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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
Proverbs 21



Verse 1

The group, like the preceding one, now closes with a proverb of the king.

A king's heart in Jahve's hand is like brooks of water;

He turneth it whithersoever He will.

Brook and canal (the Quinta : ὑδραγωγοί ) are both called פּלג , or פּלג , Job 20:17, Arab. falaj (from פּלג , to divide, according to which Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, διαρέσεις ; Venet . διανομαί ; Jerome, divisiones ); Jâkût has the explanation of the word: “ falaj is the name given to flowing water, particularly the brook from a spring, and every canal which is led from a spring out over flat ground.” Such brooks of water are the heart of a king, i.e. , it is compared to such, in Jahve's hand. The second line contains the point of comparison: He inclines it, gives to it the direction ( הטּה , causat. of נטה , Numbers 21:15) toward whatever He will ( חפץ denotes willing, as a bending and inclining, viz., of the will; vid ., at Proverbs 18:2). Rightly Hitzig finds it not accidental that just the expression “brooks of water” is chosen as the figure for tractableness and subjection to government. In Isaiah 32:2, the princes of Judah are compared to “rivers of water in a dry place” with reference to the exhaustion of the land during the oppression of the Assyrian invasion; the proverb has specially in view evidences of kindness proceeding from the heart, as at Proverbs 16:15 the favour of the king is compared to clouds of latter rain emptying themselves in beneficent showers, and at Proverbs 19:12 to the dew refreshing the plants. But the speciality of the comparison here is, that the heart of the king, however highly exalted above his subjects, and so removed from their knowledge he may be, has yet One above it by whom it is moved by hidden influences, e.g. , the prayer of the oppressed; for man is indeed free, yet he acts under the influence of divinely-directed circumstances and divine operations; and though he reject the guidance of God, yet from his conduct nothing results which the Omniscient, who is surprised by nothing, does not make subservient to His will in the world-plan of redemption. Rightly the Midrash: God gives to the world good or bad kings, according as He seeks to bless it or to visit it with punishment; all decisions that go forth from the king's mouth come לכתחלה , i.e. , in their first commencement and their last reason they come from the Holy One.

Verse 2

The next group extends from Proverbs 21:2 to Proverbs 21:8, where it closes as it began.

2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes;

But a weigher of hearts is Jahve.

A proverb similar to Proverbs 16:2 (where דּרכי , for דּרך , זך for ישׁר , רוּחות for לבּות ). God is also, Proverbs 17:3, called a trier, בּחן , of hearts, as He is here called a weigher, תּכן . The proverb indirectly admonishes us of the duty of constant self-examination, according to the objective norm of the revealed will of God, and warns us against the self-complacency of the fool, of whom Proverbs 12:15 says (as Trimberg in “ Renner ”): “all fools live in the pleasant feeling that their life is the best,” and against the self-deception which walks in the way of death and dreams of walking in the way of life, Proverbs 14:12 (Proverbs 16:25).

Verse 3

3 To practice justice and right

Hath with Jahve the pre-eminence above sacrifice.

We have already (vol. i. p. 42) shown how greatly this depreciation of the works of the ceremonial cultus , as compared with the duties of moral obedience, is in the spirit of the Chokma ; cf. also at Proverbs 15:8. Prophecy also gives its testimony, e.g. , Hosea 6:7, according to which also here (cf. Proverbs 20:8 with Isaiah 9:8) the practising of צדקה וּמשׁפּט (sequence of words as at Genesis 18:19; Psalms 33:5, elsewhere צדק ומשׁפט , and yet more commonly משׁפט וצדקה ) does not denote legal rigour, but the practising of the justum et aequum , or much rather the aequum et bonum , thus in its foundation conduct proceeding from the principle of love. The inf . עשׂה (like קנה , Proverbs 16:16) occurs three times (here and at Genesis 50:20; Psalms 101:3); once עשׂו is written (Genesis 31:18), as also in the infin . absol . the form עשׂה mro and עשׂו interchange ( vid ., Norzi at Jeremiah 22:4); once עשׂהוּ for עשׂותו (Exodus 18:18) occurs in the status conjunctus .

Verse 4

4 Loftiness of eyes and swelling of heart -

The husbandry of the godless is sin.

If נר , in the sense of light, gives a satisfactory meaning, then one might appeal to 1 Kings 11:36 (cf. 2 Samuel 21:17), where ניר appears to signify lamp, in which meaning it is once (2 Samuel 22:29) written ניר (like חיק ); or since ניר = נר (ground-form, nawir , lightening) is as yet certainly established neither in the Heb. nor Syr., one might punctuate נר instead of נר , according to which the Greeks, Aram., and Luther, with Jerome, translate. But of the lamp of the godless we read at Proverbs 13:9 and elsewhere, that it goeth out. We must here understand by נר the brilliant prosperity (Bertheau and others) of the wicked, or their “proud spirit flaming and flaring like a bright light” (Zöckler), which is contrary to the use of the metaphor as found elsewhere, which does not extend to a prosperous condition. We must then try another meaning for נר ; but not that of yoke, for this is not Heb., but Aram.-Arab., and the interpretation thence derived by Lagarde: “Haughtiness and pride; but the godless for all that bear their yoke, viz., sin,” seeks in vain to hide behind the “for all that” the breaking asunder of the two lines of the verse. In Heb. נר means that which lightens (burning) = lamp, נוּר , the shining (that which burns) = fire, and ניר , Proverbs 13:23, from ניר , to plough up (Targ. 1 Samuel 8:12, למנר = לחרשׁ ) the fresh land, i.e. , the breaking up of the fallow land; according to which the Venet . as Kimchi: νέωμα ἀσεβῶν ἁμαρτία , which as Ewald and Elster explain: “where a disposition of wicked haughtiness, of unbridled pride, prevails, there will also sin be the first-fruit on the field of action; נר , novale , the field turned up for the first time, denotes here the first-fruits of sin.” But why just the first-fruits, and not the fruit in general? We are better to abide by the field itself, which is here styled נר , not שׂדה (or as once in Jeremiah 39:10, יגב ); because with this word, more even than with שׂדה , is connected the idea of agricultural work, of arable land gained by the digging up or the breaking up of one or more years' fallow ground (cf. Pea ii. 1, ניר , Arab. siḳâḳ , opp. בור , Arab. bûr , Menachoth 85a, שׂדות מניּרות , a fresh broken-up field, Erachin 29b, נר , , opp. הביר , to let lie fallow), so that נר רשׁעים may mean the cultivation of the fields, and generally the husbandry, i.e. , the whole conduct and life of the godless. נר is here ethically metaph., but not like Hosea 10:12; Jeremiah 4:3, where it means a new moral commencement of life; but like חרשׁ , arare , Job 4:8; Hosea 10:13; cf. Proverbs 3:29. רחב is not adj. like Proverbs 28:25, Psalms 101:5, but infin. like חסר , Proverbs 10:21; and accordingly also רוּם is not adj. like חוּם , or past like סוּג , but infin. like Isaiah 10:12. And חטּאת is the pred. of the complex subject, which consists of רוּם עינים , a haughty looking down with the eyes, רחב־לב , breadth of heart, i.e. , excess of self-consciousness, and נר רשׁעים taken as an asyndeton summativum : pride of look, and making oneself large of heart, in short, the whole husbandry of the godless, or the whole of the field cultivated by them, with all that grows thereon, is sin.

Verse 5

5 The striving of the diligent is only to advantage.

And hastening all [excessive haste] only to loss;

or in other words, and agreeably to the Heb. construction:

The thoughts of the industrious are (reach) only to gain,

And every one who hastens - it (this his hastening) is only to loss.

Vid ., at Proverbs 17:21. At Proverbs 10:4, Luther translates “the hand of the diligent,” here “the plans of an expert [ endelichen ],” i.e. , of one actively striving (Proverbs 22:29, endelich = מהיר ) to the end. The אץ , hastening overmuch, is contrasted with the diligent: Luther well: but he who is altogether too precipitant. Everywhere else in the Proverbs אץ has a closer definition with it, wherefore Hitzig reads אצר , which must mean: he who collects together; but אץ along with חרוץ is perfectly distinct. The thought is the same as our “ eile mit Weile ” [= festina lente ], and Goethe's

Wie das Gestirn ohne Hast,

Aber ohne Rast

Drehe sich jeder

Um die eigne Last .

“Like the stars, without haste but without rest, let every one carry about his own burden,” viz., of his calling that lies upon him. The fundamental meaning of אוץ is to throng, to urge (Exodus 5:13), here of impatient and inconsiderate rashness. While on the side of the diligent there is nothing but gain, such haste brings only loss; over-exertion does injury, and the work will want care, circumspection, and thoroughness. In the Book of Proverbs, the contrasts “gain” and “loss” frequently occur, Proverbs 11:24; Proverbs 14:23; Proverbs 22:16 : profit (the increase of capital by interest), opp. loss (of capital, or of part thereof), as commercial terms.

Verse 6

6 The gaining of treasures by a lying tongue

Is a fleeting breath of such as seek death.

One may, at any rate, after the free manner of gnomic resemblances and comparisons, regard “fleeting breath” and “such as seek death” as two separated predicates: such gain is fleeting breath, so those who gain are seeking death (Caspari's Beitrהge zu Jes . p. 53). But it is also syntactically admissible to interpret the words rendered “seekers of death” as gen.; for such interruptions of the st. constr ., as here by נדּף [fleeting], frequently occur, e.g. , Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 32:13; 1 Chronicles 9:13; and that an idea, in spite of such interruption, may be thought of as gen., is seen from the Arab.

(Note: Vid ., Friedr. Philippi's Status constructus , p. 17, Anm. 3; and cf. therewith such constructions as (Arab.) mân'u faḍlah âlmanhtâji , i.e. , a refuser of the needy, his beneficence = one who denies to the needy his beneficence.)

But the text is unsettled. Symmachus, Syr., Targ., the Venet ., and Luther render the phrase מבקשׁי [seekers]; but the lxx and Jerome read מוקשׁי [snares] (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9); this word Rashi also had before him ( vid ., Norzi), and Kennicott found it in several Codd. Bertheau prefers it, for he translates: fleeting breath, snares of death; Ewald and Hitzig go further, for, after the lxx, they change the whole proverb into: מות ( בּמוקשׁי ) הבל רדף אל־מוקשׁי , with פּעל in the first line. But διώκει of the lxx is an incorrect rendering of נדף , which the smuggling in of the ἐπὶ ( παγίδας θανάτου ) drew after it, without our concluding therefrom that אל־מוקשׁי , or למוקשׁי (Lagarde), lay before the translators; on the contrary, the word which (Cappellus) lay before them, מוקשׁי , certainly deserves to be preferred to מבקשׁי : the possession is first, in view of him who has gotten it, compared to a fleeting ( נדּף , as Isaiah 42:2) breath (cf. e.g. , smoke, Psalms 68:3), and then, in view of the inheritance itself and its consequences, is compared to the snares of death (Proverbs 13:14; Proverbs 14:27); for in פּעל (here equivalent to עשׂות , acquisitio , Genesis 31:1; Deuteronomy 8:17) lie together the ideas of him who procures and of the thing that is procured or effected ( vid ., at Proverbs 20:11).

Verse 7

7 The violence of the godless teareth them away,

For they have refused to do what is right.

The destruction which they prepare for others teareth or draggeth them away to destruction, by which wicked conduct brings punishment on itself; their own conduct is its own executioner (cf. Proverbs 1:19); for refusing to practise what is right, they have pronounced judgment against themselves, and fallen under condemnation. Rightly Jerome, detrahent , with Aquila, κατασπάσει = j'gurrem (as Habakkuk 1:15), from גּרר ; on the contrary, the lxx incorrectly, ἐπιξενωθήσεται , from גוּר , to dwell, to live as a guest; and the Venet ., as Luther, in opposition to the usus loq .: δεδίξεται (fut. of δεδίσσεσθαι , to terrify), from גוּר , to dread, fear, which also remains intrans., with the accus. following, Deuteronomy 32:27. The Syr. and the Targ. freely: robbery (Targ. רבּוּנא , perhaps in the sense of usury) will seize them, viz., in the way of punishment. In Arab. jarr ( jariyratn ) means directly to commit a crime; not, as Schultens explains, admittere crimen paenam trahens , but attrahere ( arripere ), like (Arab.) jany ( jinâytn ), contrahere crimen ; for there the crime is thought of as violent usurpation, here as wicked accumulation.

Verse 8

8 Winding is the way of a man laden with guilt;

But the pure - his conduct is right.

Rightly the accentuation places together “the way of a man” as subject, and “winding” as predicate: if the poet had wished to say (Schultens, Bertheau) “one crooked in his way” ( quoad viam ), he would have contented himself with the phrase נחפּך דּרך . But, on the other hand, the accentuation is scarcely correct (the second Munach is a transformed Mugrash ), for it interprets וזר as a second pred.; but וזר is adj. to אישׁ . As הפכפּך (synon. פּתלתּל , עקלקל ) is a hapax leg ., so also vazar , which is equivalent to (Arab.) mawzwr , crimine onustus , from wazria , crimen committere , properly to charge oneself with a crime. The ancient interpreters have, indeed, no apprehension of this meaning before them; the lxx obtain from the proverb a thought reminding us of Psalms 18:27, in which vazar does not at all appear; the Syr. and Targ. translate as if the vav of vazar introduces the conclusion: he is a barbarian ( nuchrojo ); Luther: he is crooked; Jerome also sets aside the syntax: perversa via viri aliena est ; but, syntactically admissible, the Venet . and Kimchi, as the Jewish interpreters generally, διαστροφωτάτη ὁδὸς ἀνδρὸς καὶ ἀλλόκοτος . Fleischer here even renounces the help of the Arab., for he translates: Tortuosa est via viri criminibus onusti, qui autem sancte vivit, is recte facit ; but he adds thereto the remark that “ vazar thus explained, with Cappellus, Schultens, and Gesenius, would, it is true, corresponding to the Arab. wazar , have first the abstract meaning of a verbal noun from wazira ;

(Note: The n. act formed from wazara is wazr , wizr , wizat . These three forms would correspond to the Heb. vězěr , vēzěr , and zěrěth ( z'rāh , cf. rěděth , r'dah , Genesis 46:3).)

the old explanation is therefore perhaps better: tortuosa est via viri et deflectens ( scil. a recta linea , thus devia est ), when the ' viri ' is to be taken in the general sense of 'many, this and that one;' the closer definition is reflected from the זך of the second clause.” But (1) זר as an adj. signifies peregrinus ; one ought thus rather to expect סר , degenerated, corrupt, although that also does not rightly accord; (2) the verbal noun also, e.g. , 'all , passes over into a subst. and adj. signification (the latter without distinction of number and gender); (3) וזר , after its adj. signification, is related to (Arab.) wazyr , as חכם is to ḥakym , רזב to rahyb ; it is of the same form as ענו , with which it has in common its derivation from a root of similar meaning, and its ethical signification. In 8b, וזך is rightly accented as subj. of the complex pred. זך is the pure in heart and of a good conscience. The laden with guilt (guilty) strikes out all kinds of crooked ways; but the pure needs not stealthy ways, he does not stand under the pressure of the bondage of sin, the ban of the guilt of sin; his conduct is straightforward, directed by the will of God, and not by cunning policy. Schultens: Integer vitae scelerisque purus non habet cur vacillet, cur titubet, cur sese contorqueat . The choice of the designation וזך [and the pure] may be occasioned by וזר (Hitzig); the expression 8b reminds us of Proverbs 20:11.

Verse 9

The group now following extends to Proverbs 21:18, where a new one begins with a variation of its initial verse.

9 Better to sit on the pinnacle of a house-roof,

Than a contentious wife and a house in common.

We have neither to supplement the second line: than with a contentious wife... (Symmachus, Theodotion, Jerome, Luther), nor: than that one have a contentious...; but the meaning is, that sitting on the roof-top better befits one, does better than a quarrelsome wife and a common house (rightly the Targ. and Venet .), i.e. , in a common house; for the connecting together of the wife and the house by vav is a Semitic hendiadys , a juxtaposition of two ideas which our language would place in a relation of subordination (Fleischer). This hendiadys would, indeed, be scarcely possible if the idea of the married wife were attached to אושׁת ; for that such an one has with her husband a “house of companionship, i.e. , a common house,” is self-evident. But may it not with equal right be understood of the imperious positive mother-in-law of a widower, a splenetic shrewish aunt, a sickly female neighbour disputing with all the world, and the like? A man must live together with his wife in so far as he does not divorce her; he must then escape from her; but a man may also be constrained by circumstances to live in a house with a quarrelsome mother-in-law, and such an one may, even during the life of his wife, and in spite of her affection, make his life so bitter that he would rather, in order that he might have rest, sit on the pinnacle or ridge of a house-roof. פּנּהּ is the battlement (Zephaniah 1:16) of the roof, the edge of the roof, or its summit; he who sits there does so not without danger, and is exposed to the storm, but that in contrast with the alternative is even to be preferred; he sits alone. Regarding the Chethı̂b מדינים , Kerı̂ מדינים , vid ., at Proverbs 6:14; and cf. the figures of the “continual dropping” for the continual scolding of such a wife, embittering the life of her husband, Proverbs 19:13.

Verse 10

10 The soul of the godless hath its desire after evil;

His neighbour findeth no mercy in his eyes.

The interchange of perf. and fut. cannot be without intention. Lצwenstein renders the former as perf. hypotheticum : if the soul of the wicked desires anything evil...; but the רשׁע wishes evil not merely now and then, but that is in general his nature and tendency. The perf. expresses that which is actually the case: the soul of the wicked has its desire directed (write אוּתה with Munach , after Codd. and old Ed., not with Makkeph ) toward evil, and the fut. expresses that which proceeds from this: he who stands near him is not spared. יחן is, as at Isaiah 26:10, Hoph . of חנן , to incline, viz., oneself, compassionately toward any one, or to bend to him. But in what sense is בּעיניו added? It does not mean, as frequently, e.g. , Proverbs 21:2, according to his judgment, nor, as at Proverbs 20:8; Proverbs 6:13 : with his eyes, but is to be understood after the phrase מצא חן בּעיני : his neighbour finds no mercy in his eyes, so that in these words the sympathy ruling within him expresses itself: “his eyes will not spare his friends,” vid ., Isaiah 13:18.

Verse 11

11 When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise;

And when insight is imparted to a wise man, he receives knowledge.

The thought is the same as at Proverbs 19:25. The mocker at religion and virtue is incorrigible, punishment avails him nothing, but yet it is not lost; for as a warning example it teaches the simple, who might otherwise be easily drawn into the same frivolity. On the other hand, the wise man needs no punishment, but only strengthening and furtherance: if “instruction” is imparted to him, he embraces it, makes it his own דּעת ; for, being accessible to better insight, he gains more and more knowledge. De Dieu, Bertheau, and Zöckler make “the simple” the subject also in 11b: and if a wise man prospers, he (the simple) gains knowledge. But השׂכּיל ל , used thus impersonally, is unheard of; wherefore Hitzig erases the ל before חכם erofeb ל eh : if a wise man has prosperity. But השׂכיל does not properly mean to have prosperity, but only mediately: to act with insight, and on that account with success. The thought that the simple, on the one side, by the merited punishment of the mocker; on the other, by the intelligent prosperous conduct of the wise, comes to reflection, to reason, may indeed be entertained, but the traditional form of the proverb does not need any correction. השׂכּיל may be used not only transitively: to gain insight, Genesis 3:6; Psalms 2:10, and elsewhere, but also causatively: to make intelligent, with the accus. following, Proverbs 16:23; Psalms 32:8, or: to offer, present insight, as here with the dat.-obj. following (cf. Proverbs 17:26). Instead of בּענשׁ־ , the Kametz of which is false, Codd. and good Edd. have, rightly, בּענשׁ־ . Hitzig, making “the wise” the subject to בהשׂכיל (and accordingly “the scorner” would be the subject in 11a), as a correct consequence reads בּענשׁ = בּהענשׁ . For us, with that first correction, this second one also fails. “Both infinitivi constr .,” Fleischer remarks, “are to be taken passively; for the Semitic infin., even of transitive form, as it has no designation of gender, time, and person, is an indeterminate modus , even in regard to the generis verbi (Act. and Pass.).”

(Note: The Arab. National Grammarians, it is true, view the matter otherwise. When ḳatlu zydn , the putting to death of Zeid, is used in the sense of Zeid's becoming dead, according to their view the fâ'l (the gen. subjecti ) is omitted; the full expression would be ḳatlu 'amrn zaydnâ . Since now 'amrn is omitted, zaydn has in the gen. form taken the place of the fâ'l , but this gen. is the representative of the acc. objecti . Without thus going round about, we say: it is the gen. objecti .)

To this proverb with u - behaskil there is connected the one that follows, beginning with maskil .

Verse 12

12 A righteous One marketh the house of the godless;

He hurleth the godless to destruction.

If we understand by the word צדּיק a righteous man, then 12a would introduce the warning which he gives, and the unexpressed subject of 12b must be God (Umbreit). But after such an introitus , יהוה ought not to be wanting. If in 12a “the righteous man” is the subject, then it presents itself as such also for the second parallel part. But the thought that the righteous, when he takes notice of the house of the godless, shows attention which of itself hurls the godless into destruction (Löwenstein), would require the sing. רשׁע in the conclusion; also, instead of מסלּף the fut. יסלּף would have been found; and besides, the judicial סלּף ( vid ., regarding this word at Proverbs 11:3; Proverbs 19:3) would not be a suitable word for this confirmation in evil. Thus by צדיק the proverb means God, and מסלף has, as at Proverbs 22:12, Job 12:19, this word as its subject. “A righteous One” refers to the All-righteous, who is called, Job 34:17, “the All-just One,” and by Rashi, under the passage before us, צדּיקו שׁל־עולם . Only do not translate with Bertheau and Zöckler: the Righteous One (All-righteous), for (1) this would require הצּדּיק , and (2) הצדיק is never by itself used as an attributive designation of God. Rightly, Fleischer and Ewald: a Righteous One, viz., God. It is the indetermination which seeks to present the idea of the great and dreadful: a Righteous One, and such a Righteous One!

(Note: The Arabs call this indetermination âlnkrt lalt'ẓym wallthwyl . Vid ., under Psalms 2:12.)

השׂכיל with על , Proverbs 16:20, or אל , Psalms 41:2; Nehemiah 8:13, here with ל , signifies to give attention to anything, to look attentively on it. The two participles stand in the same line: animum advertit ... evertit . Hitzig changes לבּית רשׁע into לבּיתו , and makes רשׁע the subject of 12b; but the proverb as it lies before us is far more intelligible.

Verse 13

13 He that stoppeth his ear at the cry of the poor

he also calls and is not heard.

Only the merciful find mercy, Matthew 5:7; the unmerciful rich man, who has no ear for the cry of the דל , i.e. , of him who is without support and means of subsistence, thus of one who is needing support, will also remain unheard when he himself, in the time of need, calls upon God for help. Cf. the parable of the unmerciful servant of the merciful king, Matthew 18:23. מן in מזּעקת , as Isaiah 23:15; Genesis 4:13; Genesis 27:1; no preposition of our [German] language [nor English] expresses, as Fleischer here remarks, such a fulness of meaning as this מן does, to which, after a verb of shutting up such as אטם (cf. Proverbs 17:28), the Arab. 'n would correspond, e.g. , â'my 'n âltryḳ : blind, so that he does not see the way.

Verse 14

14 A gift in secret turneth away anger;

And a bribe into the bosom violent wrath.

Hitzig reads with Symmachus, the Targ., and Jerome, יכבּה , and translates: “extinguishes anger;” but it does not follow that they did read יכבה ; for the Talm. Heb. כּפה signifies to cover by turning over, e.g. , of a vessel, Sanhedrin 77a, which, when it is done to a candle or a fire, may mean its extinction. But כפה of the post-bibl. Heb. also means to bend, and thence to force out (Aram. כּפא , כּפי ), according to which Kimchi hesitates whether to explain: overturns = smothers, or: bends = forces down anger. The Venet . follows the latter signification: κάμψει (for Villoison's καλύψει rests on a false reading of the MS). But there is yet possible another derivation from the primary signification, curvare, flectere, vertere , according to which the lxx translates ἀνατρέπει , for which ἀποτρέπει would be yet better: כפה , to bend away, to turn off, ἀρκεῖν , arcere , altogether like the Arab. (compared by Schultens) kfâ , and kfy , ἀρκεῖν , to prevent, whence, e.g. , ikfı̂ni hada : hold that away from me, or: spare me that (Fleischer); with the words hafı̂ka sharran (Lat. defendaris semper a malo ) princes were anciently saluted; kfy signifies “to suffice,” because enough is there, where there is a keeping off of want. Accordingly we translate: Donum clam acceptum avertit iram , which also the Syr. meant by mephadka ( מפרק ). This verb is naturally to be supplied to 14b, which the lxx has recognised (it translates: but he who spares gifts, excites violent anger). Regarding שׂחד , vid ., at Proverbs 17:8; and regarding בּחק , at Proverbs 17:23. Also here חק ( חיק = חיק ), like Arab. jayb , 'ubb , חב , denotes the bosom of the garment; on the contrary (Arab.) hijr , hiḍn , חצן , is more used of that of the body, or that formed by the drawing together of the body ( e.g. , of the arm in carrying a child). A present is meant which one brings with him concealed in his bosom; perhaps 13b called to mind the judge that took gifts, Exodus 23:8 (Hitzig).

Verse 15

15 It is a joy to the just to do justice,

And a terror for them that work iniquity.

To act according to the law of rectitude is to these as unto death; injustice has become to them a second nature, so that their heart strives against rectitude of conduct; it also enters to little into their plan of life, and their economy, that they are afraid of ruining themselves thereby. So we believe, with Hitzig, Elster, Zצckler, and Luther, this must be explained in accordance with our interpretation of Proverbs 10:29. Fleischer and others supplement the second parallel member from the first: וּפעל און מחתּה לפעלי אין ; others render 15b as an independent sentence: ruin falls on those who act wickedly. But that ellipsis is hard and scarcely possible; but in general מחתה , as contrasted correlate to שׂמחה , can scarcely have the pure objective sense of ruin or destruction. It must mean a revolution in the heart. Right-doing is to the righteous a pleasure (cf. Proverbs 10:23); and for those who have און , and are devoid of moral worth, and thus simply immoral as to the aim and sphere of their conduct, right-doing is something which alarms them: when they act in conformity with what is right, they do so after an external impulse only against their will, as if it were death to them.

Verse 16

16 A man who wanders from the way of understanding,

Shall dwell in the assembly of the dead.

Regarding השׂכּל , vid ., Proverbs 1:3; and regarding רפאים , Proverbs 2:18. The verb נוּח means to repose, to take rest, Job 3:13, and to dwell anywhere, Proverbs 14:33; but originally like (Arab.) nâkh and hadd , to lay oneself down anywhere, and there to come to rest; and that is the idea which is here connected with ינוּח , for the figurative description of יאבד or ימוּת is formed after the designation of the subject, 16a: he who, forsaking the way of understanding, walks in the way of error, at length comes to the assembly of the dead; for every motion has an end, and every journey a goal, whether it be one that is self-appointed or which is appointed for him. Here also it is intimated that the way of the soul which loves wisdom and follows her goes in another direction than earthwards down into hades; hades and death, its background appear here as punishments, and it is true that as such one may escape them.

Verse 17

17 He who loveth pleasure becometh a man of want;

He who loveth wine and oil doth not become rich.

In Arab. samh denotes the joyful action of the “cheerful giver,” 2 Corinthians 9:7; in Heb. the joyful affection; here, like farah , pleasure, delight, festival of joy. Jerome: qui diligit epulas . For feasting is specially thought of, where wine was drunk, and oil and other fragrant essences were poured (cf. Proverbs 27:9; Amos 6:6) on the head and the clothes. He who loves such festivals, and is commonly found there, becomes a man of want, or suffers want (cf. Judges 12:2, אישׁ ריב , a man of strife); such an one does not become rich ( העשׁיר , like Proverbs 10:4, = עשׂה עשׁר , Jeremiah 17:11); he does not advance, and thus goes backwards.

Verse 18

18 The godless becometh a ransom for the righteous;

And the faithless cometh into the place of the upright.

The thought is the same as at Proverbs 11:8. An example of this is, that the same world-commotion which brought the nations round Babylon for its destruction, put an end to Israel's exile: Cyrus, the instrument in God's hands for inflicting punishment on many heathen nations, was Israel's liberator, Isaiah 43:3. Another example is in the exchange of places by Haman and Mordecai, to which Rashi refers. כּפר is equivalent to λύτρον , ransom; but it properly signifies price of atonement, and generally, means of reconciliation, which covers or atones for the guilt of any one; the poll-tax and “oblations” also, Exodus 30:15., Numbers 31:50, are placed under this point of view, as blotting out guilt: if the righteousness of God obtains satisfaction, it makes its demand against the godless, and lets the righteous go free; or, as the substantival clause 18b expresses, the faithless steps into the place of the upright, for the wrath passes by the latter and falls upon the former. Regarding בּוגד , vid ., Proverbs 2:22. Thus, in contrast to the ישׁר , he is designated, who keeps faith neither with God nor man, and with evil intention enters on deceitful ways - the faithless, the malicious, the assassin.

Verse 19

With this verse, a doublet to Proverbs 21:9 (Proverbs 25:24), the collector makes a new addition; in Proverbs 21:29 he reaches a proverb which resembles the closing proverb of the preceding group, in its placing in contrast the רשׁע and ישׁר ; -

It is better to dwell in a waste land,

Than a contentious wife and vexation.

The corner of the roof, Hitzig remarks, has been made use of, and the author must look further out for a lonely seat. But this is as piquant as it is devoid of thought; for have both proverbs the same author, and if so, were they coined at the same time? Here also it is unnecessary to regard מאשׁת as an abbreviation for משּׁבת עם אשׁת . Hitzig supplies שׁכן , by which אשׁת , as the accus.-obj., is governed; but it is not to be supplied, for the proverb places as opposite to one another dwelling in a waste land (read שׁבת בּארץ־מדבּר , with Codd. and correct Ed.) and a contentious wife ( Chethı̂b , מדונים , Kerı̂ , מדינים ) and vexation, and says the former is better than the latter. For וכעס [and vexation] is not, as translated by the ancients, and generally received, a second governed genitive to אשׁת , but dependent on מן , follows “contentious woman” (cf. 9b): better that than a quarrelsome wife, and at the same time vexation.

Verse 20

20 Precious treasure and oil are in the dwelling of the wise;

And a fool of a man squanders it.

The wise spares, the fool squanders; and if the latter enters on the inheritance which the former with trouble and care collected, it is soon devoured. The combination אוצר נחמד ושׁמן [desirable treasure and oil] has something inconcinnate, wherefore the accentuation places אוצר by itself by Mehuppach Legarmeh ; but it is not to be translated “a treasure of that which is precious, and oil,” since it is punctuated אוצר , and not אוצר ; and besides, in that case מחמדּים would have been used instead of נחמד . Thus by אוצר נחמד , a desirable and splendid capital in gold and things of value (Isaiah 23:18; Psalms 19:11); and by שׁמן , mentioned by way of example, stores in kitchen and cellar are to be thought of, which serve him who lives luxuriously, and afford noble hospitality, - a fool of a man ( כּסיל אדם , as at Proverbs 15:20), who finds this, devours it, i.e. , quickly goes through it, makes, in short, a tabula rasa of it; cf. בּלע , Isaiah 28:4, with בּלּע , 2 Samuel 20:26, and Proverbs 19:28. The suffix of יבלּענּוּ refers back to אוצר as the main idea, or distributively also both to the treasure and the oil. The lxx ( θησαυρὸς ἐπιθυμητὸς ) ἀναπαύσεται ἐπὶ στόματος σοφοῦ , i.e. , ישׁכן בפה חכם , according to which Hitzig corrects; but the fool, he who swallows down “the precious treasure with a wise mouth,” is a being we can scarcely conceive of. His taste is not at all bad; why then a fool? Is it perhaps because he takes more in than he can at one time digest? The reading of the lxx is corrected by 20b.

Verse 21

21 He that followeth after righteousness and kindness

Will obtain life, righteousness, and honour.

How we are to render צדקה וחסד is seen from the connection of Proverbs 21:3 and Hosea 6:7 : tsedakah is conduct proceeding from the principle of self-denying and compassionate love, which is the essence of the law, Micah 6:8; and hesed is conduct proceeding from sympathy, which, placing itself in the room of another, perceives what will benefit him, and sets about doing it (cf. e.g. , Job 6:14 : to him who is inwardly melted disheartened חסד is due from his neighbour). The reward which one who strives thus to act obtains, is designated 21b by חיּים and כּבוד . Honour and life stand together, Proverbs 22:4, when עשׁר precedes, and here צדקה stands between, which, Proverbs 8:18, Psalms 24:5, is thought of as that which is distributed as a gift of heaven, Isaiah 45:8, which has glory in its train, Isaiah 58:8; as Paul also says, “Whom He justified, them He also glorified.” The lxx has omitted tsedakah , because it can easily appear as erroneously repeated from 21a. But in reality there are three good things which are promised to those who are zealous in the works of love: a prosperous life, enduring righteousness, true honour. Life as it proceeds from God, the Living One, righteousness as it avails the righteous and those doing righteously before God, honour or glory (Psalms 29:3) as it is given (Psalms 84:12) by the God of glory. Cf. with חיים צדקה , Proverbs 10:2, and with צדקה , especially James 2:13, κατακαυχᾶται ἔλεος κρίσεως .

Verse 22

22 A wise man scaleth a city of the mighty;

And casteth down the fortress in which they trusted.

Ecclesiastes 9:14. is a side-piece to this, according to which a single wise man, although poor, may become the deliverer of a city besieged by a great army, and destitute of the means of defence. עלה , seq. acc ., means to climb up, Joel 2:7; here, of the scaling of a fortified town, viz., its fortress. עז is that which makes it עיר עז , Isaiah 26:1 : its armour of protection, which is designated by the genit. מבטחה , as the object and ground of their confidence. The vocalization מבטחה , for mibtachcha (cf. Jeremiah 48:13 with Job 18:14), follows the rule Gesen. §27, Anm. 2b. The suff., as in לאתננּה , Isaiah 23:17, is lightened, because if its mappik , Michlol 30b; vid ., regarding the various grounds of these formae raphatae pro mappicatis , Böttcher, §418. If a city is defended by ever so many valiant men, the wise man knows the point where it may be overcome, and knows how to organize the assault so as to destroy the proud fortress. With ויּרד , he brings to ruin, cf. עד רדתּהּ , Deuteronomy 20:20.

Verse 23

23 He that guardeth his mouth and his tongue,

Keepeth his soul from troubles.

Proverbs 13:3 resembles this. He guardeth his mouth who does not speak when he does better to be silent; and he guardeth his tongue who says no more than is right and fitting. The troubles comprehend both external and internal evils, hurtful incidents and ( נפשׁ ) צרות לבב , Psalms 25:17; Psalms 31:8, i.e. , distress of conscience, self-accusation, sorrow on account of the irreparable evil which one occasions.

Verse 24

24 A proud and arrogant man is called mocker (free-spirit);

One who acteth in superfluity of haughtiness.

We have thus translated (vol. i. p. 39): the proverb defines almost in a formal way an idea current from the time of Solomon: לץ (properly, the distorter, vid ., Proverbs 1:7) is an old word; but as with us in the west since the last century, the names of free-thinkers and esprits forts (cf. Isaiah 46:12) have become current for such as subject the faith of the Church to destructive criticism, so then they were called לצים , who mockingly, as men of full age, set themselves above revealed religion and prophecy (Isaiah 28:9); and the above proverb gives the meaning of this name, for it describes in his moral character such a man. Thus we call one זד , haughty, and זד יהיר dna , , i.e. , destroying himself, and thus thoughtlessly haughty, who בּעברת זדון acts in superfluity or arrogance ( vid ., at Proverbs 11:23) of haughtiness; for not only does he inwardly raise himself above all that is worthy of recognition as true, of faith as certain, of respect as holy; but acting as well as judging frivolously, he shows reverence for nothing, scornfully passing sentence against everything. Abulwalîd ( vid ., Gesen. Thes .) takes יהיר in the sense of obstinate; for he compares the Arab. jahr ( jahar ), which is equivalent to lijâj , constancy, stubbornness. But in the Targ. and Talm. ( vid ., at Habakkuk 2:5, Levy's Chald. Wörterb . under יהיר ) יהר in all its offshoots and derivations has the sense of pride; we have then rather to compare the Arab. istaihara , to be insane (= dhahb 'aḳlh , mens ejus alienata est ), perhaps also to hajjir , mutahawwir , being overthrown, praeceps , so that יהיר denotes one who by his ὑπερφρονεῖν is carried beyond all σωφρονεῖν ( vid ., Romans 12:3), one who is altogether mad from pride. The Syr. madocho (Targ. מריחא ), by which יהיר (Targ. יהיר ) is rendered here and at Habakkuk 2:5, is its synonym; this word also combines in itself the ideas foolhardy, and of one acting in a presumptuous, mad way; in a word, of one who is arrogant. Schultens is in the right way; but when he translates by tumidus mole cava ruens , he puts, as it is his custom to do, too much into the word; tumidus , puffed up, presents an idea which, etymologically at least, does not lie in it. The Venet .: ἀκρατὴς θρασὺς βωμολόχος τοὔνομά οἱ , which may be translated: an untractable reckless person we call a fool [ homo ineptus ], is not bad.

Verse 25

25 The desire of the slothful killeth him;

For his hands refuse to be active.

The desire of the עצל , Hitzig remarks, goes out first after meat and drink; and when it takes this direction, as hunger, it kills him indeed. But in this case it is not the desire that kills him, but the impossibility of satisfying it. The meaning is simply: the inordinate desire after rest and pleasure kills the slothful; for this always seeking only enjoyment and idleness brings him at last to ruin. תּאוה means here, as in Kibroth ha-tava , Numbers 11:34, inordinate longing after enjoyments. The proverb is connected by almost all interpreters (also Ewald, Bertheau, Hitzig, Elster, Zöckler) as a tetrastich with Proverbs 21:25 : he (the slothful) always eagerly desires, but the righteous giveth and spareth not. But (1) although צדּיק , since it designates one who is faithful to duty, might be used particularly of the industrious (cf. Proverbs 15:19), yet would there be wanting in 26a ואין , Proverbs 13:4, cf. Proverbs 20:4, necessary for the formation of the contrast; (2) this older Book of Proverbs consists of pure distichs; the only tristich, Proverbs 19:7, appears as the consequence of a mutilation from the lxx. Thus the pretended tetrastich before us is only apparently such.

Verse 26

26 One always desireth eagerly;

But the righteous giveth and holdeth not back.

Otherwise Fleischer: per totum diem avet avidus , i.e. , avarus ; but that in התאוּה תּאוה the verb is connected with its inner obj. is manifest from Numbers 11:4; it is the mode of expression which is called in the Greek syntax schema etymologicum , and which is also possible without an adj. joined to the obj., as in the ὕβριν θ ̓ ὑβρίζεις (Eurip. Herc. fur . 706), the Arab. mârâhu miryatn : he had a strife with him. Euchel impossibly: necessities will continually be appeased, which would have required תּתאוּה or מתאוּה . The explanation also cannot be: each day presents its special demand, for כּל־היּום does not mean each day, but the whole day, i.e. , continually. Thus we render התאוה with the most general subject (in which case the national grammarians supply המּתאוּה ): continually one longs longing, i.e. , there are demands, solicitations, wishes, importunate petitions; but still the righteous is not embarrassed in his generosity, he gives as unceasingly (cf. Isaiah 14:6; Isaiah 58:1) as one asks. Thus the perf. is explained, which is related hypothetically to the fut. following: though one, etc.

Verse 27

27 The sacrifice of the godless is an abomination;

How much more if it is brought for evil!

Line first = Proverbs 15:8. Regarding the syllogistic אף כּי , vid ., 12:31; Proverbs 15:11; regarding זמּה , crime, particularly the sin of lewdness (from זמם , to press together, to collect the thoughts upon something, to contrive, cf. raffinement de la volupté ), at Proverbs 10:23. בּזמּה is too vaguely rendered in the lxx by παρονόμως , falsely by Jerome, ex scelere (cf. ἐξ ἀδίκου , Sir. 31:18, with Malachi 1:13). The ב is not meant, as at Ezekiel 22:11, of the way and manner; for that the condition of life of the רשׁע is not a pure one, is not to be supposed. It is as Hitzig, rightly, that of price: for a transgression, i.e. , to atone for it; one is hereby reminded, that he who had intercourse with a betrothed bondmaid had to present an ascham [trespass-offering], Leviticus 19:20-22. But frequently enough would it occur that rich sensualists brought trespass-offerings, and other offerings, in order thereby to recompense for their transgressions, and to purchase for themselves the connivance of God for their dissolute life. Such offerings of the godless, the proverb means, are to God a twofold and a threefold abomination; for in this case not only does the godless fail in respect of repentance and a desire after salvation, which are the conditions of all sacrifices acceptable to God, but he makes God directly a minister of sin.

Verse 28

28 A false witness shall perish;

But he who heareth shall always speak truth.

The lxx translate 28b by ἀνὴρ δὲ φυλασσόμενος λαλήσει . Cappellus supposes that they read לנצר for לנצה , which, however, cannot mean “taking care.” Hitzig further imagines שׂמח for שׁמע , and brings out the meaning: “the man that rejoiceth to deliver shall speak.” But where in all the world does נצר mean “to deliver”? It means, “to guard, preserve;” and to reach the meaning of “to deliver,” a clause must be added with מן , as מרע . When one who speaks lies ( עד כּזבים ), and a man who hears ( אישׁ שּׁומע , plene , and with the orthophonic Dagesh), are contrasted, the former is one who fancifully or malevolently falsifies the fact, and the latter is one who before he speaks hears in order that he may say nothing that he has not surely heard. As לב שׁמע , 1 Kings 3:9, means an obedient heart, so here אישׁ שּׁומע means a man who attentively hears, carefully proves. Such an one will speak לנצח , i.e. , not: according to the truth, and not: for victory (Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, εἰς νῖκος ), i.e. , so that accomplishes it (Oetinger); for the Heb. נצח has neither that Arab. nor this Aram. signification; but, with the transference of the root meaning of radiating or streaming over, to time, continuous existence ( vid ., Orelli, Synonyma der Zeit und Ewigkeit , pp. 96-97), thus: he will speak for continuance, i.e. , either: without ever requiring to be silent, or, which we prefer: so that what he says stands; on the contrary, he who testifies mere fictions, i.e. , avers that they are truth, is destroyed (28a = Proverbs 19:9, cf. 5): he himself comes to nothing, since his testimonies are referred to their groundlessness and falsity; for שׁקר אין לו רגלים , the lie has no feet on which it can stand, it comes to nothing sooner or later.

Verse 29

Another proverb with אישׁ : -

A godless man showeth boldness in his mien;

But one that is upright-he proveth his way.

The Chethı̂b has יכין ; but that the upright directeth, dirigit , his way, i.e. , gives to it the right direction (cf. 2 Chronicles 27:6), is not a good contrast to the boldness of the godless; the Kerı̂ , הבין דּרכּו , deserves the preference. Aquila, Symmachus, the Syr., Targ., and Venet . adhere to the Chethı̂b , which would be suitable if it could be translated, with Jerome, by corrigit ; Luther also reads the verb with כ , but as if it were יכּון (whoever is pious, his way will stand) - only the lxx render the Kerı̂ ( συνιεῖ ); as for the rest, the ancients waver between the Chethı̂b דּרכיו and the Kerı̂ דּרכּו : the former refers to manner of life in general; the latter (as at Proverbs 3:31 and elsewhere) to the conduct in separate cases; thus the one is just as appropriate as the other. In the circumstantial designation אישׁ רשׁע (cf. Proverbs 11:7) we have the stamp of the distinction of different classes of men peculiar to the Book of Proverbs. העז (to make firm, defiant) had, Proverbs 7:13, פנים as accus.; the בּ here is not that used in metaphoristic expressions instead of the accus. obj., which we have spoken of at Proverbs 15:4; Proverbs 20:30, but that of the means; for the face is thought of, not as the object of the action, but, after Gesen. §138, 1, as the means of its accomplishment: the godless makes (shows) firmness, i.e. , defiance, accessibility to no admonition, which is countenance; but the upright considers, i.e. , proves (Proverbs 14:8), his way. בּין ( הבין ) means a perceiving of the object in its specific peculiarity, an understanding of its constituent parts and essential marks; it denotes knowing an event analytically, as השׂכּיל , as well as synthetically (cf. Arab. shakl ), and is thus used as the expression of a perception, which apprehends the object not merely immediately, but closely examines into its circumstances.

Verse 30-31

If we further seek for the boundaries, the proverbs regarding the rich and the poor, Proverbs 22:2, Proverbs 22:7, Proverbs 22:16, present themselves as such, and this the more surely as Proverbs 22:16 is without contradiction the terminus. Thus we take first together 21:30-22:2.

Proverbs 21:30

30 No wisdom and no understanding,

And no counsel is there against Jahve.

The expression might also be ' לפני ה ; but the predominating sense would then be, that no wisdom appears to God as such, that He values none as such. With לנגד the proverb is more objective: there is no wisdom which, compared with His, can be regarded as such (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:19), none which can boast itself against Him, or can at all avail against Him ( לנגד , as Daniel 10:12; Neh. 3:37); whence it follows (as Job 28:28) that the wisdom of man consists in the fear of God the Alone-wise, or, which is the same thing, the All-wise. Immanuel interprets חכמה of theology, תּבוּנה of worldly science, עצה of politics; but חכמה is used of the knowledge of truth, i.e. , of that which truly is and continues; תבונה of criticism, and עצה of system and method; vid ., at Proverbs 1:2; Proverbs 8:14, from which latter passage the lxx has substituted here גבורה instead of תבונה . Instead of ' לנגד ה it translates πρὸς τὸν ἀσεβῆ , i.e. , for that which is ' נגד ה against Jahve.

Proverbs 21:31

31 The horse is harnessed for the day of battle;

But with Jahve is the victory,

i.e. , it remains with Him to give the victory or not, for the horse is a vain means of victory, Isaiah 33:17; the battle is the Lord's, 1 Samuel 17:47, i.e. , it depends on Him how the battle shall issue; and king and people who have taken up arms in defence of their rights have thus to trust nothing in the multitude of their war-horses ( סוּס , horses, including their riders), and generally in their preparations for the battle, but in the Lord (cf. Psalms 20:8, and, on the contrary, Isaiah 31:1). The lxx translates התּשׁוּעה by ἡ βοήθεια , as if the Arab. name of victory, naṣr , proceeding from this fundamental meaning, stood in the text; תשׁועה (from ישׁע , Arab. ws' , to be wide, to have free space for motion) signifies properly prosperity, as the contrast of distress, oppression, slavery, and victory (cf. e.g. , Psalms 144:10, and ישׁוּעה , 1 Samuel 14:45). The post-bibl. Heb. uses נצח ( נצּחון ) for victory; but the O.T. Heb. has no word more fully covering this idea than תשׁועה ( ישׁועה ).

(Note: In the old High German, the word for war is urlag ( urlac ), fate, because the issue is the divine determination, and nôt (as in “ der Nibelunge Not ”), as binding, confining, restraint; this nôt is the correlate to תשׁועה , victory; מלחמה corresponds most to the French guerre , which is not of Romanic, but of German origin: the Werre , i.e. , the Gewirre [complication, confusion], for נלחם signifies to press against one another, to be engaged in close conflict; cf. the Homeric κλόνος of the turmoil of battle.)


Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Bibliography Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Proverbs 21:4". 1854-1889.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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