Proverbs 15:30-22:16 is the second half of the second collection in Proverbs. We will look at the first few units of this half, especially concentrating on the first one because it is an introduction to the whole. It is obvious that there is a change in style and content when we move into these verses. We will also be sure to try to explain some verses (like the metaphor of the “light of the eyes”) that might be unclear.
Waltke does tell us that Proverbs 15:30-22:22 [he must have meant 22:16] is the second half of the larger section that began in Proverbs 10:1. Most of the proverbs before this were antithetical (contrasting parallel lines), now we will see mostly synonymous (parallel lines saying the same thing) and/or synthetic (parallel lines where the next line adds onto the first). (In all three kinds of proverbs the second line is saying “what’s more” in comparison to the first line.)
In addition to the shift in style is a shift in content. One such shift is that now there is much more emphasis on the king of Israel.
Proverbs 15:30-16:15 is the introduction to this second half of the second collection (often called Solomon I). Given its priority and importance we are going to focus on it. Proverbs 15:30-16:15 has its own introduction: Proverbs 15:30-33. This is then followed by two subunits (Proverbs 16:1-9 and 10-15).
Proverbs 15:30-33 consists of two education quatrains. We have seen that educational proverbs are used to mark new sections throughout this collection. Here there are two pairs of education proverbs.
The first pair says, “The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, And good news refreshes the bones. The ear that listens to life-giving reproof Will dwell among the wise.”
These two are linked together by the use of body parts (eyes/heart/bones and ear). In Proverbs “light” and “life” are associated with the wise. “The light of the eyes” is a rare metaphor (cf. The related phrase in Ezra 9:8, Psa 13:3, 19:8, and Prov 29:13). Exploring these verses, the image then of “the light of the eyes” is to say that the person is inwardly full of joy and life. This talk of refreshing the bones means that the whole person is refreshed. The verb for refreshed is literally to be made fat. Refreshed gets at the idea better than the wooden translation of being made fat. Yet we still must see that the bones are a synecdoche for the entire person (not even just their physical body). Likewise then in verse 31, the ear is a synecdoche for the whole person. Where verse 30 was a good example of synonymous parallelism, this one is a synthetic parallelism.
The second pair of educational proverbs are Proverbs 15:32-33. These two have to do with “instruction.” They are linked to the first pair by this idea of listening to reproof.
The second pair says, “Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, But he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of YHWH is instruction in wisdom, And humility comes before honor” (v.32-33).
Normally we would translate this word rendered “intelligence” as “heart,” but here it is “intelligence” or “sense.” The proverb is saying that the person who listens to reproof gets a heart. To get a heart means to get the intelligence or sense (there is no such thing as common sense) you need in order to live. By contrast to despise yourself is to despise your life. The second verse in this pair brings in again the familiar phrase “the fear of YHWH.” Note then that the whole quatrain is to be read together and tells you more about the light of the eyes rejoices the heart.
The two subunits for this introductory section are Proverbs 16:1-9 and 10-15. The first of these subunits is linked by the repetition of the divine name YHWH and the second by the repetition of the word for “king.” These two subunits are very closely linked through the use of catchwords, themes, and interestingly by the places where the repeated keywords are missing – the second to last for the first subunit and the second for the second subunit.
The first subunit is marked off by the inclusio of the words “heart” and “man” in Proverbs 16:1 and 16:9. The word order in Hebrew for Proverbs 16:1 is man then heart, and for Proverbs 16:9 is heart then man. Thus these terms in Hebrew are even in chiastic order – man, heart, heart, man. Moreover, both the opening and closing verses have to do with to do with “plans” (different Hebrew words but synonyms).
The theme, as Waltke sums it up, is YHWH’s “sovereign rule encompasses human accountability.” These verses are getting at the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. Proverbs 16:2 and 7 also are linked with the idea of man’s ways.
Waltke notes that verses 1-3 have to do with YHWH’s sovereign rule through people and verses 5-7 with God’s sovereign justice in response to people’s choices, with verse 4 as a janus looking back in the first half and forward in the second half. Proverbs 16:8 is a “better/than” proverb and the last verse brings the subunit to a conclusion.
I like Waltke’s explanation of the relationship of verses 1-3 when he says that the third verse draws the inference of the first two: “Since the LORD assumes ownership of the disciple’s initiatives (v.1) and he alone can evaluate the purity of the motives behind them (v.2), the disciple should commit his planned deeds to the LORD (v.3a) to establish them permanently, outlasting the wicked person’s temporary triumphs (v.3b)” (Waltke’s commentary, vol.2, p.11). Thus the implied judgment of verse 2 for verses 1 and 3 is that YHWH found their motives pure.
For the second subunit we move from YHWH and His rule to that of the king and his rule. The relationship between these is obvious – YHWH rules through His king (His Messianic King). To see the close relationship between these Waltke suggests that we simply substitute YHWH for “king” and observe that it would still work perfectly fine. This is why these two subunits are so thoroughly linked to each other. The king is the vicegerent of YHWH. When we recall that Proverbs is written with the picture of the king teaching his son the prince what he needs to know when he becomes king this emphasis is not surprising for the book. These are words to teach the young Christ how He will reign.
There are six verses, which are easily divided into three pairs (or quatrains since each pair has two halves).
Proverbs 16:10-11 includes the verse that does not mention the king – the second verse. Interestingly, this is the one verse in this subunit that does mention YHWH. And the reference to YHWH is in the context of justice (as was also the case for the second to last verse of the first subunit, which was the only one that did not mention YHWH in that subunit). These two verses have to do with the authority of the king to hand down a just decision.
Proverbs 16:12-13 have to do with the character of this king or what Waltke calls his “moral sensibilities toward justice.” If the king is wise, then his character will be on display in his legal decisions (v.10-11) and his legal sentences (v.14-15).
And Proverbs 16:14-15 take this to the consequence of his legal verdict – death or life (a merism connecting these two verses).
One of the major points that I am driving at by showing how these proverbs fit together is that we cannot read them independently. And the reason we have focused on Proverbs 15:30-16:15 is that it introduces the major themes of this whole half of this collection.
The next unit moves to the theme of wise and foolish speech, which has been a subtheme in the verses above.
This unit too has an introduction with four verses (Proverbs 16:16-19). You can analyze these verses in much the same way we did above. These are general educational proverbs, which do not sound the specific theme that will follow (the same as we repeatedly have seen in Proverbs).
Proverbs 16:20-24 is the first part of the main text of this unit. As Waltke says, it is about “the winsome speech of a good person.” Proverbs 16:25-30 then turn to the “destructive speech of the malevolent” (the bad person).
Notice though that there is a connection back to the introduction to this section in the sense that the good person speech is winsome because they have accepted the wise instruction of the teaching father.
The next unit is Proverbs 16:31-17:6. The catchword “crown” forms an inclusio marking the opening and closing of the unit (Proverbs 16:31, 17:6).
“Gray hair is a crown of glory; It is gained in a righteous life”
“Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, And the glory of children is their fathers”
The educational proverb opening this unit is very counter-cultural today because of the modern emphasis on prizing youth. The whole unit for that matter is counter-cultural because of the theme of righteousness.
The next unit has proverbs about fools. Proverbs 17:7-28 resumes where we left off before the previous unit (remember the part about “the destructive speech of the malevolent”?). This is the way that Proverbs 17:7 begins:
”Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; Still less is false speech to a prince.”
Notice that this is a new form of argument for us, but it is still a synthetic proverb.
Proverbs 17:10-15 is a subunit beginning with an educational proverb. This subunit has to do with the punishment of fools. Waltke argues that these verses follow an alternating pattern of ABA’B’A”B”. One would be wise not to read each of these proverbs in isolation when dealing with fools lest you make many mistakes – they are carefully balanced and making a larger point. Note the escalation from the first quatrain to the second to the third.
A second subunit begins with Proverbs 17:16. This one is five verses. This subunit contrasts the friend and the fool.
A third subunit is Proverbs 17:21-28. It has two parts Proverbs 17:21-25 and 26-28.
The prince who will become king needs to be able to discern fools from true friends.
We will finish this half of the collection next time, which begins with the unit of Proverbs 18:1-21.