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to deliver you from the way of evil,
from the one speaking perverse things, Bible

“way of evil.” The Hebrew reads “road of evil,” which can also be understood as, “the way of evil people.”

“the one.” The Hebrew text literally reads, “man,” iysh (#0376 אִישׁ pronounced “eesh”), which most literally refers to a man, a male in contrast to woman, a husband, or a man opposed to an animal or God. However, iysh can also refer more generally to a person or human being, inclusive of both men and women. Also, in certain contexts, iysh takes on other meanings. These include being an indicator of rank or position, or to indicate a “mighty man” or “valiant man;” a man as a servant, follower, or soldier. Furthermore, iysh can be used in an impersonal sense as “someone” or “everyone,” or “each,” and it can even be used of animals, but rarely is (cp. HALOT Hebrew-English Lexicon; Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon; New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis).

Proverbs uses the word iysh to show a primary emphasis on men in contrast to women because the Hebrew text could have used the Hebrew word adam, which is more generally used to mean “people, mankind.” But it makes sense in both the culture and scope of Proverbs that iysh would be used. Culturally, men dominated the society and were the primary actors in it. One obvious reason for that was the physical strength men had over women, but a less obvious reason was that most women had a large number of children and grandchildren, and so for most of their lives they were pregnant, nursing, and/or caring for children; both their own and those in the extended family. Mary, the mother of Jesus, had at least seven children herself (Matt. 13:55-56).

Additionally, the book of Proverbs uses the sexual attraction between men and women as a background to show the necessity for reason and self-discipline in living a godly life. Proverbs specifically portrays Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly competing with each other and vying for the attention and affection of naïve young men. Indeed, Proverbs seems to go to great lengths to portray and personify Wisdom, understanding, discernment, discretion, and also Folly, as women who have attributes that could attract a young man. It is up to the young man to choose between the unbridled, boisterous, glamourous, and sexy life of Folly, or the self-controlled and peaceful life of Wisdom and her attendants.

In spite of the dominant male language in Proverbs, however, there is good reason to translate the word iysh as a gender-neutral word such as “person” or “one” in many verses. Although the verses were more specifically addressed to men in the biblical culture, the author did not want to exclude women, and we must keep in mind that iysh can legitimately refer to both men and women. It is clear from the proverbs themselves that wisdom and knowledge are intended for both men and women. For example, the teaching of the mothers in Proverbs is important (cp. Prov. 1:8 and 6:20), and those women had to be taught to become wise themselves. Also, Lady Wisdom imparts knowledge and wisdom, and thus she herself was taught, and is honored for imparting her wisdom and knowledge to others, including the men who listen to her. So, it was not just males that were taught, even if that was the primary emphasis in the culture of the time, something that is reflected in the many uses of the Hebrew iysh.

It should be noted that many of the older English versions, such as the King James Version, do translate iysh as “man.” However, while that is a very accurate translation, it must also be remembered that up until recently, when the word “man” was used, it was used more inclusively of both men and women than it is today. Today, “man” tends to exclude women, not include them, so culturally, “man” has often become less accurate in reflecting the meaning of the text than a gender-neutral word like “person.”

The importance of women feeling included in the teaching of Proverbs cannot be overstated, especially in modern Western culture when women are not kept cloistered at home but are educated, have their own money, and are out and about in society. Both men and women must make the choice between Wisdom and Folly. Proverbs applies to women today in a way that it has never applied so fittingly before in history. Therefore, because iysh can legitimately be gender-neutral and apply to a “person,” and because many proverbs themselves apply so fittingly to women, we have often used a gender-neutral term when iysh appears in the Hebrew text.

[For more on the use of gender-neutral terms for the masculine terms in Proverbs, see commentary on Proverbs 1:4, “youth.” For more on Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly, and the figure of speech personification, see commentary on Prov. 1:20].

“perverse things.” The root of the Hebrew word means to flip upside down. Something “perverse” is upside down from the way God intended it to be.


Commentary for: Proverbs 2:12