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
she eats and wipes her mouth 6
and says, “I have not done wrong.” 7
and under four things it cannot bear up:
under a fool who is stuffed with food, 10
and under a female servant who dispossesses 12 her mistress.
but they are exceedingly wise: 14
30:25 ants are creatures with little strength,
but they prepare 15 their food in the summer;
but they make their homes in the crags;
30:27 locusts have no king,
but they all go forward by ranks; 17
but it gets into the palaces of the king. 19
four things that move about magnificently: 21
who does not retreat from anything;
and a king with his army around him. 24
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 sn Equally amazing is the insensitivity of the adulterous woman to the sin. The use of the word “way” clearly connects this and the preceding material. Its presence here also supports the interpretation of the final clause in v. 19 as referring to sexual intimacy. While that is a wonder of God’s creation, so is the way that human nature has distorted it and ruined it.
5 sn The word clearly indicates that the woman is married and unchaste; but the text describes her as amoral as much as immoral – she sees nothing wrong with what she does.
6 sn The acts of “eating” and “wiping her mouth” are euphemistic; they employ an implied comparison between the physical act of eating and wiping one’s mouth afterward on the one hand with sexual activity on the other hand (e.g., Prov 9:17).
7 sn This is the amazing part of the observation. It is one thing to sin, for everyone sins, but to dismiss the act of adultery so easily, as if it were no more significant than a meal, is incredibly brazen.
8 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.
9 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.
10 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.
11 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).
12 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.
13 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.
14 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).
15 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.
16 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.
17 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.
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.
19 tn Although the Hebrew noun translated “king” is singular here, it is traditionally translated as plural: “kings’ palaces” (so KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV).
20 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.
21 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.
22 tn Heb “mighty among the beasts,” but referring to a superlative degree (“mightiest”).
23 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”).
24 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).