Andrews University Seminary Studies, Autumn 1996, Vol. 34, No.2, 319-336.

                    Copyright © 1996 by Andrews University Press.  Cited with permission.




                                                         BRUCE WALTKE

                                          Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies

                                                             Regent College

                                                             Vancouver, BC

                                                           Canada V6T 2E4 I



      This essay, "Does the Book of Proverbs Promise Too Much?" is

poignantly fitting in this memorial volume to Professor Hasel, who

exemplified both in his life and in his scholarship the highest Christian

ideals. The untimely death of one of the finest Old Testament scholars

makes the Book of Proverbs' heavenly promises seem detached from

earth's reality.

      Evangelicals confess the Book of Proverbs' inspiration and

intellectually assent to its authority, but emotionally many cannot take

the book seriously because its promises seem removed from the harsh

reality of their experience. Provo 3:1-12 brings the problem into sharp

focus. I will divide this essay into four parts: (1) translation; (2) poetics;

(3) theological reflection on the problem, "does it promise too much,"

and finally (4) exposition of 3:5.


1. Translation

3: 1 My son, do not forget my teaching,

       and let your heart guard my commandments;

3:2 for length of days and years of life,

      and peace they will add to you.

3:3 Kindness and reliability let them not leave you,

      bind them upon your throat;

3:4 and find favor and good repute,

      in the eyes of God and humankind.

3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

       and in your own understanding do not rely;

3:6 in all your ways know him,

      and he will make your paths straight.

3:7 Do not be wise in your own eyes,

      fear the Lord and depart from evil;

3:8 healing let there be to your navel,



320                 SEMINARY STUDIES 34 (AUTUMN 1996)


       and refreshment to your bones.

3:9 Honor the Lord from your wealth,

      from the first fruits of all your produce;

3:10 and your granaries will be filled with plenty,

        and with new wine your vats will overflow.

3:11 The discipline of the Lord, my son, do not reject,

         and do not loathe his rebuke;

3:12 because whom the Lord loves he rebukes

        even as a father the son in whom he delights.


2. Poetics

       The encomium to wisdom in 3:1-12 is distinguished from that in

2:1-22: (1) by the renewed address, "my son" (cf. 2:1, 3:1); (2) by the

change of form on the syntactic level from a lengthy protasis (2: 1-4) and

very expanded apodosis (vv. 5-22) to six strophes essentially consisting

of admonitions in the odd verses (3:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11) and to

argumentation in the even (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12); and (3) by changing the

theme on the paradigmatic level from admonitions to embrace the

father's teaching (2:1-4) in order to find piety (2:5-8) and ethics (2:9-11),

and so be protected against the fatal voices and ways of apostate men

(2:12-15) and women (2:16-19), to admonitions to accept the teaching

(3:1) and embrace ethics (3:3) and piety (3:5, 7, 9) in order to obtain

palpable physical and social benefits.

      This teaching is even more strongly anchored in God than chap. 2.

First, the admonitions progress from the typical introduction, to keep

the father's teaching (v. 1), to the command not to abandon covenant

love and fidelity (v. 3), to establishing and retaining a relationship with

God: trust the Lord (v. 5), to be humble before God (i.e., not to be wise

in one's own eyes and so think and behave impiously and wickedly) (v.

7), to honor the Lord (v. 9), and not to reject the Lord's correction (v.


      Newsom argues that by these six strophes or quatrains the father

anchors his teachings even more strongly in Israel's transcendent God.1

The father begins, she observes, using the parallel, "my law" and "my

commands," that "has resonances of God's torah and miswot to Israel

and so subtly positions the father in association with divine authority."

His appeals to have a right relationship with God (vv. 5-12) parallel, she

further observes, "in structure and motivation the father's call for

obedience to himself in 2:1-4." Finally, she notes, "it comes as no

surprise that. ..the passage concludes in v. 12 with the metaphor of


     1 Carol A. Newsom, "Woman and the Discourse of Patriarchal Wisdom: A Study

of Proverbs 1-9," in Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel, ed. Peggy L. Day

(Minneapolis: Fonress, 1989), 149-151.

WALTKE:  DOES PROVERBS PROMISE TOO MUCH?                       321


God as a father reproving his son."

       In theological terms, the admonitions in the odd verses of 3:1-12

present the obligations of the son, the human covenant partner; the

argumentation in the even verses shows the obligations of the Lord, the

divine covenant partner. The human partner has the responsibility to

keep ethics and piety, and the divine partner the obligation to bless his

worshiper with peace, prosperity, and longevity.

       The argumentation for keeping the Lord's commands is based on

the tangible rewards that only he can give: long life and peace (v. 2),

favor with God and humanity (v. 4), a smooth path (v. 6), psychological

and physical health (v. 8), abundant harvests (v. 10), and a heavenly

father's love (v. 12).


       We can outline the pericope as follows:

     Admonition                                                 Argumentation

1. Keep my commands                                 2. Life and peace

3. Don't let go of unfailing love                   4. Favor with God and people

5. Trust the Lord                                            6. Straight path

7. Don't be wise in own eyes                        8. Healing

9. Honor the Lord                                         10. Prosperity

11. Don't reject the Lord's discipline          12. The Lord loves you


       Overland notes, after the introductory strophe which sequences a

negative and a positive command, the alternation between negative

commands in vv. 3, 7, 11 and of positive admonitions in vv. 5, 9.2

The last strophe distinguishes itself from the preceding by renewing

the address, "my son," and by changing the argumentation from

promising tangible benefits to explaining that God's love finds

expression in discipline. Its syntax and content, however, show it is part

of the poem (cf. 5:20), not an introduction with an imperative to hear

the teaching (cf. 1:8, 10; 2:1; 3:1, 21; 4:1, 10, 20; 5:1; 6:1, 20; 7:1).

According to McKane, in Egyptian instruction "my son" may also be

resumptive.3 Overland notes that the two pairs of identical terms, found

only in initial vv. 1-2 and terminal vv. 11-12, constitute an inclusio for

this block of material; namely, beni, "my son" (vv. 1, 11), and ki,

"for/because" (vv. 2, 12).4


     2Paul B. Overland, "Literary Structure in Proverbs 1-9" (Ph.D. dissertation, Brandeis

University, 1988), 87.

     3Williarn McKane, Proverbs: A New Approach, in The Old Testament Library, ed. Peter

Ackroyd and others (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), 289.

      40verland, 79.

322                 SEMINARY STUDIES 34 (AUTUMN 1996)


3. Theological Reflection

The palpable rewards to which the gracious Lord obliges himself in

the even verses of 3:1-10 confront us with the theological problem, "Do

they promise too much? When applied to ordinary members of the

covenant community, the interpreter of the text and of life may try to

resolve the tension by explaining that the problem lies in the human

partner s failure to keep the commands, not in the Lord s failure to

keep his obligations. The expositor, with Job's friend Eliphaz, might

,conclude that individuals do not experience these promises because of

original sin: "Can a mortal be righteous before God? Can a man be pure

before his Maker" (cf. Job 4:16-21). As does Job, however, most

expositors, though conceding the problem of original sin, insist that this

is not the reason for the apparently failed promises.

      Their rejection of the facile explanation by the likes of Eliphaz is

validated by the life of Jesus Christ. Though without sin, he apparently

did not enjoy these promises. Instead of enjoying long life, he died in

the prime of life. Instead of enjoying favor with God and man, on the

cross he lamented, "my God, my God, why did you forsake me" (Matt

27:46), as the crowds jeered, "He trusts in God to deliver him; let God

rescue him!" (Matt 27:43). Instead of a smooth path he experienced

rejection at birth, escaped the slaughter of the innocent, lived as an exile

in Egypt, confronted hostility every day of his ministry, and ended up

a lonely figure on the cross (cf. Isa 50:4-6). Instead of psychological and

physical health, in the Garden of Gethsemane he experienced such

trauma that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground

(Luke 22:44). On the cross his malefactors so abused him that he no

longer appeared human (cf. Isa 52:14). How can it be said that the

devout have barns overflowing with grain and vats that burst with new

wine, when the Epitome of Wisdom cautioned, "Foxes have holes and

birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his

head" (Matt 8:20)?

       To resolve this obvious tension created by failed covenant promises,

I will reject three false solutions and propose four others to help us

toward a resolution of the problem.


Unacceptable Solutions

       First, I cannot accept that Solomon was a dullard. He certainly

was no less aware than Job that "God destroys both the blameless and

the wicked. When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair

of the innocent" Gob 9:22-23).

       The sage is characterized by astute observation and reflection. Note

how he composes his proverb in 24:30-34:



I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who

lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was

covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my

heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A

little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest-and

poverty will come on you like a vagrant and scarcity like an armed


His laboratory was the field of the sluggard, "I went past the field of the

sluggard," and his method, scientific (i.e, astute observation and cogent

reflection), "I applied my heart to what I observed." Observing that the

inedible growth of thorns replaced the edible and that chaos replaced

the diligently constructed cosmos, he drew the conclusion that some

hostile power informed the fallen creation and that this deadly hostile

force, if not overcome by wisdom, had the same damaging effects as a

bandit plundering a man's house. Surely a person with these powers of

observations and reflection knew with Qoheleth that under the sun:

all share a common destiny-the righteous and the wicked, the good

and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and

those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as

it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take

them (Eccl 9:2).

      Another solution unacceptable to me is that these promises are

false, not true. Nonevangelical academics, tend to pit the optimism of

the so-called older wisdom represented in the Book of Proverbs against

the pessimism of the so-called younger, reflective wisdom represented

in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. Von Rad, for example, says:

The most common view of the radical theses of Koheleth has been to

see in them a counter-blow to older teachings which believed, too

'optimistically', or better, too realistically, that they could see God at

work in experience. . . . According to the prevailing point of view, it

would appear as if he were turning only against untenable statements,

as if he were challenging a few, no longer justifiable sentences which

presented the divine as too rational and too obvious a phenomenon.

Such sentences may in fact have existed. . . . This explanation breaks

down, however, for the reason that Koheleth is turning against not

only outgrowths of traditional teaching but the whole undertaking.

. . Anyone who agrees with him in this can scarcely avoid the

conclusion that the whole of old wisdom has become increasingly

entangled in a single false doctrine [italics mine].5

       William James agrees: "But the tradition that he [Qoheleth] knows

is more of a foil for him than anything else; his use of gnomic forms,


       5 Gerhard Von Rad, Wisdom in Israel (London: SCM, 1972),233.

324                 SEMINARY STUDIES 34 (AUTUMN 1996)


for example, is often in order to contradict traditional wisdom [italics

mine]."6 He also said of Qoheleth: "His primary literary mode of

representing the paradox of the human situation is the citation of

contrasting proverbs, some of which may be his own aphorisms, is in

order to contradict traditional wisdom [italics mine]."7

       This common academic solution is not open to me--as it would

also have been unacceptable to Professor Gerhard Hasel--because it

undermines sound theology, which must be based on the integrity and

trustworthiness of Scripture. Paul said that "all Scripture"--including

Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes--"is God breathed" (2 Tim 3:16). Yet if

Job and Qoheleth contradict Proverbs, we are left with God

contradicting himself and speaking what makes no rational sense (i.e.,

nonsense). Moreover, our Lord, who himself on the cross does not seem

to have experienced these promises, trusted this book. The Book of

Proverbs was part of the Scriptures which he said "cannot be broken"

John 10:35). Indeed the apostles use the Book of Proverbs about sixty

times as sacred Scripture.

        A third solution not open to me is that the argumentation in the

even verses of 3:1-10 presents probabilities, not 'promises: As we shall off

see, there is an element of truth in this explanation, but it formulates

the solution badly.

       As noted, the odd verses of our text set forth the obligations of the it

human covenant partners; the even, those of the divine. Now does

sound theology countenance that the human partner must keep his

obligations perfectly, but not the divine partner? How unlike the

faithful Lord to command his people to trust in the Lord with all

their heart "and lean not" on their own understanding, and not obligate

himself to "make their paths smooth." Rather, even "if we are faithless

he will remain faithful" (2 Tim 3:13).

       Moreover, if it were a matter of probabilities, then I for one want

to know the odds. If these arguments are true 99 percent of the time,

the audience would be well advised to keep the command to "not forget

the teaching and to keep his commands in our heart"; but if they are

true only 51 percent of the time, then maybe it is not worth the

sacrifice and the effort to keep the human obligation.

      Finally, how can the human partner trust in the Lord with a whole

heart, when there is uncertainty as to the Lord's keeping his part of the


      These three solutions-that the sage is a dullard, presents false


        6 James G. William, Those Who Ponder Proverbs (Sheffield: Almond, 1981), 53.

        7 Ibid., 60.



teachings, or states probabilities, not verities-are not acceptable for me.


Acceptable Solutions

       Let us now turn to four solutions that I find helpful. First, most

would agree that these promises are partially realized in our

experience. Though keeping the proverbs does not guarantee "success"

under the sun, nevertheless, experience often vindicates them. The sober

(23:29-35), the diligent (10:4-5), the sexually moral (26:23-28), the

peaceful, and the wise in general-not the drunkard, the sluggard, the

sexually unclean, the hot-tempered, and the fool-enjoy abundant life

and peace.

     The sluggard, for example, as represented in Prov 24:30-34, does not

enjoy longevity, social esteem, smooth sledding, health, and prosperity.

The same applies to the drunkard:


Who has woe? Who has sorrow?

    Who has strife? Who has complaints?

    Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?

Those who linger over wine,

   who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.

Do not gaze at wine when it is red,

   when it sparkles in the cup.

   when it goes down smoothly!

In the end it bites like a snake

   and poisons like a viper.

Your eyes will see strange sights.

   and your mind imagine confusing things.

            You will be like one sleeping on the high seas,

   lying on top of the rigging.

'They hit me,' you will say, 'but I'm not hurt?

   They beat me, but I don't feel it!

When will I wake up

   so I can find another drink?' (Proverbs 23:29-35).

     Second, we need to take into consideration the epigrammatic

nature of proverbs. Individual proverbs express truth, but, restricted by

the aphorism's demand for terseness, they cannot express the whole

truth. By their very nature they are partial utterances which cannot

protect themselves by qualifications. Von Rad rightly said:

It is of the nature of an epigram that a truth is expressed with the

greatest concentration on the subject-matter and with a disregard of

any presuppositions, attendant circumstances, etc. In the case of a

sentence from antiquity, [how easily] can one reach the point where

the meaning of a sentence is falsified for the simple reason that one

has lost sight of ideological and religious facts which were constitutive

326                 SEMINARY STUDIES 34 (AUTUMN 1996)


for the sentence.8

Because of this stylistic constraint, proverbs must be read holistically,

within the total collection. The character-act-consequence nexus (i.e.,

you reap what you sow) represented in the strophes of our text must

be modified by proverbs that qualify the nexus. The "better-than

proverbs" (e.g., 15:16-17; 16:8, 19; 17:1; 19:22b; 22:1; 28:6) link

righteousness with poverty and wickedness with wealth and so make it

perfectly plain that piety and morality do not invariably lead

immediately to social and physical benefits. Moreover, many proverbs

recognize the failures of justice. Van Leeuwen notes: "There are many

sayings that assert or imply that the wicked prosper. . . while the

innocent suffer"9 (e.g., 10:2; 11:16; 13:23; 14:31; 15:25; 18:23; 21:6, 7,13;

19:10; 22:8, 22; 23:17; 28:15-16a, 27). Too many scholars fail to

recognize the restraints of these counter-proverbs. Insisting the book of

Proverbs teaches a tidy dogmatism of morality and piety, these scholars

pit the so-called unrealistic sayings of Proverbs, such as the five strophes

in Prov 3:1-10, against the realism of Qoheleth and Job, thereby easily

discrediting the former. This solution regarding the epigrammatic nature

of proverbs must be held in connection with the next two arguments;

otherwise, it would appear to reinforce the solution that the proverbs

present probabilities, not guarantees.

      Third, the Book of Proverbs teaches Israel's youth the "A, B, Cs"

of morality. Solomon kept before them the end of the matter, how it

all turns out, not the temporary exceptions when the wicked prosper

and the righteous suffer. The future will ultimately validate the

character-act-consequence nexus, turning the present, often upside-down

world right (cf. 11:4,7, 18, 21, 23, 28; 12:7, 12; 15:25; 17:5; 19:17; 20:2,

21; 21:6-7, 22:8-9, 16; 23:17-18; 24:20). The genre-effect of Proverbs, in

contrast to that of Job and Ecclesiastes, is clearly brought out in 24: 15-


Do not lie in wait like an outlaw against a righteous man's house,

     do not raid his dwelling place;

for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again,

     but the wicked are brought down by calamity. (Prov 24:15-16)

The concessive clause, "though a righteous man falls seven times,"

assumes that righteous people come to ruin. Seven, recall, is the number

of perfection, of completeness. To paraphrase the proverb, "The

righteous may be knocked out for the count of ten." However, the


     8 Von Rad, 32.

     9 Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, "Wealth and Poverty: System and Contradiction in

Proverbs," Hebrew Studies 33 (1992): 29.



proverb throws that reality away in a concessive clause, rushing ahead

to how it all turns out: namely, "he rises again." Job and Qoheleth,

however, have a different focus, a different genre effect. They are

concerned with events under the sun and focus on the righteous man

flattened on the mat for the count of ten; they do not focus on his

rising, though they do not rule that out. To recast the proverb into

their genre, it would reverse the concessive and main clauses, "though

a righteous man rises again, he falls seven times." Proverbs differs from

the younger reflective wisdom because it is presenting the primer on

morality, the way things turn out. The wisdom books differ

fundamentally due to this genre effect.

      Fourth and finally, the future beyond the temporarily failed

promises outlasts clinical death (see 2:21-22). To be sure, the future is

not accessible to, verification, as Gladson notes critically,10 but without

faith in the ethical God who controls the future, one cannot please

God. If one can live by sight in realized promises, not by faith in God

to fulfill them, why is there need to command, "Trust in the Lord"


       Before turning to three or four proverbs that teach an immortality

that outlasts death wherein the promises such as those found in the

argumentation of 3:1-10 find their fulfillment, let us note that the

argument of the book implies such a perspective. The book's second

pericope (1:10-19) after its preamble (1:1-7) and first pericope to heed the

teaching (1:8-9), represents innocent blood going to a premature death

at the hand of thugs:

My son, if sinners entice you,

      do not give in to them,

If they say, 'Come along with us; let's lie in wait for someone's blood,

     let's waylay some innocent soul;

let's swallow them alive, like the grave,

     and whole, like those who go down to the pit;

we will get all sorts of valuable things

     land fill our houses with plunder;

throw in your lot with us,

      and we will share a common purse. . .' (1:11-14).

"Blood" in 10a and "innocent" in 10b are parts of a broken stereotype

phrase; together they refer to innocent blood. Admittedly, Solomon

does not represent the innocent as actually being dispatched to a

premature death, but he unquestionably assumes the possibility as real.

On the other hand, the inspired king clearly and repeatedly teaches that


    10Jerry Allen Gladson, "Retributive Paradoxes in Proverbs 10-29- (Ph.D. dissertation,

Vanderbilt University, 1978).

328                 SEMINARY STUDIES 34 (AUTUMN 1996)


the Lord will cause the righteous to triumph over the wicked: "When

a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies to

surrender to him" (16:7). In order for the innocent-such as righteous

Abel, who are dispatched to a premature death-to triumph over the

wicked, their victory must take place in a future that outlasts Sheol.

Since the biblical doctrine of retribution fails to reflect human

experience, Farmer rightly says that "one either has to give up the idea

of justice or one has to push its execution into some realm beyond the

evidence of human experience."11 However, this doctrine came to full

light only through the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Tim 1:10).

      We now turn to consider three or four texts that explicitly teach


       Proverbs 12:28 reads: "In t4e path of righteousness is life, in the

course of its byways is immortality." This synthetic parallel, which

concludes the pericope of chap. 12, expresses in a creative and intensive

way that the righteous retain a relationship with God forever. Here we

need to define "life" in verset a, and defend the translation

"immortality" in verset b.

       Hayyim, "life," in 12:28a occurs thirty-three times in the book, and

the verb haya, "to live," four times. After analyzing its uses W. Cosser

draws the conclusion that "life" in the Canonical Wisdom Literature

sometimes has a technical significance, viz., the fuller, more satisfying

way of living to be enjoyed by those who 'seek Wisdom and find her,'

a sense which can best be rendered in English by some such phrase as

'full life,' 'fullness of life,' 'life indeed."'12 In Egyptian instruction, which

shares many points of continuity with Proverbs, life entails eternal life

beyond clinical death. Its schools were called schools of Life.'13

Solomon gives us no reason to think that his concept of life was any

less eternal.11

       In biblical theology "full" life is essentially a relationship with God.

According to Gen 2: 17 disruption of the proper relationship with the

One who is the source of life means death. Wisdom is concerned with

this proper relationship and so with this kind of life. God continues

forever to be the God of the wise, delivering them from the realm of

death (see 10:2). Jesus Christ regarded life in the same way. In his

argument against the Sadducees, who denied resurrection, he said: "But


     11Kathleen A. Farmer, Who Knows What Is Good? A Commentary on Proverbs and

Ecclesiastes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 206.

      12 William Cosser, "The Meaning of 'Life' (Hayyim) in Proverbs, Job, and

Ecclesiastes," Glasgow University Oriental Socity Transactions 15 (1955): 51-52.

     13Causse, Les Disperses d'Israel, 115, cited by Cosser, 52.



about the resurrection of the dead-have you not read what God said

to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of

Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living" (Matthew

22:32). Clinical death is only a shadow along the trail in the relationship

of the wise with the living God.

     Death in Proverbs is the eternal opposite of this full life. The

wisdom teachers never describe the wicked as being in the realm of light

and life; rather they are in the realm of darkness and death, a state of

being already dead, because they have no relationship with the living

God though they are not yet clinically dead. The texts predicting the

eternal death of the wicked do not refer to a premature clinical death.14

For example, the father's caution to his son not to apostatize because,

"at the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are

spent" (Prov 5:11), implies a normal life-span.

      In sum, death and life are eternal states that extend from the present

into the eternal future. The condition of the righteous lies before the

Lord (see Prov 15:11; 16:2 [ = 21:2]), who admits them into the realm

of eternal fellowship with him (cf. 2:19; 3:18,22; 10:11). The wise in the

book of Proverbs enjoy an unending relationship with the living God.

We now turn to defend the gloss, "immortality" in 12:28b. All the

ancient versions and more than twenty medieval codices read "unto

death" ('el mawet), not "immortality" ('al mawet), the text of the great

majority of codices within the Masoretic tradition. Text-critical,

philological, contextual, and theological arguments favor the majority

reading of the Masoretic text.

       Regarding the text, three factors must be borne in mind. First, the

phrase 'al mawet is a hapax legomenon, and so the more difficult reading

to explain away. Second, the reading of the versions demands that one

emend "byways" netiba as well. Third, one cannot account for 'al, the

negative verbal particle, before a noun unless rooted firmly in a reliable

oral tradition: "A complex body of evidence indicates the MT could

not, in any serious or systematic way, represent a reconstruction or

faking of the data."15 In cases involving the oral tradition, the Masoretic

text is preferred to the ancient versions.16

       From a philological point of view, we note that though this phrase

is otherwise unattested m biblical Hebrew, it is attested in the

Northwest Semitic languages from mid-second millennium B.C. to


       14C. H. Toy, Proverbs, ICC (Edinburgh: T. T. Clark, 1977), 48.

       15Bruce K. Waltke and M. P. O'Connor, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax

(Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 26, par. 1.6.31.


330                 SEMINARY STUDIES 34 (AUTUMN 1996)


Mishnaic Hebrew.  Even-Shoshan lists the term as an ordinary word for

"immortality" in postbiblical Jewish sources. Moreover, the term also

denotes immortality in a Ugaritic text (ca. 1400 B.C.).17 The combined

evidence, says Sawyer, "indicat[es] a remarkable continuity of meaning

from second Millenium [sic] B.C. Syria to the post-biblical Jewish


      From the contextual point of view one expects a synthetic, not

antithetic, parallel.19 Blocks of proverbs m the A Collection (proverbs

10-15) regularly end in the rare synonymous parallelism, and a new

block begins with an aphorism pertaining to the teachability of the wise

and the incorrigibility of fools. The relationship of 12:28 to 13:1 exactly

matches that of 11:31 and 12:1. Delitzsch agrees:

The proverb xii.28 is so sublime, so weighty, that it manifestly forms

a period and conclusion. This is confirmed from the following

proverb, which begins like x.1 (cf. 5), and anew stamps the collection

as intended for youth!20


      Theologically, the book of Proverbs consistently implies the

immortality of the righteous (see 2:19; 10:2,16; 11:4,19; 12:3,7, 12, 19);

its explicit expression here is no surprise: Delitzsch comments: "Nothing

is more natural than that the Chokma in its constant contrast between

life and death makes a beginning of expressing the idea of the athanasia

[i.e., 'without death,]."21 The doctrine is stated even more clearly in the

Wisdom of Solomon: "for righteousness is immortal (1:15); "God

created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own

eternity" (2:23). "

       Another verse that more explicitly teaches the righteous have a

future that outlasts death is Prov 14:32: "The wicked person is thrown

down by his own evil, but the righteous is one who takes refuge in the

Lord when he dies."

       Although "wicked" and "righteous" are precise antithetical parallels,

"thrown down by his own evil" and "takes refuge in the Lord" are not.


     17The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Ludwig Koehler, Walter

Baumgartner and others, trans. and ed. under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson

collaboration with G. J. Jongeling-Vos and L. J. De Regt (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 1:48.

     18J .F .A. Sawyer, "The Role of Jewish Studies in Biblical Semantics" in Scripta Singa

Vocis: Studies about Scripts, Scriptures, Scribs and Languages in the Near East, ed. H.

Vanstiphout and others (Groningen: Forsten, 1986),204-205.

    19Against McKane, 451.

    20Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon, trans. from the

German by M. G. Easton (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, n.d.), 1.269.




These ideas need to be projected appropriately into their antithetical

parallels. In sum, the wicked, who perish through their evil, do not

trust in the Lord when dying; and the righteous, who trust in the Lord

when dying, are not thrown down by evil. Thus the proverb

admonishes the disciples to show community loyalty and not to be

guilty of antisocial behavior because of their radically opposed


      However, here too we face a textual problem. Instead of the reading

"when he dies" bemoto, the LXX reads o[ de>  pepoiqw>j t^?  e[autou?  o[sio<thti

di<kaioj, "the righteous is one who trusts in his holiness," which is

retroverted as betummo (cf. 1 Kings 14:41; 3 Kings 9:4). The difference

in the unvocalized text involves the slight metathesis from bmtw, "when

he dies" (MT) to btmw, "in his integrity" (LXX).

      The resolution of this textual problem is found in a lexical study of

hoseh, glossed here as "the one who takes refuge in the Lord." This qal

active participle derives from the same root as the noun translated

"refuge" in 14:26. In an antithetical parallel similar to this one, the Lord

says: "A mere breath will blow [the idols] away, but the man who

makes me his refuge [hahoseh] will inherit the land" (Isa 57:13).

     The root hsh occurs 37 times in the Old Testament and always with

the meaning "to seek refuge," never "to have a refuge" (pace NIV) or "to

find a refuge" (pace NRSV). Thirty-four times, not counting Prov 14:32b,

it is used more or less explicitly with reference to taking refuge in

God/the Lord or under the shadow of his wings (cf. Prov 30:5). The

two exceptions are Isa 14:32 and 30:2, but these two exceptions prove

the rule. In Isa 14:32 the afflicted take refuge in Zion, a surrogate for

God. In Isa 30:2 the prophet gives the expression an exceptional

meaning because he uses sarcasm: lahsot besel misrayim, "to take refuge

in the shadow of Egypt." His intended meaning is that the Jerusalemites

should have sought refuge In the Lord, not In Egypt.

     The qal participle of hsh or hsh in a relative clause always denotes

a devout worshiper, "one who seeks refuge In the Lord. One other

time besides Prov 14:32b the qal participle is used absolutely: "Show the

wonder of your love, O Savior of those who take refuge (mosia hosim;

Ps 17:7).  NIV here rightly glosses, "Savior of those who take refuge in

you." Gamberoni22 agrees that the qal participle of hsh has the same

"religio-ethical" sense in Prov 14:32b as in Ps 17:7.. O. Ploger and A.

Meinhold independently also reached the conclusion that YHWH is

always the stated or unstated object of hoseh!23 W. McKane, citing A.


     22TDOT,  5:71.

     23Otto Ploger, Spruche Salomos (Proverbia), BKAT 17 (Neukirchen-Vluyn:

332                 SEMINARY STUDIES 34 (AUTUMN 1996)


Barucq (Le Livre des Proverbes), also recognizes this is the meaning of

the Masoretic text.24 In the light of this consistent use of hoseh with the

object "Lord," never "integrity," "to seek refuge in the Lord when he

dies" is far more probable than "to seek refuge in his integrity."

        Not only does this lexical study support the Masoretic text over

against the LXX, but so does the book's overall theology. The book of

Proverbs teaches its audience to trust in the Lord, not in their own

integrity. Prov 3:5 commands, "Trust in the Lord." Likewise the

Prologue to the so-called Thirty Sayings of the Wise asserts: "That your

trust may be in the Lord, I teach you today, even you" (Prov 23:19).

Toy responds against Delitzsch that "seeks a refuge in his righteous"

does not involve self-righteousness. . . , but is simply the general

teaching of Proverbs as "the reward of the righteous."25 If hsh meant "to

find a refuge," the notion of reward could be read into the text; but

since it means "to seek a refuge," it cannot. McKane implicitly confesses

he rejects the MT for dogmatic, not exegetical, reasons: "I do not

believe that the sentence originally asserted this [a belief in the after-

life].26  Against exegetical and theological expectations he follows the

LXX, "But he who relies on his own piety is a righteous man."

Meinhold reluctantly concedes this proverb, which sees a refuge for the

righteous that lies beyond the limits of death, is exceptional.27 In truth,

however, the proverb as witnessed in the MT is entirely consistent with

the historical context of the ancient Near East and with the rest of


      In short, in this proverb ultimate destinies are clearly in view. Even

when dying, the righteous has all the security of a devout worshiper,

but the wicked will find his evil boomerangs on him at that time (see

10:25). Rashi comments: "When the righteous man will die, he is

confident that he will come to the Garden of Eden."

    Finally, we need to take note of the important term' aharit, in

Proverbs 23:17-18 and 24:19-20. Literally it refers to "the end" of

something, and is rightly glossed "future hope" by NIV in these

Proverbs: "Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous

for the fear of the Lord. There is surely a future hope ['aharit] for you,


Neukirchener Verlag, 1984), 176; Arndt Meinhold, Die Sprnche in Zurcher Bibeikommentar

A T (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag), 1:245.

     24McKane, 475.

    25 Toy, 300.

    26 McKane, 475.

    27 Meinhold, 245.



and your hope will not be cut off" (23:17-18). Again, "Do not fret

because of evil men or be envious of the wicked, for the evil man has

no future hope ['aharit], and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed

out" (24:19-20).

        Commenting on this important term in its similar use in Psalm

49:16, Von Rad helpfully notes:

            One can never judge life in accordance with the appearance of the

            moment, but one must keep 'the end' , aharit in view. This important

            term which is so characteristic of thinking which is open to the

            future, cannot always have referred to death. One can also translate

            the word by 'future.' What is meant, therefore is the outcome of a

            thing, the end of an event for which one hopes.28

Commenting on Ps 49:16, he says, "The most likely solution, then, is

to understand the sentence as the expression of a hope for a life of

communion with God which will outlast death."29


                                                4. Exposition of 3:5

     "Trust" bth is a primary term in the human covenant partners

relationship to the Lord. The verb essentially means "to feel secure, be

unconcerned." D. Kidner, citing G. R. Driver, says "the Heb for trust

had originally the idea of lying helplessly face downwards-an idea

preserved in Jer 12:5b (see RSV) and Ps 22:9b (Heb 10)."30 Jepsen notes

aptly: "With an affirmation as to the reason for the security it [bth]

means 'to rely on something, someone.'"31 The preposition "in" 'el in

the phrase "in the Lord" refers to making the Lord the goal or object

of trust.32 The wise trust the Lord who stands behind the book of

Proverbs, not in the proverbs themselves. The promises of proverbs are

no better than God who fulfills them. The Lord, not some impersonal

natural law, upholds the act-consequence nexus (cf. Prov 22:19).

     Von Rad incredibly dismisses the many proverbs that call for trust

in the Lord (3:5; 14:26; 16:3, 20; 18:10; 19:23; 28:25; 29:25; 30:1-14) as

essentially irrelevant. According to him, the wise men did not teach

trust in God, but "something apparently quite different, namely the


            28 Von Rad, 202.

            29 Von Rad, 204.

            30 Derek Kidner, The Proverbs, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries

(Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 1964), 63; citing G. R. Driver, "Difficult Words in the

Hebrew Prophets," in Studies in Old Testament Prophecy, ed. H. H. Rowley

(Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1950), 59.

            31 TDOT, 2:89

            32 Waltke and O'Connor, 193, par. 11.2.2a.



reality and evidence of the order which controls the whole of life, much

as this appeared in the act-consequence relationship. This order was,

indeed, simply there and could, in the last resort, speak for itself."33 His

substitution of  “order" and "act-consequence relationship" for the Lord

has become highly influential in wisdom studies. Some scholars remove

God altogether from involvement in the world, or at best reduce him

to a first cause within a deistic view of reality.  E. F. Huwiler rightly



            In its extreme form, the deed-consequence syndrome removes the deity

            from activity in the world. According to this view, the consequence

            follows the deed of itself, and Yahweh, whose power is limited, is

            directly involved merely as a midwife or a chemical catalyst, although

            indirectly involved as creator, who set into motion the deed-

            consequence syndrome.34


To be sure, many sayings claim a connection between character-act-

consequence, but as Huwiler infers, they do not "presuppose divine

inactivity."35 Ultimately, God upholds that connection.

       The Lord, however, does not uphold a moral order in a tidy

calculus wherein immediately righteousness is rewarded and wickedness

is punished. If that were so, people would confound pleasure with

morality; all would behave righteously for selfish reasons, not out of

pure virtue based on faith, hope, and love. They would substitute

eudaemonism (i.e., the system of thought that bases ethics, moral

obligation, on personal pleasure) for true virtue (cf. Rom 5:2-5; ,1 Pet

1:5-8).  The wise trust the Lord to uphold his ethical proverbs in his

own time and in his own way, even when the wicked prosper and the

righteous suffer.

      Trust in the Lord, however, without definition, is platitudinous; it

cuts no ice in one's thinking unless the Lord revealed himself. Here the

Lord's revelation, which Solomon puts into the covenant parent’s

mouth, is in view. Of his wisdom, Solomon said: "From the Lord

comes wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and

understanding" (Prov 2:6). The parent's mouth is God's mouth. The son

must don the entire armor forged in this book.

      This trust must be exercised entirely, "with all your heart." Since

the Lord alone gives wisdom and, provides protection (2:5-8), one’s

eternal security depends only on him.


     33 Von Rad, 191.

     34 Elizabeth Faith Huwiler, "Control of Reality in Israelite Wisdom" (Ph.D.

dissertation, Duke University, 1988), 64.

     35 Ibid., 68-69.

            WALTKE:  DOES PROVERBS PROMISE TOO MUCH?           335


This reliance must also be exercised exclusively. "Do not lean in

your own understanding" functions as the negative synonym of "trust"

(see nominal form in 1:33). To put it another way, "to rely in/to" is a

figure for "trust" (BDB 1043; cf. Isa 50:10).

      Whoever relies on inadequate human understanding is a fool (26:5,

12; 16:28:26a). Human wisdom is prejudicial, partial, and insecure. As

philosophers are aware, none can know the real world objectively. That

which is known is inescapably relative to the person who does the

knowing. The way we see things is colored by a mix of previous

experiences and stereotypes perpetuated by our families, friends, peers,

movies, and television. Moreover, unaided human reason cannot come

to absolute truth; it is a recipe for disappointment and disaster. And yet

to come to absolute meaning and values, one must know all the facts.

A play does not make full sense as one views only an isolated act or

scene. It is not until the final act, until the last word is spoken and the

curtain drops, that the play takes on its full meaning. Human beings,

however, are confined to the tensions of the middle acts; without

revelation they are not privy to their resolution in the final act (1 Cor

13:12). Moreover, facts are known only in relation to other facts. We

distinguish one object from another by its similarity to some and its

dissimilarity from others. To see any object "truly," one must see all

objects comprehensively. Unaided rationality cannot find an adequate

frame of reference from which to know. C. Van Til noted that to make

an absolute judgment, human beings must usurp God's throne:


            If one does not make human knowledge wholly dependent upon the

            original self-knowledge and consequent revelation of God to man,

            then man will have to seek knowledge within himself as the final

            reference point. Then he will have to seek an exhaustive

            understanding of reality. Then he will have to hold that if he cannot

            attain to such an exhaustive understanding of reality, he has no true

            knowledge of anything at all. Either man must then know everything

            or he knows nothing. This is the dilemma that confronts every form

            of non-Christian epistemology.36

      Finally, this trust must be exercised exhaustively, "in all your ways

know him."


     If the life of Christ came to an end on the cross, the covenant

promises of Proverbs, such as those found in the strophes of 3:1-10,

failed. However, if we pursue the career of Christ to Easter Sunday,


     36Comelius VanTil, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and

Reformed, 1969), 17.

336                 SEMINARY STUDIES 34 (AUTUMN 1996)


then God faithfully fulfilled the obligations he graciously took upon

himself. Today our Lord enjoys life and prosperity. Saints around the

world praise him, and at his name every knee will bow. When we travel

the road from the cross to the tomb to his resurrection and ascension

into heaven, we can say, his is a straight path. As the writer of Hebrews

says of Jesus: "Who for the joy that was set before him endured the

cross, scorning its shame, and sat down on the right hand of God." Let

us then fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Professor Gerhard Hasel modeled this faith.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Andrews University Seminary Studies

SDA Theological Seminary
Berrien Springs
, MI 49104-1500

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: