering is that of frcl, in which the whole verse says “Goods wrongly obtained are never profitable, only honest earnings enable a person to live.”


This verse again contrasts righteous and wicked, but in reverse order to verse 2.

The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry: For Lord see 1:7. The righteous is literally “soul of the righteous [singular].” This may refer to upright people, but some take it to mean “the appetite of the righteous,” as Hebrew nefesh (“soul”) is sometimes understood to mean “throat.” Go hungry translates the verb form meaning to cause hunger or to cause people to starve.

But he thwarts the craving of the wicked: Thwarts renders a verb meaning to push away or to prevent someone from getting what they want. In the Hebrew word order this word comes at the end of the second line and supplies the punch word in contrast to not causing to go hungry in the beginning of the first line. Craving renders a general word for desire or want, but is to be taken in a bad sense, that is, an evil or selfish desire. This saying states that the Lord does not let good people starve and moreover he prevents wicked people from getting their evil wishes. While the wicked is plural in this line, the righteous is singular in the first line; however, no contrast is intended on the basis of number. Some translations begin this line in a way that is parallel with line 1: “And he does not let the wicked get.…”

You may find it best to translate this verse as direct address as in cev:

•    If you obey the Lord, you won’t go hungry;

if you are wicked, God won’t let you have what you want.

For similar expressions see Psa 34:9–10 (Hebrew verses 10–11); 37:25.


A slack hand causes poverty: Slack renders an adjective meaning “idle,” “lazy,” or “negligent” in this context. Hand is literally “palm,” in which a part of the hand poetically represents the entire hand, and, in fact, the person the hand belongs to. Causes is the rsv rendering of the Hebrew participle ‘oseh, (“making,” “working,” or “doing”). The Hebrew for this line is literally “poverty making an idle palm.” In the life of a small farmer, poverty is looked upon as the result of failing to do the work required to obtain a minimum of life’s provisions. tev replaces A slack hand with the more general “Being lazy … poor.” Some translations say more directly “If you are lazy.…” We may follow this, but if we do, we should remember that it does away with the image of the hand which occurs in both lines.

But the hand of the diligent makes rich: Hand in this line is the literal word for hand. Diligent renders a word meaning “industrious” or “hard working”; the sense of the first part of the line is “if you work hard.…” Makes rich contrasts with poverty or being poor in the first line. Whybray takes makes rich to mean not the acquisition of wealth but “sufficient prosperity to confer an economic security.…” However, rich is a relative concept, and hard work results in riches compared with the poverty brought on by laziness.

The thought of this saying is:

•    Laziness results in poverty,

but hard work enriches.

In some languages the first line is expressed, for example, “To sit on the hands …,” “The person who folds his hands …,” or “Idle hands do not feed.…” The second line is sometimes expressed, for example, “But hands that work make large gardens,” “But busy hands bring profit,” or “But working hands feed many mouths.” Translators may find that this kind of saying is best expressed directly; for example, “If you have lazy hands.…”


Verse 5 contrasts two kinds of sons, as in verse 1. Some take this to mean that verses 1–5 are a unit. There is furthermore a sense relation between verses 4 and 5: the first line of verse 5 relates to the idea of the second line of verse 4, and the second line of verse 5 repeats the idea expressed in the first line of verse 4. The two lines of this verse have the same form and structure in the Hebrew text:

Gathering in summer, son thoughtful,

sleeping in harvest, son shameful.

tev apparently does not consider son here to refer to the son or “child” in verse 1, as it speaks here of “A sensible person.…”

A son who gathers in summer is prudent: Gathers means to harvest crops, to gather in the produce from the fields. Summer is the season of the year when crops become ripe for harvesting. For gathers and summer see 6:8. Prudent means to be wise, intelligent, or successful. If son is kept in the translation, we may say, for example, “A wise son gathers crops [from his garden] in the summer” or “A wise son gathers crops when they are ripe.”

But a son who sleeps in harvest brings shame: In this line sleeping during the time of harvest parallels and contrasts with gathering in summer, that is, at harvest time. Brings shame is a consequence of sleeping when you should be working. The shame is the disgrace the son causes his family, if the thought is interpreted in the context of verse 1 where a son is responsible to act wisely within the family setting. In some languages to bring shame on someone is to cause them to lower their eyes or to cause them to turn away their faces.

The thought of this saying is that a thoughtful son helps his family harvest the summer crops, but a lazy son who sleeps when others are working brings disgrace on his family. We may translate more directly by saying, for example,

•    If you are wise you will harvest when the crops are ripe,

but if you sleep at harvest time, you will be a disgrace.

See also tev.


Blessings are on the head of the righteous: Blessings refers generally to God looking favorably upon someone or something. It includes the benefits that God bestows on his people. Blessings or good gifts are given by God or by a superior person to an inferior. In this line God may be the source of the blessings. The Septuagint and the Vulgate add “of the Lord.” Note that this form is used in verse 22. Many translations state or imply that God is the source of the Blessings and this is recommended to translators. On the other hand, it is also possible that the Blessings are the good words of praise given by other people. On the head recalls Jacob blessing his family in Gen 48:14–22 by placing his hands on the heads of his grandchildren. Righteous refers to those who are upright, good, honorable people.

But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence: This line does not give the expected contrasting parallel. Where we might expect a statement about the fate or disfavor of God toward the wicked, the second line seems to say what the wicked do, that is, they conceal violence. Some interpreters believe that a line from verse 11 has replaced the original line that has dropped out. However, it is not unusual for the contrast between the two lines to be weak or absent. Mouth of the wicked may refer to the wicked or to what the wicked say. If the source of the Blessings or praise expressed in the first line is taken to be people in general, the contrasting parallel in the second line is the violence that the wicked conceal or hide in what they do or say. frcl translates “Wicked people hide violence in their words.” Some other translations say “but the talk of a bad person hides his thoughts about doing harm to others.”

cev translates the full verse:

•    Everyone praises good people,

but evil hides behind the words of the wicked.

See also tev.


The memory of the righteous is a blessing: The memory of the righteous refers not to what the righteous remember but rather to the righteous being remembered by others, especially after their deaths. In the Hebrew the righteous renders a masculine singular noun, but need not be so restricted. Note tev “good people.” In some languages it is unnatural to say that memory is a blessing. However, it is often possible to say “Memory of good people is a gift from God,” “To remember good people is God’s gift,” or “It is God’s kindness that lets us remember good people.”

But the name of the wicked will rot: Name is parallel with memory, as is wicked with righteous. Rot contrasts with blessing. For the paralleling of memory and name see Job 18:17 and Psa 135:13. Name and memory stand for reputation, the esteem in which a person was held in life and after life. The lives of the righteous were a blessing to others. By contrast the wicked are forgotten. They are like an object that rots and disappears.

In some languages it is not natural to speak of a name rotting. In such cases it may be possible, however, to retain the metaphor by saying, for example, “but the name of the wicked person will be forgotten like a thing that decays and disappears.”

A typical translation of the whole verse is:

•    When a good person dies, people remember that person and are happy,

but when an evil person dies, people quickly forget that one.


The wise of heart will heed commandments: The wise of heart is the opposite of the person in 6:32 who “lacks heart,” that is, someone who lacks good sense. Here the reference is to a person who is sensible or displays good sense in his thoughts and actions. In some languages such a person is called a person with “good thinking” or “a good head.” Heed translates a verb whose meaning in this context is to receive, accept, or pay attention to. cev says “listen and obey.” Commandments renders a word used in 2:1; 3:1; and 4:4, where it indicates the content of instruction or teaching given by the teacher of wisdom. In this verse it seems to be used more generally to refer to good instruction, advice, or counsel.

For many languages tev offers a good model for this line. In some languages it may be necessary to indicate in a general sense the source of this advice, that is, “accept good advice that people give you.”

But a prating fool will come to ruin: A prating fool is literally “a fool of lips,” an expression whose meaning seems to be a person who speaks foolishly or a foolish talker. mft says “a silly chatterer.” Some languages have idioms for such people, such as “water mouth.” For

if he is a foolish talker, he will ruin himself.


He who walks in integrity walks securely: The Hebrew of this line has eight syllables with repeating vowels and consonants: holek batom yelek betach. Walks in the Old Testament refers to manner of living. For walks in integrity see 2:7. For walks securely see 3:23.

But he who perverts his ways will be found out: Perverts his ways is literally “makes his paths crooked,” that is, “behaves deceitfully.” Found out is literally “will be known.” This may refer to being found out by other people, but it may also refer to being found out by God, just as it is the Lord in 2:7 who provides protection for those who walk in integrity. Many modern versions, like tev, use passive constructions: “the dishonest will be caught.” In languages in which a passive cannot be used here, it may be necessary to say, for example, “but God will catch dishonest people” or “but people will find out those who are dishonest.”


He who winks the eye causes trouble: Winks the eye is used in 6:13. See there for comments. If the sense of this gesture is as suggested in 6:13, then it is deceitful actions that lead to trouble. This seems to be born out by the second line as translated by rsv and tev. Trouble, which is a noun related to the verb “to hurt” or “to pain,” may refer to grief or sorrow, that is, mental pain or suffering.

But he who boldly reproves makes peace: According to the rsv footnote, this line is taken from the Septuagint. The Hebrew text is identical to the second line of verse 8. Modern translations are divided between those that follow the Septuagint and those that follow the Hebrew. hottp recommends following the Hebrew text and says that the variant followed by rsv “is a wholly uncertain retranslation of the Septuagint into Hebrew.”

It seems that the reason why rsv and tev follow the Septuagint is that the Hebrew of this line makes no contrast with the first line. Translators may do likewise; if you use footnotes, however, it is recommended that you add a note similar to that of tev.

If winks the eye does not clearly suggest deceitful behavior in your language, it will be necessary to use an expression that has this sense. tev is one model translation that avoids a metaphor. Another is frcl:

•    Whoever hides the truth from others causes them to suffer; whoever answers them with frankness brings them peace.

We may also say, for example,

•    If you conceal the truth from someone you will cause them pain,

but if you tell the truth you will set their mind at ease.


The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life: The mouth is a poetic use of one of the organs of speech and refers to the words or thoughts spoken by the righteous, that is, a good, honest person. Fountain of life is similar to “tree of life” used in 3:18. See there for comments. The expression is used in Psa 36:9 (Hebrew verse 10), where it refers to God as being the source or creator of all life. In 16:22 Wisdom is a fountain of life. In this verse the expression refers to the words of the righteous, perhaps because such people are identified with the wise and with wisdom. In translation a fountain of life must often be expressed as a simile; for example, “… are like a fountain that gives life.” Fountain renders a word that is also applied to a well dug by people or to a naturally occurring spring.

But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence: See verse 6. The mouth of the wicked parallels and contrasts with the mouth of the righteous. The contrast here, as in verse 6, is between the words of good people, which are compared to a life-giving fountain, and the evil that hides in the words or thoughts of the wicked. We may translate, for example,

•    The words of good people are like a spring that gives life,

but the words of the wicked hide the harm they will do.


Hatred stirs up strife: Hatred refers to extreme dislike or hostility toward others. Stirs up translates a verb meaning to arouse, awaken, or incite. Strife is plural in the Hebrew and refers to discord, conflict, disharmony, quarrels, and fighting between people.

But love covers all offenses: Love, the opposite of Hatred, refers to harmonious and affectionate relations with positive feelings toward others. Covers renders the same Hebrew verb as used in verses 6 and 11 where “conceals” is used. Covers is here used metaphorically with the sense of “forgives.” Offenses renders a word that is often used in the Old Testament to mean sin against God. It is sometimes used in Proverbs as a personal offense committed by people against each other. This saying is a clear appeal for people to love others instead of making them enemies.

We may translate, for example,

•    If you hate others, you will fight with them,

but if you love them, you will forgive the wrongs they do.


On the lips of him who has understanding wisdom is found: The lips, like “the mouth” in verse 11, refers to words and thoughts. Understanding, as in 1:5, refers to intelligence, good sense, good judgment. Wisdom is close in meaning to understanding. See the discussion in 1:1–7. Is found may often need to be expressed actively. See the model after the discussion of the second line.

But a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense: A rod is a symbol of punishment. The word is the same as that used in Psa 23:4 for the club used to defend the sheep. Here the rod refers to a slender, flexible cane used for beating a prisoner or punishing someone. Lacks sense is literally “lacks heart, where “heart” refers to intelligence or right thinking. See 6:32. For the back means that the cane is applied to his back or he is beaten on his back.

Here again the second line is not a very clear parallel with the first. This line is almost the same as 26:3b, where “fools” replaces him who lacks sense. The essential contrast in our verse may be expressed, for example,

•    People recognize the wisdom in the speech of an intelligent person,

but they punish anyone who speaks stupidly.

See also tev.


Wise men lay up knowledge: Wise men translates the plural of the form used in 1:5 and 9:8–9. Lay up is the same verb as translated “store up” in 2:7. (But see below.) For knowledge see 1:4. Lay up knowledge must often be adjusted in translation because in many languages qualities such as knowledge cannot be stored like material objects. We may say, for example, “Wise people gather knowledge as someone gathers grain” or “Wise people never stop learning just like farmers who never stop storing up grain.”

The verb lay up may also be interpreted to mean to hide or hold back, according to Toy. In this case the sense is that wise men are cautious in their speech, perhaps holding back something they know in order to avoid trouble. If this understanding is accepted, the parallel in the second line is clear: the constant talk of fools causes destruction. Scott supports Toy in the first line: “Wise men keep their knowledge to themselves.”

But the babbling of a fool brings ruin near: Babbling translates the Hebrew “mouth” and refers to the words spoken by a foolish person. A fool is not to be taken as a demented or insane person but simply as a foolish person, someone who says things without thinking. See verse 8. Brings ruin near has the sense that “destruction is present” or “trouble is about to happen.”

We may translate the verse, for example,

•    If you are wise, you will keep some knowledge to yourself,

but if you talk like a fool, you will soon be ruined.


A rich man’s wealth is his strong city: A strong city was a walled city that gave protection to those inside its walls. Accordingly, the sense of this line is “Wealth protects the rich” or “If you have wealth, you have protection.” The nature of this protection is not explained, but it probably includes all those things that threaten the life of the poor. It may be necessary to adjust this line to say, for example, “The wealth of a rich man protects him just as the strong walls of a city protect the people who live in it.” If the idea of the city is inappropriate, it is better to say, for example, “The rich protect themselves with their money” or “The rich use their money to get what they want.”

The poverty of the poor is their ruin: Poverty refers to the condition of being destitute or having little or no material resources. However, many rural people round the world who live on a subsistence level do not think of themselves as belonging to a class called the poor. It may therefore be necessary to adjust the poverty of the poor to say, for example, “But people who own nothing.…” For


The wage of the righteous leads to life: The wage refers here to a reward, prize, or recompense. The wage of the righteous is the gift or reward for living an upright life. Leads to life means that life is the result of being a good, upright person. This may mean a good life or a prolonged life. cev says “If you live right, the reward is a good life.”

The gain of the wicked to sin: Gain renders a word meaning “income” or “profit.” The verb rendered leads to in the first line is understood in the second line. However, this line does not contrast with the first, and it is not clear in what sense gain or material goods lead to sin. We may take the contrast to be between good people, who obtain and use wealth properly, and the wicked, who acquire wealth in the wrong way. In the case of the righteous it leads to a long and good life, but in the case of the wicked it leads to a bad end. With this understanding cev translates the second line “if you are evil, all you have is sin.” See also tev.

Perhaps a better view is that the wicked person uses his riches to act in an evil way. frcl translates the whole verse

•    The work of an honest person enables him to live. A dishonest person uses his wealth to do evil things.


He who heeds instruction is on the path to life: Heeds, meaning to pay attention, listen, or observe, has the same sense as used in verse 8, although it translates a different word. Instruction is used for the first time in 1:2. On the path of life is understood differently by various interpreters. Some understand that the person who receives or accepts instruction (teaching) will have a long and happy life. Others understand that the instructed person himself is a path to life because he is able to lead others by instructing them. Both views are possible.

But he who rejects reproof goes astray: Rejects means to refuse or fail to accept; a common idiom for this is “turns his back on.…” Reproof means correction for wrong thinking or acting. See its first use in 1:23. Goes astray means to wander away from the right path. Some take the form of the Hebrew to be causative and so to mean “leads others astray.” tev “in danger” seems to be the result of straying off the path of life.

The contrast between the two lines is that whoever accepts right instruction will be given a long and happy life, but the person who refuses to be corrected will miss the good life. We may translate, for example,

•    If you listen and learn when instructed, you will have a good life,

but if you reject correction you will come to a bad end.


Verses 18–21 are about true and false speech. Verse 18 has no contrasting parallelism and is difficult to interpret. Each line seems to be an independent statement about persons who hide their hatred and who spread slander.

He who conceals hatred has lying lips: Some take this line to mean that hate is hidden in lying words (literally “lips of falsehood”) and so a liar is a person who hates. This does not seem to give the sense. frcl says “It is hypocritical to hide one’s hate.” cev expresses something similar with “You can hide your hatred by telling lies.” These and many other translations make it clear that hatred is concealed (not dealt with honestly) by refusing to tell the truth about your feelings. For

He who utters slander is a fool: Slander refers to rumors or bad things said against someone. Note tev “gossip.” Fool is the same as used first in 1:22.

For the first line, neb, but not reb, follows the Septuagint and translates “There is no spite in a just man’s talk.” However, hottp, which rates the Hebrew text as “B,” suggests two interpretations of the whole verse: “He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and he who utters slander is a fool” or “He who conceals hatred with lying lips and who utters slander is a fool.”


When words are many, transgression is not lacking: This saying cautions against talking too much. For similar thoughts see 13:3 and 17:27. The observation is stated in an impersonal way, literally “In an abundance of words.…” In many languages this becomes “If someone talks a lot.…” Transgression renders a noun that refers to offensive behavior (rendered “offense” in verse 12). It means a failure to practice good sense in dealing with others. Lacking translates an adjective whose verb form means to cease, stop, or come to an end. It is possible to understand this line to mean that when someone has committed an offense no amount of talk will put things right. However, nearly all modern translations understand it to mean that too much talk ends in causing offense. cev avoids using the term “sin” (tev) and gives a better translation model for this line: “You will say the wrong thing if you talk too much.”

But he who restrains his lips is prudent: Restrains means to hold back, keep in check, or control. Lips refers to speech or talk. Prudent, meaning wise or intelligent, is the same word as used in verse 5. To restrain the lips means to keep your speech under control by refusing to talk too much. cev says “so be sensible and watch what you say.” gecl has “Whoever has understanding holds his tongue in check.” Some other translations say “The wise person keeps his mouth shut.”


The tongue of the righteous is choice silver: The tongue is used here, like “the lips” in verses 18–19, to refer to words or speech. The tongue of the righteous means the speech or words of a good person. For choice silver see 8:10 and 19. We may translate this line, for example, “Words spoken by a good person are as valuable as the purest silver.”

The mind of the wicked is of little worth: Mind is literally “heart.” The contrasting parallelism is between The tongue of the righteous and the mind of the wicked and between choice silver and the more general little worth. This line may be rendered, for example, “The thoughts of the wicked have little worth” or “What the wicked think is of little value.”


The lips of the righteous feed many: Here again The lips refers to words or speech and in this case perhaps counsel, advice, or instruction. Feed renders the usual verb meaning to provide pasture or to feed a flock, or by extension to care for a flock of animals. This metaphor may refer to the role of a king or leader as a shepherd of the people or may be used more generally as rendered by tev. In any case the words of a good person are of value or benefit to those who receive them, that is, many people. We may translate, for example, “The instruction given by a good person helps many people” or “The words of a good person instruct many others.”

But fools die for lack of sense: Fools as in 1:7 refers to people who reject instruction and lead others to do likewise. The fool fails to nurture himself and others with sensible instruction and so dies. Die and death, as discussed in 2:18, often have the sense in Proverbs of dying prematurely due to ignorance. For this reason tev and cev use “kill.” Lack of sense is, as in verse 13, “lack of heart,” which means lack of intelligence or good judgment. This line may be translated, for example, “But fools are killed because of their stupidity” or “But foolish people die before their time due to their stupidity.”


This verse is one of the few in these sayings that mentions the Lord. There is no contrast between the lines, but rather each line consists of an independent statement as in verse 18.

The blessing of the Lord makes rich: The blessing of the Lord refers to the goodness or kindness of the Lord. The intention of this verse is to emphasize that the good things that belong to the righteous are granted to them from the Lord. The emphasis is properly stated in tev, but not in rsv: “It is the Lord’s blessing.…” We may also translate “The blessing of the Lord is what gives a person riches.” In some languages this thought is expressed, for example, “God shows his good heart by giving some people riches” or “It is God’s goodness that enables some people to have wealth.”

And he adds no sorrow with it: As the rsv and tev footnotes show, the second line may be understood in two ways. In the rsv text the word translated sorrow is the object of the verb adds. In the rsv footnote the same word is taken to be the subject of adds, “toil adds nothing.…” See also 5:10; 14:23; and Psa 127:1–2. This line is better translated as in the rsv footnote or as in the tev text: “Hard work can make you no richer.”


In verses 23–25 the usual order of positive followed by negative is reversed. Here the negative, that is, “the fool” or “the wicked,” occurs in the first line.

It is like sport to a fool to do wrong: Sport renders a word probably meaning “laughter.” The word translated do wrong means to carry out an evil act or plan. The Hebrew word is used in connection with serious crimes such as incest, adultery, and idolatry in Lev 18:17; Job 31:11, and Jer 13:27. reb translates it “lewdness,” which means obscene or lustful conduct: “Lewdness is entertainment for the stupid.” frcl has “The practice of evil is like a game to the fool.” We may also say, for example, “Doing evil is fun to the fool” or “A fool enjoys doing evil.”

But wise conduct is pleasure to a man of understanding: This line contrasts wisdom with foolishness. The Hebrew text says literally “But wisdom to the man of understanding.” rsv has represented sport in the second line by supplying pleasure. This gives the sense that sensible persons take pleasure in wisdom just as fools do in wrongdoing. tev is a good model translation.


What the wicked dreads will come upon him: The contrast in the lines of this verse is between the anticipation of the two kinds of people. Dreads means to fear intensely something that has not yet happened. The wicked person lives in fear that he will come to a bad end. In some languages this idea is best ex pressed, for example, “Wicked people fear something will happen to them and it does” or “What wicked people fear most is the thing that happens to them.”

But the desire of the righteous will be granted: Desire is used here in the good sense of wishing for or wanting something. The righteous is plural in this line, and the wicked is singular in the first line. But while these are contrasting parallels, they are not meant to contrast on the basis of number. Will be granted may be understood as impersonal (“someone gives”) or as meaning that the Lord is the one who gives. In some languages the person granting the desire must be expressed, for example, “But the Lord will give to the good the things they want.” In others the line can be expressed simply as “But good people will receive [get] what they desire.”

tev has reversed the order of the lines in this verse, so that the reward of the righteous comes first and then the bad end of the wicked. This may be a more natural progression of thought in some languages.


When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more: Tempest renders a word meaning a windstorm, destructive wind, or perhaps a whirlwind. It is used in Job 21:18 and 27:20, which describe the destruction of the wicked by God. When the tempest passes is ambiguous in English since it may mean when the storm is happening or after the storm has passed by. This phrase is to be understood as “when a storm blows up,” “when a storm strikes,” or as in tev “Storms come.…” The wicked is no more means that the wicked cease to exist, are destroyed, or disappear. The function of the storm image is to express the thought of trouble, destruction, or calamity. Therefore frcl says “Evil people are overcome by adversity.” We may also say, for example, “Trouble destroys the wicked.”

But the righteous is established forever: If we keep the storm or wind image in the first line, we will need to translate established as a parallel thought in the second line. See tev “are always safe.” Established translates a noun meaning foundation or base. The sense is that good people, in contrast to the wicked who are destroyed by the wind, are like a solid foundation, and therefore are permanent and unmovable. Most modern translations treat this expression as a clause; for example, njb “but the upright stands firm forever” and reb “but the righteous are firmly established forever.” frcl, which replaced the storm image in the first line, says “but the good person always withstands.”


Like vinegar to the teeth, and smoke to the eyes: This verse is not a contrast between two things. Rather the first line says what something in line 2 is like. It compares the sluggard to the effect of vinegar on the teeth and smoke on the eyes. Vinegar refers here to an acidic liquid made from the juice of grapes. In Psa 69:21 (Hebrew verse 22) it occurs in parallel with poison. The effect of drinking this strongly acidic liquid is to irritate the mouth and cause the teeth to feel rough. Vinegar is sometimes expressed as “bitter drink.” Smoke likewise burns and irritates the eyes.

So is the sluggard to those who send him: The sluggard refers to a lazy person. See the description in 6:6. The sluggard is not a farmer who fails to do the work required to have a suitable life but more likely a servant who is under orders, as seen in the expression those who send him. This expression refers to the owner or overseer of the servant who assigns him a job. The laziness of such a servant is as irritating to his owner or employer as vinegar and smoke. frcl translates

•    Vinegar irritates the teeth and smoke [irritates] the eyes; in the same way the lazy servant is a source of irritation to his master.

Some other translations maintain a second person address in this verse:

•    Don’t try to make a lazy person work for you.

That person will make you feel bad,

like something bitter in your mouth

or smoke that stings your eyes.


Verses 27–32 all have contrasting parallel lines with the negative in the second line. The contrasts are between the righteous and the wicked and so deal in moral matters.

The fear of the Lord prolongs life: For fear of the Lord see 1:7. Prolongs means to add to, increase, or lengthen. This is a claim made for the father’s teaching in 3:2 and for wisdom in 3:16 and 9:11. Life in this line is literally “days.” cev translates “If you respect the Lord, you will live longer.” gecl says “Whoever takes God seriously, increases the years of his life.”

But the years of the wicked will be short: Here the years of the wicked means “the length of life of the wicked” or “the years a wicked person lives.” In 13:9 and 20:20 this line is expressed as “… lamp will be put out.” Short and long life are relative terms. Short may be rendered, for example, “die prematurely” or “die before their time” (tev). cev says “your life will be cut short.”


The hope of the righteous ends in gladness: The Hebrew is literally “The hope of the righteous [is] gladness.” Hope renders a word based on the verb meaning to wait and has here the sense of waiting with expectation and trust in God’s deliverance. rsv has supplied ends in, which suggests the outcome of the hope held by the righteous. tev is the same with “leads to joy.” It is also possible to take gladness as the content of the expectation of the good person. In this sense these people have a positive or optimistic view of the future. We may, therefore, also translate “The hope of good people is their joy” or “Good people have hope and this gives them happiness.”

But the expectation of the wicked comes to nought: Expectation renders another word for hope. This word does not contrast with the hope (expectation with trust) in the first line. It is sometimes possible to say, for example, “But what the wicked look forward to …” or “But the things the wicked hope for.…” Comes to nought translates a verb meaning to perish or die. frcl says “the hopes of the wicked lead to nothing.” Some other translations say “What the wicked hope to receive never comes.” See also tev.


The Lord is a stronghold to him whose way is upright: Stronghold renders a word that refers to a place of refuge or safety where a person can seek protection. For upright see 2:7, 21. rsv has been revised by nrsv to “The way of the Lord is a stronghold for the upright.” hottp supports nrsv as far as the structure of the line is concerned; however, it translates “the Lord’s way is a stronghold for integrity.” It considers the Hebrew text as an “A” in favor of “integrity” or “perfection” over against “the perfect [upright] man.” Although the nrsv rendering is possible, many interpreters feel it makes better sense if way refers to the conduct of the good person. See also 11:20 and 13:6. tev translates only as “honest people.” cev says “The Lord protects everyone who lives right.”

But destruction to evildoers: This line is the same as 21:15b; however, the subject to be understood is the Lord or “he” from the first line. The contrasting parallel is between stronghold and destruction, as well as between upright and evildoers. Some translations make the contrast clearer by shifting to clauses; for example, frcl has

•    The Lord is a fortress for honest people, but he destroys those who do evil.


The righteous will never be removed: Removed renders a verb meaning “shake,” “overthrow,” or “dislodge.” The image is that of being permanent and secure in contrast to the losing of the promised land by the wicked. The construction is passive and must often be expressed as active in translation; for example, “No one will remove the righteous from his place” or stated positively, “Good people will stand firm” (cev).

But the wicked will not dwell in the land: The language is that of the promise of the land to Israel. See also 2:21–22. However, it is applied here to individuals rather than to Israel as a nation. For dwell see 1:33. In the land is a concrete parallel with the more general idea of not being removed or standing firm in the first line. Although will not dwell in the land has particular reference to the land of Israel, it is used metaphorically here in the sense of “will perish.” It is possible, therefore, to translate as neb does: “shall not remain on earth.” In many parts of the world, however, people still think of security and well-being in terms of being in their own land or country; for such people the figure is meaningful and may be kept. frcl is one version that keeps the figure, and it renders the whole verse:

•    Nothing can ever cause a just person to fall, but evil people will not dwell in the land.

Others translate, for example,

•    Straight people will live well forever in their own land,

but bad people will not last long there.


The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom: As in verses 11, 13, 18, 20, and 21, a part of the body is here associated with speech. Brings forth is literally “produces or bears fruit,” as a plant or tree does. Since this expression is figurative, it may be necessary in translation to shift to something that is straightforward. See tev. Wisdom may need to be expressed as wise, intelligent, or skillful words. We may translate this line, for example, “Wise words are spoken by the mouth of a good person” or “A good person speaks words that are sensible.”

But the perverse tongue will be cut off: Perverse in regard to speech is used in 2:12. See there for comments. The tongue is parallel with the mouth in the first line. The perverse tongue is one that speaks falsely or says things that are untrue. Cut off is often used in the sense of destroy. It may, however, be translated “cut out,” which refers then to the perverse tongue. Note tev “will be stopped.” cev has “deceitful liars will be silenced.” Some others say “God will shut the mouths of.…” frcl follows the idea of cutting out the tongue: “Liars deserve to have their tongues cut out.”


The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: The lips of the righteous is again the speech of good people. It is not their speech that knows but rather the speakers themselves. This may be rendered, for example, “When good people speak they know.…” What is acceptable refers to words and thoughts that are good, favorable, and kind and so are acceptable to God or to others. In other words these people know how to choose their words; or, as reb says, “The righteous suit words to the occasion.” In some languages there are idioms to describe talk that is acceptable; for example, “The words of a good person are sweet to the ears of the people.”

But the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse: that is, the speech or talk of evil people is false. Perverse is as in verse 31. We may render this verse:

•    Honest people know the right thing to say,

but the wicked always tell lies.

Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs 11:1–31

Chapter 11 continues the same form and type of sayings found in chapter 10. The structure found most frequently is the contrasting parallelism that usually has the form “A is or does X, but B is or does Y.” The most common contrast is between the righteous and the wicked, making observations or truths about religious or moral values. See the note at the beginning of 10:1 for advice about translating the element of contrast in this type of structure. See also “Translating Proverbs,” page 12.

There are other parallel structures in this chapter as well: sayings that compare one thing with another; and pairs of lines that make two independent statements expressing essentially the same idea.


The theme of this saying is honesty in business dealings.

A false balance is an abomination to the Lord: A false balance is literally “scales of deceit,” referring to false weights used by merchants to cheat their customers. For prohibitions against this practice see Lev 19:35–36; Deut 25:13–16; Micah 6:10–11. An abomination to the Lord was first used in 3:32. See there for comments.

In some languages it is more natural to reorder this line to say, for example, “The Lord hates false scales” or “The Lord hates anyone who cheats when weighing things.” The balance or “scales” are known wherever markets are found. If scales are unfamiliar, however, it is better to be more general and say, for example, “The Lord hates anyone who cheats in selling” or “… who cheats in exchanges.”

But a just weight is his delight: A just weight is literally “a perfect stone,” that is, a weight that is correct or weighs things honestly. rsv has used the word delight in 1:22; 2:14; 7:18; 8:30, 31 to translate a variety of words; the Hebrew term rendered delight in this verse has not been used in any of the above verses. However, the sense is the same as that in 8:30. See there for comments. This line may be rendered as in tev, or, for example, “But the Lord is pleased when people use honest weights,” “… when people weigh things correctly,” or, more generally, “But he likes everyone who is honest” (cev).


Many languages have sayings very similar to this one referring to the person who is proud. The English version is “Pride goes before a fall.”

When pride comes, then comes disgrace: In the Hebrew this line has sounds that recur in each part—ba’ zadon / wayyabo’ qalon (“Comes pride, then comes shame.”). Pride is used by rsv in 8:13, where it translates a different word. However, the sense here is the same as there. Then comes … gives a picture of pride and disgrace as objects in a sequence: “disgrace follows.” Disgrace is seen as the consequence of pride. Disgrace or shame, as first used in 6:33 (translated “dishonor”), is the opposite of honor.

In some languages pride and disgrace are expressed in figurative language; for example, pride is “going about with the nose in the air” and disgrace is “having the eyes on the ground.” In some languages this line may be translated, for example, “If you are a proud person, soon you will be a disgraced person,” “Whoever is proud will become ashamed,” or as in tev.

But with the humble is wisdom: The word rendered humble is used only here. Its verb form is used in Micah 6:8 “to walk humbly with your God.” Humble or “modest” refers here to a person who does not overestimate himself or herself, that is, does not pretend to be more important than he or she is. The rsv wording of this line does not make clear the relation between wisdom and being humble. The idea is probably best taken as in tev “It is wiser to be modest.” We may also say, for example, “People who are modest show they have good sense” or, as in gecl, “A wise person is modest.”


The sayings in verses 3–8 follow a single broad theme of the outcomes in life for those who are upright and those who are not (“the wicked”). There are many repetitions and similarities between the individual sayings.

The integrity of the upright guides them: Integrity has the same sense as in 2:7 and 10:9, but translates a different word. That word describes the character of Job in Job 2:3 (translated “blameless”). For upright see 2:7. Guides translates the verb used in 6:22 in which the teachings of the parents “lead” the child. If it is unnatural for an abstract quality such as integrity to be the subject of this action, it may be necessary to use a different construction; for example, “The person who is good will do what is honest,” “People who are upright know how to do what is right,” or “The good person will be led to do what is honest.” See tev.

But the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them: Crookedness translates a verb meaning to twist or pervert and may refer to both speech and action. It is the opposite of “integrity.” For the treacherous see 2:22. The word destroys is probably best taken to mean “ruin” or “to bring down to nothing.” Just as the good person will be guided by his integrity, the wicked person will be ruined by his wicked behavior. frcl translates the second line “The dishonest person will be destroyed by his love of evil.” gecl has “The deceiver will be slain by his falsehood.” This may need to be adjusted to say, for example, “People who deceive others will be destroyed because they are dishonest.”


The term “righteousness” is a common element in verses 4–6. The heading used by Toy for verses 3–6 is “The saving power of goodness contrasted with the destructive power of evil.” Scott gives the theme of these verses as “the survival value of virtue or ‘righteousness.’ ”

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath: Do not profit means that riches have no advantage, will do a person no good, or have no value. See 10:2 for comments. The day of wrath, as used in the prophets, is the time in which the Lord brings famine, pestilence, or exile on Israel or other nations. See Ezek 7:9; Isa 10:3. In the Wisdom books it is the day of retribution for the individual sinner, which from the parallelism of this verse may be a reference to death (see below). Whybray argues that the sense here is that the Riches referred to have been obtained wrongfully, as in 10:2, and the person who gets wealth in this way brings the anger of the Lord upon himself. Being rich will not protect him from the consequences of his evil. However, there is nothing here to say that wealth in itself is wrong; the saying rather suggests that it is unsafe to rely on riches when faced with calamity or death. We may translate, for example, “On the day when God judges us, all the things a rich man has will not help him.”

But righteousness delivers from death: This line is the same as the second line of 10:2. See there for translation. For righteousness see 8:20. Death here has the sense of a premature and unhappy death brought on the wicked by the Lord. For a good model translation see tev.


This saying expresses the belief that people get from life what their own conduct prepares them for, whether for good or for bad.

The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight: The righteousness of the blameless is a complex expression because it is formed from two closely related terms, and the whole is made to function as the subject of the sentence. We may need to restructure this to say, for example, “Whoever is honest and has good will” or “Whoever is truly good.” Blameless comes from the same Hebrew root as the term rendered “integrity” in verse 3. Keeps … straight translates the same verb as in 3:6. See there for comments and model translations.

But the wicked falls by his own wickedness: For wicked see 2:22. Falls here and in 11:14 is used figuratively to mean that the wicked is caused to fail or suffer a downfall, that is, to meet with disaster due to his or her own evil.


The sense of this saying is very similar to that in verse 3.

The righteousness of the upright delivers them: The righteousness of the upright is equivalent in form and sense to the subject in the first line of verse 5. Delivers has here the sense of “rescue,” “save,” or “protect from”; see the second line of verse 4. If it is not natural in your language to use righteousness as the subject of a transitive verb, it may be necessary to say, for example, “The person who is upright is rescued because he is honest” or “God rescues the upright people because they are good.”

But the treacherous are taken captive by their lust: This line is difficult to interpret. Literally it says “But in the hawah of the treacherous [they] are caught,” where hawah can mean “craving” or “desire” as in 10:3, or possibly “ruin” or “destruction.” Since the verb has no subject other than the pronoun “they,” it is hard to decide who are taken captive. rsv has rendered hawah as lust. This leaves the treacherous as the ones who are caught, an interpretation supported by the Septuagint and the Vulgate, and the most likely suggestion in light of the contrast with the upright in the first line. tev, in which the treacherous are “those who can’t be trusted,” follows rsv. Instead of taken captive by their lusts, tev has “trapped by their own greed.” nrsv has revised rsv to say “but the treacherous are taken captive by their schemes,” and frcl has “Dishonest people are caught in the trap of their own desires.”

These translations may serve as models for other languages. It may be necessary, however, to avoid the passive construction by saying, for example, “The desires of dishonest people trap them.” If the figurative language here is not natural, it may be possible to add a simile, for example, “The plans of dishonest people catch them just as a trap catches an animal.”


Both lines of this verse say much the same thing. Because of this cev has translated the two lines as one: “When the wicked die, their hopes die with them.”

When the wicked dies, his hope perishes: The terms rendered hope and expectation (in the next line) are the same terms used in 10:28. However, rsv has translated each Hebrew term once as “hope” and once as “expectation.” The two terms are very close in meaning. Hope is the expectation of happiness. Perishes means to die, come to an end, be destroyed.

And the expectation of the godless comes to nought: Godless, which means evil people, is the rsv’s understanding of a Hebrew word that has been given numerous interpretations. Without changing the vowels or consonants of the Hebrew word, interpreters have suggested such meanings as “strength” or “sorrow,” and several modern versions prefer “riches.” Comes to nought repeats the same verb rendered perishes in the first line. This line may be translated as in rsv or by following one of the modern versions; for example, reb “and any expectation of affluence ends” or njb “hope placed in riches comes to nothing.”

frcl renders the whole verse

•    The death of the wicked destroys all his hopes, particularly those he put in riches.

This is a good model, as is the option of following cev in combining the two lines into one.


This verse follows thoughts already expressed in verses 3, 5, and 6.

The righteous is delivered from trouble: Is delivered translates the passive form of a verb meaning to rescue or save. Trouble refers to distress, difficulties, or misfortune. Languages that cannot use a passive construction in this line may have to supply a subject, for example, “The Lord rescues the righteous from their troubles” or “The Lord gets the upright out of trouble.”

And the wicked gets into it instead is literally “and the wicked enters [in] his place.” This sounds as if the wicked is made to suffer in the place of the righteous. However, the sense of this line is that eventually the righteous is rescued while the wicked gets into trouble. Toy takes the sense of instead here as “reversal of positions.” See tev for a model translation.


Verses 9–14 appear to be concerned with the relations of people to their community rather than between individuals.

With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor: Mouth here refers to talk, gossip, or slander. Godless renders an adjective related to a verb and means to be defiled or estranged from God. It may sometimes be translated “person who does not trust God” or “one who turns his back on God.” Would destroy renders the causative form of a verb meaning to damage, spoil, or ruin. See 3:28 for comments on neighbor.

But by knowledge the righteous are delivered: Knowledge here is not just facts or information but rather wisdom or good sense. Delivered renders the same verb as in verse 8. The thought in this line may be that the righteous person can use his good sense to save himself from trouble or that wise people can rescue others from their troubles.

tob translates this verse

•    The ungodly ruins his neighbor with his mouth,

but the just will be saved by knowledge.

frcl has

•    Whoever denies God destroys others with his words, but the good escape thanks to their experience.

cev says

•    Dishonest people use gossip to destroy their neighbors;

good people are protected by their own good sense.


Verses 10–11 are concerned with the well-being of people in the city.

When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices: When … well is literally “in good times/conditions.” The sense of the first clause is “When good people succeed or are successful.” Rejoices is to be happy or filled with joy. Here, unlike in the Prophets, where the nation of Israel was all-important, the people of the city or town are the political unit that benefits and rejoices. In many languages it is necessary to say, for example, “The people of the city rejoice.”

And when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness: Perish is the same verb as in verse 7. This may mean “die,” “be destroyed,” or “ruined materially.” Shouts of gladness renders a word that refers to ringing cries of joy. It may be necessary in translation to indicate that “the people of the city shout with joy.” See tev for a model translation.


By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted: The preferred understanding of blessing is the benefit bestowed on the city by the upright person. Others take the view that by God giving blessing to the upright, the city benefits. In either case the blessing comes from God, but in the former interpretation the emphasis is upon the action of the upright person. Blessing may be understood here as words or deeds, or as prosperity. Exalted means elevated in rank or power, and so to be praised or made great. tev says “A city becomes great when.…” gecl renders this line “Blessings come through the upright and build up the city.”

But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked: This line contrasts with the first in that what the wicked person says prevents the city, that is, the people of the city, from being blessed. Moreover, they are overthrown, that is to say “they are destroyed or ruined.”

We may translate this verse, for example,

•    God’s gifts to the upright person make a city great,

but the speech of the wicked brings about its ruin.


He who belittles his neighbor lacks sense: Belittles renders a verb used in 6:30 (translated “despise”) to mean to look down upon or consider as worthless. This term can mean to speak with contempt and is used in parallel with “scorn” in Isa 37:22.

But a man of understanding remains silent: rsv uses man of understanding in 1:5 and 10:23, referring, as here, to a person of good sense. This contrasts with the person in the first line who lacks sense. The book of Proverbs often warns against talking too much. To remain silent is to resist the temptation to say things that may be harmful to others.

A typical translation of this verse is

•    If a person uses bad talk to put down other people, he is stupid.

But the person who thinks well keeps his mouth shut and does not use this kind of talk.


This verse is a clear statement about two kinds of people.

He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets: A talebearer, which is literally “worker of slander,” means someone who goes about spreading gossip or bad reports about others. Reveals secrets, that is, makes public those things about people that for the good of the community need not be known. This can refer to such things as the private lives of people. The contrast is between the talebearer and the person in the second line who is trustworthy. spcl tersely translates this line as “The gossiper tells everything.”

But he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing hidden: Trustworthy in spirit refers to a reliable or dependable person, someone we can trust or place full confidence in. Keeps … hidden means that this person keeps to himself or herself private information about other people for the good of the life of the community. spcl translates this line as “The discreet person keeps a secret.”

cev renders the verse

•    A gossip tells everything,

but a true friend will keep a secret.

See also tev.


Where there is no guidance, a people falls: The word rendered guidance was first used in 1:5, where rsv translated it “skill,” and tev “guidance.” In the context of this verse it refers to advice, counsel, or direction. A people renders a word used in the Old Testament to refer to people in general or to the citizens of a country or the inhabitants of a city in particular. Falls, as in verse 5, means to come to ruin or to meet with disaster. Note that tev has interpreted people to refer to a nation. cev, on the other hand, relates this line to a city: “A city without wise leaders will end up in ruin.” frcl keeps the sense general with “A people perish when they are not directed.”

But in an abundance of counselors there is safety: Abundance means “many” or “numerous”; the whole expression means the active participation of many counselors. Counselors renders a noun related to the verb meaning to advise or admonish. They may be advisors to a king or to anyone seeking advice. Safety renders a noun used in the Old Testament to refer to deliverance by God or by human effort, a military victory, national success and prosperity, or salvation in the spiritual sense. In both the context of the nation and the city the sense of safety is better expressed in English as “security.” See tev.

Some modern translations, however, interpret this verse as referring to a military campaign. Among these are njpsv, neb, and reb. For example, reb says “For want of skilful strategy an army is lost; victory is the fruit of long planning.” nrsv has changed rsv a people to “a nation” and added a footnote that says “Or an army.”

Still others take this verse to refer to public policy, the manner in which a nation or city is governed; for example, tob says “For lack of public policy [politique] a people fail; their well-being is in the number of counselors.” All of these are acceptable understandings and translations of this verse.


He who gives surety for a stranger will smart for it: Surety was introduced in 6:1. There it was used in relation to close associates as well as to strangers. For stranger see 6:1. Will smart is literally “suffer injury,” that is, “will be hurt.” nrsv has revised rsv to say “To guarantee loans for a stranger brings trouble.” Most modern translations agree with rsv and nrsv. hottp supports rsv, but adds a second interpretation, “A bad man will be in a bad way [suffer for it] for having gone surety for a stranger.”

But he who hates suretyship is secure: Hates translates the same word used in 1:22 and 6:16 and in this context has the sense of avoid or keep away from. Suretyship, translated as “pledge” in 6:1, is literally “to strike palms [shake hands].” Secure, as in 1:33, means to be at ease or untroubled because such people will not be pursued by creditors.

We may render this verse, for example,

•    If you go surety [promise to pay someone’s debts], you will have troubles.

It is better to avoid such promises and be at peace.

We may also say, for example,

•    Promise to pay others’ debts and suffer;

say “No” and be safe.


This verse has been disputed by interpreters. It is not certain in the Hebrew text if the contrast is between honor and riches, between women and men, or between gracious and violent ways of obtaining a person’s goals. It has also been pointed out that this is the only verse in Proverbs that makes a contrast between man and woman.

A gracious woman gets honor: Gracious describes a woman whose form and appearance are lovely, graceful, attractive. Gets honor means she receives praise or respect. hottp considers the word rendered honor a “C” and supports rsv by translating gets honor as “gets glory.” nrsv has revised rsv and follows the Septuagint, which has two additional lines. tev also follows the Septuagint, but this approach is not recommended to translators.

And violent men get riches: The translation violent men has been questioned. Some hold that it means “vigorous,” and so reb has “bold.” Others appeal to the Septuagint and get “diligent”; however, most versions follow rsv with violent or a term of similar meaning, and we recommend this to translators. For riches see 3:16.

Whybray examines the various solutions proposed for the interpretation of the verse and concludes that two solutions are the most likely. The first is the idea that gentle methods such as those employed by the gracious woman can accomplish more than violence or bold aggression because it is more important to get honor or glory than to get riches. In this case we may translate, for example,

•    It is better to be gracious and get honor

than to be violent and get riches.

Alternatively, Whybray suggests a simile

•    As energetic men acquire riches,

so a charming woman gains honor.

cev contrasts the manner in which a woman gets respect, that is, by being gracious, with the way a man gets wealth, by hard work:

•    A gracious woman will be respected,

but a man must work hard to get rich.

cev has a footnote to the second line, which says “Or ‘a ruthless man will only get rich.’ ”


A man who is kind benefits himself: Man in both lines of the verse is not intended to be exclusively an adult male and so an inclusive form such as “people,” “you who,” or “anyone” is better. Kind translates the Hebrew adjective meaning “merciful,” “good,” or “loyal.” Benefits refers here to profits or rewards.

But a cruel man hurts himself: Cruel contrasts with kind in the first line and means one who is fierce, angry, or violent. Hurts contrasts with benefits and means to do harm, injure, or cause trouble. Himself renders a different word than used in the first line and means “flesh.” In this context it has the sense of himself.

The point of this saying is that a person’s behavior toward others has unexpected consequences for himself or herself. tev may serve as a model translation. frcl is another model:

•    Goodness benefits the one who practices it, but cruelty turns itself against the one who is guilty of it.

We may also say, for example,

•    Be kind to others and you will be rewarded;

be cruel and you will suffer the results.


Verses 18–21 express the same observation by expanding the thought of verse 17.

A wicked man earns deceptive wages: A wicked man renders the masculine singular adjective wicked. See the comment on man in verse 17. Earns translates the common Hebrew verb meaning to do or make. Deceptive wages refers to wages, rewards, or income that is different from what it appears to be. His wages are illusive, unreal, or worthless and so are not what the wicked had expected to get.

But one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward: Sows righteousness is a figure for doing good, living uprightly, or acting justly. A sure reward is literally “reward of truth,” meaning a genuine or certain reward. We may translate this verse, for example,

•    The wages of the wicked are an illusion,

but the reward of the person who works for justice is real.

See also tev.


He who is steadfast in righteousness will live: The first word of this line in the Hebrew text may be understood as introducing a consequence. In this context it is an adjective meaning steadfast that is derived from a verb meaning “to be firm.” To be steadfast in righteousness means to do the right thing, to decide to live an honest and upright life, or to determine to act justly. nrsv avoids the rsv He who and says “whoever is.” Will live continues the commonly expressed thought throughout the book of Proverbs that right living leads to a long and happy life. Here it contrasts with die in the second line.

But he who pursues evil will die: Pursues does not mean to chase or run after but is used generally in the sense of “follow in the way of” or “do the things evil people do.” Die means to come to the end of life, to cease to exist, and is not used here in a figurative sense.

For the whole verse frcl says

•    Whoever decides to be just will live, but the one who chooses evil will die.

We may also say, for example,

•    If you will be firm in doing what is right, you will have a long life,

but if you follow evil ways you will not live.


Men of perverse mind are an abomination to the Lord: 3:32 in the rsv says “the perverse man is an abomination to the Lord.” In this verse it is those of perverse mind who are described in this way. Perverse, a different Hebrew adjective than that used in 3:32, has the same sense as there. Mind is literally “heart,” which represents the inner self of the person. For abomination see 3:32 and 6:16. This statement is a straightforward condemnation of evil, and the line may be rendered, for example, “The Lord hates people who have evil minds” or “… whose hearts are full of evil.” nrsv says “Crooked minds are an abomination to the Lord.”

But those of blameless ways are his delight: Blameless, as used in verse 5, refers to a good person, someone of moral integrity. A person of blameless ways is someone who lives uprightly, does what is right. Delight is used in verse 1 where a just weight on a scale is said to be a delight to the Lord. As in 8:30 the sense is to give pleasure or be pleasing. See tev “loves.” We may translate this line, for example, “But he takes pleasure in everyone who does what is right.”


Be assured, an evil man will not go unpunished: Be assured renders a Hebrew idiom “hand to hand,” perhaps a phrase resulting from the practice of striking hands together when concluding an agreement. Note tev “you can be sure.” Evil man renders the masculine singular form of the adjective evil. nrsv “the wicked” avoids the exclusive sense of man. Note tev “evil people.” Not … unpunished renders a legal term denoting acquittal or being set free from guilt, presumably by the Lord as judge. The double negative must often be translated by a positive, for example, “will be punished.” We may also express this as a single negative, for example, “will not escape punishment.”

But those who are righteous will be delivered: Righteous refers to the upright, those who are good. Delivered renders the passive form of the Hebrew verb meaning to set free or enable to escape. In languages in which the agent of the action must be expressed we may say, for example,” But the Lord will deliver those who are upright” or “But the Lord will enable good people to escape unhurt.” Since this verse makes a clear contrast between the fate of the evil person and the righteous person, the sense of delivered may be expressed as the opposite of not go unpunished. A translation that follows this approach says,

•    Everybody should know that evil people will receive punishment,

but straight people will not receive this punishment.


This saying states that indiscretion is inappropriate for a beautiful woman and compares this unsuitableness to a valuable object being used as an adornment on an unclean animal. The form of the Hebrew saying deserves our attention. It says literally

“Ring of gold in snout of pig,

woman of beauty but lacking taste.”

In each line there is a repetition of sounds, both consonants and vowels. This has the effect of binding the two halves of each line as well as uniting the two lines into a single unit. Each line consists of two noun phrases. There is a pair of associated items (gold ring and beautiful woman) and a pair of contrasting items (pig’s snout and beautiful woman). Furthermore, the comparison in the Hebrew verse is without any special marker. rsv has added Like to create a simile.

Like a gold ring in a swine’s snout: Gold rings were worn as jewelry in women’s noses, not in the snouts of pigs. See Gen 24:47; Isa 3:21; Ezek 16:12. Swine is a more general term than “pig,” which is used in all modern English versions. The emotive factor was important in ancient Israel since the pig was considered unclean. In areas where metal rings are placed in the snouts of pigs to control them or to prevent them from rooting, it may be necessary to make clear that the gold ring is to make the pig beautiful. In areas where pigs are unknown a suitable domestic animal may be substituted.

A beautiful woman without discretion: In the second line the word rendered without is a verb meaning to turn away from or depart. However, that word is nowhere else used in this kind of context. Because it is followed by discretion, it is better to interpret as in rsv and tev. Discretion is literally “taste,” meaning good taste, but in the context is better taken as good sense or good judgment.

If a language cannot express comparison in the same brief way as the Hebrew, it will be necessary to make some adjustments. For example, in some languages it will be clearer to reverse the order of the two lines so that the item of comparison, the beautiful woman who lacks good sense, is stated before the thing with which she is humorously compared. Note tev. We may also say, for example,

•    A beautiful woman who is stupid is a gold ring in a pig’s snout.

•    A silly beautiful woman is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout.

•    Beauty is wasted on a foolish woman

like a gold ring is wasted on a pig’s snout.

•    A gold ring adorns a pig’s snout like stupidity adorns a beautiful woman.


The desire of the righteous ends only in good: Desire … righteous is as used in 10:24. Ends is supplied by rsv. The Hebrew has “Desire of the righteous only good.” Because there is no verb in this line, reb understands it to mean “The righteous desire only what is good.” However, the parallelism of the second line makes the rsv translation of the first line more certain. The desire of the righteous means “The things that good people wish for” or “What the upright desire.” See tev, which also supplies a verb phrase, “results in.” Good here is to be taken to mean “good outcome” or “good results.” In some languages we may say, for example, “The things that good people want most bring them what is good.”

The expectation of the wicked in wrath: This line is literally “[The] expectation [of the] wicked wrath.” Expectation, meaning “hope,” as in 10:28 and in verse 7, refers to all that the wicked plan or count on. As in line 1, there is no verb, but the relation of expectation to wrath is that of “ends in,” “results in,” or “leads to.” The two lines are fully parallel and contrasting. neb/reb have changed the vowels of the word rendered wrath to get “nothing” and translate “comes to nothing.” This change, however, is unnecessary. Wrath may be taken to refer to the anger of God, as in Isa 13:13, or to the anger of people, as in Gen 49:7. See tev text and footnote. In the first case we may say, for example, “The hope of the wicked ends in God’s anger.” In the second case we may say, for example, “The hope of … ends in the anger of others” or “The things the wicked hope for only cause people to become angry.”

A translation of the whole verse that emphasizes the parallelism says

•    When the plans of a righteous person come to pass, only good things come out of it,

but when the plans of a bad person come to pass, that makes God angry.


The intention of this saying seems to be general and affirms that generosity is a good investment. Verses 25–26, which have to do with money, make the use of wealth central here also.

One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer: One man translates a Hebrew particle that merely states that something exists or happens; for example, “there is [one who].…” This does not mean that the example given is typical but rather that it sometimes happens. Gives freely renders a verb meaning to scatter or disperse and is used in Psa 112:9 of giving generously to the poor. Gives freely then is to be taken as “gives generously” or “being generous with money.” However, the book of Proverbs nowhere encourages extravagance or lavish expenditures. Yet expresses a surprise in view of what was said before. Grows … richer renders a verb form meaning “adds to” or “increases,” and the sense is “yet the person generous in giving increases his wealth.”

Another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want: Withholds means “keeps back” or “does not spend.” What he should give is literally “what is due or proper.” Only suffers want is literally “only to poverty.” This line expresses the contrary of line 1. The person who holds on to his money ends up being poor.

frcl has a good model translation for the whole verse:

•    Some give generously and increase their fortune. Some save more than necessary and become poor.

cev says

•    Sometimes you can become rich by being generous

or poor by being greedy.

See also tev.


The two lines of this verse affirm the same thought and have essentially the same meaning. They agree with the idea expressed in the first line of verse 24.

A liberal man will be enriched: A liberal man is literally “a soul of blessing,” which is made up of two feminine nouns in the Hebrew. nrsv has “a generous person.” Note tev “Be generous.” Will be enriched is literally “will be made fat,” which is an idiom for “grow rich” or “become prosperous.” The sense of this line is that the generous person will be rewarded with wealth. We may translate, for example, “If you are generous, you will become rich.”

And one who waters will himself be watered: Waters renders a form of the verb “to water” in the sense of giving someone a drink of water. Be watered means “will receive a drink of water in return.” Some translations render this line in a more general way: “If you help others, they will help you too.”

We may translate this verse, for example,

•    Be generous to other people and you will receive things in return.

Give someone a drink of water and someone will give you a drink too.


This verse illustrates what it means to be generous or greedy in verses 24–25. The saying presupposes a scarcity of grain due to poor harvests. See the case of Joseph in Egypt in Gen 41.

The people curse him who holds back grain: Curse means to speak badly against someone. In this context we are not dealing with a curse placed on someone as a form of punishment; the sense here is that people say bad things to and about the offender. Holds back grain refers to the grain merchant or farmer who hoards grain waiting for a higher price. Note how tev has made “waiting for a higher price” a part of its text. Grain renders a word that refers to wheat but is also used generally for cereals or grass seeds that are eaten by people. If wheat is not known, a more general term for grain may be used. If no grains are grown or known locally, you may need to speak of “food” or “crops.”

But a blessing is on the head of him who sells it: Blessing is the opposite of curse and means here to speak well of or to praise. Head in the expression on the head is the use of part of the body to represent a whole person and so the sense is “him” or better “the person who.” Sells it indicates that the person sells his grain when there is a shortage instead of withholding it from the market while waiting for the price to go up.

We may translate this verse, for example,

•    People will say bad things about a merchant who hoards grain waiting for a higher price,

but they will speak well of the one who puts his grain up for sale.

•    If a person keeps his food at a time when people want to buy it, they will say bad things about him,

but if someone lets people buy food from him, they will be happy with him.


He who diligently seeks good seeks favor: The main difficulty in this saying is the use of the term favor. Favor refers to good will or acceptance, which some understand here to mean the good will of people. See tev “you will be respected.” cev has “Try hard to do right, and you will win friends.” On the other hand, favor may be taken to mean the favor of God, in which case it may mean that the person is seeking to have God prefer him or that he seeks for God to do good for others. frcl follows this approach with “God approves of the one who seeks to act rightly.” It seems that only this second approach is consistent with the emphases of the book of Proverbs.

Diligently seeks renders a verb related to the noun “dawn” and has the sense of seeking at dawn or seeking early, which may be taken in the sense of rsv diligently. Good is not an abstract quality but refers to good conduct or acting justly; in the light of this, diligently seeks good may be expressed as “tries hard to follow what is good” or “works to do what is right.” The second seeks in this line translates a different word than the first one and means to search for or try to find.

But evil comes to him who searches for it: In contrast to someone who seeks to do what is right, we have here someone who looks for evil. Evil refers to unfortunate or bad circumstances, difficult times, or unrest, and is personified here as coming to the person. Searches is yet another word with a similar meaning to the two words for seeks in the first line. cev translates this line “Go looking for trouble, and you will find it.”


He who trusts in his riches will wither: He who again renders the Hebrew form meaning “the one trusting,” where trust means to rely or depend on. The sense intended is that such a person depends on his wealth to protect him or deliver him from trouble. Some translations say, “… thinks money will help him to be safe.” Riches is as first used in 3:16. See also verse 16 of this chapter. Wither, as the rsv footnote shows, is literally “fall down” in the Hebrew text. hottp considers “will fall down” an “A” text and sees no need for correcting the Hebrew. For “fall” refer to verse 5. Note that tev has added in the form of a simile “fall like the leaves of autumn” to make a contrast with its rendering “like the leaves of summer” in the second line. This is to retain and to give meaning to “fall down.” However, it is not necessary to add this simile if the word used to render “fall down” is clear in this context.

But the righteous will flourish like a green leaf: Flourish means to bud, send out sprouts, or to grow. Like a green leaf is a simile found, for example, in Psa 1:3 and 92:12–14 (Hebrew verses 13–15). A green leaf is one that is well nourished and growing. cev says “like healthy plants.”

In some languages it will not be possible to use “fall” to mean “fail” or “collapse,” and wither may be unnatural when used in reference to a person. In such cases it may be necessary to make some kind of adjustment such as in tev. Or it may be possible to keep the contrast by saying, for example,

•    If you trust in your riches, you will become like a dry leaf,

but good people will grow like healthy plants.


This saying is made up of two lines that describe the fate of those who cause trouble with their family.

He who troubles his household will inherit the wind: One interpretation of this line is that his household refers to the person’s family, and in particular to the father who will divide his property at his death. Inherit the wind is to say that such a person inherits nothing or is the heir to nothing. The thought is well expressed by tev. We may also say, for example, “If you create trouble in your family, you will inherit nothing from them.” If the idea of inheritance is not clear, it may be necessary to say, for example, “If you are a troublemaker in your family, at the death of someone you will receive nothing.”

And the fool will be servant to the wise: If the fool here is the family troublemaker, we may take it that he, because he ends up with nothing, is forced to become a servant, that is, to find employment with someone who is wise. For

Another interpretation of the verse, preferred by Whybray, is that household, literally “house,” refers to personal property. This person fails to manage his affairs competently and as a result he inherits the wind, which Whybray takes to mean that he has squandered his wealth and is reduced to poverty. Consequently he must become the servant or slave of a wise creditor because he cannot pay his debts.

Most modern translations favor the first view.


This verse is difficult to interpret.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life: Fruit is normally a figure of speech referring to the product of a person’s living, the way someone lives, or the results of someone’s actions. The tev footnote shows that it has replaced fruit … is a tree by “righteousness gives life.” However, “righteousness gives life” is not at all clear. Tree of life was first used in 3:18, where it was taken to mean, among other things, “a tree that gives long life.” hottp, which gives the Hebrew text a “B” rating, understands the fruit of the righteous to mean “the righteous person’s fruit is.…” If we take tree of life as indicated above, this line may be expressed, for example, “The good person’s fruit is a tree that gives long life.” Using nonfigurative language we may say, for example, “The acts of a good person are a source of life” or “What a good person does gives life to others.” We may also say, for example, “The way honest people live gives life to others.”

But lawlessness takes away lives: Lawlessness, as the rsv footnote shows, is from the ancient versions. The Hebrew text says “a wise person.” If we follow the Hebrew text, as recommended by hottp, the second line should be read “and the wise person acquires people.” hottp explains this to mean that “the Israelite father increases his family, as is shown for instance by the story of Ruth. It is not possible to determine the level of sociological or spiritual development on which this proverb lies; the persons the wise man acquires for his family may be slaves, partisans, or disciples.” One way of expressing the sense of this line is “The wise person makes others want to come and stay with him.”

If we follow hottp, we will have a translation that says, for example,

•    The righteous person’s fruit is a tree of life,

and the wise person acquires people.

If we follow rsv, we may adjust it to say, for example,

•    The fruit of a good person is a tree that gives life,

but violence destroys life.

We may also adapt tev to say, for example,

•    People who live uprightly are a source of life for others,

but living violently destroys life.


The structure and argument of this verse takes the form, “A, much more B.” rsv shows this structure also in 15:11; 17:7; 19:7, 10; and 21:27.

If the righteous is requited on earth: The Hebrew text begins with a particle that calls attention to what follows (kjv “Behold”). In many languages rendering this particle as If … will give completely the wrong meaning, since it will say that the righteous may not get any reward. An alternative approach is to say “We know that … and so we can be sure.…” Requite means to repay, reward, or compensate. On earth should be understood as “on this earth” or “here on earth,” as in tev. If we keep the form of rsv, we may say, for example, “If good people receive what is just on this earth” or “If good people get what they deserve here on earth.”

How much more the wicked and the sinner: How much more is literally “also indeed,” a rhetorical device for adding emphasis to the second line; translators should use whatever device is appropriate for emphasis in their own language. The wicked and the sinner do not designate two kinds of evil people but are used together to make the expression emphatic and inclusive. The verb requite is to be understood as also applying to the second line. Requite as applied to sinners means “punish.” See tev.

For the whole verse frcl says

•    If good people are rewarded on earth, one can be certain that the wicked and the sinner will receive what they deserve.

We may modify the form of this to say

•    We know that good people will receive their reward in this world,

and this means that bad people too who keep on sinning will certainly get what they deserve.

Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs 12:1–28

Chapter 12, like chapters 10 and 11, is largely made up of two-line sayings of contrasting parallelism. See the note at the beginning of 10:1 for advice about translating the element of contrast in this type of structure. The most frequent theme is the contrast between the righteous and the wicked. Exceptions to this pattern are verses 9 and 14: in verse 9 something in line 1 is said to be better than something in line 2, while in verse 14 the two lines express a single thought. Verses 13–19, as well as verses 22, 23, and 25, are concerned with various aspects of speech.


This verse illustrates the compact structure of many of these ancient sayings as well as the way in which the second line carries the sense forward, strength ens it, and closes it with a punch word.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge: Whoever loves translates a masculine singular form meaning “the one loving.” Discipline renders the same word first used in rsv in 1:2 and translated “instruction.” Discipline is the training in self-control that aims to produce moral and mental improvement in the learner. In some languages to love discipline is expressed as “being happy when someone corrects you” or “wanting someone to put you straight when you go wrong.” This makes a good contrast with the matching expression in line 2, hates reproof. For

But he who hates reproof is stupid has a compressed form in Hebrew “but- one-hating correction stupid.” Hates, which contrasts with loves in the first line, means to feel dislike or hostility toward someone or something (see 1:22). Reproof, used first in 1:23, refers to correction or rebuke given to someone who is at fault. Stupid translates a term used only in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. In Psa 73:22 it is used in parallel with Hebrew behemoth “beast.” It suggests the idea of a dumb animal, a brute.

If the translation of the verse is to be compressed in the Hebrew style, it may be possible to say, for example,

•    Love discipline and learn, reject it and be stupid.

A rendering that reveals the contrasting parallelism is, for example,

•    If you love discipline, you will love knowledge,

but if you hate correction, you will be stupid.


A good man obtains favor from the Lord: A good man translates the Hebrew “the good.” rsv supplies man because the second line has man. Others like tev and nrsv use a plural form in both lines. If it is natural in your language, it is best to use a plural inclusive form in both lines. Obtains favor is used in 8:35. See there for comments. As in 11:1 where “delight” is used, favor refers to what is pleasing or acceptable to the Lord. In this line the Lord accepts or is pleased with good people.

But a man of evil devices he condemns: A man of evil devices contrasts with the good kind of people in line 1. Evil devices, as used in Psa 37:7, refers to evil schemes or plans to harm others. Note tev “who plan evil.” frcl says “the one who has evil intentions.” neb/reb calls such people “schemers.” Condemns may refer to strong disapproval, but in the context of this verse, it probably has a legal sense, that is, “judges someone as guilty.” cev expresses the legal sense as “but he punishes everyone who makes evil plans.” Some translations put condemns in direct speech: “the Lord says, ‘He must be punished.’ ”


A man is not established by wickedness: Man renders Hebrew ‘adam, a general term for a person or people. Established is used in 3:19 in regard to founding, making, creating in nature. In 16:12 the same term applies to the stability or security of the king on his throne. It is used in that sense in this line. Wickedness in Proverbs refers to evil or bad conduct, the wrong way to behave or treat others (see 2:22). This line affirms that wickedness does not offer anyone stability, safety, or security. However, in some languages it is not possible to speak of wickedness in this way. It is often necessary to say, for example, “If you are an evil person, you will have no security,” “Bad people do not live securely,” or “Evil people’s lives are always in danger.”

But the root of the righteous will never be moved: The root of the righteous is a figurative expression giving a picture of the righteous person as a plant with a deep root in the soil. Job 8:17–18 speaks of evil people having roots that will be pulled up. In this verse it is the righteous whose good root prevents them from being moved. Will never be moved is literally “will not totter [or, slip].” In some languages this figurative expression may be awkward. It may be possible, however, to retain the picture by shifting to a simile, as in cev, “But if you live right, you will be as secure as a tree with deep roots.”


A good wife is the crown of her husband: The Hebrew term translated good refers principally to strength or power. It is used in 31:10–31. The activities of the good wife there show her to be trustworthy, competent, and industrious. See also Ruth 3:11 where “woman of worth” is used. gecl calls her “capable,” frcl “courageous,” spcl “exemplary,” and cev “helpful.” The crown, the object worn on the head of a king or queen, is a symbol of authority, status, or honor.

Translations differ in the way they understand the good wife to be a crown. Some take it to mean that she gives honor to her husband. For example, spcl says “The exemplary wife makes her husband a king” and gecl “The capable wife brings the highest honor to her husband.” In tev, on the other hand, the woman is honored by her husband: “… is her husband’s pride and joy.” Both approaches are suitable; however, the first understanding seems more appropriate when the sense of the contrasting second line is considered. In some languages it may be necessary to say, for example, “A husband who has a capable wife is respected by others” or “People respect a man whose wife is industrious.”

But she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones: Brings shame contrasts with the honor and respect given to the husband in line 1. For


Verses 5–6 contrast the plans and words of the righteous with those of the wicked, and in verse 7 the contrast is that the wicked are defeated while the righteous stand firm.

The thoughts of the righteous are just: This saying compares the thinking or mind of good people with that of the wicked. Thoughts are here more than words; they are “plans” or “intentions” used in a good sense. Just renders the Hebrew word for “judgment.” The term is used in Job 29:14 where Job speaks of wearing justice as a robe and turban. The sense is to do the right thing or to act justly or fairly (see “justice” in 1:3). In this verse it is the plans or purposes of good people in their fair treatment of others.

The counsels of the wicked are treacherous: Counsels in line 2 has much the same sense as thoughts in line 1. The same word is used in 11:14 (translated “guidance”) in the sense of advice or admonition. Treacherous contrasts with fairness in line 1 and means deceitful or unfair.

In many languages this verse needs to be restructured so that the righteous and the wicked are the subjects of the contrasting statements. See tev, which offers a good model translation.


The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood: In this saying The words of the wicked pick up the theme of deceit from the previous line and picture the words as persons ready to ambush the righteous.

But the mouth of the upright delivers men: Mouth in this line matches words in the first line. Mouth and words may refer here to what is said by witnesses in a trial or similar situation. For upright see 2:7. Delivers men is literally “delivers them.” It is not certain who “them” represents, but it is probably the persons who may be ambushed and caught by the wicked in line 1. frcl says “What upright persons say protects others from death”; some others say “… help people when they are in trouble.” Note tev “those who are threatened” refers to the same victims as in line 1. Others make no attempt to do this. For example, spcl says “The words of an evil person are a deadly trap; those of a good man are salvation.”


This saying contrasts the instability of the wicked with the stability or safety of the righteous.

The wicked are overthrown and are no more: Overthrown renders a different word than that used in 11:11 but has a similar sense. The same Hebrew word as used here is also used in Lam 4:6 in reference to the sudden destruction of Sodom. It means to be destroyed or ruined; the sense may be that God brings the wicked to an end. In some languages it is necessary to express the fact that God is the agent of destruction; for example, “If God destroys the wicked.…” And are no more is literally “and they are not,” that is, “they cease to exist.” spcl says “and that is their end.” We may also say, for example, “and they disappear” or “and you see them no more.” Note, however, that some like tev interpret and are no more in the light of house of the righteous in line 2 to refer to having no “descendants” or “families.”

But the house of the righteous will stand: House may refer to the physical home and land whose loss could lead to poverty and slavery, particularly in ancient times. Will stand means to remain, withstand, stand firm against threats or disaster. As noted above tev translates this line “but the families of the righteous live on.” If taken to mean the physical home, we may say with njb “but the house of the upright stands firm.”


The theme of this saying is that intelligence earns the respect of others.

A man is commended according to his good sense: A man renders the Hebrew form but is not intended to represent exclusively an adult male. nrsv has “One is commended.…” We may also say, for example, “A person is.…” Commended is literally “praised,” that is, “spoken well of.” Good sense renders the same word as used in 3:4 and translated “repute” in rsv. See comments there. Good sense means “intelligence” here. In some languages “intelligence” is expressed as “having a bright spirit,” “a powerful head,” or “a glowing eye.” Note how tev uses the “if you …” form. We may translate, for example, “People speak well of an intelligent person” or “If a person is intelligent, people will praise his name.”

But one of perverse mind is despised: The expression perverse mind is used in rsv in 11:20, where the word rendered perverse is a different Hebrew word. However, the sense is the same and the form is literally “twisted heart.” See 3:32 and 11:20. The person with a perverse mind contrasts with the intelligent person in line 1. This is expressed in some languages as “a person whose head is full of cranky [stupid] thoughts.” However, some take the form found here to refer to a person whose thoughts are unnatural rather than stupid. For example, neb/reb say “warped mind” and njpsv “twisted mind.” Despised contrasts with commended in line 1 and means to look down upon or to regard with scorn or contempt (see 1:7). In some languages it is necessary to avoid the passive construction and say, for example, “But people look down on a person with a perverted mind” or “But people consider someone as worthless if he is stupid.”


In this saying simplicity is better than pretense. But this verse has been interpreted in many ways.

Better is a man of humble standing who works for himself: This line is literally “Better despised and a servant to him.” Filled out this can mean “Better is a person who is despised than someone who has a servant.” rsv and tev have understood different vowels for the Hebrew word for “servant” to get a word meaning “to work,” that is, who works for himself. neb/reb say “and earn one’s living.” hottp rates the text as “C” and recommends keeping the Hebrew text as is; it understands it to mean “but has at least one servant.” cev translates “and have only one servant” in its text and in its footnote says “It is better just to have an ordinary job.” All of these renderings agree that the first line recognizes that the simple life is better than that expressed in line 2. Line 1 may be rendered, for example, “It is better to be a person of ordinary means and have only one servant.…”

Than one who plays the great man but lacks bread: Who plays the great man is literally “one who makes himself heavy,” that is, “who honors himself.” This is sometimes expressed as “who thinks he is important.” Lacks bread is a way of expressing poverty, of being destitute of physical necessities.

This whole saying expresses the thought that a person in moderately comfortable circumstances (someone who has at least a servant) is better off than another person who acts as if he were rich but does not have a thing. The spcl translation is so lyrical and balanced it deserves to be quoted:

Más vale menospreciado pero servido,

que reverenciado pero mal comido.

•    Better disdained and served

than revered and starved.

The translation of Better … than in a context like this is quite difficult in some languages. Translators may need to focus the contrast on a particular feature or element rather than trying to compare the whole situation of the two persons described. One translation has, for example, “An ordinary person who works hard to get his food, his life is good, it wins against the life of someone who makes out he is important but is always hungry.”


Verse 10 is a saying regarding kindness to animals.

A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast: Righteous in Hebrew is singular, that is, “a good person”; however, wicked in line 2 is plural. This difference in number is only for rhetorical variation. Has regard for the life of is literally “knows the soul of.…” In Job 9:21 Job uses the same expression in the negative to mean “I do not care for myself” or “… what happens to me.” In this line the meaning is that a good person cares for, or is concerned about, the life of his animal. The term beast refers here to a domestic animal. To have regard for an animal is to give it proper care: feed, water, and rest. We may translate line 1 “A good person gives his animal what it needs” or “A good person takes good care of his animals.” See tev.

But the mercy of the wicked is cruel: The word rendered mercy refers to “deep feeling,” “compassion,” or “love,” often of a superior for an inferior. Translators differ greatly in their handling of this line. rsv, nrsv, and niv understand that even when mercy is shown by the wicked it is cruel. This is difficult to understand, unless we assume that line 2 is to be taken as a contrast with line 1 in the way people care for their animals (see tev). In this case the limited mercy of the wicked is cruel compared to the abundant care given by the righteous.

neb/reb take the word rendered mercy to refer to the seat of the emotions, that is, the heart; reb translates, “but one who is wicked is cruel at heart.” Another understanding is that of spcl, which takes mercy to refer to feelings and emotions and translates the first line “A good person knows that his animals have feelings” and renders the second line “but the evil person does not understand compassion.” Finally tev understands the mercy of the wicked to be the behavior of the wicked toward their animals: “but wicked people are cruel to theirs.”


This saying observes that following a steady occupation provides the necessities of life.

He who tills the land will have plenty of bread: In English tills means to prepare land for raising crops by plowing or cultivating. The Hebrew word is more general and means to serve or work. However, since the reference in this context is to land and having bread, many interpreters take it to mean “plow,” “cultivate,” or “work the land.” Will have plenty of bread is literally “will be satisfied with bread.” Bread is as in verse 9 and may refer more generally to food. In some languages this line may need to be translated, for example, “The person who hoes his garden will have plenty to eat.” If readers are likely to take this to mean that hoeing without planting will produce a crop, it may be necessary to say, for example, “If you hoe and plant your garden, you will have enough to eat.” Since cultivating crops is often the work of women and children only, it may be necessary to use a general word such as “work”; for example, “People who work in their gardens will have plenty to eat.”

But he who follows worthless pursuits has no sense: Follows worthless pursuits means to give time and energy to things or undertakings that are useless. Has no sense renders the same expression as in 11:12, where rsv has “lacks sense.” See there for comments. The second line does not contrast with the first by saying, for example, that this person will lack food but characterizes the person as being foolish. cev calls these people “daydreamers.” Scott has an idiomatic rendering that serves well in English, “But the stupid spends his time chasing rainbows.” “Chasing rainbows” means to be busy in unrewarding activities. A more straightforward translation of the line is “but a person who wastes time doing work that doesn’t produce anything is stupid.”


Translators have made many attempts to arrive at a meaningful translation of this verse. The rsv rendering makes several changes in the Hebrew text; see the footnote. As it stands the Hebrew text of the whole verse appears to say, “The wicked desires the net of evil men, but the root of the righteous gives.” In this form there is no clear contrast between the lines and in addition line 2 seems to be incomplete. hottp, which rates both lines as “B,” gives a page and a half to the discussion of this verse.

The strong tower of the wicked comes to ruin: reb modifies the Hebrew to get “The stronghold of the wicked crumbles like clay.” The word translated “net” in the literal rendering above may also be understood to mean “gain,” “booty,” or “refuge.” Taken in one of these senses line 1 may be translated: “The wicked covets the gain [or, booty] of evil people,” or “The wicked person desires the refuge of evil people,” meaning that the wicked desire the shelter [protection] given to them by evil people.”

But the root of the righteous stands firm: This is literally “but the root of the righteous gives.” The word rendered “gives” here also carries the sense of being productive. Understood in this way line 2 may be rendered, for example, “but the root of the righteous is productive.” If the normal sense of the term “gives” applies, then God is the one who gives a root (meaning stability or firmness) to the righteous. Taken in this sense we may translate the whole verse, for example,

•    Wicked people covet the wealth of evil people,

but God gives good people a way to earn.

One translation that is similar to this is frcl:

•    Evil people covet dishonest profit, but only the persistence of good people is profitable.

No two translations of this verse are entirely in agreement, and if the examples given here are not suitable, it may be best to adapt the rendering of tev.


Verses 13–14 are concerned with aspects of speech.

An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips: This line says literally “In the transgression [sin] of the lips [is] a snare to the wicked.” hottp, which rates “snare” as “B,” suggests “In the sin of the lips there is an evil trap.” However, it also accepts “In the sin of the lips there is a trap for the evil person.” For evil see 2:14. The transgression of his lips means to say something false or, as cev says, “We trap ourselves by telling lies.” frcl expresses this line “An evil person is caught in the trap of his own lies.”

But the righteous escapes from trouble: Escapes contrasts with ensnared in line 1. Trouble renders a word meaning mental or physical strain (see 11:8). The saying does not make clear whether the good person escapes by his or her own action or by the action of God. reb has “but the righteous come safely through trouble.” Another way of expressing this line, which clearly contrasts ensnared and escapes, is: “but trouble is not able to catch and hold the straight person.”


The two lines of this saying are similar in sense rather than contrasting. The thought expressed is that a person is rewarded for speaking and doing the right thing.

From the fruit of his words a man is satisfied with good: The fruit of his words is literally “fruit of his mouth.” As in 13:2, it refers to his words, the things he says. Satisfied with good refers to receiving material rewards or wealth. nrsv calls them “good things” and tev “your reward.” We may translate this line, for example, “You are rewarded according to what what you say” or “The good things you get depend on what you say to others.” frcl translates “A person can obtain success from his words.”

And the work of a man’s hand comes back to him: Work of … hand refers to the work or other activity that a person does. In many languages hand is redundant in this context. Comes back to him means he benefits, receives rewards.

Two translations of the verse that may serve as models are:

•    Whoever speaks well lives well because of it; whoever does well gains from it (gecl).

•    A person can obtain success from his words just as a person is assured wages from his labor (frcl).


Verses 15–16 contrast a foolish person with a wise person.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: Way refers here to the attitude or conduct of the fool. The fool, expressed by several different words, is the theme of many sayings in Proverbs. The word used here was first used in 1:7. See there for comments. Right in his own eyes means the fool thinks his opinions and ways of acting are not in need of correction or improvement. Scott says “A fool is cocksure about what he is doing.” cev says “Fools think they know what is best,” and frcl “The fool always thinks that he acts correctly.” See tev. We may also say, for example, “Foolish people do not think they make mistakes” or “Whatever a fool thinks, he believes it is correct.”

But a wise man listens to advice: This line is literally “but one listening to counsel [is] wise.” rsv makes a wise man the subject of the clause to parallel the way of the fool in line 1, as do many other English versions. Listens means “pays attention” or “takes advice” (see “hear” in 1:8). Advice refers to the opinions of others about what can or should be done (see “counsel” in 1:25). Listens to advice is sometimes rendered, for example, “accepts the words,” “allows others to tell him what they think,” “puts his ear on what they say,” or “listens to the whispered words.”


The vexation of a fool is known at once is literally “A fool’s anger is known in a day.”

But the prudent man ignores an insult: This line is literally “but the clever person covers shame.” Prudent man (nrsv “the prudent”) renders a noun used in Gen 3:1 of the clever or crafty serpent, but in Proverbs the same term is used in the good sense of being sensible, knowing the wise way to react. Ignores, which renders the Hebrew “covers,” means to disregard or pay no attention to. Insult renders a word meaning dishonor or humiliation. This line observes that the sensible person takes no notice of insults or remains calm in the face of personal offenses.

frcl translates the whole verse,

•    The fool lets his anger show immediately, but the intelligent person conceals his resentment.

We may also say, for example,

•    If you are stupid, people will quickly see when you are angry;

but if you are smart, you will not let your anger show.


Verses 17–20 pick up again the theme of speech.

He who speaks the truth gives honest evidence: nrsv avoids the masculine pronoun He and says “Whoever.” Speaks the truth is literally “breathes out faithfulness.” In 6:19 “breaths out lies” has the sense of spouting or pouring forth lies, particularly as a witness in a court room. Here the truth is breathed out in the context of the term witness in line 2. Truth is here words that are faithful to the facts as witnessed. Gives honest evidence is literally “reveals justice” and means “shows what is right, correct, or honest.”

But a false witness utters deceit: False witness, as in 6:19, is a person who tells lies in court. This person contrasts with he who speaks the truth in the first line. Utters does not occur in the Hebrew text; rsv provides it from speaks in line 1. Utters deceit contrasts with gives honest evidence.

cev translates this verse:

•    An honest person tells the truth in court,

but a dishonest person tells nothing but lies.

Another translation has

•    An honest witness speaks the truth,

but a false witness is a liar.


The sense of this verse is: bad talk hurts, gentle words heal.

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts: There is is the translation of an expression that notes the existence of something or someone. In some languages this need not be translated; in others there are natural expressions that have this same function. In English, for instance, people say “There are people who …” or “Some people.…” Line 2 shows that what is said in line 1 most likely refers to the wicked, the fool, or the unwise person. We may also speak generally by saying, for example, “Rash words are like.…” Rash words renders a form that refers to words that are spoken too quickly and without adequate thought. These hasty words are compared with sword thrusts, which are quick jabs made with a sword. As suggested in line 2 by the use of the word healing, the thrusts in line 1 cause wounds and injury, if only figuratively.

In languages where swords are not known, it may be necessary to substitute another sharp instrument such as a spear, knife, or bayonet, if the simile is kept.

But the tongue of the wise brings healing: The tongue is used here not in a literal sense but as an image of speech. A translation should not allow people to think that the wounds caused in line 1 are healed by licking. We may say, for example, “the words spoken by the wise,” “words of wisdom,” or “what wise people say.” The verb brings is supplied by rsv. Healing is the mental, physical, or spiritual process of restoring someone to health or to a sound state. Brings healing can be also expressed as “makes a person well” or “helps people like good medicine.”

We may translate the verse, for example:

•    Words spoken too hastily can wound a person as a sword does,

but healing comes from words spoken by a wise person.


The theme of this verse is that truth goes on and on but lies quickly fade away.

Truthful lips endure for ever: Truthful lips is literally “the lip of truth” in which “lip” again represents speech, whatever a person says. Truth is not merely the opposite of lies or untruths but rather the quality of reliability. People can depend on and trust what is spoken as being true. Endure, literally “establish,” means to be permanent, to go on, to last, or to continue. For ever, meaning “always,” contrasts with the short life of a lie or other deceit in line 2.

But a lying tongue is but for a moment: In Hebrew the final word of the first line rhymes with the first word of the second line. This line says literally “but only for the wink of an eye is a lying tongue.” The use of the figurative “wink of an eye” in this line serves to sharpen the contrast with for ever in line 1. For

Note that tev has reversed the order of the lines in this verse, placing the emphasis on the lasting quality of truth at the end of the saying. Before adopting this approach, translators should determine if the point of the saying is emphasized or lessened in this way in their language.


This saying is not easy to interpret and translators differ in their expression of it. It is necessary to examine both lines to clarify the problem.

Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil: Deceit translates the same word used in line 2 of verse 17; however, here the reference is general and not connected to a court witness. In this context Deceit appears to be the condition of the heart (the purpose or intention) of those who devise evil (plot or scheme to harm others).

Those who plan good have joy: This is not what we might expect to find in this line. After line 1 we expect something corresponding or contrasting to Deceit in the heart, such as “honesty in the heart,” that would express the intentions of good people. Plan translates a word meaning to advise or give counsel. Good translates the Hebrew word shalom, so plan good means to advise people to live in peace. Have joy means to be happy.

Some interpreters modify the Hebrew in order to get a clear contrast in line 2. However, others get an adequate contrast by interpreting Deceit in line 1 to refer to “self-deceit” and so Scott, for example, translates “Those who plot trouble are deceiving themselves, but men who counsel peace will be happy.” Note that tev follows the same interpretation, as do neb/reb:

•    Those who plot evil delude themselves,

but there is joy for those who seek the common good.

Going back to the previous interpretation, it is also possible to contrast Deceit in line 1 with joy in line 2 by translating, as njb does:

•    Deceit is in the heart of the schemer,

joy with those who give counsels of peace.

We may also say idiomatically in some languages,

•    People who plot to harm others have double hearts,

but those who work for everyone’s good have glad livers.


No ill befalls the righteous: Ill translates a word in this context meaning “harm,” “injury,” or “misfortune.” The form of the verb rendered befalls means “allows or permits to happen.” In some translations this is expressed as “comes to” or “happens to.” The unnamed subject is the Lord. The righteous, as generally in Proverbs, refers to good people in contrast to the wicked.

But the wicked are filled with trouble: Filled with trouble, as used here, means these people “have nothing but trouble” (tev) or “always have trouble.” This is sometimes rendered “they get trouble all the time.” Trouble refers to misery, affliction, or misfortune and is clearly parallel to ill in line 1.


Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord: Lying lips means persons who lie or liars, and is the same as used in 10:18. Abomination, first used in the speech of Wisdom in 3:32, means something hated or disgusting. This line is well rendered by tev, or we may say, for example, “Liars are disgusting to the Lord.”

But those who act faithfully are his delight: Those … faithfully renders a noun phrase that refers to people who are steadfast, who can be trusted in what they do or say. His delight translates the same expression used in 11:1 and means that the Lord takes pleasure in or approves of such persons: “he is really happy with those who keep their word.” cev says “he [the Lord] is the friend of all who can be trusted.”


A prudent man conceals his knowledge: In Gen 3:1 the serpent is said to be more “crafty” than other animals. In this verse and in other places in Proverbs the same word translated prudent refers to a wise or intelligent person. Conceals his knowledge is literally “covers his knowledge” and is similar to verse 16 where the prudent persons covers or ignores an insult. The sense of the expression in this verse is that the wise person does not show off his knowledge, or more exactly he is hesitant to reveal what he knows. This is a characteristic of the wise that runs right throughout the book of Proverbs. In some translations this is rendered as “does not quickly come out with his good thoughts” or “does not talk a lot about what he knows.”

But fools proclaim their folly: Fools, as the rsv footnote shows, is literally “the heart of fools,” which means the mind or nature of fools. For


This saying is similar to others in Proverbs, particularly 10:4; 12:27; 13:4; and 21:5. Its message is: Hard work brings success.

The hand of the diligent will rule: The hand … diligent is the same expression as used in 10:4 and refers to a hard-working person, someone who is energetic and active. However, the sense of rule here and forced labor in line 2 may give to hand … diligent the sense of a powerful nation ruling over its weaker neighbor. The word rendered rule means to have absolute power and authority over others.

While the slothful will be put to forced labor: The slothful is literally “slothfulness” or “laziness.” The meaning is clearly “lazy people.” Forced labor renders a word that seems to mean “work gang,” that is, a gang of laborers who are forced to do heavy work.

We may translate, for example,

•    Those who make great efforts become powerful,

but the lazy end up as slaves.

•    The hard worker will become a boss.

But the lazy person will become a poor laborer.

cev has

•    Work hard, and you will be a leader;

be lazy, and you will end up a slave.

Note tev also.


The message of this saying is that a kind word cheers up a depressed person.

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down: Anxiety is normally fear or worry about something in the future. nrsv has revised man’s heart to “the human heart.” Weighs … down is literally “bows him down” in the sense of causing the person to become depressed or dejected. Some translations render this line idiomatically; for example, “When a person is worried this makes his thinking [or, insides] heavy.”

But a good word makes him glad: Good in this context has the sense of “reassuring,” “encouraging,” or “helpful.” In many languages a good word must be expanded; for example, “the good talk of a friend” or “if someone gives good talk to a neighbor.…” Makes him glad is rendered in many modern versions by an expression equivalent to “cheers him up.” See tev.

In some languages this saying may be expressed, for example,

•    Worrying about what will happen makes you feel bad,

but an encouraging word from somebody can warm your heart.


A righteous man turns away from evil: This line, as the rsv footnote shows, is uncertain. Many attempts have been made to change the Hebrew or to make sense of it as it stands. None of these has resulted in an interpretation that adequately parallels or contrasts with line 2. A literal translation of the line seems to say “A righteous man seeks out [or, spies out] his neighbor.” hottp rates the text as “B” and gives two interpretations: (1) “May the righteous explore his companion” and (2) “The righteous is better off than his neighbor.” The first is unclear and the second does not suggest what being “better off than” may mean. tev has modified the Hebrew to get its rendering but does not provide a footnote. cev translates the whole with “You are better off to do right than to lose your way by doing wrong.” Its footnote says “One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text of verse 26.”

But the way of the wicked leads them astray: This line is not in doubt, but it is not clear how anything in it parallels or contrasts with line 1. The way of the wicked was first used in 4:19, and it has the same meaning here, that is, the lifestyle, or the manner in which the wicked live. Leads them astray renders a form of a verb meaning to cause to wander about or to mislead.

If we follow the second recommendation of hottp, the translation can be expressed, for example,

•    The good person is more fortunate than his neighbor,

but the bad person is misled by the way he lives.


p Verse27
in Hebrew is unclear.

Here again the meaning of the Hebrew is said to be uncertain and the saying, as it stands, lacks any clear parallelism.

A slothful man will not catch his prey: The first uncertainty is the word translated catch by rsv, because this word is found nowhere else in the Old Testament. The rsv rendering is supported by the Septuagint. In Aramaic the word rendered catch means “to roast,” and the sense of line 1 seems to be “the lazy person is too lazy to feed himself.” However, the second line does not contrast with that. nrsv follows the idea of roasting: “The lazy do not roast their game,” a rendering used by medieval Jewish commentators. frcl has “A lazy hunter has no game to roast.” tev avoids the hunting image: “If you are lazy, you will never get what you are after.” cev also departs from the hunting image but retains the thought of cooking: “Anyone too lazy to cook will starve.” Some follow a related word in Arabic that means to set something in motion and in this context to stir up game. neb/reb say “The lazy hunter puts up no game.”

But the diligent man will get precious wealth: This line is unclear mainly because of the order of the Hebrew words, which are literally “and man’s riches precious the diligent.” Interpreters understand these words to mean many different things. Translators are encouraged to follow either tev or cev “but a hard worker is a valuable treasure.” Another good possibility is offered by Scott, “but the keen [diligent] one gets plenty of it,” where “it” refers back to the game or food of the first line.


This saying uses the image of two contrasting paths. See also 2:18–19; 5:5–6.

In the path of righteousness is life: The path of righteousness is life may be taken as “The path that leads to right living is life” or “Righteousness is the path that leads to life.” It may also be translated more freely as in frcl: “Life is found wherever right living is practiced.” We may also say, for example, “The person who follows the way that is right will have life” or “Follow the right road that leads to long life,” a common theme in Proverbs.

But the way of error leads to death: This line is again unclear. See the rsv footnote. It appears to say “But the way of path not death.” hottp says the Hebrew rendered literally as “the way of path” means a particular kind of way, that is, “a well-constructed road.” Also, “not death” means without death, that is, “where there is no death.”

hottp goes on to suggest that the whole saying may be translated “Upon the way of righteousness there is life, indeed it is a well-constructed road without death.” We may reword this suggestion as

•    The path of righteousness leads to long life,

it is a well-built road without death.

Note that just as rsv supplies error, tev supplies “wickedness” to obtain a contrast in the second line: “wickedness is the road to death.” The tev rendering may be reworded, for example,

•    If you want to live long, act fairly.

If you want to die, act wrongly.

Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs 13:1–25

In this chapter again many of the sayings consist of a pair of parallel lines in which the second line contrasts with the first. See the note at the beginning of 10:1 for advice about translating the element of contrast in this type of structure.

Although chapter 13 is similar in form and content to chapters 10–12, it opens with a saying concerning a father’s instruction and includes near its end (verse 24) a saying about a father’s discipline. Some verses bracketed by verses 1 and 24 are concerned with the theme of instruction: verses 10, 13–14, 18, and 20. Verses 2–3 pick up the theme of wise speech. There are no direct references to God or the Lord.


A wise son hears his father’s instruction: In the Hebrew of this line there is no verb. rsv has supplied hears from line 2. See also tev “pay attention.” Most translations do something similar. However, the verbless clause that says literally “A wise son [is] a father’s instruction” may be understood in two ways:

(1) by supplying a verb as in rsv and tev; or

(2) “A wise son [is] the result of his father’s instruction.”

hottp accepts both of these. tob follows the second with “A wise son reflects the education of his father,” meaning the education received from his father. Some interpreters get a verb by changing the word rendered father to one meaning “loves.” nrsv says “A wise child loves discipline.”

Son in Hebrew is masculine singular, but the thought is not restricted to male children. See tev. cev has “children with good sense.” Instruction renders a word first used in 1:2. See there for comments. Father is made inclusive by tev and cev: “parents.” Most modern versions follow rsv and tev by supplying some form of a “hearing” verb in line 1, and this is recommended by this Handbook. It is possible to restructure the line to say “If a child is wise, he will listen to the words of his father.”

But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke: For scoffer see 1:22. Does not listen means he pays no attention or does not accept. Rebuke means to scold, reprimand, or correct someone’s wrong behavior. See how “corrects a scoffer” was translated in 9:7.

In this verse scoffer contrasts with wise son (or, “wise child”). Does not listen contrasts with the verb supplied in line 1. Rebuke is parallel with instruction.

We may translate this verse, for example,

•    Wise children listen when their parents teach them,

but children who think they know pay no attention when their parents correct their ways.

•    Wise children listen to their parents,

arrogant ones can’t be corrected.


From the fruit of his mouth a good man eats good: This line is similar to 12:14a. From the fruit of his mouth a good man is a figurative way of saying, for example, “what a good person says” or “the words that come from a good person’s speech.” Good in good man is not in the Hebrew text, but rsv has interpreted man to refer here to a man who is good, in contrast to the treacherous in line 2. nrsv retains the sense with “good persons.” See also tev “good people.” Eats good is again figurative and means to enjoy something or be rewarded. We may translate, for example, “A good person rejoices in the good things he says.” frcl keeps the fruit figure by translating “A good person reaps a harvest from what he says.”

But the desire of the treacherous is for violence: Desire translates the Hebrew for “soul,” which is often used in the sense of “appetite,” “what a person craves to eat.” Treacherous refers to someone who betrays trust or is dangerously deceitful (see 2:22). Violence is the use of unjust force or abusive power. For


The theme of this saying is being careful what you say. The contrast is between a person who keeps his mouth shut and someone who does not control his speech.

He who guards his mouth preserves his life: This saying is similar to 10:14 and 19. According to Scott, its conciseness and rhyme in Hebrew suggest it is a popular saying. Guards his mouth means to be careful what you say, to weigh your words. One translation expresses this as “thinks first and then speaks.” Preserves his life is to protect or save someone’s physical life, that is, to avoid being put to death. spcl says “To guard one’s words is to guard one’s life.” Scott translates “One who guards his lips protects himself.”

Although the Hebrew forms are third person masculine singular, the intention is not exclusively masculine. Note, therefore, nrsv “Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives.” tev, as it often does, switches to second person: “Be careful what you say.…”

He who opens wide his lips comes to ruin: Opens … lips is the opposite of guards … mouth in line 1 and means to speak without thinking or to say too much. Comes to ruin means to be destroyed, finished, or lost. We may render line 2, for example, “but the person who talks too much ruins himself” or “those who fail to control their speech destroy themselves.”


This verse is another saying that makes a contrast between laziness and hard work. See also 12:27 and 15:19.

The soul of the sluggard craves, and gets nothing: The Hebrew is literally “Craving but nothing the soul of the lazy,” where “but nothing” requires an action such as getting or obtaining to be understood. The Hebrew word translated soul was used in verse 3 for physical life, but here it is used to mean the appetite or desire; that is, “The lazy person’s appetite craves things but gets nothing.” For

While the soul of the diligent is richly supplied: This line contrasts the soul of the sluggard with that of the diligent. Diligent, as in 10:4 and 12:24, refers to an industrious or hardworking person. Richly supplied is literally “will be made fat,” as in 11:25 where rsv has “be enriched,” and means to grow rich or become prosperous.

spcl translates the whole verse:

•    The lazy wants but doesn’t get;

he who works prospers.

We may also say, for example,

•    If you are lazy, you will get nothing;

if you are diligent, you’ll get riches.


Verses 5–6 are further sayings about the righteous and the wicked.

A righteous man hates falsehood: A righteous man is an upright or honest person. Hates means to have an intense dislike for (see 1:22). Falsehood renders an expression that is literally “a word of falsehood,” meaning a deceitful word or a lie. For a translation model see tev.

But a wicked man acts shamefully and disgracefully: The action of the wicked in line 2 is not in clear contrast with that of the righteous in line 1. Shamefully and disgracefully are words whose meanings are much the same in this context. Shamefully renders a word meaning “to give off a bad smell, to stink.” Both words mean to act in a way that is strongly disapproved and causes dishonor and offense. neb says “the doings of the wicked are foul and deceitful.”


Righteousness guards him whose way is upright: In this saying Righteous ness, as in 10:2 and 11:4, refers to fairness, honesty, or goodness. Guards renders the same Hebrew verb used in verse 3 but has a different sense in this context. Him whose way is upright is literally “the blameless of way,” meaning a person whose way of living is upright. We may also say, for example, “those who live right” or “people who live good lives.” One way of expressing the whole line is “If a person does good, his good behavior will protect him.”

But sin overthrows the wicked: This line may be read with sin as the subject, as in rsv. In the Hebrew text sin translates an abstract noun, “sinfulness.” Note that tev has “wickedness” as the subject. In the Hebrew the wicked is an abstract noun, not a class of people. Accordingly, reb translates “but wickedness brings sinners down.” For line 2 to be parallel with line 1, either sin or wickedness must be made parallel and contrasting with Righteousness. This leaves the one not chosen as the subject of the line to contrast with him whose way is upright. rsv and tev illustrate these two possible renderings. Over throws renders a different word than that used in 11:11 and 12:7, but the sense is the same, to cause something to be ruined or destroyed. njb says “sin causes the ruin of the wicked.” We may also translate, for example, “but if you do evil things, you will destroy yourself.”


Verses 7–8 are observations about wealth and human conduct. The saying in verse 7 may be interpreted to mean (1) that people should not judge by outward appearance, or (2) that a person’s wealth or lack of it cannot be hidden, or (3) that people should avoid extremes of behavior. This saying may also be taken as a criticism of pretense; that is, poor people acting as if they are rich, or rich people acting as if they are poor.

One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing: Line 1 is similar to line 2 in 12:9. One man renders the same opening expression as in 12:18 by noting the existence of someone (an indefinite person). nrsv has “Some pretend.…” Note tev “Some people.…” Pretends to be rich renders a form of a Hebrew verb meaning “one enriching himself,” that is, “acting as if he were rich.” In some languages this line must be expressed as “There are some people who say untruthfully that they are rich.”

Another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth: Another … poor is a verb form parallel to pretends to be rich in line 1, and so “one impoverishing himself” means “acting as if he were poor.” The lines are clearly contrasting parallelism. As in line 1 the verb has is understood and so is supplied by rsv. Great wealth means the person has lots of money or owns many things. In some languages to have large amounts of riches is to possess many loads, to have many full granaries, or to cultivate many gardens. For a model translation see tev.


The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth: This saying is difficult to interpret, and scholars and translators often depart from the Hebrew text. See the rsv footnote. Note that tev differs from rsv, particularly in line 2. Ransom, as used here, is payment demanded or paid for the release of a person or property. Life translates the Hebrew nefesh, which refers to the physical life. Wealth comes from the same Hebrew root as the verb “be rich” in verse 7 and refers to a person’s money or possessions. This line affirms that wealth protects the rich (by their being able to pay). It can be expressed in a number of ways; for example, “Sometimes a rich person needs to use his money to buy off someone who threatens to kill him,” “If bad people threaten to harm someone who is rich, he can pay them with his money and stay safe,” or “A rich person can buy his way out of trouble.”

But a poor man has no means of redemption: The Hebrew of this line says “but the poor does not hear rebuke,” which is the same as line 2 of verse 1 except for a different subject. As the text stands there is no apparent connection between the two lines. However, scholars have made attempts to establish a connection. tev understands “rebuke” to mean “threaten,” and this is followed by neb/reb, nrsv, niv, frcl and others, although Toy, Oesterley, and Whybray disagree with them. rsv has forced a contrast by its rendering. cev has followed a different approach by saying “but the poor don’t have that problem,” that is, they don’t have the problem of paying ransom because they are not threatened. In the absence of a better solution the Handbook encourages translators to follow tev. In some languages it may be necessary to say, for example, “The rich have to pay their enemies, but the poor have nothing to pay” or “The rich pay ransom money for their lives, but the poor don’t have to do that.”


The light of the righteous rejoices: The light of the righteous refers figuratively to the bright appearance of their lives. Light in Job 18:5–6 is a symbol of life. In Pro 6:23 teaching is a light. Rejoices may be a case of personification, that is, it is normal for people to rejoice, but not for light. Rejoices renders a verb whose vowels may be slightly changed to give the sense of “cause joy.” Note njb “is joyful.” However, this verb may be from a different root with the same consonants meaning “to shine brightly,” and it is in this sense that tev and others take it.

Because light of the righteous is a figurative expression, many translations shift to a simile; for example, frcl “The righteous shine like a brilliant light.” If this form of simile is not possible, it may be necessary to say, for example, “Good people are like a light shining brightly.” Note tev.


But the lamp of the wicked will be put out: The lamp of the wicked is a common phrase in wisdom poetry. See, for example, 20:20; 24:20; and Job 18:6. The lamp of the wicked should be translated in a parallel manner to The light of the righteous in line 1. Put out contrasts with tev’s “shining brightly” in line 1. If the passive will be put out cannot be used, it may be necessary to say, for example, “will not go on shining” or “will become dark.”

The whole saying may be translated, for example,

•    Good people are like a bright shining light,

but wicked people are like a lamp that is growing dark [or, … like a lamp that is going out].


By insolence the heedless make strife: This line is literally “Only by pride comes strife” or “Pride causes only strife.” Compare 11:2 and 12:15. Insolence, like pride or arrogance, refers to having an excessively high opinion of oneself, that is, being conceited. The heedless is not in the Hebrew text. rsv and other translations have changed the vowels of the word translated “only” to get a word meaning an inconsiderate, thoughtless person, that is, one who is heedless. Toy and Oesterley omit the word rendered “only” and the following preposition; Oesterley’s translation is “Insolence makes strife.” tev keeps the full form of the Hebrew and gets approximately the same translation. Strife refers to conflict, discord, or lack of harmony. cev says “Too much pride causes trouble.” frcl has “Pride only serves to start quarrels.”

But with those who take advice is wisdom: This line is about the same as 11:2b, and some make it identical to that line by changing the word rendered those who take advice to one meaning “humble.” However, this change is not required on either textual or translational grounds. Those who take advice means people who are willing to listen to advice; they are contrasted with the arrogant or insolent people in line 1. Is wisdom means that people who seek advice show wisdom or are wise. This line may be rendered, for example, “but it is wise to ask for advice.” We may also translate this line by focusing on wisdom, as njb “wisdom lies with those who take advice.” We may also say, for example, “Wisdom is shown by those who listen to advice” or “If a person is willing to listen to what other people say, that person is wise.”


The thrust of this saying is to compare wealth quickly and easily obtained with wealth that is earned slowly. Neither the book of Proverbs nor the Old Testament generally condemns wealth. If anything, wealth is considered evidence of God’s blessing. However, wealth obtained by wrong means is condemned: 10:2; 11:4, 18; 21:6. Getting rich quickly is wrong according 20:21 and 28:20.

Wealth hastily gotten will dwindle: The rsv, which follows the Septuagint and the Vulgate, shows in its footnote that the Hebrew text has “Wealth from vanity will dwindle,” that is, “Wealth that is gained from vanity.…” Some take this to mean “gained from fraud or swindling” (see comments on hottp below). The word rendered “vanity” is literally “breath” or “vapor.” Dwindle means to gradually reduce or disappear.

But he who gathers little by little will increase it is literally “but one gathering by hand will increase.” Gathers renders a form of a verb meaning “the one collecting or assembling”. “By hand” is generally understood in this context as bit by bit or little by little, that is, a small amount at a time. Increase it means “cause the wealth to multiply, grow, become greater.”

Whether line 1 is read as given in the Hebrew or the rsv, the second line clearly contrasts with the first. Most modern translations state the contrast clearly. hottp makes two recommendations for the Hebrew text: “Wealth diminishes faster than the wind, but he who gathers increases his wealth” or “A fortune gained by swindling diminishes, but he who gathers bit by bit prospers.” The cev rendering has a good contrast and its repetitive words give it a proverbial flavor in English:

•    Money wrongly gotten will disappear bit by bit;

money earned little by little will grow and grow.

Another way of expressing the saying is

•    If a person does no work and gets rich, his money will be gone quickly,

But if a person works to get money little by little, then his money will become a great amount.


Verses 12–19 form a unit in which verse 12b opens with a desire fulfilled and verse 19a closes with the same expression. Verses 13 and 18 assert that destruction results from ignoring instruction. Verses 14–15 are parallel and teach that wisdom saves people from death and destruction. Verses 16–17 are parallel to each other, showing that a person’s character is revealed in his or her conduct.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick: For comments on Hope see 10:28. Deferred translates the passive form of a verb whose basic meaning is to drag or draw, as in a long-drawn-out process. In this line it refers to a Hope whose fulfillment is delayed or postponed. Anything deferred involves waiting and expectation. Heart in this expression represents not just the mental or emotional center but rather the whole person. Makes the heart sick is a figurative expression that means “causes a person to despair or be afflicted.” Note tev “heart is crushed.”

But a desire fulfilled is a tree of life: As in 10:24 desire refers to something positive that is wanted or looked forward to, and is closely parallel to Hope in line 1. Fulfilled here means to bring the things desired into effect, or to realize them. For

In some languages it is not natural to use qualities such as Hope and desire as the subjects of clauses. The verse may be restructured to say, for example,

•    If a person thinks about getting something but has to wait a long time for it, he will be very sad.

But if he gets that thing, then he will think life is good and feel very happy.


He who despises the word brings destruction on himself: He expresses the masculine singular form of the Hebrew participle meaning “the one despising.” Note that nrsv has made this inclusive with “Those who despise.” Despises renders a different form of the Hebrew verb than the one in 1:7, but the sense here, like there, means to reject or consider as worthless. The word translates Hebrew davar, a very general word that is used for “counsel,” “advice,” “commandment,” and “teaching” in chapters 1–9. In its widest sense word may refer to the law. Here it is parallel to commandment in line 2. Some interpreters take it to mean the father’s instruction in verse 1, while others understand it to refer to “God’s teaching” (cev) or “God’s decree” (mft). The verb that is rendered brings destruction may also be understood to mean to be in debt, that is, under a pledge. As Toy explains, the debtor left with his creditor some article of value (see the accusation against Job as creditor in Job 22:6), and if the debt was not paid, the creditor could take the debtor’s property, even his wife and children (2 Kgs 4:1).

Some translations that follow the thought of being under a pledge are, for example, nab “He who despises the word must pay for it,” niv “He who scorns instruction will pay for it,” frcl “The one who scorns advice runs the risk of paying dearly,” and cev “If you reject God’s teaching, you will pay the price.” Some that follow the notion of ruin or destruction are njb “Contempt for the word is self-destructive,” tob “Whoever scorns the word ruins himself,” and mft “He who despises God’s decree shall perish.” Some translations like tev seem to aim somewhere between the two positions indicated: “… you are asking for trouble.”

But he who respects the commandment will be rewarded: Line 2 begins with the same structure as line 1 “the one respecting,” where “respecting” renders a verb meaning “to fear” or “to have reverence for.” This verb contrasts with despise or “scorn” in line 1. Commandment translates a word used the first time in 2:1, which may refer in this context to God’s command or law, or more generally to the instruction of the teacher of wisdom. If you have used an expression meaning divine law in line 1, it will be appropriate to do the same in this line. Will be rewarded is the opposite of what the scorner of the first line can expect. The verb rendered rewarded may also express the thought of being complete, whole, or secure. Note tev “you are safe.”

In languages in which the agent of the act of rewarding must be expressed, it may be necessary to say, for example, “but God will reward those who honor his commandments” or “but God will give good things to those who respect his commandments.”


This saying is closely similar in meaning to verse 13.

The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life: The teaching of the wise is the torah, which as in 1:8 and throughout Proverbs means “instruction,” the instruction given by those who are wise, or what the wise teach to others. Fountain renders a term that refers commonly to a source of flowing water and may be expressed as “spring.” For comments on fountain of life see 10:11. This line may be rendered as in rsv or tev. However, it may be necessary to adjust it to say, for example, “What the wise ones teach is like a fountain of life” or “What the wise teach gives life like a fountain gives water.”

That one may avoid the snares of death: Line 2 does not parallel line 1 nor does it contrast with it. Rather, it extends it and states its purpose. That one may avoid means “so you may escape from” or “in order to stay away from.” Snares of death is a figurative expression that pictures death as snaring or trapping people. In some languages it is possible to personify death in a different way; for example, “… in order to escape being caught by death” or “… to prevent death from taking hold of you.” If neither the figure nor the personification can be used, it may be necessary to say, for example, “in order to keep you from dying.”


Good sense wins favor: Sense translates the same word used in 12:8 and is qualified here by Good. Good sense is the equivalent of intelligence or sound judgment in decision-making. In 1 Sam 25:3 Abigail, the wife of Nabal (“fool”), is described in Hebrew by this expression. Wins favor, literally “gives grace,” means that such a person is favorably or positively regarded by others, or, as cev says, “praised.”

But the way of the faithless is their ruin: As the rsv note shows, the Hebrew text has “enduring” in place of their ruin. It is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a meaningful sentence from the Hebrew of this line, which is literally “the way of the treacherous is eternal.” It is also not possible to obtain a contrast between the two lines as the Hebrew text stands. The way refers to the conduct or behavior of the faithless, that is, the wicked. For


In everything a prudent man acts with knowledge: The Hebrew text has “Every man of sense acts with knowledge.” The Syriac and Vulgate versions understood this to be “The man of sense shows intelligence in all he does.” rsv follows these. nrsv has “The clever do all things intelligently.” hottp recommends that “all” or “every” apply to the prudent person. For a prudent man see 12:16. Acts with knowledge means to do things intelligently, to behave wisely. In Proverbs the prudent or wise person conducts himself modestly and thinks before he acts.

But a fool flaunts his folly: A fool is the opposite of a prudent man or wise person. See 1:22 for a description of the fool. Flaunts renders a Hebrew verb meaning to display or spread out as a merchant does to exhibit his wares for buyers to see. See tev “advertise.” frcl has “but fools put their foolishness on display,” and neb/reb “but the stupid parade their folly.” We may also say, for example, “but fools make a show of their stupidity” or “but fools like to show off their foolishness.” For


A bad messenger plunges men into trouble: Bad is to be understood here as unreliable or disloyal to the one who sends the messenger. Plunges translates a verb meaning “to fall down,” which has been made causative by rsv, that is, “causes others to fall.” There are two points of view regarding this verb:

(1) that the bad messenger falls into trouble and presumably will be punished by his sender—and thus the faithful messenger in line 2 has nothing to fear;

(2) that the bad messenger causes others to fall into trouble through his unreliable or dishonest dealings.

In either case the saying is a warning to anyone seeking to use a messenger as well as being a warning to potential messengers. hottp rates the text as “A” and recommends “will fall down,” apparently meaning “will fail in his mission.” But a majority of commentators and versions accept the proposed change in the vowels of the Hebrew verb and take it as causative; for example, “is the cause of trouble” (frcl). This interpretation fits in well with the second line: A bad messenger causes trouble, a faithful envoy causes healing.

But a faithful envoy brings healing: Faithful in reference to envoy describes someone who is reliable and loyal to the one who sends him. Envoy renders a term that can apply to a government ambassador as in Isa 18:2. The term emphasizes the important function that the messenger often had in political negotiations and business dealings. The difference, if any, between messenger and envoy is not the point here. Their loyalty or lack of it is. Healing contrasts with trouble or misfortune in line 1; tev expresses this contrast well by it rendering “peace” here.

In translating the whole verse, most modern versions express the thought that the faithful envoy heals the bad situation created by the disloyal messenger; for example,

•    An evil messenger causes trouble,

but a trusty envoy makes all go well again (neb).

•    A bad messenger is the cause of trouble; a faithful envoy sets things right again (frcl).

•    A wicked messenger brings on disaster,

but a trustworthy envoy is a healing remedy (nab).


This saying as well as verse 20 has instruction or wisdom as its theme, but verse 18 focuses on a particular social and economic situation.

Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction: This line says literally “Poverty and shame [to one] ignoring instruction.” rsv come to is sup plied to make the connection to “one ignoring instruction.” Poverty refers to a lack of the necessities of material life; while disgrace or dishonor is loss of social respect, being socially discredited or shamed. In 3:35 “honor” (Hebrew kavod, a term suggesting wealth) stands in contrast to “disgrace,” the same Hebrew term used in this verse. Instruction renders a term first used in 1:2, 3, and 7. In 12:1, which is a saying similar to this, the word rendered here as instruction is translated as “discipline.”

Poverty, the economic condition, and disgrace, the social disapproval, are said to result from ignoring, that is, paying no attention to or rejecting, the instruction or teaching of the wise. Many translations make Poverty and disgrace the consequence of ignoring instruction; for example, neb “To refuse correction brings poverty and contempt,” and frcl “He who refuses to be taught will be poor and disgraced.” We may also say, for example, “If you reject the teachings of the wise, you will end up poor and ashamed.”

But he who heeds reproof is honored: For heeds reproof see its use in a similar expression in 1:23. Honored (see comment in line 1) contrasts with both Poverty and disgrace in line 1, especially where the word translated honored has the sense of possessing wealth. This line may be translated, for example, “but if you listen to advice, people will respect you.”


A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul: The thought expressed in line 1 of this saying is similar to that in line 2 of verse 12. For some reason line 2 does not parallel line 1. Desire translates the same word used in verse 12 and refers generally to anything that someone wants or wishes for, but does not yet have. Fulfilled renders a different verb than that used in verse 12 but has the same sense as there. Sweet was used in 3:24 to describe the quality of the sleep of the person who practices sound wisdom. Sweet to the soul means pleasant or enjoyable to the person desiring something. Note tev “How good it is to get what you want!” frcl has “It is pleasant to satisfy a desire,” and cev “It’s a good feeling to get what you want.”

But to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools: There is little point in trying to rephrase this line to make it parallel the first line, so the conjunction but may be inappropriate in this context. We can only translate the text as it stands. Turn away from evil is used as a command in 3:7. See there for comments. An abomination was first used in 3:32. The sense here is that fools hate avoiding evil, which is a negative way of saying that they love doing it.


The sense of this saying is clearly that both wisdom and stupidity are learned from the company a person keeps.

He who walks with wise men becomes wise: For walks in the sense of associating with people see 1:15. nrsv translates “Whoever walks with.…” Walks with is often rendered “keeps company with” (see tev). Wise men refers to people who have wisdom or who are wise, not exclusively male adults.

But the companion of fools will suffer harm: Companion refers to an associate or friend. The companion of fools is a person who goes about with or makes close friends with fools or people who act stupidly. Suffers harm translates the same expression used in 11:15, where rsv translates “will smart for it.” See there for comments.

cev translates this verse

•    Wise friends make you wise,

but you hurt yourself by going around with fools.


Misfortune pursues sinners: Misfortune translates a word commonly rendered “evil” or “trouble” (see 1:33). It is contrasted in line 2 by prosperity or “good fortune,” literally “good.” Pursues, meaning “follows after in order to capture,” personifies Misfortune as an animate being. Sinners, first used in 1:10, refers to people of bad moral character and contrasts with good people or the righteous in line 2. It is often necessary in translation to adjust the personification in this line by saying, for example, “Sinners have trouble” or “Bad people suffer because of their troubles.”

But prosperity rewards the righteous: Here prosperity acts by rewarding or giving something in recognition of good behavior to the righteous. In this sense prosperity parallels and contrasts with Misfortune. The word translated prosperity may be taken to mean “good fortune” or “happiness.” Some interpreters question the personification of good fortune handing out rewards and see the real subject as God. With this understanding, they take this line as “He rewards the righteous with good.” However, there is no other mention of God in this chapter and instances of the divine name being omitted as the subject of a clause are very rare in Proverbs. The Septuagint has modified the Hebrew to mean “overtakes,” that is, “but prosperity will overtake the pious” (mft).

Some modern translations restructure this line to make people the subject. For example, spcl has “The just are rewarded with good,” and cev “but you will be rewarded if you live right.” See tev. Others retain the personification with the active form of the verb; for example, neb “but good rewards the righteous,” and reb “good fortune rewards the righteous.” niv uses a noun form of reward: “but prosperity is the reward of the righteous.” We may also say, for example, “but good people will have good things as their reward” or “but good gifts will come to good people.”


In ancient Israel leaving an inheritance after death was regarded as very important.

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children: A good man translates the masculine singular adjective “good,” which nrsv renders “the good” and tev “good people.” Leaves an inheritance translates the causative form of the verb “to inherit,” that is, “causes others to inherit.” Children’s children does not mean that the good person leaves his property only to his grandchildren but that he leaves it to his descendants, who include at least his children and grandchildren. In some languages this line is expressed as “When a good person dies, his descendants will get many good things that were his.”

But the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous: The idea of the righteous ending up with the wealth of the wicked is expressed in Job 27:13–19. Laid up renders a verb meaning to reserve or hold in reserve. The word is used in 10:14 regarding the storing up of knowledge. See there for comments.

In languages in which the passive cannot be used here, it is often possible to say, for example, “but the righteous will inherit the wealth that sinners have saved,” “but good people will get the property evil people leave after they die,” or “all the good things bad people have heaped up will go into the hands of good people.”


s Verse23
in Hebrew is unclear.

This saying is difficult to interpret. Its thrust seems to be that no matter how much the land of poor people produces, they suffer from the social and economic injustices done to them and thereby lose what they have. As rsv expresses it, the saying is a condemnation of those who take from the poor.

The fallow ground of the poor yields much food: This line is literally “Plenty of food [is] fallow ground the poor.” Fallow ground refers to ground or land that is left unseeded for a growing season. It may or may not be tilled, plowed, cultivated. Some object that such ground as is mentioned here cannot yield much food. Fallow ground is left unseeded to restore it. The Hebrew term may refer to land left without planting for a season or it may refer to idle land, that is, land that is not being used or land that is newly claimed and has not grown crops before.

Translations differ greatly in their handling of this saying. Some speak of a potential or conditional situation; for example, “Even when the land of the poor produces good crops …” (cev), and “The field of the poor may yield much food” (nrsv). See tev “could yield.” Others make a statement of fact, for example, spcl “In the field of the poor there is abundant food.”

But it is swept away through injustice is literally “but substance [is] swept away without justice.” There is much guesswork in translating line 2. rsv it, referring back to food in line 1, does not reflect anything in the Hebrew text; the sense of “substance” is unclear here, although the term clearly has a meaning of “wealth” (rsv) or “riches” in 8:21. Swept away suggests being taken away or captured, and, in the context, to being lost or being cheated out of it by others. According to tev it is the “unused fields” that “unjust people” will not let the poor use. cev has the poor getting “cheated out of what they grow,” that is, their food. Injustice refers to the failure of people to act fairly, in a just or right manner. In light of the difficulties of this text either tev or cev may be used as translation models.


This verse returns to the theme of a father’s discipline. See the comments on verse 1.

He who spares the rod hates his son: The view that bodily punishment is essential in the training of children is repeated several times in Proverbs. See also 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15. He who spares translates a masculine singular participle that nrsv and others render as a plural “those who spare.” Spares means restrains or holds back. This verb is used in 10:19 in regard to restraining the lips.

The rod (literally “his rod”) renders a general term for a staff, club, or symbol of authority. njb says “Whoever fails to use the stick,” where “the stick” is a small branch used for spanking a child. Most modern translations make it clear that spare the rod means avoiding bodily punishment. However, not all express physical punishment; for example, spcl “Whoever does not correct his son.” See also tev. More common are translations that refer to physical punishment, for example, frcl “Whoever refuses to strike his son” and gecl “Whoever refuses to give his son a blow.”

Hates his son expresses in an emphatic manner that the father does not really love his son or does not truly care about the training of his child. To really care for the child, in the view of Proverbs, the father must be prepared to use physical correction. Many modern version express hates his son as “does not love him.”

But he who loves him is diligent to discipline him: He is replaced in many English translations by “those who,” “you,” or “one” to avoid the exclusive masculine singular subject. Who loves him is “the father who loves him” or “the father who loves his child.” Diligent renders a word whose exact meaning is uncertain. One meaning is “early” and in this case refers to the early beginning of child discipline. Accordingly, gecl translates “Whoever loves his son begins early to bring him up with discipline.” We may also express this as “Whoever loves his child begins to train him with discipline while he is still young.” Discipline translates the same word used in 3:11. See there for comments. For a model translation see tev.


This verse appears to contrast the righteous and the wicked in terms of having enough to eat and going hungry. Compare this saying with that of 10:3. Most translations understand these lines to contrast the ability of the righteous to eat all they want or need with the inability of the wicked to do the same.

The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite: The text says literally “The righteous eats to the satisfying of his soul.” Some understand that “eats to the satisfying of his soul” refers to having all the necessities of life, and so mft translates “The good man has enough to meet his needs.” Others, like tev, believe the reference is strictly to food.

But the belly of the wicked suffers want: Belly renders a Hebrew word that refers to the interior of the abdomen, containing the womb in females as well as the stomach and intestines. Suffers want translates a verb used in 12:9 in the sense of “lacks.” The sense in this line is “suffers from hunger” or “goes hungry.”

reb translates the whole verse,

•    The righteous eat their fill,

but the bellies of the wicked are empty.

This is a good model translation.

Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs 14:1–35

Chapter 14 continues to contrast the righteous with the wicked, the wise with the foolish, the faithful with the false, the perverse with the good, the poor with the rich, and other similar pairs. Unlike chapter 13, chapter 14 refers to the Lord by name in verses 2, 26, and 27, in the expression “fear of the Lord.” In verse 31 God is mentioned as the “maker” or “creator.” Furthermore, there are some groups of two or more verses that make up a single structure or have a common theme. These larger sayings will be pointed out in the commentary on the individual verses that follow.


Wisdom builds her house is literally “The wisest of women has built her house.” “Wisest” in Hebrew is plural but “has built” is singular. rsv has attempted to resolve this plural-singular conflict by making a change in the Hebrew for “wisest” which gives Wisdom and drops “women.” In this way the line says the same as in 9:1a. Also, it allows Wisdom to contrast with the abstract noun folly in line 2. nrsv departs somewhat from rsv by changing “women” to “woman” and says “The wise woman builds her house.” hottp, which rates the text as “A,” comments that the Hebrew text is “probably not original, but the earliest attested text” and supports the nrsv adjustment with “each of the wise women builds her house,” or recommends as an alternative “all the wise women build their houses.”

Some scholars argue that women did not build houses in Old Testament times and, therefore, builds her house should be understood in a figurative sense, that is, “founds her family” or “establishes her home.” It is in this sense that tev says “Homes are made by the wisdom of women,” where “to make a home” in English means to establish, build up, or create a family unit. neb says “The wisest women build up their homes.” frcl has “The wisdom of a woman guarantees the stability of a home [foyer],” and cev “A woman’s family is held together by her wisdom.” Translators may follow either the figurative or the nonfigurative sense of builds her house.

But folly with her own hands tears it down: The translation of this line will depend on the way “wise woman” and builds her house are treated in the first line. Folly renders a feminine singular noun first used in 5:23; see there for comments. With her own hands serves to personify folly or “stupidity.” Most modern versions contrast folly, either as singular or plural, with “wise woman”; for example, spcl “the foolish woman” and reb “the foolish” (“women” being understood). It is also possible to understand that folly applies to the same woman as in line 1; for example, cev “but it can be destroyed by her foolish ness.” If you have translated builds her house as a literal house construction, it may be best to keep with her own hands. On the other hand, if what is destroyed is the family unit, with her own hands may be less suitable, and tears it down may need to be rendered by an expression such as “ruins” or “spoils.” One example of a translation that takes this approach is: “but the foolish woman spoils her home by her stupid behavior.”


He who walks in uprightness fears the Lord: He who walks translates an active participle meaning “the one walking.” Note that nrsv says “those who walk.” Walks in uprightness is first used here, but has the same sense as the saying used in 8:20; see there for comments.

But he who is devious in his ways despises him: The expression devious in his ways was first used in 2:15; 1:7. reb renders this line “A person whose conduct is upright fears the Lord,” cev has “By living right, you show that you respect the Lord,” and gecl says “Whoever lives honestly takes God seriously.” See tev also.

But he who is devious in his ways despises him: The expression devious in his ways was first used in See there for comments. This expression contrasts with walks in uprightness in line 1. Despises, meaning “shows con tempt,” “regards with scorn,” or “considers as worthless,” is used in 1:7 and 6:30. Despises him contrasts with fears the Lord. We may translate this verse by saying, for example:

•    Whoever lives an honest life honors the Lord,

but living a dishonest life shows scorn for him.


The talk of a fool is a rod for his back: The talk of a fool is literally “in the mouth of a fool,” meaning “the talk of a fool” or “what a fool says.” The Hebrew at the end of this line is difficult to interpret because it says “a rod of pride,” which rsv has changed to a rod for his back. The change made by rsv is followed by most other translations, and this line then becomes similar to 10:13b. hottp gives the Hebrew form an “A” rating and recommends interpreting this line as “In the mouth of a fool is a rod to punish pride.” In this sense “punish” is included in the meaning of rod, and it is “pride” that receives the punishment. The only model translation available that follows the hottp recommendation is cev, which renders “mouth of a fool” as “stupid talk”: “Proud fools are punished for their stupid talk.” We may follow this model in an active sense by saying, for example, “What a fool says punishes him for being proud” or “The talk of a fool is like a stick that beats his pride.”

But the lips of the wise will preserve them: The lips of the wise means “the talk of the wise” or “what the wise say.” Preserve renders a word meaning to “guard,” “protect,” or “keep.” This protection contrasts with the punishment brought on the fool by his foolish talk. We may translate, for example, “but the talk of the wise saves them.” See tev.


Verse 4 does not share a theme or have any catchwords (key terms in common) with the sayings before or after it.

Where there are no oxen, there is no grain: As the rsv footnote suggests, this line is literally “Where there are no oxen, a manger of grain.” Two different terms for ox are used in this verse. In line 1 the Hebrew is a form used only in the plural and refers to castrated bulls used as work animals. The Hebrew word rendered grain by rsv may also be taken to mean “clean” and is so translated by the Septuagint. In this sense the “manger” or feedbox is clean, and so empty. Whether the Hebrew text is changed, as in rsv, or left unchanged, the sense seems to be the same: “If you don’t have oxen to plow a field, you won’t have grain to put in the feedbox.” This thought is reinforced by the second line, which affirms that it takes a strong work animal to produce a crop.

But abundant crops come by the strength of the ox: Crops renders an expression meaning “increase” or “yield” in reference to a harvest. The same expression is used in 10:16, where rsv translates “gain.” Strength refers to the “might” or “power” of the work animal to pull a plow. The word for ox in line 2 is the common term used to refer to the same work animal in line 1. This word is also used in 7:22; however, there it is figurative and easier to adapt in translation. Here the reference is to a literal animal, and if the ox is unknown, it may be necessary to refer to another work animal, or use a general expression such as “animal used for working.” We may render this saying, for example,

•    Without an ox your barn will be empty,

but with a strong ox you will have lots of grain.

Where grain is not the staple food, or where people are not very familiar with growing it, it is advisable to use a more general term for crops; for example,

•    If there is no bullock to break the ground, the food house will be empty;

but if there is a bullock, there will be plenty of food in the garden [field].


Verse 5 contrasts what can be expected from a faithful witness on the one hand, and from a false witness on the other hand.

A faithful witness does not lie: Faithful in relation to a witness means a truthful witness, someone who reports the facts honestly and accurately in court. See 12:17 for witness. Does not lie may also be expressed positively as “always tells the truth.” See tev.

But a false witness breathes out lies: This is almost identical to 6:19a.


A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain: For scoffer see 1:22. The idea of the scoffer seeking wisdom is contrary to the thought of the book of Proverbs. To seek wisdom is to practice seriously the discipline required to obtain knowledge and so presupposes a concern for moral and religious instruction. The scoffer has no such concern because he thinks he knows everything. In vain is literally “but there is none,” that is, there is no wisdom for that kind of person. frcl translates “Does the arrogant person force himself to acquire good sense? It is futile.” cev translates scoffer as a verb phrase: “Make fun of wisdom, and you will never find it.” See tev.

But knowledge is easy for a man of understanding: See 1:4 for knowledge. Is easy renders a form of the verb meaning “to be swift” or “to do something quickly or with little effort.” A man of understanding, used for the first time in 1:5, refers to an intelligent, discerning person and contrasts with the scoffer. We may render this line, for example, “but if you are intelligent, you will learn quickly.”


Leave the presence of a fool: This line is clearly expressed as a command, “Go away from …,” “Stay away from.…” The person to be avoided is called “a foolish man” or “a man of foolishness.” As the next line indicates, the idea is that the foolish, stupid person has no knowledge to impart to others and so should be avoided. Some translators express fool in the plural. See tev.

For there you do not meet words of knowledge is literally “or you will not know the lips of knowledge.” Some interpreters think “lips of knowledge” is obscure and so modify the Hebrew; for example, Scott translates “And do not lavish wise words [on him].” Others prefer the Hebrew text as it stands; for example, spcl has “Keep away from a fool, because you will obtain no knowledge from his lips.” cev has “Stay away from fools, or you won’t learn a thing.” We recommend that translators follow the Hebrew text, as these models and most other versions do.


This saying contrasts the function of wisdom and folly in serving as a guide to practical living.

The wisdom of a prudent man is to discern his way: The wisdom of a prudent man means the wisdom the wise person has obtained. For prudent man see 12:23. Discern means to understand, perceive, or recognize the difference between things, that is, to distinguish between them. His way is commonly used in chapters 1–9 to refer to a person’s conduct or way of life; for example, see 4:11. The thought expressed in this line is that the wise person’s wisdom enables him to choose between the right and wrong ways of life. reb has “Someone who is clever will have the wit to find the right way.”

But the folly of fools is deceiving: The folly of fools contrasts with The wisdom of a prudent man. For the terms folly and fools in a single verse see 12:23. Deceiving translates a word used in 11:1 to describe false or dishonest scales. Deceiving in this context refers to the way foolishness causes the fool to choose the wrong way of life; it is, therefore, self-deceit. The fool thinks he knows the right way but he does not.

gecl translates this saying “Whoever is wise has experience and knows what he is doing. Whoever is stupid has only stupidity; therefore he deceives himself and others.” frcl translates “The wise man [person] watches over his conduct because he is wise. Fools go astray because of their foolishness.”


u Verse9
in Hebrew is unclear.

Both rsv and tev show in their footnotes that this verse is unclear in Hebrew.

God scorns the wicked: This line is literally “Guilt [or, a guilt offering] scorns fools” or “Fools scorn guilt [or, a guilt offering].” hottp rates the Hebrew text for this line as “A.” The rsv rendering involves changing the words for “fools” into a somewhat similar word meaning God and the word for “guilt” into one meaning wicked. nrsv has changed the rsv rendering to “Fools mock at the guilt offering” and recognizes the uncertainty of the Hebrew text in its note.

The variations in the translation of line 1 are almost as numerous as the translations themselves. A comparison of rsv and tev illustrates this point. The word translated “guilt” or “guilt offering” in the literal rendering above occurs nowhere else in Proverbs or even in the rest of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. However, if “guilt” is taken in the sense of sin, it would seem that this line may be understood as expressing the way fools look at sin, “Fools scorn [make fun of, mock] sin.” So spcl translates “Fools make fun of their sin.” cev says “Fools don’t care if they are wrong.” For a somewhat similar rendering see tev.

But the upright enjoy his favor: This line is literally “but among the upright [is] favor.” Upright, which refers to honest, good people, was first used in 2:7. His is not represented in the Hebrew. Favor renders a word first used in 8:35 and refers to “pleasure,” “acceptance,” or “goodwill.” rsv has assumed that favor is God’s favor. The tev rendering “forgiven” may also assume that it is God’s favor, as does cev, “but God is pleased when people do right,” which is a satisfactory model translation of this line.


Sayings about private thoughts and feelings have been expressed in the first lines of 12:25 and 13:12. This saying recognizes that everyone is ultimately an individual and cannot share their deepest self with others. Psa 44:21 (Hebrew verse 22) says that God knows the secrets of the heart.

The heart knows its own bitterness: The heart is understood here as more than the center of feeling; it refers to the whole person, that is, the knowledge, feelings, and awareness that a person has. What the heart knows is its own bitterness, which is literally “bitterness of its soul,” most likely a reference to the person’s own inward sadness or sorrow that can only be truly experienced by the individual. In languages in which it is not natural to speak of the heart as knowing, it may be necessary to say, for example, “A person knows his own sadness” or “A person’s sorrow is known only to himself.”

And no stranger shares its joy: This line does not contrast with the first but rather expands it. The term stranger, which calls attention to such qualities as being an outsider, a foreigner, someone who is unfamiliar, is not suitable in this context. Stranger is better rendered as “another person” or “no one else.” Shares renders a verb whose reciprocal form means to have fellowship with or to experience something jointly with another person. Its joy refers to the joy of the heart of line 1. Joy, that is, “gladness” or “happiness,” is felt, like bitterness, in the individual’s heart, and so in some translations joy is joined to line 1; for example, frcl says “Everyone is alone in their sorrows and joys, no one else can truly share them,” and cev has “No one else can really know how sad or happy you are.” See tev also.


This saying is similar in thought to 11:28 and 12:7.

The house of the wicked will be destroyed: The Hebrew words for wicked and destroyed have similar consonant sounds. The house of the wicked refers to the house built by evil people. Some interpreters see this as a building that is not well constructed. Others take house in this line and tent in the next line as referring to “home” or “family,” but few versions follow this. Destroyed renders a passive form; but there is no reason to assume that God is the destroyer. The idea is that the house built by the wicked will not last, will not stand. In languages that cannot use a passive verb here, it may be necessary to say, for example, “The house evil people build will not last long” or “The house of the wicked will collapse.”

But the tent of the upright will flourish: Tent is often used in poetic contexts in place of house or “dwelling”; here it is in parallel with house but does not necessarily contrast with it. Some modern translations make a contrast between house and tent; for example, neb has “house of the wicked” and “home of the upright” in which “home” suggests the place where a family lives, and gecl has “family.” Other translations make no such contrast. Note tev. Flourish is used in 11:28 in reference to the growth of a green plant. Here the word contrasts with destroyed and means to grow, become strong, prosper.


For a verse identical to this, see 16:25. This saying expresses the self-deception that people often live by.

There is a way which seems right to a man: Way or road refers to “conduct,” “behavior,” or “manner of life.” Seems right suggests a moral manner of conduct. The picture may be that of a journey in which the traveler believes he is headed on a straight road or path toward his destination, but discovers only too late that his path leads to death. Man represents the Hebrew but is modified by many modern translations to be inclusive; for example, nrsv says “a person.” We may translate this line, for example, “You may believe you are on the good road” or “You may think that your way of life is good.”

But its end is the way to death: its end, that is, “at the end of the road,” “the final stage,” or “finally.” Way in the way to death is plural and the same word as used in line 1 (literally “ways of death”). The way to death means the path or road that leads to death. spcl translates “There are paths that seem straight, but at the end of them is death.” cev has “You may think you are on the right road and still end up dead.”


Even in laughter the heart is sad: This saying has been interpreted by some as meaning that in spite of laughter and joy the basic nature of people is characterized by sadness and grief. The rsv translation seems to support this. However, such an outlook is contrary to the attitude expressed in Proverbs and throughout the Old Testament generally. The rsv translation expresses the imperfect mood of the verb as is sad. However, as Whybray states, the imperfect form of the verb means “aches” or “is in pain” expressed as a potential condition or possibility and should be rendered, for example, “there may be pain,” or as tev says “may hide sadness.” The meaning of this line is then that a person may laugh and still be sad, or even in laughter there may be sadness.

Not all languages use the heart as the center of emotions and in some cases it is appropriate to say, for example, “When you laugh your stomach may be complaining” or “Your laughter may only cover up your sick liver.”

And the end of joy is grief: In this line the Hebrew has “its end,” which is not shown in the rsv footnotes. This is thought to be a scribal mistake in which “its end” is wrongly copied from line 2 of verse 12. Joy, meaning “happiness,” is parallel to laughter, while grief, another word for sorrow, parallels sad in line 1. reb translates the whole verse by saying “Even in laughter the heart can ache, and mirth may end in sorrow.” tev “sorrow is always there” seems to ex press a more pessimistic view than the text supports.


A perverse man will be filled with the fruit of his ways: The expression A per verse man was first used by rsv in 3:32. The Hebrew uses a different term here and means a person who has turned away in his heart (from the right way). neb/reb call such persons “renegades.” mft has “he who goes wrong.” Will be filled translates a verb meaning “to be sated,” that is, “to be satisfied [usually the appetite] to the point of excess,” “to have too much.” The fruit of his ways is literally “from his ways,” which refers to the bad conduct or evil way of life of the perverse person. This line affirms that the wicked person will suffer the consequences of his behavior. See tev.

And a good man with the fruit of his deeds: The rsv footnote shows that the Hebrew text has “from upon him” and that rsv has made a change in the text to get of his deeds. Fruit has been supplied in both lines by rsv. Although this line is difficult, the thought here is that the good person will be satisfied (re warded) more than the perverse person in line 1. The saying contrasts the great er satisfaction for the good person with that of the bad person. hottp, which rates the Hebrew text translated “from upon him” as “B,” admits that the text in this form is not original and suggests as a translation something like “The perverse person will only be satisfied by his wicked ways, but the good person will have a greater satisfaction.” Translators may find tev a better model than this.


Verses 15–18 contrast wise and foolish people.

The simple believes everything: For simple see 1:4. This word in Hebrew is singular but may be expressed in the plural. Believes means to accept some thing as true or real. Everything renders a phrase meaning “every word” and probably means here that the simple person accepts as true everything he hears. Such a person lacks the maturity to distinguish between what is true and what is false. frcl says “A naive person believes everything anyone tells him.”

But the prudent looks where he is going is literally “but the prudent watches his steps.” Note tev. This line contrasts the prudent (“wise,” “clever”) person with the simple (naive) person in line 1. “Watches his steps” is a figure that means to be cautious, alert, or aware, with the sense of being careful not to be misled by untruth. In some languages this line is expressed, for example, “but the clever person keeps an eye on the path” or “if you are smart you sleep with one eye open.”


A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil: A wise man means a wise or sensible person. Is cautious renders a verb meaning to fear or stand in awe of; here to be cautious is to be “careful,” “alert,” “on guard.” In this context turns away from evil is to be taken as avoiding trouble or misfortune.

But a fool throws off restraint and is careless: A fool contrasts with a wise man. Instead of being cautious or on guard, this person throws off restraint, which renders a verb form that may mean to “be arrogant or excited,” that is, to “lose control.” tev has “act too quickly.” Some understand the word rendered careless by rsv as meaning “overconfident.”

tev is a good translation model for this verse. We may also say, for example, “A wise person does things carefully and avoids getting into trouble, but a fool is careless and rushes into things.”


A man of quick temper acts foolishly: Quick temper is literally “short of face” and refers to a person who is easily or quickly angered. Such persons act out of their anger and therefore do foolish things. In some languages quick-tempered people are “people with hot hearts,” “persons with boiling livers,” or “people who fire up quick.”

But a man of discretion is patient: Note in the rsv footnote that the Hebrew text has “hated” in place of patient. This line is literally “and a man of evil plans/devices is hated.” Line 2 does not contrast with line 1; rather, as under stood literally, this saying compares the quick-tempered person with the one who makes evil plans. Both kinds of people are discredited. For “man of evil devices” refer to 12:2. The Septuagint drops one Hebrew letter to get a better contrast, as seen in the rsv translation of this line. In 1:4 it was pointed out that the word rendered discretion has a good sense and refers to wisdom or intelligence. rsv and others have interpreted the word in this verse in the same way as in 1:4. hottp does not support the rsv rendering man of discretion but calls him a “calculating man,” that is, someone who plots and schemes. hottp also keeps the Hebrew text and sacrifices the contrast between acts foolishly and is patient. The hottp recommendation may be expressed, for example, “The quick-tempered person does foolish things, and the scheming person is hated.” Some other models that are supported by hottp are “A quick tempered person commits rash acts, but a schemer is detestable” (njb) and “An impatient man commits folly; A man of intrigues will be hated” (njpsv).


The simple acquire folly: Verse 15 began with “The simple” used as a singular noun, and verse 18 closes this group of sayings with The simple as a plural. Ac quire renders a verb that means to “inherit” or “take possession of” something. spcl says “The foolish are heirs of foolishness.” njb has “Simpletons have folly for their portion,” and niv “The simple inherit folly.”

But the prudent are crowned with knowledge: Prudent translates the same word first used in 12:16 and refers to a wise, clever, intelligent person. The sense of crowned with knowledge is not certain in the Hebrew, and translations vary widely. They include spcl “are surrounded by knowledge,” mft “will pick up knowledge,” tob “wisdom is the crown,” njpsv “glory in knowledge,” frcl “the honor … is knowledge,” and tev “are rewarded with knowledge.”


This saying pictures the evil person as being in an inferior relationship to the good person. Its two lines are parallel but not contrasting; the second line reinforces or emphasizes what the first line affirms.

The evil bow down before the good: The verb bow down, used here for the first time in Proverbs, is a gesture that may express submission, respect, or greeting. It involves bending the upper body forward and perhaps kneeling and touching the forehead to the ground in the presence of the other; an example is the behavior of Abraham in Gen 23:7, 12. In this context the gesture has the sense of acknowledging a superior, that is, it expresses submission or homage. In languages in which it is not clear what is meant by this gesture, it may be possible to say, for example, “Bad people will make a sign of submission to good people,” or if a local custom replaces bow down, the translation may say, for example, “Bad people will clasp their hands in the presence of good people.”

The wicked at the gates of the righteous: The verb bow down in line 1 serves also in line 2. The wicked is parallel with The evil while the righteous is parallel with the good. Bowing at the gates pictures the wicked waiting humbly at the gate, or entrance of the dwelling of the righteous, to beg or ask some favor. Note that tev has not kept at the gates here but has restructured the whole line to say “humbly beg their favor.” The phrase at the gates may be expressed as “[beg] at the door.” We may also say, for example, “The wicked have to wait for the righteous to help them” or “The wicked beg for something from good people.”


The poor is disliked even by his neighbor: The poor, as in 10:15, refers to people who lack the material necessities for an adequate standard of living. Dis liked is literally “hated,” and the literal form may be more appropriate in this context. The poor may be hated because they beg from their neighbors, who may also have little. Even serves to focus or intensify the nature of those who hate the poor. For neighbor see 3:28. tev is a good model translation for this line.

But the rich has many friends: This line clearly contrasts with the first. The rich refers to those who have more than enough material goods. In some languages such people are called “people with many loads,” “the big metal people,” or “people with food on their faces.” Friends is literally “lovers” and refers to “fair-weather friends,” that is, persons who attach themselves to someone in order to profit from the relationship as long as the money lasts. See also 19:4.


This saying has some form and content in common with verse 20.

He who despises his neighbor is a sinner: nrsv has revised He who to “Those who.” Despises translates the same word used in 6:30, meaning “show contempt for,” “look down on.” Neighbor is the same word as in verse 20; however, in this verse there is sympathy expressed toward the neighbor. Also, it is assumed here that the neighbor is poor. Some translations follow the Septuagint and replace neighbor by “hungry man.” hottp opposes this change by giving a “B” rating to neighbor. Sinner in Hebrew is a verb form meaning “one who sins.” However, this word contrasts with happy is he who in the next line and so may be taken as “the person who fails to obtain happiness.”

But happy is he who is kind to the poor: Happy translates the word used in Psa 1:1, which is traditionally rendered “blessed” with the understanding that God is the one who blesses. With this thought in mind cev says “It’s wrong to hate others, but God blesses.…” As in the first line, nrsv replaces he who with “those who.” Kind to the poor means to be merciful or compassionate in dealing with poor people and may be expressed more concretely as “generous” (neb/reb). Being kind to the poor is a theme that is repeated in 14:31; 19:17; and 28:8. The cev rendering may serve as a suitable model translation: “but God blesses everyone who is kind to the poor.”


Do they not err that devise evil?: This is one of the few sayings in Proverbs expressed in the form of a question. The question is rhetorical, and the effect of the question form is to make the saying emphatic. Err renders a verb that means “go astray,” “take the wrong road,” or “wander off.” The same word is used in 7:25 where the young man is warned not to “stray” into the path of the seductive woman. For devise evil see 6:14. In some languages it may be desirable to express this line as an emphatic statement rather than in the form of a question; for example, “People who plan to do bad things go astray in their thinking.”

Those who devise good meet loyalty and faithfulness: Those who devise good parallels and contrasts with they … that devise evil in the previous line. To devise good means to make a clear decision to do what is good, just as to devise evil is to plan, scheme, or decide to do what is bad. This line is literally “but mercy and truth devisers of good.” The verb meet is supplied by rsv. The sense of the line seems to be that the good person’s conduct is equivalent to the qualities of loyalty and faithfulness, or is characterized by these qualities. For


This saying in Hebrew is striking in its play on the similarity of sound and the contrasting sense of the final word in each line: profit is mothar, and want or “poverty” is machsor. Like 12:11; 21:17; and 28:19 this saying encourages hard work and discourages idle talk.

In all toil there is profit: Toil translates a word meaning “hard labor.” In 10:10 the word (translated “trouble”) is associated with pain or suffering. neb/reb translate it “the pains of toil.” There is expresses the relation between work and profit, that is, “hard work makes [provides, earns] profit.” Profit here may be taken as financial gain or as something that is worth achieving. We may translate, for example, “All hard work earns an income” or “All hard work accomplishes something.”

But mere talk tends only to want: Mere talk is literally “word of the lips.” In this context “word of the lips” is idle talk or boasting that is done in place of work. In tends only to want rsv supplies tends. It may be expressed as “leads only to poverty” or “causes a person to be poor.”


The crown of the wise is their wisdom: Interpreters have modified the Hebrew in various ways to get a satisfactory sense from this line. The line is literally “The crown of the wise is wealth.” As the rsv footnote shows, its translation follows the Septuagint. However, the Hebrew text is rated as “B” by hottp, which recommends “their wealth” in place of their wisdom. In 3:16 and 8:18 wealth is one of the rewards granted by wisdom to her followers. In 22:4 wealth is one of the rewards for fearing the Lord. Crown is used in 12:4 as a symbol of respect or honor; see also 16:31 and 17:6. The Hebrew text of this line is to be understood as meaning that riches are the reward granted to the wise. Note tev.

But folly is the garland of fools: The Hebrew of this line is literally “the folly of fools is folly.” Nearly all commentators change the first occurrence of “folly” to give a word meaning “wreath” or garland. In 4:9 the words for crown and garland occur in parallel. See 1:9 for the translation of garland. In this case hottp supports the choice of rsv. However, a garland for the fool is contrary to the association of garland in its previous uses, where it is an adornment given to someone who embraces wisdom. tev, which says the Hebrew is unclear, changes the Hebrew to “fools are known by their foolishness.” cev, which also does not follow the Septuagint, says “Wisdom can make you rich, but foolishness leads to more foolishness.”


A truthful witness saves lives: This saying is similar to verse 5. See also 6:19; 19:5, 9; and 21:28. A truthful witness, that is, a trial witness who reports the truth about a falsely accused person, may save the accused from suffering or being put to death. tev offers a model translation of this line. cev says “An honest witness can save your life.” We may also say, for example, “If you tell the truth in court, you can save somebody’s life.”

But one who utters lies is a betrayer: This person contrasts with the truthful witness in line 1. Utters lies is the same as “breathes out lies” in verse 5. Is a betrayer is literally “is deceit.” Refer to 12:5 where rsv uses “treacherous.” To betray means to deliver someone to an enemy or to desert someone in a time of need. In this saying the liar betrays the falsely accused by not speaking the truth before the judge or, as cev says, “but liars can’t be trusted.”


Verses 26 and 27 are related in that they both speak of the fear of the Lord and the consequent safety and good fortune of the person who fears him.

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence: rsv one has is not represented in the Hebrew text, which is literally “In the fear of the Lord strong trust.” As in 1:7 fear in the expression fear of the Lord means “respect,” “honor,” or “awe,” and so tev says “reverence for the Lord.” We may also say, for example,” The person who respects [honors, submits himself to] the Lord.…” Strong confidence refers to being safe or secure, that is, being under the Lord’s protection.

And his children will have a refuge: There is nothing in line 1 that his children can refer back to. Therefore, some interpreters have changed the Hebrew word meaning strong in that line to a similar word meaning “a strong person.” However, most modern translations reject this change and keep the Hebrew text, as seen in rsv. Refuge refers to shelter or protection provided by the Lord. cev offers a model translation: “If you respect the Lord, you and your children have a strong fortress.” See also tev.


The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life: This verse is the same as 13:14 except that here The fear of the Lord replaces “The teaching of the wise.” See 13:14 for a fountain of life.

That one may avoid the snares of death: This line expresses the purpose of the first line and so does not contrast with it. The entire line is identical to the second line of 13:14. See there for comments and translation.


In Proverbs kings are usually mentioned in a religious or ethical context. This saying has no such connection but states the obvious fact that a ruler is important if he has many subjects in his kingdom. For the opposite view, however, see Psa 33:16.

In a multitude of people is the glory of a king: A multitude of people means that the king rules over many subjects. The glory of a king refers to the honor, prestige, and splendor that the king enjoys. According to this saying a large population enables the king to have glory, that is, honor or material splendor. With many people to choose from, for example, he is able to organize a large army.

But without people a prince is ruined: This line contrasts with the first. People here refers, as in line 1, to subjects, those the king or prince rules over. A prince may refer to the king’s son who will inherit his rule, but more likely it is used as an equivalent and matching term for king. Ruined refers to the ruler being helpless or without power or, as tev says, “he is nothing.” frcl offers a model translation: “A large population gives a king splendor. If he lacks subjects, his power comes to an end.”


Verses 29–30 (and also verse 33) share the common theme of control of emotions. Verse 29 expresses the idea that a quick temper is a sign of lack of good sense.

He who is slow to anger has great understanding: This line is concise and is literally “long of face, much understanding.” nrsv has revised He who to “Whoever.” Slow to anger, that is, “does not get angry quickly,” is expressed figuratively in some languages; for example, “sits on his hot heart,” “makes quiet his liver,” “keeps his innermost silent,” or “doesn’t get hot inside quickly.” Great understanding means to “have good sense,” “be very wise,” “show great intelligence or insight.”

But he who has a hasty temper exalts folly: This line contrasts with the first. A hasty temper is literally “short spirit.” This is expressed in some languages as “hot heart,” “shaky liver,” or “he fires up quick” (see verse 17). Exalts, based on a verb meaning “to be high,” does not seem to give a satisfactory sense and so some change the Hebrew text to a verb meaning “increases.” This gives a better parallel with line 1. In either case the sense seems clear that a person with a quick temper acts foolishly or shows his lack of intelligence. cev says “It’s smart to be patient, but it’s stupid to lose your temper.” spcl has “To be patient shows much intelligence; to be impatient shows great stupidity.”


A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh: A tranquil mind translates an expression that may mean “a healthy mind” (literally “heart”) or “a relaxed mind.” Both rsv and tev understand it in the latter sense. Flesh in this line and bones in the next together make up the body or the whole person in Old Testament thinking. The verb gives in gives life to the flesh is supplied by rsv. The thought is that a mind that is at peace results in a healthy body or, as cev says, “It’s healthy to be content.” njb has “The life of the body is a tranquil heart.”

But passion makes the bones rot: Passion translates the word used in 6:34 to refer to “jealousy” of the revengeful husband. Here the word may refer to “anger,” “jealousy,” “zeal,” or “ardor.” In any case this state of mind contrasts with the quiet peace of mind in line 1. It is a mind, heart, or “innermost” that is in turmoil and distress. Its effect on the body is to make the bones rot. In 12:4 this expression suggests a disease that weakens the body and leads to death. Some modern translations, like tev, say “like a cancer.”

In some languages it is not possible to speak of qualities like A tranquil mind and passion apart from the person who expresses them. Where this is the case, we must say something like the following: “If someone’s inside is at peace, then his body will be well. But if someone is jealous and angry all the time towards others, this behavior will be like a bad sickness that attacks his bones.”


He who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker: He who is better expressed in many languages as “anyone who,” “whoever,” or “if you.” Oppresses refers to the abuse of power or authority of the strong over the weak, or to burdening someone unjustly. A poor man in Hebrew is singular but is often expressed as plural in translation. Insults renders a form of a verb meaning to “reproach,” “say something bad about,” or “scorn.” His Maker is the equivalent of “God his creator,” that is, “the God who made him,” where the pronoun refers back to the poor man, not the person who oppresses.

But he who is kind to the needy honors him: He who should agree with the subject in the first line. Is kind means being caring, helpful, or considerate (see verse 21). The needy, which refers to the poor man in line 1, is again a singular adjective in Hebrew but must often be rendered in the plural to agree with the rendering of a poor man in the first line. Honors him, means “honors or respects God.” In some languages this is expressed as “says that God is great.”


The wicked is overthrown through his evil-doing: Many translations express the subject of this first line as a plural, “wicked people.” Overthrown renders the passive form of a verb meaning to “push,” “thrust,” “cast down.” It is through their evil-doing or by doing evil things that The wicked are cast down. The sense is well expressed by tev. This line may also be translated, for example, “By doing evil deeds wicked people cause their own destruction.”

But the righteous finds refuge through his integrity: For refuge see verse 26. The rsv and tev footnotes show that the Hebrew text has “in his death” in place of through his integrity, which is the Septuagint form and that followed by most interpreters. The Hebrew form of the text may be taken as an expression of belief in personal immortality, but the expression is not seen elsewhere in Proverbs. The hottp editors were divided, rating both the Septuagint and Hebrew texts as “C.” Those members recommending the Hebrew text translate “in his misfortune [or, at the time of misfortune] the wicked is rejected, while even at death the righteous is confident.” Those supporting the Septuagint recommend “The wicked is rejected due to his evil, while the righteous finds confidence in his integrity.” A clearer expression of the Septuagint form is tev. His integrity means that the person follows a moral or ethical system consistently in his decisions (see 2:7). It is closely related to honesty and trust. “Protected by their integrity” may be expressed, for example, “Their honesty and truth protect them.”


This saying expresses the idea that intelligent people, in contrast to the foolish, possess wisdom.

Wisdom abides in the mind of a man of understanding: Abides in the mind is literally “rests [settles down] in the heart.” neb/reb say “Wisdom is at home in … mind,” and njb has “Wisdom resides in … heart.” A man of understanding may be expressed as “an intelligent person,” “thoughtful people,” or “people with good sense” (see 1:5).

But it is not known in the heart of fools: In this line the Hebrew text has no word equivalent to not. See rsv and tev footnotes. Heart translates a word that refers generally to the inner parts of the body, but is used here as the seat of thought and emotion. In some languages this is the stomach, spleen, liver, or kidneys. hottp suggests two interpretations based upon the Hebrew text: “and even among fools is she [wisdom] known” or “but in the mind of fools she [wisdom] makes herself known.” Most modern translations, like tev, follow the Septuagint. In this case we may say, for example, “but fools know nothing about wisdom.”


Righteousness exalts a nation: Righteousness refers here to moral integrity, that is, “uprightness,” “goodness,” or “practicing justice” (see 10:2). Exalts translates a verb meaning “raise” or “lift up,” especially in terms of rank, status, or character. The idea is that of raising the power, prosperity, or prestige of the people who form a political unit. frcl says “Practicing justice makes a nation great,” and gecl “Justice makes a people great.”

But sin is a reproach to any people: Here sin contrasts with Righteousness and so has the sense of “injustice,” “doing wrong or evil.” Reproach translates the Hebrew chesed and is a very rare meaning of this term (or it may be considered a different word but spelled the same as the word for “mercy”). The sense is “shame” or “disgrace.” People is to be taken in a collective sense, that is, the people who make up the nation. cev says, “Doing right brings honor to a nation, but sin brings disgrace.”


A servant who deals wisely has the king’s favor: Servant in the context of a royal proverb most likely refers to an official in the palace or a minister of the king. Who deals wisely means one who administers or carries out his duties skillfully, capably, competently. Favor renders a word first used in 8:35 and means “goodwill,” “pleasure,” “acceptance.” Note that tev has restructured the whole line: “Kings are pleased with competent officials.” spcl has “The capable servant earns the king’s favor.”

But his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully: His wrath refers to the king’s anger or fury. Falls on is literally “will be on.” Some translate this as “punish.” One who acts shamefully is literally “one who causes shame.” This person contrasts with the competent servant or official in line 1 and so refers to the incompetent official who administers badly or, as neb/reb say, “those who fail him [the king].”

Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs 15:1–33

Chapter 14 referred to the Lord three times. Chapter 15 goes even farther, with references to the name of the Lord in verses 3, 8, 9, 11, 16, 25, 26, 29, and 33. The dominant form in the sayings of this chapter is again the contrast between what is asserted in the two lines. Nearly half of the sayings are concerned with acquiring knowledge and instruction in matters of practical living. The final verse affirms that teaching in wisdom is to be identified with “the fear of the Lord.”


A soft answer turns away wrath: Soft in relation to speech means “gentle,” “kind,” or, as reb says, “mild.” It is a response without anger or harshness. The importance of kindness and respect in the use of speech is expressed again in 24:26 and 25:15. Answer in this context refers to a response or reply to what someone, perhaps in anger, has said. Turns away translates the causative form of a verb meaning “to turn back.” The thought is that the anger of the first speaker can be set aside or calmed by a gentle response. Wrath is anger or fury. cev says “A kind answer soothes angry feelings,” and spcl has “A friendly reply calms anger.” In some languages it may be necessary to expand this line to say, for example, “Reply to a person with gentle words and you will calm their anger.”

But a harsh word stirs up anger: A harsh word is literally “a word of pain,” that is, one that causes pain, and the expression refers to a word or utterance spoken sharply or heatedly. Stirs up or “excites” contrasts with turns away in the first line. The verb refers to causing something to rise, in this case the angry emotions of the other speaker, as reb says: “but a sharp word makes tempers rise.” gecl translates this full saying “A reconciling answer cools down anger, but a hurtful word heats it up.” See also tev.


The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge: The Hebrew of this line, as the rsv footnote shows, has “makes knowledge good” in place of dispenses knowledge. However, hottp rates the text as “A” and interprets the line as “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge.” The tongue of the wise refers to the speech or teaching given by the wise, as in tev. tev follows the recommendation of hottp with “make knowledge attractive.” We may also translate this line, for example, “The speech of the wise ones makes knowledge lovely,” “Knowledge is made beautiful in the words of wise people,” or “When a wise man talks, everybody is glad and wants to know more.”

But the mouths of fools pour out folly: The mouths of fools contrasts with The tongue of the wise and again refers to what fools say. Fools are described in 1:7 and 1:22 as people who hate wisdom and instruction. Pour out renders a verb meaning to flow or bubble up in reference to water. In relation to speech it is used figuratively to mean “burst out with speech.” See tev “spout nonsense.” One translation renders this line as “but when a fool talks, he just throws empty words around.”


This saying expresses the idea, common in other sayings in the Eastern Mediterranean region, that nothing on earth escapes the observation of the watchful eyes of the Lord.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place: The eyes of the Lord is not to be understood as referring to eyes separate from the Lord, but rather as the watchful presence of God; we may express this as “The Lord is everywhere” or “The Lord sees everywhere.”

Keeping watch on the evil and the good: This line does not contrast with line 1 but rather extends and completes it. Keeping watch means that he is “observing,” “keeping an eye on.” In some languages this is best expressed as “spying on.” The evil and the good are not only abstract qualities but also, and mainly, people who behave in those ways. Therefore we may need to translate, for example, “Keeping his eyes on those who do bad deeds as well as those who do good deeds,” or simply “He sees good people and bad people too.”


A gentle tongue is a tree of life: A gentle tongue is literally “a healing tongue.” The thought expressed here is essentially the same as “a soft answer” in verse 1. The sense is “kind or comforting words.” A tree of life, first used in 3:18, may be expressed as a simile, “like a tree that gives life” or, as in tev, “… bring life.” frcl says “… is a source of life.”

But perverseness in it breaks the spirit: Perverseness renders a word meaning “twisted” or “crooked,” as in 11:3 where “crookedness” is used. Something that is twisted is untrue or false. Perverseness parallels and contrasts the gentle tongue, not the tree of life. In other words false speech or lying breaks the spirit, an expression that means “causes despair” or “leads to ruin.” cev translates “Kind words are good medicine, but deceitful words can really hurt.” See tev also.


A fool despises his father’s instruction: In 1:7 a fool is said to “despise wisdom and instruction.” The sense of despises here may be expressed as “refuses to listen to” or “rejects.” His father’s instruction may need to be expressed as “what his father teaches him.” Some modern translations like nrsv make father’s inclusive with “a parent’s instruction.” See tev also.

But he who heeds admonition is prudent: nrsv has “but the one who.…” reb says “but whoever.…” Heeds admonition is literally “keeps correction,” which means “who accepts, follows, or obeys the correction given by the father [parents].” For


In 8:18 and 21 Wisdom has wealth to give to her followers. In this saying prosperity is the reward given to good people.

In the house of the righteous there is much treasure: In the house of the righteous means “where good people live.” Treasure translates a word meaning “stores” or “wealth.” 10:2 renders a different Hebrew word but with the same sense as here. cev says “Good people become wealthy,” and frcl has “Good people’s lives are filled with wealth.” In some languages a literal rendering of “house” is appropriate: “Good people have plenty of things in their houses.”

But trouble befalls the income of the wicked: This line seems literally to say “but in the increase of the wicked [there is] trouble.” However, it is not certain if this means that the wealth of the wicked causes trouble for others or that the wicked are troubled by their own wealth, which seems to be more likely. Income renders a word found in 10:16, where rsv translates “gain” and tev “leads … to.” In 14:4 this word is translated by rsv in agricultural terms as “crops.” In the present verse its application is general, and it means “profit” or “wealth,” matching the parallel term treasure in line 1. neb/reb say “the gains of the wicked bring trouble,” which we should probably understand to mean “bring trouble to the wicked.” spcl says “but evil persons’ earnings do them no good.”


The lips of the wise spread knowledge: This line repeats the thought expressed in verse 2. The lips of the wise means “the teaching of the wise,” “the sayings of the wise,” or simply “the wise.” Spread renders a verb that is normally used to mean “scatter” in an unfavorable sense. This is the only place in the Old Testament where it is used figuratively. Accordingly some interpreters prefer a small change in the Hebrew word to get “preserve.” However, spread in the sense of “promote” or “extend” is probably accurate. In some languages this thought may be expressed, for example, “Wise people cause others to learn” or “What the wise say teaches others knowledge.” spcl says “The wise spread knowledge with their lips.”

Not so the mind of fools is literally “but not so the heart of fools.” This line contrasts fools with the wise in line 1. The negation not so refers to the spreading of knowledge in line 1. Note that tev makes the contrast clear with “not by fools.” Others say “but fools can’t do this.”