1 tn The noun “fools” is plural but the verb “mock” is singular. This has led some to reverse the line to say “guilty/guilt offering mocks fools” (C. H. Toy, Proverbs [ICC], 287); see, e.g., Isa 1:14; Amos 5:22. But lack of agreement between subject and verb is not an insurmountable difficulty.
tn Heb “guilt.” The word אָשָׁם (’asham) has a broad range of meanings: “guilt; reparation.” According to Leviticus, when someone realized he was guilty he would bring a “reparation offering,” a sin offering with an additional tribute for restitution (Lev 5:1-6). It would be left up to the guilty to come forward; it was for the kind of thing that only he would know, for which his conscience would bother him. Fools mock any need or attempt to make things right, to make restitution (cf. NIV, NRSV, NCV, TEV).
3 tn The word רָצוֹן (ratson) means “favor; acceptance; pleasing.” It usually means what is pleasing or acceptable to God. In this passage it either means that the upright try to make amends, or that the upright find favor for doing so.
4 tn The Hebrew participles provide the subject matter in this contrast. On the one hand is the person who covers over (מְכַסֶּה, mÿkhasseh) his sins. This means refusing to acknowledge them in confession, and perhaps rationalizing them away. On the other hand there is the one who both “confesses” (מוֹדֶה, modeh) and “forsakes” (עֹזֵב, ’ozev) the sin. To “confess” sins means to acknowledge them, to say the same thing about them that God does.
5 sn The verse contrasts the consequences of each. The person who refuses to confess will not prosper. This is an understatement (a figure of speech known as tapeinosis); the opposite is the truth, that eventually such a person will be undone and ruined. On the other hand, the penitent will find mercy. This expression is a metonymy of cause for the effect – although “mercy” is mentioned, what mercy provides is intended, i.e., forgiveness. In other passages the verb “conceal” is used of God’s forgiveness – he covers over the iniquity (Ps 32:1). Whoever acknowledges sin, God will cover it; whoever covers it, God will lay it open.
6 sn This verse is unique in the book of Proverbs; it captures the theology of forgiveness (e.g., Pss 32 and 51). Every part of the passage is essential to the point: Confession of sins as opposed to concealing them, coupled with a turning away from them, results in mercy.