four that I do not understand:
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. 3
four things that move about magnificently: 5
who does not retreat from anything;
and a king with his army around him. 8
1 tn The form נִפְלְאוּ (niflÿ’u) 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). The sage can only admire these wonders – he is at a loss to explain them.
2 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.
3 tn This last item in the series is the most difficult to understand. The MT reads וְדֶּרֶךְ גֶּבֶר בְּעַלְמָה (vÿderekh gever bÿ’almah, “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.
4 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.
5 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.
6 tn Heb “mighty among the beasts,” but referring to a superlative degree (“mightiest”).
7 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”).
8 tc This last line has inspired many suggestions. The MT has “with his army around him” (אַלְקוּם עִמּוֹ, ’alqum ’immo); 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).