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to understand a proverb and an obscure expression,
words of the wise and their riddles. Bible

“obscure expression.” The Hebrew word is melitsah (#04426 מְלִיצָה), and it has a very large semantic range, making it very hard to translate as one English word or phrase. Translations include: “obscure expression” (CJB; REV); “obscure saying” (NJB); “enigma” (NKJ); “parable” (HCSB); “allegory” (Darby); “saying” (ESV); “clever saying” (GWN); “figure” (ERV; NASB); “satire” (Rotherham); and “secret” (BBE). The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament defines the word as “figure, enigma” and “satire, mocking poem,” and the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon defines the word in the same way. The HALOT Hebrew-English Lexicon has “allusive expression” referring to an allusion of some type (not to be confused with “illusive” expression).

When we read Proverbs, we are struck with how accurately Proverbs 1:6 describes the Book of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs has proverbs (wise sayings to be used in ruling life); obscure expressions that include enigmas, satire, mocking poems, and figures; words of wisdom that are simple and straightforward but profound; and “riddles” (see commentary below on “riddles”).

The question has been asked, “Why would God write like that? If God wants us to know something, why not just say it?” That opinion seems to echo the request of the religious Jews when they spoke to Jesus, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” But Jesus never did tell them “plainly” until his trial (Matt. 26:63-64). Jesus followed the pattern his Father, God, had set. God does not want to be just an “information dispenser.” He wants to be a Father and to have a deep and wondrous relationship with His followers.

God’s obscure expressions, riddles, satires, and figures accomplish a few different things. For one thing, they separate out those people who are not interested in the things of God if they have to work for them. Also, they cause those who are interested in knowing God to go to Him in prayer, study, and reflection to find His deeper wisdom and understanding, and to get to know Him better. Also, the multifaceted way that God reveals His wisdom shows some of the wonderful depths of God and how we cannot “put God in a box.” There are times we are not exactly sure what God means; we have an idea, but not a certainty. That makes some people uncomfortable, but that is not always a bad thing. There is a lot about God we don’t know, and we should never be completely comfortable with God. He is loving and good, but He is also God, and we should always have an attitude of awe and wonder, and if Proverbs is right, a tinge of fear, or at least caution, in His presence. Furthermore, many of the proverbs have more than one meaning. Often the Hebrew words can mean more than one thing, so the proverb can have more than one meaning.

The Book of Proverbs does indeed contain “figures,” “obscure sayings,” “enigmas” “riddles,” and “satire.” Proverbs is full of similes, metaphors, and allegory. For example, some people’s words are “like” the piercing of a sword (Prov. 12:18). Also, “Wisdom” and “Folly” are personified and allegorized throughout Proverbs, being portrayed as two women who vie for the attention of the people. Some of the proverbs are “obscure sayings” such as Proverbs 1:31 that fools will be “satisfied” from their own plans. Some are satire, such as Proverbs 19:27, which is meant to be taken the opposite from what is said. Some are riddles, such as Proverbs 26:4-5, two proverbs that seem to give the opposite advice. There is great wisdom in Proverbs, but it is not all on the surface. But as we get to know and understand Proverbs, we better know and understand God.

“riddles.” The Hebrew is chiydah (#02420 חִידָה), and means a riddle, an enigmatic saying, an obscure saying. In today’s vernacular, a “dark saying” is a dismal, gloomy, saying with a foreboding or somehow threatening message. That is not the case with this Hebrew word. There are no “dark” overtones. It is a riddle, an obscure saying. This verse is a huge key to understanding Proverbs. There is a movement in Christianity today, evidenced by the “dynamic equivalent” translations on the market that make the Bible “easy” to read and easy to understand. The problem with that is that the underlying languages were not easy to understand even to the people who spoke those languages. Many of the Proverbs are “obscure,” or “enigmatic,” or just plain riddles. God is asking for our time and energy to figure out what these verses mean and how to apply them.


Commentary for: Proverbs 1:6