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Proverbs 30:11-17


30:11 There is a generation 1  who curse their fathers

and do not bless their mothers. 2 

30:12 There is a generation who are pure in their own eyes

and yet are not washed 3  from their filthiness. 4 

30:13 There is a generation whose eyes are so lofty, 5 

and whose eyelids are lifted up disdainfully. 6 

30:14 There is a generation whose teeth are like 7  swords 8 

and whose molars 9  are like knives

to devour 10  the poor from the earth

and the needy from among the human race.

30:15 The leech 11  has two daughters: 12 

“Give! Give!” 13 

There are three things that are never satisfied,

four 14  that never say, “Enough” 15 

30:16 the grave, 16  the barren womb, 17 

land that is not satisfied with water,

and fire that never says, “Enough!” 18 

30:17 The eye 19  that mocks at a father

and despises obeying 20  a mother –

the ravens of the valley will peck it out

and the young vultures will eat it. 21 

1 sn The next four verses all start with the Hebrew expression translated “There is a generation.” This is a series of denunciations of things that are dangerous in society without mentioning specific punishments or proscriptions. The word “generation” as used in this passage refers to a class or group of people.

2 sn The first observation is that there is a segment in society that lacks respect for parents. This uses the antonyms “curse” and [not] “bless” to make the point. To “curse” a parent could include treating them lightly, defaming them, or showing disrespect in general. To “bless” would mean to honor, respect, or enrich in some way, which is what should be done (e.g., Exod 21:17; Prov 20:20).

3 tn The verb רָחַץ (rakhats) means “to wash; to wash off; to wash away; to bathe.” It is used of physical washing, ceremonial washings, and hence figuratively of removing sin and guilt through confession (e.g., Isa 1:16). Here the form is the Pual perfect (unless it is a rare old Qal passive, since there is no Piel and no apparent change of meaning from the Qal).

sn The point of the verse is that there are people who observe outer ritual and think they are pure (טָהוֹר [tahor] is the Levitical standard for entrance into the sanctuary), but who pay no attention to inner cleansing (e.g., Matt 23:27).

4 sn Filthiness often refers to physical uncleanness, but here it refers to moral defilement. Zech 3:3-4 uses it metaphorically as well for the sin of the nation (e.g., Isa 36:12).

5 tn Heb “how high are its eyes!” This is a use of the interrogative pronoun in exclamatory sentences (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 25, §127).

6 tn Heb “its eyelids are lifted up,” a gesture indicating arrogance and contempt or disdain for others. To make this clear, the present translation supplies the adverb “disdainfully” at the end of the verse.

sn The verbs “to be high” (translated “are…lofty”) and “to be lifted up” depict arrogance and disdain for others. The emphasis on the eyes and eyelids (parasynonyms in poetry) is employed because the glance, the look, is the immediate evidence of contempt for others (e.g., also 6:17 and Ps 131:1).

7 tn The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.

8 sn There are two figures used in each of these lines: teeth/great teeth and “swords/knives.” The term “teeth” is a metonymy for the process of chewing and eating. This goes with the figure of the second half of the verse that speaks about “devouring” the poor – so the whole image of eating and chewing refers to destroying the poor (an implied comparison). The figures of “swords/knives” are metaphors within this image. Comparing teeth to swords means that they are sharp and powerful. The imagery captures the rapacity of their power.

9 tn Heb “teeth” (so NRSV) or “jaw teeth” (so KJV, ASV, NASB) or perhaps “jawbone.” This is a different Hebrew word for “teeth” than the one in the previous line; if it refers to “jaw teeth” then a translation like “molars” would be appropriate, although this image might not fit with the metaphor (“like knives”) unless the other teeth, the incisors or front teeth, are pictured as being even longer (“like swords”).

10 tn The Hebrew form לֶאֱכֹל (leekhol) is the Qal infinitive construct; it indicates the purpose of this generation’s ruthless power – it is destructive. The figure is an implied comparison (known as hypocatastasis) between “devouring” and “destroying.”

11 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).

12 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).

13 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!”

14 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.

15 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.).

16 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.”

17 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).

18 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.

19 sn The “eye” as the organ that exhibits the inner feelings most clearly, here represents a look of scorn or disdain that speaks volumes (a metonymy of cause or of adjunct). It is comparable to the “evil eye” which is stinginess (28:22).

20 tn The Hebrew word לִיקֲּהַת (liqqahat, “obeying”) occurs only here and in Gen 49:10; it seems to mean “to receive” in the sense of “receiving instruction” or “obeying.” C. H. Toy suggests emending to “to old age” (לְזִקְנַת, lÿziqnat) of the mother (Proverbs [ICC], 530). The LXX with γῆρας (ghra", “old age”) suggests that a root lhq had something to do with “white hair.” D. W. Thomas suggests a corruption from lhyqt to lyqht; it would have read, “The eye that mocks a father and despises an aged mother” (“A Note on לִיקֲּהַת in Proverbs 30:17,” JTS 42 [1941]: 154-55); this is followed by NAB “or scorns an aged mother.”

21 sn The sternest punishment is for the evil eye. The punishment is talionic – eye for eye. The reference to “the valley” may indicate a place where people are not be given decent burials and the birds of prey pick the corpses clean. It is an image the prophets use in judgment passages.

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