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Proverbs 30:12-14

Context

30:12 There is a generation who are pure in their own eyes

and yet are not washed 1  from their filthiness. 2 

30:13 There is a generation whose eyes are so lofty, 3 

and whose eyelids are lifted up disdainfully. 4 

30:14 There is a generation whose teeth are like 5  swords 6 

and whose molars 7  are like knives

to devour 8  the poor from the earth

and the needy from among the human race.

1 tn The verb רָחַץ (rakhats) means “to wash; to wash off; to wash away; to bathe.” It is used of physical washing, ceremonial washings, and hence figuratively of removing sin and guilt through confession (e.g., Isa 1:16). Here the form is the Pual perfect (unless it is a rare old Qal passive, since there is no Piel and no apparent change of meaning from the Qal).

sn The point of the verse is that there are people who observe outer ritual and think they are pure (טָהוֹר [tahor] is the Levitical standard for entrance into the sanctuary), but who pay no attention to inner cleansing (e.g., Matt 23:27).

2 sn Filthiness often refers to physical uncleanness, but here it refers to moral defilement. Zech 3:3-4 uses it metaphorically as well for the sin of the nation (e.g., Isa 36:12).

3 tn Heb “how high are its eyes!” This is a use of the interrogative pronoun in exclamatory sentences (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 25, §127).

4 tn Heb “its eyelids are lifted up,” a gesture indicating arrogance and contempt or disdain for others. To make this clear, the present translation supplies the adverb “disdainfully” at the end of the verse.

sn The verbs “to be high” (translated “are…lofty”) and “to be lifted up” depict arrogance and disdain for others. The emphasis on the eyes and eyelids (parasynonyms in poetry) is employed because the glance, the look, is the immediate evidence of contempt for others (e.g., also 6:17 and Ps 131:1).

5 tn The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.

6 sn There are two figures used in each of these lines: teeth/great teeth and “swords/knives.” The term “teeth” is a metonymy for the process of chewing and eating. This goes with the figure of the second half of the verse that speaks about “devouring” the poor – so the whole image of eating and chewing refers to destroying the poor (an implied comparison). The figures of “swords/knives” are metaphors within this image. Comparing teeth to swords means that they are sharp and powerful. The imagery captures the rapacity of their power.

7 tn Heb “teeth” (so NRSV) or “jaw teeth” (so KJV, ASV, NASB) or perhaps “jawbone.” This is a different Hebrew word for “teeth” than the one in the previous line; if it refers to “jaw teeth” then a translation like “molars” would be appropriate, although this image might not fit with the metaphor (“like knives”) unless the other teeth, the incisors or front teeth, are pictured as being even longer (“like swords”).

8 tn The Hebrew form לֶאֱכֹל (leekhol) is the Qal infinitive construct; it indicates the purpose of this generation’s ruthless power – it is destructive. The figure is an implied comparison (known as hypocatastasis) between “devouring” and “destroying.”



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