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Proverbs 18:16-24


18:16 A person’s gift 1  makes room for him,

and leads him 2  before important people.

18:17 The first to state his case 3  seems 4  right,

until his opponent 5  begins to 6  cross-examine him. 7 

18:18 A toss of a coin 8  ends 9  disputes,

and settles the issue 10  between strong opponents. 11 

18:19 A relative 12  offended 13  is harder to reach than 14  a strong city,

and disputes are like the barred gates 15  of a fortified citadel. 16 

18:20 From the fruit of a person’s mouth 17  his stomach is satisfied, 18 

with the product of his lips is he satisfied.

18:21 Death and life are in the power 19  of the tongue, 20 

and those who love its use 21  will eat its fruit.

18:22 The one who finds 22  a wife finds what is enjoyable, 23 

and receives a pleasurable gift 24  from the Lord. 25 

18:23 A poor person makes supplications, 26 

but a rich man answers harshly. 27 

18:24 A person who has friends 28  may be harmed by them, 29 

but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

1 sn The Hebrew term translated “gift” is a more general term than “bribe” (שֹׁחַד, shokhad), used in 17:8, 23. But it also has danger (e.g., 15:27; 21:14), for by giving gifts one might learn how influential they are and use them for bribes. The proverb simply states that a gift can expedite matters.

2 sn The two verbs here show a progression, helping to form the synthetic parallelism. The gift first “makes room” (יַרְחִיב, yarkhiv) for the person, that is, extending a place for him, and then “ushers him in” (יַנְחֵנּוּ, yakhenu) among the greats.

3 tn Heb “in his legal case”; NAB “who pleads his case first.”

4 tn The term “seems” does not appear in the Hebrew but is supplied in the translation for the sake of smoothness (cf. KJV “seemeth”).

5 tn Heb “his neighbor”; NRSV “the other.”

6 tn Heb “comes and.” The Kethib is the imperfect יָבֹא (yavo’), and the Qere is the conjunction with the participle/perfect tense form וּבָא (uva’). The latter is reflected in most of the ancient versions. There is not an appreciable difference in the translations, except for the use of the conjunction.

7 sn The proverb is a continuous sentence teaching that there must be cross-examination to settle legal disputes. There are two sides in any disputes, and so even though the first to present his case sounds right, it must be challenged. The verb הָקַר (haqar, translated “cross-examines”) is used for careful, diligent searching and investigating to know something (e.g., Ps 139:1).

8 tn Heb “casting the lot.” Because modern readers are not familiar with the ancient practice of casting lots, the image of the coin toss to decide an issue has been employed in the translation (cf. CEV “drawing straws”). Although the casting of lots is often compared to throwing dice, the translation “throwing dice ends disputes” in this context could be misunderstood to mean “participating in a game of dice ends disputes.”

9 tn The verb יַשְׁבִּית (yashbit) is the Hiphil imperfect from שָׁבַת (shavat), meaning “to cause to cease; to bring to an end; to end”; cf. NIV “settles disputes.” The assumption behind this practice and this saying is that providence played the determining role in the casting of lots. If both parties accepted this, then the issue could be resolved.

10 tn Heb “makes a separation” or “decides.” In the book of Proverbs this verb often has a negative connotation, such as separating close friends (e.g., 16:9). But here it has a positive nuance: Opponents are “separated” by settling the issue.

11 tn The word is the adjective, “mighty” (so KJV, NAB, NASB) used here substantivally as the object of the preposition.

12 tn Heb “brother,” but this is not limited to actual siblings (cf. NRSV “an ally”; CEV, NLT “friend”).

13 tn The Niphal participle from פָּשַׁע (pasha’) modifies “brother”: a brother transgressed, offended, sinned against.

14 tc The LXX has a clear antithetical proverb here: “A brother helped is like a stronghold, but disputes are like bars of a citadel.” Accordingly, the editors of BHS propose מוֹשִׁיעַ (moshia’) instead of נִפְשָׁע (nifsha’, so also the other versions and the RSV). But since both lines use the comparison with a citadel (fortified/barred), the antithesis is problematic.

tn The phrase “is harder to reach” is supplied in the translation on the basis of the comparative מִן (min). It is difficult to get into a fortified city; it is more difficult to reach an offended brother.

15 tn Heb “bars,” but this could be understood to mean “taverns,” so “barred gates” is employed in the translation.

16 sn The proverb is talking about changing a friend or a relative into an enemy by abuse or strife – the bars go up, as it were. And the “walls” that are erected are not easily torn down.

17 sn Two images are used in this proverb: the fruit of the mouth and the harvest of the lips. They are synonymous; the first is applied to the orchard and the second to the field. The “mouth” and the “lips” are metonymies of cause, and so both lines are speaking about speech that is productive.

18 tn Heb “his midst.” This is rendered “his stomach” because of the use of שָׂבַע (sava’, “to be satisfied; to be sated; to be filled”), which is usually used with food (cf. KJV, ASV “belly”).

sn Productive speech is not just satisfying – it meets the basic needs of life. There is a practical return for beneficial words.

19 tn Heb “in the hand of.”

20 sn What people say can lead to life or death. The Midrash on Psalms shows one way the tongue [what is said] can cause death: “The evil tongue slays three, the slanderer, the slandered, and the listener” (Midrash Tehillim 52:2). See J. G. Williams, “The Power of Form: A Study of Biblical Proverbs,” Semeia 17 (1980): 35-38.

21 tn The referent of “it” must be the tongue, i.e., what the tongue says (= “its use”). So those who enjoy talking, indulging in it, must “eat” its fruit, whether good or bad. The expression “eating the fruit” is an implied comparison; it means accept the consequences of loving to talk (cf. TEV).

22 tn The verb מָצָא (matsa’, translated “finds”) is used twice in the first colon. It is paralleled by the verb פּוּק (puq, translated “receives”) in the second colon, which carries the same nuance as the preceding verbs. The first perfect tense verb might function in a hypothetical or conditional sense: “If a man finds…then he finds.” But taken as a principle the nuances of the verbs would be gnomic or characteristic.

23 tn Heb “good.” The term טוֹב (tov, “good; enjoyable; fortune”) might be an allusion to Gen 2:18, which affirms that it is not good for man to be alone. The word describes that which is pleasing to God, beneficial for life, and abundantly enjoyable.

24 tn Heb “what is pleasant.” The noun רָצוֹן (ratson, “what is pleasing”) is often interpreted in a religious-theological sense here: “receives favor from the Lord” (cf. KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV). However, this term is probably referring to the pleasure that a person enjoys in marriage, so it should be understood in a nonreligious, marital sense: “pleasure” (e.g., Esth 1:8; HALOT 1282 s.v. 1); cf. CEV “she is a gift from the Lord.”

sn The parallelism is formal; the second line of the verse continues the first but explains it further: Finding a spouse, one receives a pleasurable gift from God.

25 tc The LXX adds this embellishment to complete the thought: “Whoever puts away a good wife puts away good, and whoever keeps an adulteress is foolish and ungodly.”

26 tn Heb “speaks supplications”; NIV “pleads for mercy.” The poor man has to ask for help because he has no choice (cf. CEV). The Hebrew term תַּחֲנוּן (takhanun) is a “supplication for favor” (related to the verb חָנַן [khanan], “to be gracious; to show favor”). So the poor man speaks, but what he speaks is a request for favor.

27 sn The rich person responds harshly to the request. He has hardened himself against such appeals because of relentless demands. The proverb is an observation saying; it simply describes the way the world generally works, rather than setting this out as the ideal.

28 tc The construction is “a man of friends” (cf. NASB) meaning a man who has friends (a genitive of the thing possessed). C. H. Toy, however, suggests reading יֵשׁ (yesh) instead of אִישׁ (’ish), along with some of the Greek mss, the Syriac, and Tg. Prov 18:24. It would then say “there are friends” who are unreliable (Proverbs [ICC], 366); cf. NLT. However, the MT should be retained here.

29 tn The text simply has לְהִתְרֹעֵעַ (lÿhitroea’), which means “for being crushed” or “to be shattered” (but not “to show oneself friendly” as in the KJV). What can be made of the sentence is that “a man who has [many] friends [may have them] for being crushed” – the infinitive giving the result (i.e., “with the result that he may be crushed by them”).

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