Copyright © 1995 by Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary, cited with permission.
An Analysis of the Structure of
Proverbs 28 and 29
The thematic arrangement of Proverbs 28 and 29 has
been an area of scholarly dispute. Some propose that the
thematic arrangement takes place around the royal court setting;
others disagree.1 It is the position of this writer that Proverbs 28
and 29 are addressed to kingly prospects within the court setting
and that these chapters are skillfully arranged around themes
pertinent to royalty. In developing this thesis, some general
observations about the chapters and some specific observations
about both the structure and theme of Proverbs 28 and 29 are
stated. Following these observations, each section within the two
chapters will be analyzed to help determine its thematic unity and
1Bruce V .Malchow, “A Manual for Future Monarchs,” Catholic Biblical
Quarterly 47 (April 1985): 238; see also W. Lee Humphreys, “The Motif of
the Wise Courtier in the Book of Proverbs,” in Israelite Wisdom: Theological
and Literary Essays in Honor of Samuel Terrien, ed. John G. Gamie and others
(New York: Scholars Press, 1978), 186-187.
To begin, several general observations should be made
concerning these verses. The first concerns the poetic structure
of this passage.
A significant poetic device used in Hebrew poetry is
parallelism. The majority of the parallelism used in this passage
is complementary. Of the parallelism that is complementary,
thirty-two verses are antithetical while four are comparative.
The use of antithetical parallelism is in distinct contrast to the
“comparisons” and “single sentences” of chapters 26 and 27.2
Other forms of parallelism used are as follows: the
sequential/consequential, eleven verses; focusing (intensification),
seven verses; synonymity (emphatic restatement), one verse.
A second interesting poetic feature of this passage is that
virtually every verse is a couplet. The two exceptions appear to
be triplets in 28:10 and 28:17. A third aspect of the poetic
structure to draw attention is that twenty three out of the thirty
six complementary verses are consequential within each stich.3
This reveals that the author is emphasizing the consequences of
godliness and wickedness. As will be shown later, there is a
greater emphasis on the negative aspect. Fourthly, with the
exception of the admonitions in 28:17 and 29:17, all of the
verses are sayings.
Concerning the unit division, chapters 28 and 29 are
widely considered to be a separate unit of thought. Although
Malchow argues for including 27:23-27 as an introduction to this
unit, those five verses could easily conclude the thought
2Crawford H. Toy, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book
The International Critical Commentary (
3The term “stich” refers to each line or part within a Hebrew poetic
Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 3
development in chapter 27.4 The opening of chapter 30 clearly
points to the commencement of a new collection.
Concerning content, the clear emphasis is the contrast
between the righteous (qyDica -Proverbs 28:1,12,28; 29:2,6,7,
16, 27) and the wicked (fwArA -Proverbs 28:1,3,12,15,28;
29:2,7,10,12,16,27). Virtually every verse speaks of these two
types of people either directly or by use of the synonyms.
The Structure of Proverbs 28 and 29
The structure of Proverbs 28 and 29 seems rather clear.
After personal research, this writer has arrived at a similar
conclusion to that of Bruce Malchow.
The editor of chapters 28-29 has organized his material
through the use of strategically placed proverbs employing
the words saddiq (“righteous”) and rasa (“wicked”). These
chapters begin (28:1) and end (29:27) with couplets using
these words. Then there are four proverbs within the
collection that contain these terms and occur at intervals
(28:12,28; 29:2,16). These four are integrally related to each
other and form a symmetrical pattern. Thus, the first and
third couplets have rather similar first lines (28: 12a; 29:2a).
Then the second line of the first proverb and the first line of
the second match (28:12b; 28:28a). Next, both the second
line of the second couplet and the second line of the fourth
treat the destruction of the wicked (28:28b; 29:16b). Also,
the second line of the second couplet and the first line of the
third mention the rise of the righteous to a position of
authority (28:28b; 29:2a). Finally, the second line of the
4 Malchow “A Manual for Future Monarchs,” 243-245.
third couplet is comparable to the first line of the fourth
Thus, these four strategically located verses form the division for
the two chapters. To see these four interrelated couplets as
merely coincidental repetition seems unlikely since no other
verses within the chapters are as closely knit in structure (B with
the infinitive construct opens each verse) or content (“righteous”
and “wicked”). The chapters could be divided as follows:
28:1-introduction (contrast between lifestyles)
28: 13-27-second section
29:1-a key to theme (middle of structure)
27:27-conclusion (contrast between adversions)
Some transitions are also tied into the immediate sections.
Proverbs 28:12a is related to 28:llb and 28:12b to 28:13a. In
addition, 28:28a is related generally to 28:27b and 28b to 29:1.
29:2a is related to 29:3a (“rejoice”) and 29:2b to 29:3b (“grief”
and “loss”). 29:16 is sandwiched between two verses on the
family. Lastly 29:27 contrasts 29:26 (“injustice” and “justice”).
Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 5
The Theme of Proverbs 28 and 29
What is the theme of Proverbs 28, 29? Generally these
two chapters present a “manual for future monarchs.”6 The proof
for an addressee who is a prospective ruler is four-fold. First,
the direct instruction to rulers is seen in each section (28:2, 3, 15,
16; 29:2, 4, 12, 14, 26 -princes, oppressor, ruler, king, leader).
Secondly, there are numerous verses referring to the results of
ruling the nation as a whole (28:2, 12, 15, 28; 29:2, 16, 18) and
deprived groups (28:3, 5, 21; 29:7, 14). Thirdly, the only two
imperatives (28:17; 29:17) in these chapters appear to be
addressed to a ruler. Although 29:17 is not very conclusive,
28:17 is. The only one who has judicial authority over people's
response to a murder is a ruler. Fourthly, the recurring themes
of impartial social justice and charity for the poor were common
in the Ancient Near Eastern setting.7 W. Lee Humphreys lists
the following motifs "of wise courtiers in Egyptian literature"
which occur in Proverbs 28 and 29: 1) humility 2) equity 3)
strong family 4) control of tongue.8
Specifically, the theme seems to be that the prospective
ruler is to submit to God's standard of righteousness. To prove
this, the editor arranged these chapters to emphasize the
importance of righteousness and submission. As previously
mentioned, the motif of righteousness pervades these chapters.
Special emphasis is expressed by showing the consequences of
righteousness and wickedness. Submission, or, to be more
specific, the consequences of refusing to submit, seems to be
6See Malchow, “A Manual for Future Monarch,” 238; Bruce K. Waltke,
Unpublished Class Notes (Westminster Theological Seminary, 1986), 7. Also
see Patrick Skehan' s analysis presented by James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament
Wisdom (Atlanta: John Know Press, 1981), 76.
7Bruce V. Malchow, “Social Justice in the Wisdom Literature,” Biblical
Theology Bulletin, 12 (October 1982): 120-122.
8W. Lee Humphreys, “The Motif of the Wise Courtier in the Book of
emphasized in the central verse of the structural development
(29:1). When a ruler is prepared to submit, God can instruct him
concerning the standard. In these chapters the standard seems to
be discernment (28:2-11), identifying types of people (28:13-27),
wisdom (29:3-15), and appropriate speech to men and a
realization of God's sovereignty (29:17-26).
Analysis of Proverbs 28 and 29
There is definite unity within the first section. The verb
“discern” (NyBi) appears five times in this section (vv. 2, 5a, 5b,
7, 11) and not again until chapter 29. The noun "law" (hrAOt)
appears four times in this section (vv. 4a, 4b, 7, 9) and not again
until chapter 29. Nouns designating poverty-stricken individuals
( lD and wRA) also appear frequently (vv. 3, 6, 8, 11).
Structural linkage and assonance show the
“interconnection” between individual verses. Verses 7-10 all
begin with participles. Malchow effectively discusses the
assonance between “adjoining” verses.
Thus, ken and ‘en unite vv. 2-3. Three word combinations
couple vv. 3-4: geber-yitgaru, ro’ s-rasa’, matar-somere.
In addition, the second word in vv. 3-7 has the same sound:
ro’ s tora, ra’, ras, and tora. Verses 5-6 are also related
by mebaqse and me’iqqes. Ben and benesek link vv. 7-
8. Verses 8-10 all begin with the letter mem and are
connected by tarbit-tora-ra. Furthermore, vv. 8-9 are
joined by hono’-ozno, and vv. 9-10 by tepillato-yippol.
Finally, yesarim and ‘asir link vv. 10-11.9
9Malchow, “A Manual for Future Monarchs,” 240-241.
Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 7
There appears to be structured thought development
concerning the discernment of prospective rulers in the first
section (28:2-11). The apparent inclusio in this section, in which
NyBi is written in vv. 2 and 11, give credence to the
“discernment” theme. In addition, the recurrence of the verb
NyB in this section and the omission of the verb in the subsequent
section (29:13-27) indicate the verb's importance to the first
section. “The verb refers to knowledge which is superior to
mere gathering of data.” It “is a power of judgment and
perceptive insight and is demonstrated in the use of
The author seems to present his theme in 2 stanzas of five
verses each (vv. 2-6; 7-11). Each verse within each stanza
parallels a verse in the other stanza based on word
correspondence. For instance, NyB links vv. 2 and 7, lza joins
vv. 3 and 8, hrAOT concatenates vv. 4 and 9, frA interconnects
vv. 5 and 10, and expressions for the poor ( wrA and LD) link
vv. 6 and 11. The purpose for two interrelated stanzas may be
emphasis. The following model further clarifies the structural
Verse 2 Verse 7
Importance of Discernment Importance of Discernment
(setting -ruling) (setting-family)
Verse 3 Verse 8
Negative example of Negative example of
Discernment Discernment (inequitable
(inequitable to the poor) in taxes to the poor)
10Louis Goldberg, “NyBi” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament
Vol. 1 edited by R. Laird Harris, et al. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 103.
Verse 4 Verse 9
Basis of discernment – one’s Basis of discernment – one’s
relation to the law relation to the law
(influences horizontal (influences vertical
Verse 5 Verse 10
Basis of discernment – one’s Basis of discernment – one’s
character in relation to God character in relation to others
Verse 6 Verse 11
Pervasiveness of discernment Pervasiveness of discernment
includes poor includes poor
(emphasis - character behind (emphasis - act due to
Although this model and the thought development it espouses
may be inaccurate in some specifics, the apparent parallels
should not be explained as coincidences.
The second section (28:13-27) is another separate entity.
On the one hand, it is separated from the first and third section
by the two literary division verses (28:12, 28), but on the other
hand there is unity within the second section. This unit may be
described as an inclusio since intra-personal relationships are
expressed by one's relationship to God and sin in vv. 13, 14, and
vv. 25-27. The inclusio is also emphasized by the repetition of
synonyms for “cover” in v. 13a (hs.Akam;) and v. 27b
(MylifimaU). The section depicts all types of men under the
categories of righteous and wicked. The consequences of a
man’s activities are present in every verse except vv. 15 and 21.
Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 9
There is cohesion between the adjoining verses in the
second section. First, there is cohesion in content. II Verses 13,
14, and 25-27 refer to one's intra-personal relationship to God.
For instance, hFaBA (vv. 25, 26) refers to one's relationship to
Jehovah. Verses 15-18 refer to hierarchal relationships (rulers,
vv. 15, 16; subjects, vv. 17, 18). Verses 19-22 refer to extra-
personal relationships (a coined term referring to one's
relationship to things). The focus is on the distinction between
greed and contentment. Lastly, verses 23-24 refer to
interpersonal relationships. A ruler must identify various types
of individuals within these categories and believe that
consequences follow actions.
Secondly, there is cohesion in assonance. Malchow
demonstrates this when he writes,
Verses 13-18 are all united by the series mekasseh, maqseh,
mosel, ma asaqqot, asuq, and ne quas. Verses 14-15
have ‘asre and ‘ari....The assonance between vv. 18-
19 occur in yiwwasea’ – yisba’ and derakayim - reqim.
The tie between vv. 19-20 is admato – ‘emunot. The first
words in the second lines of vv. 20-22 are we as, we al,
and welo. Lahon, lason, and le’ is link vv. 22-24. Verses
24-25 are related by haber - rehab. Verses 25-26 are united
because both contain the word boteah.12
The thematic development of the second section is based on
content rather than assonance. The following model delineates
the thought development.
11Malchow treats each section according to content, word-links, and
assonance; see “A Manual for Future Monarchs,” 238-243.
Vv. 13, 14 - Intra-personal relationships
Acts in light of sin (13)
Attitudes in light of God (14)
Vv. 15-18 - Hierarchal relationships
specific: Negative ruler (comparison) (v. 15)
general: Compare bad and good ruler (v. 16)
specific: Negative subject (consequence) (v. 17)
general: Compare bad to good subjects (v. 17)
Vv. 19-22 - Extra-personal relationships
Compare content and covetous (19, 20)
Content v. dreamer (19)
Content v. dishonest (20)
Negative man - covetous (consequence) (21, 22)
Vv. 23-24 - Interpersonal relationships (verbal speech)
Compare reprover and flatterer (23)
Negative speaker (consequence) (24)
Vv. 25-27 - Intrapersonal relationships
Compare ‘truster’ in God and in men (25, 26)
Specific application (27)
The author constructs a structure in which a comparison
between good and evil, and a focus on the negative man appear
under each heading (vv. 15-16; 17, 18; 19-22; 23, 24) with the
exception of the first and last heading (vv. 13, 14; 25-27). In
conclusion, a prospective ruler needs to identify various types of
individuals (good or evil) within the various relationships.
The third section of chapters 28 and 29 (29:3-15) is a
unified entity developing a common theme (wisdom). The unity
is seen in the assonance and “word-links” between the adjoining
verses. Once again Malchow demonstrates this when he states
Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 11
Within the group, vv. 3 and 4 share the word is. There is
assonance between ‘ares in v. 4 and reset in v. 5. Pores-
pesa’ and re ehu-ra’ unit vv. 5-6. Both vv. 6 and 7
contain saddiq. The first words in vv. 8-10 are ‘anse, ‘is,
and ‘anse. In addition vv. 8-9 have hakamin-hakam.
Assonance is present in yesabbehenna-maqsib in vv. 11-12,
and both verses share kol. Resa’ im-ras link vv. 12-13.
Verses 13-14 are connected because they contain different
words for the poor. And there is assonance between vv. 14-
15 in ‘emet-‘immo.13
The common theme in the third section is wisdom. The
term "wisdom" or "a wise man" occurs five times in this section.
These words are sporadic elsewhere in chapters 28 and 29.
Verses 3 and 15 form an inclusio for this section centering
around wisdom in the family setting. If a prospective ruler is
going to be righteous, he must be wise.
The section breaks down into three divisions (excluding vv.
3 and 15 which form the inclusio for this section). The first
division (vv. 4-7) describes kingly wisdom. Verses 4 and 7 form
an inclusio for this section since royal justice occurs in each
verse. There seems to be a connection between bribery (v. 4)
and flattery (v. 5). The "young man" (v. 5) may refer to a
prospective king (28:3, 21; 30:1). Verses 6 and 7 are bonded by
qyDica. The second division (vv. 8-11) portrays wisdom that is
under control. Lack of control is portrayed by braggers (v. 8),
fools (v. 9), murderers (v. 10), and angry men (v. 11). Various
terms or concepts are repeated ("men-of' -vv. 8, 9; "fool" -vv.
9, 11; "anger" -vv. 8, 11). The third division (vv. 12-14)
develops the concept of kingly wisdom. Verses 12 and 14 form
an inclusio for this division by discussing the king's public
ministry. Verses 12 and 14 refer to the ruler while verses 13
and 14 refer to the poor. The structural similarity of the first
and last verses within each division is as follows:
vv. 4, 7 Saying: positive/negative; complementary antithetical
vv. 8, 11 Saying: negative/positive; complementary antithetical
vv. 12, 14 Saying: negative/consequence/negative; consequential
Saying: positive/consequence/positive; consequential
The third section is clarified by the following model.
v. 3 -Wisdom in the family setting
vv. 4-7 -Kingly wisdom
vv. 8-11 -Wisdom under control
vv. 12-14 -Kingly wisdom
v. 15 -Wisdom in the family setting
The last section (29: 17-26) of the collection focuses on
verbal speech (17-24) and Jehovah's prominence over men (25,
26). If the prospective ruler is to be righteous and promote
righteousness, he must submissively adhere to this instruction.
Malchow elaborates upon the internal unity by focusing on the
author's assonance and word-links.
Pasa’-napseka bind vv. 16-17. Verses 17-19 are related by
bin'ka-be’en-we’en. In vv. 19-21, there is the series
abed-bidbarayw-‘abdo. Bidbarayw in v. 20 also connects
with bidbarim in v. 19. The last words in vv. 19-21
constitute another series between these verses: macaneh-
mimmennu-manon. Manon in v. 21 also provides a link with
madon in v. 22. Verses 22-23 are united by two different
words for man and the pair uba’al-usepal. Taspilennu
usepal in v. 23 corresponds to sone’napso in v. 24. There
is assonance between yaggid in v. 24 and yesuggab in v. 25,
Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 13
and both verses begin with the letter het. Moqes in v. 25
relates to mebaqsim and mosel in v. 26....14
Verbal speech is delineated in vv. 17-24. Terms such as
“discipline” (vv. 17, 19), “there is no” (vv. 18, 19), “slave” (vv.
19, 21), and “words” (vv. 19, 20) are used in this section.
Verses 17, 18 emphasize the importance of proper speech from
a father to a son (v. 17) and from God to a people (v. 18). Both
are necessary for success and righteousness. Verses 19-23
describe wrong speech. Wrong speech includes advising or
pampering a slave (vv. 19, 21), being hasty with words (v. 20),
releasing anger due to a proud heart (vv. 22, 23), and refusing
to speak when one should (v. 24).
Verses 25 and 26 describe Jehovah's prominence over men.
What could capstone this collection better than focusing on
Jehovah who is behind all human affairs? The key word linking
these 2 verses together is "Jehovah." The author petitions the
courtier to trust God rather than fear men (v. 25), and to realize
that justice comes from God not from manipulating judges (v.
26). A working model of this section is as follows:
vv. 17-24 Verbal speech
vv. 17-18 Necessary speech
vv. 19-24 Improper speech
vv. 25-26 Jehovah's prominence
Verse 27 concludes the collection by reiterating the dichotomy I
between the righteous and wicked.
By way of conclusion, this writer has sought to analyze
chapters 28 and 29 of Proverbs. Although some of the specific
development within each section is subject to debate, there are
some clear literary styles and structures used in this collection
which seem to be more than mere coincidence. It would appear
that the author is petitioning prospective rulers to submit to
God's standard of righteousness, to see the opposition between
righteousness and wickedness, and to understand the
consequences of right or wrong living for himself and his people.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: email@example.com