Proverbs 28:22-28

Proverbs 28:22-28 May 13, 2010

PROVERBS 28:22

Though this verse uses different terminology from Proverbs 28:20, it overlaps with that previous proverb.  In both cases, there are observations about the relationship between wealth and hastiness.  Verse 20 indicates that the one who makes haste to become rich, who chases dreams of quick prosperity, will end up guilty.  Here, the one who rushes to riches is said to have an “evil eye.”

What is an evil eye?  Eyes are organs of judgment and evaluation in Scripture, and the first time eyes are mentioned in connection with evil is in garden of Eden.  As soon as Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge, their eyes are open to know good and evil.  One who has an evil eye is one who makes false judgments and evaluates things wrongly.  Thus, Proverbs 23:6 warns that we should not eat the bread (literally, “bread the bread”) of a man with “an evil eye”; he may seem like a generous host, but “his heart is not with you” (v. 7).  Jesus connects the “bad eye” with a wrong evaluation of wealth in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:23; see Luke 11:34).  Hearts are fixed where our treasures are (Matthew 6:21), and our eyes follow our hearts, so that our eyes gaze toward and value what our heart treasures.  When our heart is clear, directed by a heart set on heavenly treasures, the whole body is a body of light.  Bad eyes blind and darken; the body cannot glow with the light of God if it is guided by a heart set on Mammon.

In Proverbs 28:22, hastiness is the evidence of an evil eye.  The verb translated as “be hasty” sometimes means “to be in a hurry” but more commonly means “to be troubled” or even “tremble.”  When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, his brothers are “troubled” (Genesis 45:3), and when Edom and Moab hear of the exodus through the Red Sea, they will tremble with amazement (Exodus 15:15).  The proverb envisions a man who expends his energies to gain wealth, a man who spends sleepless nights worrying over the collapse of the stock market or the insolvency of Greece, who is constantly trembling in anxiety over the possibility of losing wealth or losing the opportunity to make more.  That kind of anxiety is evidence that our eyes are blinded, that our hearts are set on the wrong sorts of treasure, that we do not evaluate things rightly.

Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were open, and they “knew” good and evil.  The man in the proverb, however, has an evil eye that is not open but closed and dark.  Because he is anxious about wealth, and because he is rushing to protect what he has and gain more, he doesn’t see what’s ahead.  He is ignorant of the poverty that will come upon him.

The word for poverty is the rare word cheser (used only here and in Job 30:3).  The adjective form is used more frequently, and means “wanting, lacking, needing.”  In a number of places in Proverbs, it describes the ‘want” of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (Proverbs 6:32; 7:7; 9:4, 16; 10:13, 21; 11:12; 12:11; 17:18; 24:30; 28:16).  The man who anxiously pursues wealth already lacks understanding and knowledge, and another form of poverty lies ahead.  Cheser resembles the Hebrew word for “lovingkindness” ( chesed ), and that echo has ironic overtones in the verse.  Instead of finding the faithful love and goodness of God, the man who makes an idol of Mammon, who trembles before it, will find poverty; instead of chesed , cheser .

PROVERBS 28:23

It is not easy to correct another person.  Parents often avoid correcting their children because they fear their children will resent them for it.  Pastors try to escape the difficult business of reproving members of their churches, and friends often overlook the follies and sins of their brothers to maintain a surface calm.  Scripture rebukes this refusal to rebuke.  Rebuke is a grace, an act of love (Proverbs 3:12) that produces love in the wise (Proverbs 9:8) and the understanding (Proverbs 19:25).  Proverbs warns that rebuking a scorner is futile (9:8), but also says that the ones who courageously reprove the wicked will find favor (24:24-25).  The law requires that we reprove our neighbors out of love (Leviticus 19:17).

In Proverbs 28:23, two uses of the tongue are contrasted.  On the one hand there is reproof and correction; on the other hand there is flattery.  The verb “flatter” ( chalab ) more typically means “to be smooth” or “to divide,” especially by lot.  The noun form means “portion, share.”  Perhaps it is used here with the connotation of smoothness; flatter is smooth speech, without edges, without any sharpness that might administer a healing wound.  The word is used of Dame Folly, who speaks words that are as smooth as butter (Proverbs 7:5).  On the other hand, the word could be used in contexts of speech as an extension of the connotation of “apportion.” The proverb warns about those who portion out words to their hearers, portion out words that their hearers want to hear.

In either case, the contrast of the two forms of speech is a contrast of ends.  Rebuke and reproof are difficult, and look to be hard.  Reproof seems to be the way to disfavor, and flattery the way to favor.  But the proverb highlights the key word “after.”  In the long run, those who honestly rebuke and correct will find more favor than those who smooth and soften their words.  A soft answer turns away wrath, and Proverbs warns against unnecessary and unwise provocation.  But Proverbs never endorses flattery, the little lies that we tell each other to avoid dealing with sin and evil that is right in front of us.

PROVERBS 28:24

This Proverb is an extension of the fifth commandment to honor father and mother.  Instead of honoring, giving glory and respect and building up the “wealth” of one’s parents, the man in the proverb robs his father and mother and claims that he is innocent.  The word for “transgression” in the second clause is pesha , which means “rebellion.”  Someone who robs his father and mother is clearly a rebel against God and against his parents, and his denial is obviously false.

The main point of the proverb is to claim that the man who robs father and mother and then shrugs with a “what did I do?” attitude is a destroyer.  Before the flood, men became destroyers (Genesis 6:11-12), so Yahweh determined to “destroy” them (Genesis 6:13, 17).  Children who refuse to honor their parents might as well be tearing them limb from limb.  It is not surprising that the verb translated as “rob” here is a violent term, sometimes meaning “flay” (Micah 3:2).  The proverb is describing children who strip the flesh off their own flesh.

The oddity of the proverb is not in its basic thrust, which is fairly obvious.  Rather, the puzzle is what kind of activity it could be warning about.  Surely, children who actually rob their parents, who violently strip away their wealth, who flay them of their goods are comparatively rare.  I suspect that the proverb envisions more subtle forms of violence.  Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their false piety when they gave the wealth that should be used for the upkeep of parents to God, claiming it was qorban , a sacred gift.  Children who take advantage of aging parents are also destroyers.

PROVERBS 28:25

The contrasts of this proverb are worth noting.  The one who is “large of soul” is contrast
ed to the one who “trusts Yahweh.”  The results are contrasted as well: The large-souled man creates conflict around him, while the one who trusts Yahweh enjoys the fatness, the best and the abundance of God’s gifts.

Aristotle endorsed the “great-souled man” as a paragon of virtue.  Not Scripture.  In Scripture, souls are most often associated with desires, hungers, thirsts, lusts, longings.  The Hebrew word nephesh , typically translated as “soul,” is etymologically “throat”; the soul is that dimension of man that longs to gulp things down.  When a man has a large or wide soul, it means he is a man of great appetites, one who is never satisfied.  No wonder he stirs up strife.

The word “strife” ( madon ) is rooted in a word for legal judgment or contention ( din ), which is the root of the tribal name “Dan” (cf. Genesis 30:6).  The great-souled man is involved in strife generally, but the proverb is specifically pointing at his penchant for lawsuits.  A litigious nation is one full of people with enlarged souls.

The great-souled have only themselves to rely on.  If they are going to satisfy their desires, they are going to have to grab and grapple for what they want.  They cannot simply wait for someone to give what they desire.  But that’s precisely the attitude that the proverb enjoins: Those who trust in Yahweh to meet their needs, to provide food, clothing, shelter, and much else, will find satisfaction in them.

The two men contrasted in this proverb are ultimately Adam and the Last Adam.  The first Adam was the great-souled man, the man whose appetites were too great to be controlled.  The Last Adam trusts His Father, and His soul is made fat with all good things.

PROVERBS 28:26

On every side, children and young people in our culture are encouraged to trust their hearts.  A girl feels a flutter of attraction to a boy, and they hop in bed.  A young man is almost bursting with longing to escape his parents’ home, and so he follows his heart and moves out.  Without consulting parents or anyone older than himself, a young man chooses a career path because he is following his dream.  Nearly every liturgy of our culture – the liturgies of advertising and popular entertainment especially – hammers this one catechetical lesson: What is the chief end of man? To follow his heart.

According to the previous proverb, Yahweh is the one to be trusted.  Obviously, that means we trust Yahweh rather than  Baal or Chemosh or Allah or Krishna.  But the juxtaposition of the two proverbs in verses 25-26 indicates that there is another potential idol lurking within our breast.  Calvin said that the fallen human heart is an idol factory.  That’s true, and that’s because the human heart is itself one of our main idols.  Our God, Luther said, is the one we love, trust, and fear above all things.  For many, that ultimate and final deity is functionally their own heart.

The contrast of this proverb is not exactly symmetrical.  Trust-heart-fool is not self-evidently the opposite of walk-wise-delivered.  But the proverb is constructed to invite us to contrast the two options.  Trusting the heart is the opposite of walking in wisdom, apparently.  And when we think about proverbs as a whole, we see why.  Wisdom comes from teachers; in Proverbs, the teacher is mainly the father, the king training his son the prince.  Wisdom comes from discerning the lessons of other people’s lives.  Wisdom comes from receiving the correction and discipline of those who are our superiors.

None of this can happen if we are trusting our heart.  If we trust our hearts, we will not listen to our parents unless our parents tell us what we already believe is correct.  If we trust our hearts, we will not receive correction humbly but will resent it.  If we are trusting our hearts, we are being trained in folly and not wisdom, because wisdom has to come from elsewhere.

The last word of the proverb is the verb “deliver,” which introduces a new dimension.  Nothing is said explicitly about danger to the one who trusts his own heart.  But throughout Proverbs we are warned that folly leads to destruction and misery.  If the one who trusts his heart is a fool, then we should expect that such fools will end badly.  This proverb never says that, but by mentioning deliverance at the end of the verse, it is implied.

The last word alerts us to a possible structural feature of this verse.  Verses 25-26 seem to operate as a pair, chiastically arranged:

A. Great-souled stir strife

B. Those who trust Yahweh are fat

B’. Those who trust their hearts are fools

A’. Those who walk wisely will be delivered

Delivered from what?  The structure suggests that those who walk wisely, and not with expanded and unsatisfiable appetites will be delivered from the strife and litigiousness that dominate the life of the great-souled.

PROVERBS 28:27

Verse 27 verbally echoes verse 22 in a couple of ways.  In verse 22, we learn that anyone who is anxious or hasty to be rich has an evil eye; verse 27 also refers to the eyes, this time eyes that are covered over so that the needs of the poor never comes to his attention.  Verse 22 tells us that the one who is anxious to be rich doesn’t know that lack ( cheser ) is coming, and verse 27 uses a form of this same word ( machsor ) to describe the lack of lack that the generous enjoy.  In fact, the two verses are chiastically related to one another:

A. Evil eye

B. Want comes

B’. The generous do not want

A’. Hide eyes, curse.

Evil eyes are eyes that hide themselves from need.  On the other hand, the two verses can be taken in parallel to one another:

A. Evil Eye

B’. Want comes

A’. Generosity, in contrast to evil eye

B’. Curses in abundance

Here, the evil eye is the eye that keeps close watch over its stuff, and doesn’t freely give.

We can note several things about the content of the verse.  First, the counterintuitive paradox of the first line should not be missed.  Naturally, it would seem that hoarding goods and wealth would be best way to ensure that we are lack.  The Bible regularly says the opposite: Those who are generous are the ones who have plenty, while the stingy end up with abundance only of curses.  This is nonsense, unless we realize that it is a theological point. “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to Yahweh, and He will repay him for his good deed” (Proverbs 19:17).  Jesus says the same thing: Those who give without thinking of what they will receive in return receive rewards from the Father, particularly the reward of being regarded as “sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).

Second, that reference to the gospel of Luke highlights another point about this proverb.  Contrary to popular mythology, generosity toward the poor and kindness toward the helpless is not a New Testament idea.  It is woven into the law, and it is a regular theme of the prophets.  And it is found even here in Proverbs, an Old Testament book often viewed as offering a “health and wealth” gospel.  This proverb describes precisely the same dynamic that Jesus does.

Third, the image of “hiding the eyes” is worth noting.  The phrase is sometimes used as a metaphor of ignorance (Leviticus 4:13; 5:2-4; Numbers 5:13), but it can also describe deliberate ignorance, the averting of the eyes from need (Leviticus 20:4; Deuteronomy 22:1-4; Isaiah 58:7).  Yahweh threatens to hide His eyes
, the eyes of His favor, from those who have committed injustice by hiding their eyes from abuse and oppression (Isaiah 1:15).  Eventually, the Lord brings all hidden things into the open (Ecclesiastes 12:14), lays them bare before His flaming eyes to evaluate, test, and judge.

We hide our eyes from needs in all kinds of ways.  We might literally turn away our eyes from a beggar in the street, cross the street and change our course when we see a homeless man on a bench.  Our very wealth and comfort screens us from the desperate needs of the poor in other parts of the world, whose poverty and want we cannot even begin to fathom.  Sometimes, ideologies screen us from the poor and blunt generosity of spirit.  We excuse our lack of generosity by convincing ourselves that the poor deserve to be poor because of some character flaw.  Proverbs makes it clear that character flaws do lead to poverty.  But this proverb shows that one of those character flaws that leads to poverty is stinginess.

PROVERBS 28:28

This proverb is integrated with several of the previous verses by several verbal echoes.  The word for “wicked” here is rasha , which puns on the word “transgression” ( pesha ) in verse 24.  The verb “hide” in verse 28 is not the same as that in verse 27, but there is clearly a conceptual connection.  Finally, the word “increase” in the second line is a slightly different form of the word for “many” in verse 27.  Verbally, verse 28 emerges from the last line of verse 27; the image of “hiding” in verse 28 provides the theme of the first line of verse 28, while the theme of “increase” is brought out in the second line of verse 28.

As often in this chapter of Proverbs, the word for “men” is adam .  We cannot read this proverb about hiding Adam without thinking of the fall story of Genesis 3, but this proverb provides an interesting angle on that account.  Adam is guilty and goes into hiding, but reading the fall from the viewpoint of this proverb Adam hides because the wicked are ascendant.  By his sin, Sin and Death enter the world (Romans 5), and Satan takes a throne.  It is possible to see the entire Old Testament era as a time of hiding, when everything was under the dominion of the “ruler of this age” and the “prince of the power of the air.”

Of course, the proverb applies more narrowly as well.  At certain times in history, wicked men gain power and drive their subjects into hiding.  Economic activity is driven into black markets, criticisms of the regime was spoken only in a hush and in secret.  When the wicked are overthrown, though, the righteous flourish and increase.  People who have been driven into hiding emerge into the light and life is renewed.  This is also the story of the gospel: Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has triumphed over the ruler of this world, and He is busy increasing the righteous throughout the world.


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