Many scholars call Proverbs 10:1-22:16 the first collection of Solomon’s Proverbs. It is the second part of the book of Proverbs. And it begins like the first half in order to highlight the continuity of what follows with what has preceded these pithy sayings. Like Proverbs 1:1, the subtitle of Proverbs 10:1 begins, ”The proverbs of Solomon.” Like the first speech in part I (Proverbs 1:8ff), the first pithy saying in part II begins by appealing to the father and mother: ”A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother” (Proverbs 10:1b). This suggests that these pithy sayings are wisdom nuggets that the parents teach their son. These pithy sayings are of many different kinds including observations, encouragements, advice, prohibitions, warnings, and etc. Longman argues, ”these proverbs have no overarching arrangement but are rather random.” This leads him to comment on verses individually and only to sparingly mention the surrounding context. This belief has led many to seek to systematize the proverbs by sorting them by topic. Then the interpreter can then read all of the verses about the tongue, for example. One professor at WTS would regularly assign to his students the task of outlining the proverbs. Any student that tried to do so would very quickly become aware of the (seeming?) impossibility of doing so. Waltke, on the other hand, observes that often there is a reason that one proverb is next to another or that they even form mini-collections. In this post we will explore Proverbs 10 with these different theories in mind, testing the latter.
Take, for example, Proverbs 10:1b-5. Proverbs 10:1b answers Proverbs 10:5. Thus Proverbs 10:1 gives us the antithesis of the wise/foolish son and Proverbs 10:5 of the prudent/shameful son. Proverbs 10:2-5 concern the theme of wealth and wisdom. As Waltke helpfully points out Proverbs 10:1b-5 fits an alternating pattern of virtue (+) and vice (-). The pattern is as follows: +- (10:1b), -+ (10:2), +- (10:3), -+ (10:4), +- (10:5). Such a pattern is clearly intentional, which suggests that maybe they should not be read in isolation from one another. Better yet, we are meant to see verses one and five as an inclusio: +-, +-. But also to see the chiastic structure of verses 2-3 and 4-6 as -++- and -++-.
As to the first chiasm: Proverbs 10:2-3 show us that the righteous will be saved and the wicked will be stopped. Despite the many people who see Proverbs as secular wisdom, the stated reason the righteous will be saved is that YHWH will reward the righteous but stop the craving of the wicked. Seeing the chiastic structure of Proverbs 10:2-3 will help you to understand the larger point: Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit (10:2a) because YHWH thwarts the craving of the wicked (10:3b). And righteousness delivers from death (10:2b) because YHWH does not let the righteous go hungry (10:3a). But these points were originally made using antithetical parallelisms (contrasting lines of wickedness 10:2a, righteousness 10:2b; and righteous 10:3a, wicked 10:3b). To be sure one may stick to the immediate verse and learn much wisdom, but these proverbs are next to each other to make a larger point.
As to the second chiasm: Proverbs 10:4-5 then give us what we might call practical theology – as Waltke says – the righteous work diligently (v.4) and at the right time (v.5). By contrast the wicked are slackers and they sleep when they should be working (harvest time). A son sleeping at harvest time brings shame upon his family, implying the prudent son brings honor to his family. Within Proverbs 10:4-5 we have the outer frame of poverty and shame and the internal frame of wealth and prudence. We could say more about the bigger picture, but I want to note a couple of important poetic features in these two verses. Verse four gives us a good example of a poetic device: synecdoche (part stands for the whole). This despite the ESV rendering of the two Hebrew words in verse 4 both as ”hand.” The palm stands for the lazy person (v.4a). However, the hand of the diligent person (v.4b) stands for the diligent person. Waltke also notes the following concerning verse 5 that gets lost in translation: ”word repetition in conjunction with sound pattern reinforces the sharp antitheses of the portraits in this proverb.”
Proverbs 10:6-14 is the next subunit of text. Waltke shows that the unit has ”two equal halves of four antithetical proverbs (vv.6-9, 11-14) around a janus pivot (v.10).” Take note that the mouth is mentioned in verses 6, 11 and 14. Thus the mention of the mouth in verses 6 and 14 are an inclusio. And both halves are introduced with mention to the mouth. The first verse of each quatrain mentions a body part as does the janus verse – the head and mouth for v.6, the heart and lips (babbling) for verse 8, the eyes and lips (babbling) for v.10, the mouth twice in v.11, and the lips and back in v.13.
Waltke tells us that v.6-9 concern the effects of communication on oneself and v.11-14 on others. Verse 10, the janus verse, does just the opposite.
The opening verses of each half contrast the righteous and wicked (v.6 and 11). This contrast is also made in verse 7. Thus v.6-7, the first quatrain is linked together by the references to the righteous and the wicked. These two verses are also linked by the word ”blessing(s).” The latter is the first word in 6a and the last word in 7a. Note how the parallelism advances between verses 6 and 7. Verse 6 sounds as if it is talking about this life, but verse 7 extends this beyond the death of the person.
My point in sharing these observations is to further encourage you to read the pithy proverbs in their immediate context. Ask yourself, ”Why is this proverb here in this particular place?”
Proverbs 10:15-16 takes us back to the theme of wealth. But these verses are not just randomly placed here. They are linked by the catchword ”terror” in v.14b and 15b (ESV renders as ”ruin” but terror gets at the idea better). Seeing the catchword connection helps us understand that both foolish speech and poverty can be a ”terror.” The verses are also linked by the idea of storing wealth. The wealth to be laid up in v.14 is knowledge and the wealth stored by the rich man in v.15 is literally wealth.
Also the placement of v.16 next to v.15 prevents v.15 from being read out of context. Out of context we might value the security of wealth too much. In context, we see that true security is in relationship with YHWH.
Note also the similarity of verses 2 and 16 perhaps marking a larger section. In verse 2, treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. In verse 16, the wage of the righteous leads to life, the gain of the wicked to sin.
Waltke calls Proverbs 10:17 ”a single rearing proverb.” Proverbs 10:1b was also a single rearing proverb. Thus as Proverbs 10:1 (which in large part stood alone) introduced the first section (Proverbs 10:1-16), now Proverbs 10:17 introduces a new section. ”Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17). Proverbs 10:1 focuses on the effect of the son on his parents, whereas Proverbs 10:17 focuses on the effect of the son on others.
Note this theme we have seen already – the fool leads others astray. It is also linked to the previous verse by the word life. Proverbs are next to each other on purpose.
Returning to the theme of heeding instruction contrasted with rejecting reproof allows Proverbs to transition back to the theme of speech. The rest of the chapter involves this theme.
The next two quatrains mention the lips (10:18, 19) and tongue/lips (10:20, 21). The lips and tongue are metonymies (one thing that stands for another) for speech.
One thing lost in translation in 10:18 is the repetition of s sounds. It has been suggested that this means to help us hear the hissing of the slanderer Satan.
Concerning Proverbs 10:19 it is important to remember that sin does not stop simply because the person stopped speaking. But the prudent person does restrain his lips.
Waltke shows that Proverbs 10:22-32 follows an alternating pattern as follows:
A. YHWH saying + ”add” (v.22)
B. Joy (”laughter”) (v.23-24)
C. Righteous secure ”forever” (v.25b
A’ YHWH saying + ”add” (v.27)
B’ Joy (”joy”) (v.28-29)
C’ Righteous secure ”forever” (v.30a)
Notice again how the proverbs develop from now to ”forever.”
Proverbs 10:31-32 are closely connected verses. The A versets share the catchword ”righteous,” the B versets share the catchword ”perversities,” speech organs open each verset with the mouth making an inclusio of these (mouth, tongue, lips, mouth), and each has the same Hebrew syntax.
In any case, the subject of speech is a huge concern in Proverbs. Words can reveal what is in the heart and thus point to eternity.