As you can see from the first verse below, this book is attributed to King Solomon, said by many to be the wisest Jew who ever lived. However, it is generally concluded today that this book may have had several authors, with portions composed as late as the reign of Hezekiah. While translating these chapters, I often wondered about the “wisdom” contained in them. Some left me thinking “Wise? Not necessarily. Clever? Definitely.” To my way of thinking the scribe(s) of Proverbs, although seemingly wise at times, was/were more clever than wise. My reasons? Well for one, some of the sayings exhibit a bit too much naiveté. For another, the verses of this book are composed mostly of “couplets,” each line of a pair conveying some item of “wisdom.” Many verses show an obvious logical connection between the two lines. But in many others, the contrasting or complementary aspects of the two lines are far more vague. Many of these couplets are quite clever, begging for a line of reasoning to connect the two thoughts. The scribe’s Hebrew sometimes inspires much complex and intricate probing to discern a translation that makes the dual observations in each verse mean something together. No other book of poetry in the bible contains so many consistently puzzling twists of language. Translating this book was challenging, provocative, and fun.
מִשְׁלֵי שְׁלֹמֹה בֶן־דָּוִד מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל׃ 1:1
Prov. 1:1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel,
לָדַעַת חָכְמָה וּמוּסָר לְהָבִין אִמְרֵי בִינָה׃ 1:2
Prov. 1:2 to learn to know wisdom and instruction,
to discern sayings of understanding,
לָקַחַת מוּסַר הַשְׂכֵּל צֶדֶק וּמִשְׁפָּט וּמֵישָׁרִים׃ 1:3
Prov. 1:3 to acquire the discipline of the comprehension of right and justice and equity,
לָתֵת לִפְתָאיִם עָרְמָה לְנַעַר דַּעַת וּמְזִמָּה׃ 1:4
Prov. 1:4 to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to a young one.
יִשְׁמַע חָכָם וְיוֹסֶף לֶקַח וְנָבוֹן תַּחְבֻּלוֹת יִקְנֶה׃ 1:5
Prov. 1:5 One wise may hear and increase insight,
and might acquire the discretion of wise counsels,
לְהָבִין מָשָׁל וּמְלִיצָה דִּבְרֵי חֲכָמִים וְחִידֹתָם׃ 1:6
Prov. 1:6 understanding parable and satire,
words of the wise and their obscure sayings.
Prov. 1:7 Reverence of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools are contemptuous of wisdom and discipline.
All other translations of the first word in this verse, יִרְאַת, have fear instead of reverence. I believe that fear of the Lord does not lead to knowledge and wisdom, I believe it may lead primarily to obedience (if it even does that). But reverence of the Lord can lead one to desire wisdom and understanding. However, I concede that a lack of fear (and reverence) of the Lord leads to (or is the result of) arrogance, foolishness, a false sense of being wise, or/and a contempt for those who do fear or revere God. [Return to Prov. 2:5]
Prov. 1:8 My son, hear the instruction of your father,
and you must not forsake the teaching of your mother.
כִּי לִוְיַת חֵן הֵם לְרֹאשֶׁךָ וַעֲנָקִים לְגַרְגְּרֹתֶיךָ׃ 1:9
Prov. 1:9 For they are a garland of grace for your head,
and necklaces for your neck.
בְּנִי אִם־יְפַתּוּךָ חַטָּאִים אַל־תֹּבֵא׃ 1:10
Prov. 1:10 My son, if sinners try to seduce you,
you must not be willing.
אִם־יֹאמְרוּ לְכָה אִתָּנוּ נֶאֶרְבָה לְדָם נִצְפְּנָה לְנָקִי חִנָּם׃ 1:11
Prov. 1:11 Suppose they were to say,
“Come with us. We will lie in wait for blood;
we will lurk for innocent ones without cause.”
נִבְלָעֵם כִּשְׁאוֹל חַיִּים וּתְמִימִים כְּיוֹרְדֵי בוֹר׃ 1:12
Prov. 1:12 “We will engulf the living like the grave;
and those sound, as descenders of a pit.”
כָּל־הוֹן יָקָר נִמְצָא נְמַלֵּא בָתֵּינוּ שָׁלָל׃ 1:13
Prov. 1:13 “We will find every precious substance;
we will fill our houses of spoil.”
גּוֹרָלְךָ תַּפִּיל בְּתוֹכֵנוּ כִּיס אֶחָד יִהְיֶה לְכֻלָּנוּ׃ 1:14
Prov. 1:14 “You should cast your lot among us;
one purse will be for all of us.”
בְּנִי אַל־תֵּלֵךְ בְּדֶרֶךְ אִתָּם מְנַע רַגְלְךָ מִנְּתִיבָתָם׃ 1:15
Prov. 1:15 My son, you must not go on the way with them;
withhold your foot from their path.
כִּי רַגְלֵיהֶם לָרַע יָרוּצוּ וִימַהֲרוּ לִשְׁפָּךְ־דָּם׃ 1:16
Prov. 1:16 For their feet will run to evil,
and they will hasten to spill blood.
כִּי־חִנָּם מְזֹרָה הָרָשֶׁת בְּעֵינֵי כָל־בַּעַל כָּנָף׃ 1:17
Prov. 1:17 But the net would be spread for nothing,
to the eyes of even a bird.
וְהֵם לְדָמָם יֶאֱרֹבוּ יִצְפְּנוּ לְנַפְשֹׁתָם׃ 1:18
Prov. 1:18 That they would lie in wait for their own blood,
will lurk for their own lives.
כֵּן אָרְחוֹת כָּל־בֹּצֵעַ בָּצַע אֶת־נֶפֶשׁ בְּעָלָיו יִקָּח׃ 1:19
Prov. 1:19 So are the ways of every wrongful gain of profit:
it shall snatch away the life of its possessor.
חָכְמוֹת בַּחוּץ תָּרֹנָּה בָּרְחֹבוֹת תִּתֵּן קוֹלָהּ׃ 1:20
Prov. 1:20 Let wisdom cry aloud in the street!
Let her extend her voice in the plazas!
בְּרֹאשׁ הֹמִיּוֹת תִּקְרָא בְּפִתְחֵי שְׁעָרִים בָּעִיר אֲמָרֶיהָ תֹאמֵר׃ 1:21
Prov. 1:21 Let her call out at the head of the noisy streets!
Let her utter her words at the entrances of the gates to the city:
עַד־מָתַי פְּתָיִם תְּאֵהֲבוּ פֶתִי וְלֵצִים לָצוֹן חָמְדוּ לָהֶם וּכְסִילִים יִשְׂנְאוּ־דָעַת׃ 1:22
Prov. 1:22 “Until when, fools, will you love stupidity,
and scorners (covet to themselves) be bragging,
and the arrogant hate knowledge?”
In this verse we find the first instance of obscure Hebrew. The four words, וְלֵצִים לָצוֹן חָמְדוּ לָהֶם, corresponding to the middle English line are extremely puzzling. There is a mismatch of number and tense. While the other two verbs in the verse, translated as love and hate, are imperfect, the word I translate as covet is perfect. Moreover, while the noun scorners is plural, the verb bragging is singular. Although the poetry and parallelism of words in this phrase is not lost on me, I have found no way to reconcile these incongruities and the awkwardness of the translation, and have to consider these examples as oversights or deliberate errors for the sake of the poetry by the scribe.
תָּשׁוּבוּ לְתוֹכַחְתִּי הִנֵּה אַבִּיעָה לָכֶם רוּחִי אוֹדִיעָה דְבָרַי אֶתְכֶם׃ 1:23
Prov. 1:23 “May you turn back according to my rebuke.
Behold, I will pour out my mind to you,
I will try to have you know my words.
יַעַן קָרָאתִי וַתְּמָאֵנוּ נָטִיתִי יָדִי וְאֵין מַקְשִׁיב׃ 1:24
Prov. 1:24 “Because I have called and you refused,
extended my hand and no one was paying attention,
וַתִּפְרְעוּ כָל־עֲצָתִי וְתוֹכַחְתִּי לֹא אֲבִיתֶם׃ 1:25
Prov. 1:25 and you have ignored all my counsel,
and have not accepted my correction,
גַּם־אֲנִי בְּאֵידְכֶם אֶשְׂחָק אֶלְעַג בְּבֹא פַחְדְּכֶם׃ 1:26
Prov. 1:26 I will also laugh at your calamity,
I will mock at the coming of your dread.”
בְּבֹא (כְשַׁאֲוָה) [כְשֹׁואָה] פַּחְדְּכֶם וְאֵידְכֶם כְּסוּפָה יֶאֱתֶה בְּבֹא עֲלֵיכֶם צָרָה וְצוּקָה׃ 1:27
Prov. 1:27 “With the coming of your dread like a storm,
and your calamity come like a whirlwind,
in the coming of trouble and distress upon you,
The word in the parentheses has the vav and aleph interchanged. The correction is in the brackets.
אָז יִקְרָאֻנְנִי וְלֹא אֶעֱנֶה יְשַׁחֲרֻנְנִי וְלֹא יִמְצָאֻנְנִי׃ 1:28
Prov. 1:28 then let them call me, and I will not answer.
Let them seek me and they will not find me.”
Don’t the last five verses (and the rest below) sound as if the Lord is speaking? I suppose the author could be echoing what he believes would be the words of a benevolent Father. Or those of a personified Wisdom?
תַּחַת כִּי־שָׂנְאוּ דָעַת וְיִרְאַת יְהֹוָה לֹא בָחָרוּ׃ 1:29
Prov. 1:29 “On the basis that they hated knowledge
and not did choose reverence of the Lord,
לֹא־אָבוּ לַעֲצָתִי נָאֲצוּ כָּל־תּוֹכַחְתִּי׃ 1:30
Prov. 1:30 did not accept my counsel,
spurned all my correction,
וְיֹאכְלוּ מִפְּרִי דַרְכָּם וּמִמֹּעֲצֹתֵיהֶם יִשְׂבָּעוּ׃ 1:31
Prov. 1:31 so they shall eat from the fruit of their own way,
and be sated from their own devices.”
כִּי מְשׁוּבַת פְּתָיִם תַּהַרְגֵם וְשַׁלְוַת כְּסִילִים תְּאַבְּדֵם׃ 1:32
Prov. 1:32 “For the apostasy of the fools shall slay them
and the confidence of the arrogant shall destroy them.”
Prov. 1:33 “But anyone listening to me shall dwell securely
and rest easily from the dread of evil.”
I would like to point out that the word in this verse that is translated as securely implies a sense of ease, a lack of fear, not physical safety. This emphasizes the poetry of the verse, as the two lines of the couplet are expressing the same thought in different ways -- in other words, parallelism, one of the primary attributes of Hebrew poetry.