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Proverbs 30:15-16

Context

30:15 The leech 1  has two daughters: 2 

“Give! Give!” 3 

There are three things that are never satisfied,

four 4  that never say, “Enough” 5 

30:16 the grave, 6  the barren womb, 7 

land that is not satisfied with water,

and fire that never says, “Enough!” 8 

1 sn The next two verses describe insatiable things, things that are problematic to normal life. The meaning of v. 15a and its relationship to 15b is debated. But the “leech” seems to have been selected to begin the section because it was symbolic of greed – it sucks blood through its two suckers. This may be what the reference to two daughters calling “Give! Give!” might signify (if so, this is an implied comparison, a figure known as hypocatastasis).

2 sn As one might expect, there have been various attempts to identify the “two daughters.” In the Rabbinic literature some identified Alukah (the “leech”) with Sheol, and the two daughters with paradise and hell, one claiming the righteous and the other the unrighteous; others identified Alukah with Gehenna, and the two daughters with heresy and government, neither of which is ever satisfied (Midrash Tehillim quoted by Rashi, a Jewish scholar who lived a.d. 1040-1105, and in the Talmud, b. Avodah Zarah 17a). J. J. Glueck suggests that what is in view is erotic passion (and not a leech) with its two maidens of burning desire crying for more (“Proverbs 30:15a,” VT 14 [1964]: 367-70). F. S. North rightly criticizes this view as gratuitous; he argues for the view of a leech with two suckers (“The Four Insatiables,” VT 15 [1965]: 281-82).

3 tn The two imperatives הַב הַב (hav hav, “give, give,” from יָהַב, yahav) correspond to the two daughters, and form their appeal. This would then be a personification – it is as if the leech is crying out, “Give! Give!”

4 sn There is a noticeable rhetorical sequence here: two daughters, three things, four (see W. M. Roth, “The Numerical Sequence x / x +1 in the Old Testament,” VT 12 [1962]: 300-311, and “Numerical Sayings in the Old Testament,” VT 13 [1965]: 86). W. McKane thinks the series builds to a climax with the four, and in the four the barren woman is the focal point, the other three being metaphors for her sexual desire (Proverbs [OTL], 656). This interpretation is a minority view, however, and has not won widespread support.

5 tn Throughout the book of Proverbs הוֹן (hon) means “wealth”; but here it has the nuance of “sufficiency” (cf. TEV, CEV, NLT “satisfied”) or “enough” (BDB 223 s.v.).

6 tn The term שְׁאוֹל (sheol, “Sheol”) refers here to the realm of the dead: “the grave” (so KJV, NIV, NLT); cf. TEV, CEV “the world of the dead”; NAB “the nether world.”

7 tn Heb “the closing of the womb,” a situation especially troubling for one who is consumed with a desire for children (e.g., Gen 16:2; 30:1).

8 sn There is no clear lesson made from these observations. But one point that could be made is that greed, symbolized by the leech, is as insatiable as all these other things. If that is the case, the proverb would constitute a warning against the insatiable nature of greed.



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