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Go to Bible: Proverbs 11
“fair weight.” The literal Hebrew is an idiom, “a stone of peace,” but that would not make sense in English. A “stone of peace” was a just and true weight.
In the ancient world most goods were exchanged by using a balance and stone weights. A merchant would have a balance, which was usually a stick with a cord in the middle that he held on to, and on each end of the stick was a cord that went down to a pouch or pan. (The iconic image of “Lady Justice” that appears in many courthouses in the USA is a blindfolded woman holding out a balance).
Traveling merchants would carry the balance with them, and also carry their “weighing stones,” which they used in buying and selling, which were stones of different weight (1 shekel; 5 shekels; 20 shekels; etc.). The weights that were used by merchants in Old Testament times were usually made of stone; metal weights were not common.
When buying or selling, the merchant would place the item being bought or sold, for example wheat, in one pan and his weighing stones in the other pan, and adjust either the amount of wheat or the stones until the wheat and stones “balanced,” at which point the weight and thus value of the wheat was known.
Unscrupulous merchants often kept different stones in their bag that only they could easily tell apart, stones that were a little heavier for buying and stones that were a little lighter for selling, so that they bought a lot and sold a little. But that kind of dishonest dealing is an abomination to Yahweh. Yahweh commanded traders to use honest weights and measures, which gave people what they deserved in a business deal (Lev. 19:35). In ancient Israel, it was the job of the Levites to maintain the standard weights and measures that merchants could use to standardize their own weights and measures so people got a fair deal.
In modern times “balances” have been mostly replaced by “scales.” A balance is accurate, but it took considerable time and tweaking to get both sides of the balance to be the same weight so it would balance out and be level. Besides that, sometimes a person would have to buy or sell a little more or less than they really wanted because the stone weights were set amounts and the person had to add or subtract a little wheat to make the balance level out. Today, stores use scales for weighing that use different ways of producing known resistance to weight, for example, many scales use springs. Grocery stores use scales to weigh meat and vegetables. In scientific terms, a balance measures relative mass, comparing one object to another, while a scale measures the weight of an object using resistance to gravity. The subject of balances and scales can be somewhat confusing because often “balances” are called “scales,” but technically they are not.
There was enough dishonesty in ancient dealings that God spoke about being honest several different times (cp. Deut. 25:13-16; Prov. 11:1; 16:11; 20:10, 23; Ezek. 45:10; Hosea 12:7; Amos 8:5; Micah 6:11).(top)
“wisdom is with the modest.” The idea that wisdom is “with” someone is very Semitic. Today we would say, “the modest are wise” (see commentary on John 1:1, “the word was with God”).(top)
|Pro 11:3||- (top)|
“fury.” The Great Tribulation and Battle of Armageddon are times of God’s fury (sometimes translated “wrath.” Cp. Rev. 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15).(top)
“the wicked person will fall by his wickedness.” Many verses testify that wicked people will perish by their own wickedness, see commentary on Proverbs 1:18.(top)
|Pro 11:6||- (top)|
“hope of wealth.” The wicked person hopes to gain wealth, but that hope perishes when he dies. It is commonly said, “You can’t take it [wealth on earth] with you,” but wicked people act as if they could. They ignore the God who could give them everlasting life and joy, and follow after their fleshly desires. The translation wealth comes from the HALOT Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon.(top)
|Pro 11:8||- (top)|
“knowledge.” This is a clear example showing that the Semitic understanding of “knowledge” is different than the Greek (and modern) definition. To the Hebrews, a person did not “know” something if he did not act on the knowledge. To the Hebrews, knowledge and action were conceptually combined. In contrast, the Greeks were much more cerebral, and more carefully separated knowledge from action. A Greek could “know” something but not act.
In this verse, it is not just “knowledge” that delivers the righteous, but the fact that the righteous person will act decisively on what he knows. In this context, the wicked “neighbor” (which in Hebrew includes anyone close by, such as a family member) is saying harmful things, and the righteous person finds out about it and acts to counteract the harm. Note that the righteous person does not “just pray about it.” He would have prayed, but he would have acted in some way as well. Too often the wicked have more effect than they should have because the righteous do not take action.(top)
“prosperity.” Here it means more than financial or material. It means to prosper, or do well, in every way.(top)
|Pro 11:11||- (top)|
“sense.” The Hebrew word is leb (#03820 לֵב), which is often translated “heart,” but this is one of those cases where that translation would cause confusion. In modern English, the word “heart” usually refers to emotion or passion, but that is not its meaning here. The function of the brain was unknown in biblical times, so things that we generally assign to the brain, like thinking, attitudes, understanding, and good sense, were assigned to the heart. In this case, a person who does not take the time to figure out how to live in peace with his neighbors lacks good sense. People did not move very much in biblical times, so a person was likely to have the same neighbors his entire life, and would often need their help in difficult times (cp. Prov. 12:26; 27:10; Luke 11:5-8). It was foolish to not learn to get along with them. [For more on the Hebrew word leb and “heart,” see commentary on Prov. 15:21, “sense”].
“understanding.” The Hebrew text is plural, “understandings.” This is most likely a plural of emphasis, and indicates “great understanding.”(top)
“spirit.” This is the use of “spirit” (Hebrew: ruach #07307 רוּחַ) that refers to the activities of the mind: the thoughts, attitudes and emotions. [For more on the uses of “spirit,” see Appendix 6, “Usages of ‘Spirit.’” Usage #13 concerns thoughts and emotions].(top)
“guidance.” The Hebrew is plural, guidance from many sources.
“people.” The Hebrew indicates that this is a group of people, not just a single individual. It would generally be a group of people who are related to each other in some way, a family, tribe, clan, or even a nation. If the leader or leaders don’t get good advice the whole group will be affected.
“with a multitude of advisors, there is deliverance.” No one person can think of every possibility or see every problem and every solution, so the Bible tells us there is safety and deliverance in having a multitude of advisors (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 20:18; and 24:6). The final phrase in the verse, “there is deliverance,” can be translated from the Hebrew in several different ways, including “there is safety,” and “there is victory.”(top)
“makes deals.” The Hebrew is a cultural idiom, “hates striking,” referring to striking hands in a deal.
“carefree.” The Hebrew is “trusting,” but in this context it means that he trusts in his life and dealings and is carefree.(top)
|Pro 11:16||- (top)|
“gives to himself.” The kind person gives to others, but in so doing gets blessings from God and from others. Thus, in giving to others he actually gives to himself.(top)
|Pro 11:18||- (top)|
“eagerly pursues.” The verb “pursues” is in the piel aspect and so is intense; thus “eagerly pursues,” or “diligently pursues.”(top)
|Pro 11:20||- (top)|
“Be assured.” The Hebrew text uses an idiom and says, “hand to hand,” which the HALOT Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon says means “be assured,” or “depend on it.” The idiom and custom of shaking hands or striking hands was a well enough known custom that it did not need to be described in detail, and the simple phrase, “hand to hand” carried the meaning. The history of the handshake or hand clasp is not exactly known, but it is known that clasping hands or shaking hands goes back to very early times, and seems to be depicted in both Egyptian and Babylonian art and/or writings. By the time of the Greeks, handshaking is well documented. The point of this proverb is that the righteous people who are afflicted and don’t seem to see the wicked getting punished for their wicked deeds here on earth should not get discouraged and think that God will never vindicate the righteous and punish the wicked. He will, and the righteous need to draw strength from that and not give in to the temptation to act unrightously.
“will escape.” The Hebrew text literally says, “have escaped, or have been delivered.” This is an example of the idiom of the prophetic perfect, where a future event is spoken of as if it has already occured. This idiom is used to assure people that the event will occur. [For more on the prophetic perfect idiom, see commentary on Eph. 2:6].(top)
“in the snout of a pig.” This verse would hit home much harder in the biblical culture than it does in our modern culture because it was the custom in biblical times for women to wear nose-rings rather than earrings. The women not only had long hair, but often wore head coverings, and those things covered any earrings so that they could not be seen, so the women customarily wore nose-rings as personal decoration (Gen. 24:22, 30, 47; Isa. 3:21; Ezek. 16:12).
This verse was especially graphic because the pig was an unclean animal to the Jews, and could not be eaten. Humans are impressed by physical beauty, but God, and godly people, are not. A beautiful woman who does not have good judgment is as disgusting to God as a pig wearing a gold ring in its nose. Godly people have to learn to think about humans the way God does. God looks on the heart, not on the flesh (1 Sam. 16:7). [For more on the custom of nose-rings, see commentary on Gen. 24:22].(top)
“surely.” The Hebrew word can also mean “only.” That the desire of the righteous is good is not “natural” to them, it is because righteous people battle with their flesh and work hard to think and act in a godly way.
“the hope of the wicked is fury.” This verse is one of the riddles of the wise, which invites our prayer and meditation. A primary interpretation of this verse is that the wicked hope for “fury” upon people that they do not like. Whereas the righteous think in terms of what is good for other people, including evil people, wicked people are self-centered and just wish “fury” upon those they think are somehow in their way.
Another interpretation of this verse uses irony: the wicked hope for fury upon their enemies, but in the end their hope is “fury;” the fury of God upon them.(top)
|Pro 11:24||- (top)|
“person who blesses others.” The Hebrew reads, “the soul of blessing,” where “soul” refers to an individual and “a person of blessing” is a person who blesses others.
“prosperous.” The literal Hebrew is “fat.” Proverbs 11:25 is one of the many “ideal” promises in the Word of God which would be fulfilled here on earth today if we lived in a godly world with godly people. But because there are evil people and the Devil is the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19), people who help others do not always prosper in this life. This promise will only be fully fulfilled in the future. [For more on promises like this, see commentary on Prov. 19:5].
“will be watered.” The Hebrew in the Hophal aspect more literally reads, “will be taught.” This sheds light on what the verse is speaking of when it talks about watering others; there is a primary influence in instructing them. Then, the instructor himself learns more as well. But the verbs refer to more than just teaching and being taught because they are being used metaphorically. There are many ways to water others, but teaching is a primary one, especially in the larger context of Proverbs, with all its emphasis on gaining wisdom and understanding.(top)
|Pro 11:26||- (top)|
“who is intent on.” In this context, the Hebrew word, which refers to searching, means “is intent on” (cp. HALOT and Holladay Hebrew and Aramaic lexicons).(top)
“he will fall.” The grammar also allows for this verse to be translated “it will fall,” with the “it” referring to wealth. The primary meaning of the verse is no doubt that the one who trusts in wealth instead of trusting in God, will fall. However, the Hebrew opens the door for the verse to also mean that if you trust in your wealth it will fail. That wealth “falls,” and fails those who are rich, happens quite often in this life, and certainly will in the next. God will not be taking bribes on Judgment Day, when both the rich, and the influence of their wealth, will “fall” from its vaunted position. There is only one way to be truly blessed and secure in this life and the next, and that is to trust God.(top)
|Pro 11:29||- (top)|
“takes away souls from death.” The Hebrew phrase “takes away souls” is generally used of taking a life, that is. killing. But here in Proverbs 11:30, by irony, the meaning is exactly the opposite; the wise person “takes” or “captures” a soul from death. Wise and righteous people save lives in this life and lead people to everlasting life in the next (cp. Prov. 14:25).
It is the irony in this verse that would normally catch the attention of the reader and cause them to stop and ponder the meaning of the verse, and it is verses like this that, when translated literally, can be so confusing, especially to a new believer. It is easy to see how a person would be confused when the first stanza of the proverb says the righteous person is a tree of life but the second stanza says the wise person “takes away souls.” The mature believer gets the irony and sees how God uses that irony to emphasize that wise people save the lives of other people, both here and now, and forever. The REV translation makes the Hebrew text easier for the beginning Bible reader by adding italics to clarify the meaning of the verse.(top)
“The righteous person will be repaid on the earth.” Proverbs 11:31 is one of the many “ideal” promises in the Word of God. It was always God’s intention that people would get what they deserve in this life, and that is expressed in verses such as Proverbs 11:31. This verse would be fulfilled here on earth today if we lived in a godly world with godly people, but because there are evil people and the Devil is the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19), righteous and wicked people do not always get what they deserve in this life. This promise will only be fully fulfilled in the future. [For more on promises like this, see commentary on Prov. 19:5].(top)