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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 

Proverbs 30:18-19

Context

30:18 There are three things that are too wonderful for me, 9 

four that I do not understand:

30:19 the way 10  of an eagle in the sky,

the way of a snake on a rock,

the way of a ship in the sea,

and the way of a man with a woman. 11 

Proverbs 30:21-31

Context

30:21 Under three things the earth trembles, 12 

and under four things it cannot bear up:

30:22 under a servant 13  who becomes king,

under a fool who is stuffed with food, 14 

30:23 under an unloved 15  woman who is married,

and under a female servant who dispossesses 16  her mistress.

30:24 There are four things on earth that are small, 17 

but they are exceedingly wise: 18 

30:25 ants are creatures with little strength,

but they prepare 19  their food in the summer;

30:26 rock badgers 20  are creatures with little power,

but they make their homes in the crags;

30:27 locusts have no king,

but they all go forward by ranks; 21 

30:28 a lizard 22  you can catch with the hand,

but it gets into the palaces of the king. 23 

30:29 There are three things that are magnificent 24  in their step,

four things that move about magnificently: 25 

30:30 a lion, mightiest 26  of the beasts,

who does not retreat from anything;

30:31 a strutting rooster, 27  a male goat,

and a king with his army around him. 28 

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.

9 tn The form נִפְלְאוּ (niflÿu) is the Niphal perfect from פָּלָא (pala’); the verb means “to be wonderful; to be extraordinary; to be surpassing”; cf. NIV “too amazing.” The things mentioned are things that the sage finds incomprehensible (e.g., Gen 18:14; Judg 13:18; Ps 139:6; and Isa 9:6[5]). The sage can only admire these wonders – he is at a loss to explain them.

10 sn It is difficult to know for certain what these four things had in common for the sage. They are all linked by the word “way” (meaning “a course of action”) and by a sense of mystery in each area. Suggestions for the connections between the four include: (1) all four things are hidden from continued observation, for they are in majestic form and then gone; (2) they all have a mysterious means of propulsion or motivation; (3) they all describe the movement of one thing within the sphere or domain of another; or (4) the first three serve as illustrations of the fourth and greatest wonder, which concerns human relationships and is slightly different than the first three.

11 tn This last item in the series is the most difficult to understand. The MT reads וְדֶּרֶךְ גֶּבֶר בְּעַלְמָה (vÿderekh gever bÿalmah, “and the way of a man with a maid,” so KJV, NASB). The last term does not in and of itself mean “virgin” but rather describes a young woman who is sexually ready for marriage. What is probably in view here is the wonder of human sexuality, for the preposition בְּ (bet) in this sequence indicates that the “way of the man” is “with” the woman. This mystery might begin with the manner of obtaining the love of the young woman, but focuses on the most intimate part of human relationships. And all of this was amazing to the sage. All of it is part of God’s creative plan and therefore can be enjoyed and appreciated without fully comprehending it.

12 sn The Hebrew verb means “to rage; to quake; to be in tumult.” The sage is using humorous and satirical hyperbole to say that the changes described in the following verses shake up the whole order of life. The sayings assume that the new, elevated status of the individuals was not accompanied by a change in nature. For example, it was not completely unknown in the ancient world for a servant to become king, and in the process begin to behave like a king.

13 sn A servant coming to power could become a tyrant if he is unaccustomed to the use of such power, or he might retain the attitude of a servant and be useless as a leader.

14 tn Heb “filled with food” (so ASV); NASB “satisfied with food”; NAB, NRSV “glutted with food”; CEV “who eats too much”; NLT “who prospers.”

sn The expression stuffed with food probably represents prosperity in general. So the line portrays someone who suddenly comes into wealth, but continues to be boorish and irreligious.

15 tn The Hebrew term means “hated,” from שָׂנֵא (sane’), a feminine passive participle. The text does not say why she is hated; some have speculated that she might be odious (cf. KJV, ASV, NAB) or unattractive, but perhaps she is married to someone incapable of showing love (e.g., Gen 29:31, 33; Deut 21:15; Isa 60:5). Perhaps the strange situation of Jacob was in the mind of the sage, for Leah was described as “hated” (Gen 29:31).

16 tn The verb יָרַשׁ (yarash) means either (1) “to possess; to inherit” or (2) “to dispossess.” Often the process of possessing meant the dispossessing of those already there (e.g., Hagar and Sarah in Gen 16:5; 21:10); another example is the Israelites’ wars against the Canaanites.

17 tn Heb “Four are the small things of the earth.” TEV has “four animals,” though in the list of four that follows, two are insects and one is a reptile.

18 tn The construction uses the Pual participle with the plural adjective as an intensive; these four creatures are the very embodiment of wisdom (BDB 314 s.v. חָכַם Pu).

19 sn The wisdom of the ants is found in their diligent preparation (כּוּן, kun) of food supplies in the summer for times in the winter when food is scarce. See S. P. Toperoff, “The Ant in the Bible and Midrash,” Dor le Dor 13 (1985): 179-83. According to this, being prepared ahead of time is a mark of true wisdom.

20 tn Or “hyraxes.” This is the Syrian Hyrax, also known as the rock badger. KJV, ASV has “conies” (alternately spelled “coneys” by NIV), a term usually associated with the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) but which can also refer to the pika or the hyrax. Scholars today generally agree that the Hebrew term used here refers to a type of hyrax, a small ungulate mammal of the family Procaviidae native to Africa and the Middle East which has a thick body, short legs and ears and a rudimentary tail. The simple “badger” (so NASB, NRSV, CEV) could lead to confusion with the badger, an entirely unrelated species of burrowing mammal related to weasels.

sn Modern scholars identify this creature with the rock badger (the Syrian hyrax), a small mammal that lives in the crevices of the rock. Its wisdom consists in its ingenuity to find a place of security.

21 sn The Hebrew term means “divided”; they go forward in orderly divisions, or ranks (C. H. Toy, Proverbs [ICC], 535). Joel 1:4 describes their order and uses it as a picture of a coming invasion (e.g., Joel 2:7, 8). Therefore the wisdom of the locust is in their order and cooperation.

22 tn The KJV, agreeing with Tg. Prov 30:28, translated this term as “spider.” But almost all modern English versions and commentators, following the Greek and the Latin versions, have “lizard.”

sn The point of this saying is that a weak creature like a lizard, that is so easily caught, cannot be prevented from getting into the most significant places.

23 tn Although the Hebrew noun translated “king” is singular here, it is traditionally translated as plural: “kings’ palaces” (so KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV).

24 tn The form מֵיטִיבֵי (metibe) is the Hiphil participle, plural construct. It has the idea of “doing good [in] their step.” They move about well, i.e., magnificently. The genitive would be a genitive of specification.

25 tn The construction uses the Hiphil participle again (as in the previous line) followed by the infinitive construct of הָלַךְ (halakh). This forms a verbal hendiadys, the infinitive becoming the main verb and the participle before it the adverb.

26 tn Heb “mighty among the beasts,” but referring to a superlative degree (“mightiest”).

27 tn The Hebrew term זַרְזִיר (zarzir) means “girt”; it occurs only here with “loins” in the Bible: “that which is girt in the loins” (BDB 267 s.v.). Some have interpreted this to be the “greyhound” because it is narrow in the flanks (J. H. Greenstone, Proverbs, 327); so KJV, ASV. Others have suggested the warhorse, zebra, raven, or starling. Tg. Prov 30:31 has it as the large fighting cock that struts around among the hens. There is no clear referent that is convincing, although most modern English versions use “strutting rooster” or something similar (cf. CEV “proud roosters”).

28 tc This last line has inspired many suggestions. The MT has “with his army around him” (אַלְקוּם עִמּוֹ, ’alqumimmo); so NIV. This has been emended to read “against whom there is no rising up” (so KJV, ASV) or “standing over his people.” The LXX has “a king haranguing his people.” Tg. Prov 30:31 has, “a king who stands up before his people and addresses them.” Some have attempted to identify this with Alcimus, the high priest who aspired to kingship (1 Macc 7:5-22), but such a suggestion is quite remote. Another interpretation sees the word for “God” in the line: “a king with whom God is.” Furthermore, C. H. Toy thinks the text is corrupt and must have at one time referred to some majestic animal (Proverbs [ICC], 537). While all these suggestions are fascinating, they have not improved or corrected the Hebrew text. At least one can say the focus is on the stately appearance of the king at some auspicious moment. The word occurs only here; but if it is interpreted with its Arabic cognate in mind, then it refers to a band of soldiers (BDB 39 s.v. אַלְקוּם).



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