New American Bible (Revised Edition)
I. Title and Introduction
Purpose of the Proverbs of Solomon[a]
1 The proverbs[b] of Solomon,(A) the son of David,
king of Israel:
2 That people may know wisdom and discipline,[c]
may understand intelligent sayings;
3 May receive instruction in wise conduct,
in what is right, just and fair;
4 That resourcefulness may be imparted to the naive,[d]
knowledge and discretion to the young.
5 The wise by hearing them will advance in learning,
the intelligent will gain sound guidance,
6 To comprehend proverb and byword,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 Fear of the Lord[e] is the beginning of knowledge;(B)
fools despise wisdom and discipline.
II. Instructions of Parents and of Woman Wisdom
The Path of the Wicked: Greed and Violence[f]
8 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and reject not your mother’s teaching;
9 A graceful diadem will they be for your head;
a pendant for your neck.
10 My son, should sinners entice you,
11 do not go if they say, “Come along with us!
Let us lie in wait for blood,
unprovoked, let us trap the innocent;
12 Let us swallow them alive, like Sheol,
whole, like those who go down to the pit!
13 All kinds of precious wealth shall we gain,
we shall fill our houses with booty;
14 Cast in your lot with us,
we shall all have one purse!”
15 My son, do not walk in the way with them,
hold back your foot from their path!
16 [For their feet run to evil,
they hasten to shed blood.(C)]
17 In vain a net is spread[g]
right under the eyes of any bird—
18 They lie in wait for their own blood,
they set a trap for their own lives.
19 This is the way of everyone greedy for loot:
it takes away their lives.
Wisdom in Person Gives a Warning[h]
20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the open squares she raises her voice;(D)
21 Down the crowded ways she calls out,
at the city gates she utters her words:
22 [i]“How long, you naive ones, will you love naivete,
23 How long will you turn away at my reproof?
[The arrogant delight in their arrogance,
and fools hate knowledge.]
Lo! I will pour out to you my spirit,
I will acquaint you with my words:
24 ‘Because I called and you refused,
extended my hand and no one took notice;(E)
25 Because you disdained all my counsel,
and my reproof you ignored—
26 I, in my turn, will laugh at your doom;
will mock when terror overtakes you;
27 When terror comes upon you like a storm,
and your doom approaches like a whirlwind;
when distress and anguish befall you.’
28 Then they will call me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me, but will not find me,
29 Because they hated knowledge,
and the fear of the Lord they did not choose.
30 They ignored my counsel,
they spurned all my reproof;
31 Well, then, they shall eat the fruit[j] of their own way,
and with their own devices be glutted.
32 For the straying of the naive kills them,
the smugness of fools destroys them.
33 But whoever obeys me dwells in security,
in peace, without fear of harm.”(F)
The Blessings of Wisdom[k]
1 My son, if you receive my words
and treasure my commands,
2 Turning your ear to wisdom,[l]
inclining your heart to understanding;
3 Yes, if you call for intelligence,
and to understanding raise your voice;
4 If you seek her like silver,
and like hidden treasures search her out,
5 Then will you understand the fear of the Lord;
the knowledge of God you will find;
6 For the Lord gives wisdom,
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;(G)
7 He has success in store for the upright,
is the shield of those who walk honestly,
8 Guarding the paths of justice,
protecting the way of his faithful ones,
9 Then you will understand what is right and just,
what is fair, every good path;
10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
knowledge will be at home in your soul,
11 Discretion will watch over you,
understanding will guard you;
12 [m]Saving you from the way of the wicked,
from those whose speech is perverse.
13 From those who have left the straight paths
to walk in the ways of darkness,
14 Who delight in doing evil
and celebrate perversity;
15 Whose ways are crooked,
whose paths are devious;
16 [n]Saving you from a stranger,
from a foreign woman with her smooth words,(H)
17 One who forsakes the companion of her youth
and forgets the covenant of her God;
18 For her path sinks down to death,
and her footsteps lead to the shades.[o](I)
19 None who enter there come back,
or gain the paths of life.
20 Thus you may walk in the way of the good,
and keep to the paths of the just.
21 [p]For the upright will dwell in the land,(J)
people of integrity will remain in it;
22 But the wicked will be cut off from the land,
the faithless will be rooted out of it.
Confidence in God Leads to Prosperity[q]
1 My son, do not forget[r] my teaching,
take to heart my commands;
2 For many days, and years of life,(K)
and peace, will they bring you.
3 Do not let love and fidelity forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then will you win favor and esteem
before God and human beings.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
on your own intelligence do not rely;
6 In all your ways be mindful of him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes,(L)
fear the Lord and turn away from evil;
8 This will mean health for your flesh
and vigor for your bones.
9 Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with first fruits of all your produce;(M)
10 Then will your barns be filled with plenty,
with new wine your vats will overflow.
11 The discipline of the Lord, my son, do not spurn;(N)
do not disdain his reproof;
12 [s]For whom the Lord loves he reproves,
as a father, the son he favors.(O)
The Benefits of Finding Wisdom[t]
13 Happy the one who finds wisdom,
the one who gains understanding!(P)
14 Her profit is better than profit in silver,
and better than gold is her revenue;
15 She is more precious than corals,
and no treasure of yours can compare with her.(Q)
16 Long life is in her right hand,
in her left are riches and honor;
17 Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace;
18 She is a tree of life[u] to those who grasp her,
and those who hold her fast are happy.(R)
19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth,
established the heavens by understanding;
20 By his knowledge the depths[v] are split,
and the clouds drop down dew.
Justice Toward One’s Neighbor Brings Blessing[w]
21 My son, do not let these slip from your sight:
hold to deliberation and planning;
22 So will they be life to your soul,[x]
and an adornment for your neck.
23 Then you may go your way securely;
your foot will never stumble;
24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid,
when you rest, your sleep will be sweet.
25 Do not be afraid of sudden terror,
of the ruin of the wicked when it comes;
26 For the Lord will be your confidence,
and will keep your foot from the snare.
27 Do not withhold any goods from the owner
when it is in your power to act.
28 Say not to your neighbor, “Go, come back tomorrow,
and I will give it to you,” when all the while you have it.
29 Do not plot evil against your neighbors,
when they live at peace with you.
30 Do not contend with someone without cause,
with one who has done you no harm.
31 Do not envy the violent
and choose none of their ways:(S)
32 To the Lord the devious are an abomination,
but the upright are close to him.
33 The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked,
but the dwelling of the just he blesses;
34 Those who scoff, he scoffs at,(T)
but the lowly he favors.
35 The wise will possess glory,
but fools will bear shame.
The Teacher as Model Disciple[y]
1 Hear, O children, a father’s instruction,
be attentive, that you may gain understanding!
2 Yes, excellent advice I give you;
my teaching do not forsake.
3 When I was my father’s child,
tender, the darling of my mother,
4 He taught me and said to me:
“Let your heart hold fast my words:(U)
keep my commands, and live!
5 Get wisdom,[z] get understanding!
Do not forget or turn aside from the words of my mouth.
6 Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
love her, and she will safeguard you;
7 The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom;
whatever else you get, get understanding.
8 Extol her, and she will exalt you;
she will bring you honors if you embrace her;
9 She will put on your head a graceful diadem;
a glorious crown will she bestow on you.”
The Two Ways[aa]
10 Hear, my son, and receive my words,
and the years of your life shall be many.(V)
11 On the way of wisdom I direct you,
I lead you on straight paths.
12 When you walk, your step will not be impeded,
and should you run, you will not stumble.
13 Hold fast to instruction, never let it go;
keep it, for it is your life.
14 [ab]The path of the wicked do not enter,
nor walk in the way of the evil;
15 Shun it, do not cross it,
turn aside from it, pass on.
16 For they cannot rest unless they have done evil;
if they do not trip anyone they lose sleep.
17 For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
18 But the path of the just is like shining light,
that grows in brilliance till perfect day.[ac]
19 The way of the wicked is like darkness;
they do not know on what they stumble.
With Your Whole Being Heed My Words and Live[ad]
20 My son, to my words be attentive,
to my sayings incline your ear;
21 Let them not slip from your sight,
keep them within your heart;
22 For they are life to those who find them,(W)
bringing health to one’s whole being.
23 With all vigilance guard your heart,
for in it are the sources of life.
24 [ae]Dishonest mouth put away from you,
deceitful lips put far from you.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead
and your gaze be focused forward.
26 Survey the path for your feet,
and all your ways will be sure.
27 Turn neither to right nor to left,
keep your foot far from evil.
Warning Against Adultery[af]
1 My son, to my wisdom be attentive,
to understanding incline your ear,
2 That you may act discreetly,
and your lips guard what you know.
3 Indeed, the lips of the stranger drip honey,[ag]
and her mouth is smoother than oil;(X)
4 But in the end she is as bitter as wormwood,
as sharp as a two-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death,
her steps reach Sheol;(Y)
6 Her paths ramble, you know not where,
lest you see before you the road to life.
7 So now, children, listen to me,
do not stray from the words of my mouth.
8 Keep your way far from her,(Z)
do not go near the door of her house,
9 Lest you give your honor[ah] to others,(AA)
and your years to a merciless one;
10 Lest outsiders take their fill of your wealth,
and your hard-won earnings go to another’s house;
11 And you groan in the end,
when your flesh and your body are consumed;
12 And you say, “Oh, why did I hate instruction,
and my heart spurn reproof!
13 Why did I not listen to the voice of my teachers,
incline my ear to my instructors!
14 I am all but ruined,
in the midst of the public assembly!”
15 Drink water[ai] from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
16 Should your water sources be dispersed abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be yours alone,
not shared with outsiders;
18 Let your fountain be blessed and have joy of the wife of your youth,
19 your lovely hind, your graceful doe.[aj]
Of whose love you will ever have your fill,
and by her ardor always be intoxicated.
20 Why then, my son, should you be intoxicated with a stranger,
and embrace another woman?
21 Indeed, the ways of each person are plain to the Lord’s sight;
all their paths he surveys;(AB)
22 By their own iniquities the wicked will be caught,
in the meshes of their own sin they will be held fast;
23 They will die from lack of discipline,
lost because of their great folly.
Against Going Surety for One’s Neighbor
1 [al]My son, if you have become surety to your neighbor,(AC)
given your hand in pledge to another,
2 You have been snared by the utterance of your lips,
caught by the words of your mouth;
3 So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s power:
Go, hurry, rouse your neighbor!
4 Give no sleep to your eyes,
nor slumber to your eyelids;
5 Free yourself like a gazelle from the hunter,
or like a bird from the hand of the fowler.
The Ant and the Sluggard at Harvest
6 [am]Go to the ant,(AD) O sluggard,
study her ways and learn wisdom;
7 For though she has no chief,
no commander or ruler,
8 She procures her food in the summer,
stores up her provisions in the harvest.
9 How long, O sluggard, will you lie there?
when will you rise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the arms to rest—[an]
11 Then poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like a brigand.
12 [ao]Scoundrels, villains, are they
who deal in crooked talk.
13 Shifty of eye,
feet ever moving,
pointing with fingers,
14 They have perversity in their hearts,
always plotting evil,
15 Therefore their doom comes suddenly;
in an instant they are crushed beyond cure.
What the Lord Rejects
16 There are six things the Lord hates,
yes, seven[ap] are an abomination to him;
17 [aq]Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 A heart that plots wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to run to evil,
19 The false witness who utters lies,
and the one who sows discord among kindred.
Warning Against Adultery[ar]
20 Observe, my son, your father’s command,
and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
21 Keep them fastened over your heart always,
tie them around your neck.
22 When you lie down they[as] will watch over you,
when you wake, they will share your concerns;
wherever you turn, they will guide you.
23 For the command is a lamp, and the teaching a light,
and a way to life are the reproofs that discipline,
24 Keeping you from another’s wife,
from the smooth tongue of the foreign woman.(AE)
25 Do not lust in your heart after her beauty,
do not let her captivate you with her glance!(AF)
26 For the price of a harlot
may be scarcely a loaf of bread,
But a married woman
is a trap for your precious life.
27 [at]Can a man take embers into his bosom,
and his garments not be burned?
28 Or can a man walk on live coals,
and his feet not be scorched?
29 So with him who sleeps with another’s wife—
none who touches her shall go unpunished.(AG)
30 Thieves are not despised
if out of hunger they steal to satisfy their appetite.
31 Yet if caught they must pay back sevenfold,
yield up all the wealth of their house.
32 But those who commit adultery have no sense;
those who do it destroy themselves.
33 [au]They will be beaten and disgraced,
and their shame will not be wiped away;
34 For passion enrages the husband,
he will have no pity on the day of vengeance;
35 He will not consider any restitution,
nor be satisfied by your many bribes.
1 [aw]My son, keep my words,
and treasure my commands.
2 Keep my commands and live,[ax]
and my teaching as the apple of your eye;
3 Bind them on your fingers,
write them on the tablet of your heart.(AH)
4 Say to Wisdom, “You are my sister!”[ay]
Call Understanding, “Friend!”
5 That they may keep you from a stranger,
from the foreign woman with her smooth words.(AI)
6 For at the window of my house,
through my lattice I looked out[az]
7 And I saw among the naive,
I observed among the young men,
a youth with no sense,
8 Crossing the street near the corner,
then walking toward her house,
9 In the twilight, at dusk of day,
in the very dark of night.
10 Then the woman comes to meet him,
dressed like a harlot, with secret designs.
11 She is raucous and unruly,
her feet cannot stay at home;
12 Now she is in the streets, now in the open squares,
lurking in ambush at every corner.
13 Then she grabs him, kisses him,
and with an impudent look says to him:
14 “I owed peace offerings,
and today I have fulfilled my vows;
15 So I came out to meet you,
to look for you, and I have found you!
16 With coverlets I have spread my couch,
with brocaded cloths of Egyptian linen;
17 I have sprinkled my bed[ba] with myrrh,
with aloes, and with cinnamon.
18 Come, let us drink our fill of love,
until morning, let us feast on love!
19 For my husband is not at home,[bb]
he has gone on a long journey;
20 A bag of money he took with him,
he will not return home till the full moon.”
21 She wins him over by repeated urging,
with her smooth lips she leads him astray.[bc](AJ)
22 He follows her impulsively,
like an ox that goes to slaughter;
Like a stag that bounds toward the net,
23 till an arrow pierces its liver;
Like a bird that rushes into a snare,
unaware that his life is at stake.
24 So now, children, listen to me,[bd]
be attentive to the words of my mouth!
25 Do not let your heart turn to her ways,
do not go astray in her paths;
26 For many are those she has struck down dead,
numerous, those she has slain.
27 Her house is a highway to Sheol,
leading down into the chambers of death.(AK)
The Discourse of Wisdom[be]
1 Does not Wisdom call,
and Understanding raise her voice?(AL)
2 On the top of the heights along the road,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 By the gates at the approaches of the city,
in the entryways she cries aloud:
4 “To you, O people, I call;
my appeal is to you mortals.
5 You naive ones, gain prudence,
you fools,[bf] gain sense.
6 Listen! for noble things I speak;
my lips proclaim honest words.
7 [bg]Indeed, my mouth utters truth,
and my lips abhor wickedness.
8 All the words of my mouth are sincere,
none of them wily or crooked;
9 All of them are straightforward to the intelligent,
and right to those who attain knowledge.
10 Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold.
11 [For Wisdom is better than corals,
and no treasures can compare with her.(AM)]
12 I, Wisdom, dwell with prudence,
and useful knowledge I have.
13 [The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil;]
Pride, arrogance, the evil way,
and the perverse mouth I hate.(AN)
14 Mine are counsel and advice;
Mine is strength; I am understanding.[bh]
15 By me kings reign,
and rulers enact justice;
16 By me princes govern,
and nobles, all the judges of the earth.
17 Those who love me I also love,
and those who seek me find me.
18 With me are riches and honor,(AO)
wealth that endures, and righteousness.
19 My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold,
and my yield than choice silver.(AP)
20 On the way of righteousness I walk,
along the paths of justice,
21 Granting wealth to those who love me,
and filling their treasuries.
22 [bi]“The Lord begot me, the beginning of his works,
the forerunner of his deeds of long ago;(AQ)
23 From of old I was formed,[bj]
at the first, before the earth.(AR)
24 [bk]When there were no deeps I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
25 Before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
26 When the earth and the fields were not yet made,
nor the first clods of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, there was I,(AS)
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
28 When he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the springs of the deep;
29 When he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
When he fixed the foundations of earth,
30 then was I beside him as artisan;[bl](AT)
I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
31 Playing over the whole of his earth,
having my delight with human beings.
32 [bm]Now, children, listen to me;
happy are they who keep my ways.
33 Listen to instruction and grow wise,
do not reject it!
34 Happy the one who listens to me,
attending daily at my gates,
keeping watch at my doorposts;
35 For whoever finds me finds life,(AU)
and wins favor from the Lord;
36 But those who pass me by do violence to themselves;
all who hate me love death.”
The Two Women Invite Passersby to Their Banquets[bn]
Woman Wisdom Issues Her Invitation
1 Wisdom has built her house,[bo]
she has set up her seven columns;
2 She has prepared her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table.
3 She has sent out her maidservants; she calls[bp]
from the heights out over the city:(AV)
4 “Let whoever is naive turn in here;
to any who lack sense I say,
5 Come, eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
6 Forsake foolishness that you may live;[bq]
advance in the way of understanding.”
7 Whoever corrects the arrogant earns insults;
and whoever reproves the wicked incurs opprobrium.
8 Do not reprove the arrogant, lest they hate you;
reprove the wise, and they will love you.(AW)
9 Instruct the wise, and they become still wiser;
teach the just, and they advance in learning.
10 The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.(AX)
11 For by me your days will be multiplied
and the years of your life increased.(AY)
12 If you are wise, wisdom is to your advantage;
if you are arrogant, you alone shall bear it.
Woman Folly Issues Her Invitation
13 [br]Woman Folly is raucous,(AZ)
utterly foolish; she knows nothing.
14 She sits at the door of her house
upon a seat on the city heights,
15 Calling to passersby
as they go on their way straight ahead:
16 “Let those who are naive turn in here,
to those who lack sense I say,
17 Stolen water is sweet,
and bread taken secretly is pleasing!”[bs]
18 Little do they know that the shades are there,
that her guests are in the depths of Sheol![bt]
- 1:1–7 The prologue explains the purpose of the book. The book has a sapiential, ethical, and religious dimension: to bring the inexperienced to knowledge and right conduct, to increase the facility of those already wise for interpreting proverbs, parables and riddles, and to encourage the fulfillment of one’s duties to God.
- 1:1 Proverbs: the Hebrew word mashal is broader than English “proverb,” embracing the instructions of chaps. 1–9 and the sayings, observations, and comparisons of chaps. 10–31.
- 1:2 Discipline: education or formation which dispels ignorance and corrects vice. Note the reprise of v. 2a in v. 7b.
- 1:4 Naive: immature, inexperienced, sometimes the young, hence easily influenced for good or evil.
- 1:7 Fear of the Lord: primarily a disposition rather than the emotion of fear; reverential awe and respect toward God combined with obedience to God’s will.
- 1:8–19 A parental warning to a young person leaving home, for them to avoid the company of the greedy and violent. Two ways lie before the hearer, a way that leads to death and a way that leads to life. The trap which the wicked set for the innocent (v. 11) in the end takes away the lives of the wicked themselves (v. 19). This theme will recur especially in chaps. 1–9. A second theme introduced here is that of founding (or managing) a household and choosing a spouse. A third theme is the human obstacles to attaining wisdom. Here (and in 2:12–15 and 4:10–19), the obstacle is men (always in the plural); in 2:16–19; 5:1–6; 6:20–35; chap. 7; 9:13–18, the obstacle to the quest is the “foreign” woman (always in the singular).
- 1:17 A difficult verse. The most probable interpretation is that no fowler lifts up the net so the bird can see it. The verse might be paraphrased: God does not let those who walk on evil paths see the net that will entrap them. The passive construction (“a net is spread”) is sometimes used to express divine activity. Verse 16 is a later attempt to add clarity. It is a quotation from Is 59:7 and is not in the best Greek manuscripts.
Wisdom is personified as in chaps. 8 and 9:1–6. With divine authority she proclaims the moral order, threatening to leave to their own devices those who disregard her invitation. All three speeches of Woman Wisdom have common features: a setting in city streets; an audience of simple or naive people; a competing appeal (chap. 7 is the competing appeal for chap. 8); an invitation to a relationship that brings long life, riches, repute.
The structure of the speeches is: A: setting (vv. 20–21); B: Wisdom’s withdrawal, rebuke and announcement (vv. 22–23); reason and rejection I (vv. 24–27); reason and rejection II (vv. 28–31); summary (v. 32); C: the effects of Wisdom’s presence (v. 33). Wisdom’s opening speech is an extended threat ending with a brief invitation (v. 33). Her second speech is an extended invitation ending with a brief threat (8:36). The surprisingly abrupt and harsh tone of her speech is perhaps to be explained as a response to the arrogant words of the men in the previous scene (1:8–19).
- 1:22–23 There is textual confusion. Verse 22bc (in the third person) is an addition, interrupting vv. 22a and 23a (in the second person). The addition has been put in brackets, to separate it from the original poem. The original verses do not ask for a change of heart but begin to detail the consequences of disobedience to Wisdom.
- 1:31 Eat the fruit: sinners are punished by the consequences of their sins. Wisdom’s voice echoes that of the parents in vv. 8–19. The parents mediate wisdom in vv. 8–19, but here Wisdom herself speaks.
- 2:1–22 Chapter 2 is a single poem, an acrostic of twenty-two lines, the number of consonants in the Hebrew alphabet. In vv. 1–11, the letter aleph, the first letter of the alphabet, predominates, and in vv. 12–22, the letter lamed, the first letter of the second half of the alphabet. A single structure runs through the whole: if (aleph) you search…then (aleph) the Lord/Wisdom will grant…saving (lamed) you from the wicked man/woman…thus (lamed) you can walk in the safe way….
- 2:2–3 Wisdom…understanding…intelligence: various names or aspects of the same gift.
- 2:12–15 As in 1:8–19, there is an obstacle to the quest for wisdom—deceitful and violent men. Cf. also 4:10–19. They offer a way of life that is opposed to the way of wisdom.
- 2:16–19 A second obstacle and counter-figure to Wisdom, personified as an attractive woman, is the “stranger,” or “foreigner,” from outside the territory or kinship group, hence inappropriate as a marriage partner. In Proverbs she comes to be identified with Woman Folly, whose deceitful words promise life but lead to death. Woman Folly appears also in chap. 5, 6:20–35, chap. 7 and 9:13–18. Covenant: refers to the vow uttered with divine sanction at the woman’s previous marriage, as the parallel verse suggests. She is already married and relations with her would be adulterous.
- 2:18 Shades: the inhabitants of Sheol.
- 2:21–22 Verses 21–22 echo the ending of Wisdom’s speech in 1:32–33, in which refusing Wisdom’s invitation meant death and obedience to her meant life. The same set of ideas is found in Ps 37 (especially vv. 3, 9, 11, 22, 29, 34, and 38): to live on (or inherit) the land and to be uprooted from the land are expressions of divine recompense.
- 3:1–12 The instruction consists of a series of six four-line exhortations in which the second line of each exhortation mentions a reward or benefit. In the first five exhortations, the teacher promises a reward: long life, a good name, divine protection, health, abundant crops. The last exhortation, vv. 11–12, departs from the command-reward scheme, implying that being a disciple of the Lord does not guarantee unalloyed bliss: one must allow God freedom to “reprove” or educate. The process of education is like that described in chap. 2: the father first invites his son (or disciple) to memorize his teaching (v. 1), then to enter upon a relationship of trust with him (v. 3), and finally to place his trust in God, who takes up the parental task of education (v. 5). Education begun by the parent is brought to full completion by God.
- 3:1 Do not forget: this word and several others in the section such as “teaching,” “commands,” “years of life,” and the custom of affixing written teaching to one’s body, occur also in Deuteronomy. This vocabulary suggests that Proverbs and Deuteronomy had a common origin in the scribal class of Jerusalem. This section (and vv. 21–34) subtly elaborates Dt 6:5–9, “You shall love the Lord with all your heart (v. 5)…Take to heart these words (v. 1)…Recite them when you are at home and when you are away (v. 23)…when you lie down (v. 24)…Bind them (v. 3) on your arm as a sign and let them be a pendant on your forehead” (v. 21).
- 3:12 One might be tempted to judge the quality of one’s relationship to God by one’s prosperity. It is an inadequate criterion, for God as a teacher might go counter to student expectations. The discipline of God can involve suffering.
- 3:13–20 An encomium of Wisdom through the listing of her benefits to the human race and the depiction of her role in creation. Wisdom, or understanding, is more valuable than silver and gold. Its fruit is long life, riches, honor and happiness (vv. 13–18). Even the creation of the universe and its adornment (Gn 1) were not done without wisdom (vv. 19–20). The praise of Wisdom foreshadows the praise of a noble wife in the final poem (31:10–31), even to the singling out of the hands extended in a helpful way toward human beings.
- 3:18 A tree of life: in the Old Testament this phrase occurs only in Proverbs (11:30; 13:12; 15:4) and Genesis (2:9; 3:22, 24). The origins of the concept are obscure; there is no explicit mention of it in ancient Near Eastern literature, though on ancient seals trees are sometimes identified as trees of life. When the man and the woman were expelled from the garden, the tree of life was put off limits to them, lest they “eat of it and live forever” (Gn 3:22). The quest for wisdom gives access to the previously sequestered tree of life. The tree of life is mentioned also in the apocryphal work 1 Enoch 25:4–5. Rev 2 and 22 mention the tree of life as a source of eternal life.
- 3:20 Depths: for the Hebrews, the depths enclosed the great subterranean waters; the rain and dew descended from the waters above the firmament; cf. Gn 1:6–10; Jb 26:8, 12; Ps 18:15; 24:2. The cosmogony provides the reason why Wisdom offers such benefits to human beings: the world was created in wisdom so that all who live in accord with wisdom live in tune with the universe.
As in other instructions, the father in vv. 21–26 urges the son to seek wisdom, which in this case means practicing the virtues of “deliberation and planning,” a specification of wisdom. Practicing these virtues brings protection from violence (vv. 22–26) and friendship with God (vv. 32–35). The language is like Ps 91.
Verses 27–35 are arranged according to a clear order. Serving God requires serving one’s neighbor through kindness (vv. 27–28), maintaining peace with the good (vv. 29–31), having no envy of the wicked (v. 31), because the Lord’s friendship and kindness are with the just, not with the wicked. Matching the six exhortations of vv. 1–12, vv. 27–34 contain six prohibitions. The righteous/wicked contrast is progressively developed: in contrast to the wicked, the righteous are in God’s inner circle, their houses are blessed, they deal with a merciful God, and obtain honor.
- 3:22 Your soul: Heb. nephesh means “throat, esophagus; life; soul.” The meanings are connected. The throat area is the moist, breathing center of the body, which stands for life and for self. The figure of speech is called metonymy, in which one word is substituted for another on the basis of a causal relation, e.g., eye for sight, arm for power, or, as here, “throat area” for life. Proverbs sometimes plays on this concrete meaning of life (e.g., 21:23).
The teacher draws a parallel between his teaching the disciples now and his father’s teaching him in his youth (vv. 3–4): what my father taught me about wisdom is what I am teaching you. The poem implies that the teacher has acquired wisdom and has in fact been protected and honored as his father promised long ago. Thus the teacher has the authority of someone who has been under wisdom’s sway since earliest youth.
There are two sections, a call for attention and introduction of the speaker (vv. 1–3) and the father’s quoting of his own father’s teaching (vv. 4–9). Beginning with v. 5, the father’s words are no longer quoted, wisdom herself becoming the active agent; she becomes the subject, not the object, of the verbs. Three Hebrew verbs are repeated in the two parts, “to forsake” in vv. 2 and 6, “to keep/guard” in vv. 4 and 6, and “to give/bestow” in vv. 2 and 9. Each verb in its first appearance has the father’s words as its object; in its second appearance each verb has wisdom as its subject or object. The teaching process is like that in 2:1–22 and 3:1–12: heeding the words of one’s parent puts one in touch with wisdom, who completes the process and bestows her gifts.
- 4:5, 7 Get wisdom: the same Hebrew word “to get” can mean to acquire merchandise and to acquire a wife (18:22; 31:10); both meanings are in keeping with Proverbs’ metaphors of acquiring wisdom over gold and silver and of acquiring wisdom as a personified woman, a wife.
- 4:10–19 A central metaphor of the poem is “the way.” The way of wisdom leads directly to life (vv. 10–13); it is a light that grows brighter (v. 18). The wise are bound to shun (vv. 14–17) the dark and violent path of the wicked (v. 19). Singleness of purpose and right conduct proceed from the heart of the wise as from the source of life (vv. 23–26), saving them from destruction on evil paths (4:27; 5:21–23). As in 1:8–19 and 2:12–15, the obstacles to the quest are men and their way. Elsewhere in chaps. 1–9, the obstacle is the foreign woman (2:16–19; chap. 5; 6:20–35; chap. 7; 9:13–18).
- 4:14–15 One is always free to choose. The righteous may choose to leave their path to walk on the wicked path and the wicked may choose the righteous path.
- 4:18 Till perfect day: lit., “till the day is established”; this may refer to full daylight or to noonday.
- 4:20–27 Acquiring wisdom brings life and health. The learning process involves two stages: (1) hearing the teacher’s words and treasuring them in the heart; (2) speaking and acting in accord with the wisdom that one has stored in one’s heart. Seven organs of the body are mentioned: ear, eyes, heart, mouth, lips, eyelids (“gaze,” v. 25), feet. Each of the organs is to be strained to its limit as the disciple puts wisdom into practice. The physical organ stands for the faculty, e.g., the eye for sight, the foot for movement. The figure of speech is called metonymy; one word is substituted for another on the basis of a causal relation.
- 4:24–27 In vv. 20–21 the faculties of hearing (ear) and seeing (eye) take in the teaching and the heart stores and ponders it, so in the second half of the poem, vv. 24–27, the faculties of speech, sight, and walking enable the disciple to put the teaching into practice.
- 5:1–23 This is the first of three poems on the forbidden woman, the “stranger” outside the social boundaries (cf. 2:16–19); the other two are 6:20–35 and chap. 7. Understanding and discretion are necessary to avoid adultery, which leads astray and begets bitterness, bloodshed, and death (vv. 1–6). It destroys honor, wastes the years of life, despoils hard-earned wealth, and brings remorse in the end (vv. 7–14). Conjugal fidelity and love bring happiness and security (vv. 15–20). Cf. 6:20–7:27. The structure of the poem consists of a two-line introduction; part one consists of three stanzas of four lines each warning of the forbidden woman’s effect on her lovers (vv. 3–14); part two consists of a stanza of twelve lines exhorting the disciple to marital fidelity (vv. 15–20); and a final stanza of six lines on the perils of the woman (vv. 21–23).
- 5:3 A metaphorical level is established in the opening description of the forbidden woman: her lips drip honey and her feet lead to death. By her lies, she leads people away from the wisdom that gives life.
- 5:9 Honor: the words “life” and “wealth” have also been read in this place. A merciless one: the offended husband; cf. 6:34–35.
- 5:15–16 Water: water may have an erotic meaning as in Sg 4:15, “[You are] a garden fountain, a well of living water.” Eating and drinking can be metaphors expressing the mutuality of love. The wife is the opposite of the adulterous woman; she is not an outsider, not unfeeling, not a destroyer of her husband’s self and goods. The best defense against adultery is appreciating and loving one’s spouse. The best defense against folly is to appreciate and love wisdom.
- 5:19 Lovely hind…graceful doe: ancient Near Eastern symbols of feminine beauty and charm; cf. Sg 2:7, 9, 17.
- 6:1–19 Four independent pieces akin to those in 30:1–5, 6–11, 12–15, and 16–19. Some judge the verses to be an ancient addition, but the fact that the pieces differ from the other material in chaps. 1–9 is not a strong argument against their originality. Ancient anthologies did not always have the symmetry of modern collections. An editor may have placed the four pieces in the midst of the three poems on the forbidden woman to shed light on some of their themes. Verses 1–5 warn against getting trapped by one’s words to another person (the Hebrew word for “another” is the same used for the forbidden woman); vv. 6–11 proposes the ant as a model of forethought and diligence; vv. 12–15 describes the reprobate who bears some similarity to the seductive woman, especially as portrayed in chap. 7; vv. 16–19 depicts the typical enemy of God, underscoring the person’s destructive words.
- 6:1–5 Unlike other instructions that begin with “my son,” this instruction does not urge the hearer to store up the father’s words as a means to wisdom, but only to avoid one practice—going surety for one’s neighbor. The warning is intensified by repetition of “neighbor” and “free yourself,” the mention of bodily organs, and the imagery of hunting. Given your hand in pledge: lit., “struck your hands”; this was probably the legal method for closing a contract. To become surety meant intervening in favor of the insolvent debtor and assuming responsibility for the payment of the debt, either by obtaining it from the debtor or substituting oneself. Proverbs is strongly opposed to the practice (11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26–27; 27:13) apparently because of the danger it poses to the freedom of the one providing surety.
- 6:6–11 The sluggard or lazybones is a type in Proverbs, like the righteous and the wicked. Sometimes the opposite type to the sluggard is the diligent person. Other extended passages on the sluggard are 24:30–34 and 26:13–16. The malice of the type is not low physical energy but the refusal to act. To describe human types, Proverbs often uses comparisons from the animal world, e.g., 27:8 (bird); 28:1, 15 (lion); 30:18–19 (eagle, snake); 30:24–28 (ant, badger, locust, lizard).
- 6:10 This verse may be regarded as the sluggard’s reply or as a continuation of the remonstrance.
- 6:12–15 Proverbs uses types to make the point that certain ways of acting have inherent consequences. The typifying intensifies the picture. All the physical organs—mouth, eyes, feet, fingers—are at the service of evil. Cf. Rom 6:12–13: “Therefore, sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons of righteousness.”
- 6:16 Six…seven: this literary pattern (n, n + 1) occurs frequently; cf., e.g., Am 1–2; Prv 30:18–19.
- 6:17–19 The seven vices, symbolized for the most part by bodily organs, are pride, lying, murder, intrigue, readiness to do evil, false witness, and the stirring up of discord.
The second of three instructions on adultery (5:1–23; 6:20–35; and chap. 7). The instructions assume that wisdom will protect one from adultery and its consequences: loss of property and danger to one’s person. In this poem, the father and the mother urge their son to keep their teaching constantly before his eyes. The teaching will light his way and make it a path to life (v. 23). The teaching will preserve him from the adulterous woman who is far more dangerous than a prostitute. Prostitutes may cost one money, but having an affair with someone else’s wife puts one in grave danger. The poem bluntly urges self-interest as a motive to refrain from adultery.
The poem has three parts. I (vv. 20–24, ten lines), in which v. 23 repeats “command” and “teaching” of v. 20 and “keeping” in v. 24 completes the fixed pair initiated by “observe” in v. 20; II (vv. 25–29, ten lines) is a self-contained argument comparing the costs of a liaison with a prostitute and a married woman; III (vv. 30–35, twelve lines) draws conclusions from the comparison of adultery with theft: the latter involves property only but adultery destroys one’s name and very self. The best protection against such a woman is heeding parental instruction, which is to be kept vividly before one’s eyes like a written tablet.
- 6:22 They: Heb. has “she.” If this verse is not out of place, then the antecedent of “she” is command (v. 20), or perhaps wisdom.
- 6:27–29 There is a play on three words of similar sound, ’îsh, “man,” ’ishshâ, “woman,” and ’ēsh, “fire, embers.” The question, “Can a man (’îsh) take embers (’ēsh) into his bosom / and his garments not be burned?”, has a double meaning. “Into his bosom” has an erotic meaning as in the phrase “wife of one’s bosom” (Dt 13:6; 28:54; Sir 9:1). Hence one will destroy one’s garments, which symbolize one’s public position, by taking fire/another’s wife into one’s bosom.
- 6:33–35 The nature of the husband’s vengeance is disputed, some believing it is simply a physical beating whereas others hold it is public and involves the death penalty because Lv 20:20 and Dt 22:22 demand the death penalty.
The third and climactic instruction on adultery and seduction is an example story, of the same type as the example story in 24:30–34. By its negative portrayal of the deceitful woman, who speaks in the night to a lone youth, it serves as a foil to trustworthy Wisdom in chap. 8, who speaks in broad daylight to all who pass in the street.
As in 6:20–24, the father warns his son to keep his teaching to protect him from the dangerous forbidden woman. The father’s language in 7:4 (“Say to Wisdom, ‘You are my sister,’ and call Understanding ‘Friend’”) sets this admonition apart, however; it is the language of courtship and love. If the son makes Woman Wisdom his companion and lover, she will protect him from the other woman. As in chap. 5, loving the right woman protects the man from the wrong woman.
As motivation, the father in vv. 6–23 tells his son of an incident he once observed while looking out his window—a young man went to the bed of an adulterous woman and wound up dead. As in chap. 5, the realistic details—the purposeful woman, the silent youth, the vow, the perfumed bed—have a metaphorical level. Ultimately the story is about two different kinds of love.
- 7:1–3 Verses 1–3 are artistically constructed. “Keep” in v. 1a recurs in v. 2a; “commands” in v. 1b recurs in v. 2a; the imperative verb “live” occurs in the very center of the three lines; v. 3, on preserving the teaching upon one’s very person, matches vv. 1–2, on preserving the teaching internally by memorizing it.
- 7:2 Live: here as elsewhere (Gn 20:7; 42:18; 2 Kgs 18:32; Jer 27:12, 17; Ez 18:32), the imperative (“Live!”) is uttered against the danger of death, e.g., “Do such and such and you will live (= survive the danger); why should you die?”
- 7:4 You are my sister: “sister” and “brother” are examples of love language in the ancient Near East, occurring in Egyptian love poetry and Mesopotamian marriage songs. In Sg 4:9, 10, 12; 5:1, the man calls the woman, “my sister, my bride.” Intimate friendship with Woman Wisdom saves one from false and dangerous relationships.
- 7:6–7 I looked out…I saw…: the perspective is unusual. The narrator looks through a window upon the drama in the street.
- 7:17 Bed: a bed can designate a place of burial in Is 57:2; Ez 32:25; 2 Chr 16:14. Myrrh…aloes: the spices could be used for funerals as for weddings (Jn 19:39). It is possible that the language is ambivalent, speaking of death as it seems to speak of life. As the woman offers the youth a nuptial feast, she is in reality describing his funerary feast.
- 7:19–20 For my husband is not at home: the woman is calculating. She knows exactly how long her husband will be gone.
- 7:21 The verbs “to win over” (lit., “to lead astray”) and “to lead off” can be used of leading animals such as a donkey (Nm 22:23) or sheep (Jer 23:2 and 50:17). The animal imagery continues as the youth is compared to an ox, a fallow deer, and a bird in the moment they are slaughtered. None of the animals are aware of their impending death.
- 7:24–27 The father addresses “children,” a larger audience than his own son; the story is typical, intended for others as an example. The story is a foil to the speech of the other woman in chap. 8.
Chapter 8 is Wisdom’s longest speech in the book. Wisdom is here personified as in 1:20–33. She exalts her grandeur and origin, and invites all (vv. 1–11) to be attentive to her salutary influence in human society (vv. 12–21), for she was privileged to be present at the creation of the world (vv. 22–31). Finally, she promises life and the favor of God to those who are devoted to her, death to those who reject her.
The poem has four sections, each (except the fourth) with two parts of five lines each:
I. A. vv. 1–5 B. vv. 6–10 II. A. vv. 12–16 B. vv. 17–21 III. A. vv. 22–26 B. vv. 27–31 IV. vv. 32–36
Within chaps. 1–9, chap. 8 is the companion piece to Wisdom’s first speech in 1:20–33. There she spoke harshly, giving a promise only in the last line; here she speaks invitingly, giving a threat only in the last line.
Chapter 8 is the best-known chapter in Proverbs and has profoundly influenced Jewish and Christian thought. The most explicit and lengthy biblical comment is in Sir 24; it too has thirty-five lines in seven five-line stanzas and develops the theme of Wisdom’s intimacy with God and desire to be with human beings. The Gospel of John portrays Jesus in the language of wisdom in Proverbs: Jesus, like Wisdom, calls out to people to listen to him, promises to tell them the truth, seeks disciples, invites them to a banquet, and gives them life. Writers in the patristic period used the language of pre-existent wisdom to express the idea of the pre-existent Word with God.
- 8:5 Naive ones…fools: see note on 1:4.
- 8:7–8 The truth and sincerity of wisdom are absolute because they are of divine origin. They can neither deceive nor tolerate deception. The intelligent understand and accept this. “Straight” and “crooked” in Hebrew and English are metaphors for true, trustworthy and false, deceitful.
- 8:14 What is here predicated of Wisdom is elsewhere attributed to God (Jb 12:13–16).
- 8:22–31 Wisdom is of divine origin. She is represented as existing before all things (vv. 22–26), when God planned and created the universe, adorning it with beauty and variety, and establishing its wonderful order (vv. 27–30). The purpose of the two cosmogonies (vv. 22–26 and 27–31) is to ground Wisdom’s claims. The first cosmogony emphasizes that she was born before all else (and so deserving of honor) and the second underscores that she was with the Lord during the creation of the universe. The pre-existence of Woman Wisdom with God is developed in Sir 24 and in New Testament hymns to Christ, especially in Jn 1 and Col 1:15–20.
- 8:23 Formed: since the other verbs of the origin of Wisdom in these verses describe birth, it is likely that the somewhat uncertain verb is to be understood of birth as in Ps 139:13.
- 8:24–26 Perhaps the formless mass from which God created the heavens and the earth; cf. Gn 1:1–2; 2:4–6.
- 8:30 Artisan: the translation of the Hebrew word ’āmôn has been controverted since antiquity. There have been three main opinions: (1) artisan; (2) trustworthy (friend); (3) ward, nursling. The most likely explanation is that ’āmôn is artisan, related to Akkadian ummānu, legendary sages and heroes who brought divine gifts and culture to the human race. I was his delight: the chiastic or ABBA structure of vv. 30–31 unifies the four lines and underscores the analogy between Woman Wisdom’s intimate relation to the Lord and her intimate relation to human beings, i.e., “delight” + “playing” parallels “playing” + “delight.” She is God’s friend and intimate and invites human beings to a similar relationship to God through her.
- 8:32–36 The final appeal of Woman Wisdom to her disciples is similar to the appeal of the father in 7:24–27.
- 9:1–6, 13–18
Wisdom and folly are represented as women, each inviting people to her banquet. Wisdom’s banquet symbolizes joy and closeness to God. Unstable and senseless Folly furnishes stolen bread and water of deceit and vice that bring death to her guests. The opposition between wisdom and folly was stated at the beginning of chaps. 1–9 (folly in 1:8–19 and wisdom in 1:20–33) and is maintained throughout, down to this last chapter.
In comparable literature, gods might celebrate their sovereign by building a palace and inviting the other gods to come to a banquet and celebrate with them. Presumably, Woman Wisdom is celebrating her grandeur (just described in chap. 8); her grand house is a symbol of her status as the Lord’s friend. In order to enter the sacred building and take part in the banquet (“eat of my food”), guests must leave aside their old ways (“forsake foolishness”).
Verses 7–12 are unrelated to the two invitations to the banquet. They appear to be based on chap. 1, especially on 1:1–7, 22. The Greek version has added a number of verses after v. 12 and v. 18. In the confusion, 9:11 seems to have been displaced from its original position after 9:6. It has been restored to its original place in the text.
House: house has a symbolic meaning. Woman Wisdom encourages marital fidelity (2:16–19; 5; 6:20–35; 7), which builds up a household (cf. chap. 5). Some scholars propose that an actual seven-pillared house is referred to, but so far none have been unearthed by archaeologists. Seven may simply connote completeness—a great house.
Some scholars see a connection between the woman’s house here and the woman’s house in the final poem (31:10–31). In chap. 9, she invites the young man to enter her house and feast, i.e., to marry her. Chapter 31 shows what happens to the man who marries her; he has a house and enjoys “life” understood as consisting of a suitable wife, children, wealth, and honor.
- 9:3 She calls: i.e., invites; this is done indirectly through her maidservants, but the text could also mean that Wisdom herself publicly proclaims her invitation.
- 9:6 That you may live: life in Proverbs is this-worldly, consisting in fearing God or doing one’s duty toward God, enjoying health and long life, possessing wealth, good reputation, and a family. Such a life cannot be attained without God’s help. Hence Wisdom speaks not of life simply but of life with her; the guest is to live in Wisdom’s house.
- 9:13–18 Woman Folly is the mirror image of Woman Wisdom. Both make identical invitations but only one of the offers is trustworthy. Their hearers must discern which is the true offer. She is depicted with traits of the adulterous woman in 2:16–19; chap. 5; 6:20–35; chap. 7. Woman Folly is restless (cf. 7:11), her path leads to the underworld (2:18; 5:5; 7:27), and she is ignorant (5:6). In this final scene, she appears in single combat with her great nemesis, Woman Wisdom. Though the invitations of the two women appear at first hearing to be the same, they differ profoundly. Wisdom demands that her guests reject their ignorance, whereas Woman Folly trades on their ignorance.
- 9:17 “Stolen water” seems to refer to adultery, for “water” in 5:15–17 refers to the wife’s sexuality; “stolen” refers to stealing the sexuality belonging to another’s household. “Secret” evokes the furtive meeting of the wife and the youth in chap. 7.
- 9:18 The banquet chamber of Folly is a tomb from which no one who enters it is released; cf. 7:27. Shades: the Rephaim, the inhabitants of the underworld.