Vol. 17, No. 48 – December 2, 2018
3. The wise ones care for and protect the poor, vs. 22-29.
This section also begins a Decalogue of “Sayings” about wealth, Prov 22:22-23:11. There is an inclusion proscribing taking advantage of the poor, Prov 22:22, and of the “fatherless,” Prov 23:10, with threats the Lord will plead their cause, Prov 22:23; 23:11, frames the Decalogue.
Apart from the 9th Saying, Prov 23:9, all the sayings pertain to wealth.
a) Sayings 1-4 prohibit illegitimate forms of money making, Prov 22:22-28.
b) Only the positive 5th Saying presents a legitimate form of success, and that to serve kings, not to make money for self, Prov 22:29.
c) Sayings 6-8 escalate these prohibitions against overt acts to prohibitions against greed, Prov 23:1-8.
1) At their center, Saying 7 strikes at the heart, the desire to become rich, Prov 23:4-5.
d) The 9th Saying, Prov 23:9, forms an inner frame with the 2nd, Prov 22:24-28; both pertain to avoiding socializing with fools, as the 9th forbids speaking to fools to convert them, preparing the way for the second unit of the Thirty Sayings.
e) The 10thSaying goes back to the court room regarding property treachery.
Prov 22:22-23, “Do not rob the poor because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; 23For the LORD will plead their case, and take the life of those who rob them.”
This first “Saying,” is the first that forbids enriching oneself through unjust acts. This first admonition after the prologue, vs. 17-21, again picks up the theme that ran through the first half of this Chapter, vs. 1-16, “Do not plunder the poor, (DAL).” We are reminded of the integrity and fairness we should have within our society, especially in a court of law, (i.e., “at the gate,” SHA’AR that was the place of legal proceedings), as we noted in vs. 10-16. “Since the gate is one of the places in which wisdom stands ready to teach all who will listen (1:21; 8:3), justice is a primary concern of wisdom, not merely legal niceties.” (Complete Biblical Library Commentary.)
The ones that are to be insured justice and fairness are the “poor,” DAL, used twice in the first sentence. Amenemope 4.4-9, gives us further definition of what or who the DAL entail, as it prohibits the same injustice in its second saying: “Beware of robbing a wretch,/Of attacking a cripple;/Don’t stretch out your hand to touch an old man,/Nor open your mouth to an elder./Don’t let yourself be sent on a mischievous errand,/Nor be friends with him who does it.” So, to name a few, it includes: the wretch, cripple, elderly, and those lacking financial resources to protect or defend their legal rights.
If there is unfairness, it is considered “robbing,” them, GAZAL, “to tear away, take away, or rob,” cf. Prov 28:24. This verb means robbery or seizure on any level, and in the Qal Imperfect Jussive it means, “to actively desire someone to not rob or steal someone.” It refers to taking something from someone else by unlawful force and to continue forcibly and illegally to withhold it from its rightful owner. By definition “poor” entails being vulnerable to an economic predator. And, linked to the Adverb AL, “not,” it means, “Do not actively rob or steal from the poor,” as an urgent, personalized prohibition. Because the poor are defenseless, they can be easily robbed. This makes the crime not only contemptible, but tempting as well. Therefore, it is not just speaking about the act of injustice in the court room, but the thought about doing it. Both are prohibited.
In the second half of vs. 22, injustice is also called “crushing” with the Verb DAKA in the Piel Imperfect Jussive, which is an intensive desired action for someone to not, “crush, beat down, bruise, oppress, or take advantage of someone.” And, again with the Adverb AL, it means, “Do not crush, beat down, etc.” Just because someone is poor or weak in society, should not make them an easy target or prey for the more powerful to take advantage of them. There should be fairness and equity in the entire process. By picturing robbing the poor as “crushing” them, it points to the rich merchants who manipulate the economy in cahoots with just as corrupt magistrates who deprive the poor of justice when they plead their case in the gate, cf. Ex 23:1-9; Ex 22:20f, 22:24f; 23:25f.; Lev 19:13; Deut 27:25; Ezek 18:7ff.; Micah 2:1-11; 3:1-12; 6:9-16; 7:1-6; etc.
Isa 3:15, “‘What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the face of the poor?’ Declares the Lord GOD of hosts.”
By “crushing,” the already poor, it may depict the extinction of their status as a free citizen, where they are brought to a state of inability to pay and therefore pressed into a state of dependence or slavery, cf. vs. 7.
So, the “crushing” in this case, is not only physical but social and economic oppression by leaders or the powerful. The oppression pictured here may be in bounds legally, but it is out of bounds morally, (e.g., similar to modern business ethics).
The one who would be wise is advised not “to cause to be crushed” the poor or weak at the gate; the scene of legal decisions. In this part, the “poor” are also called “afflicted,” which is the Adjective ANI used as a Noun here that means, “unfortunate, afflicted, poor, or humble.” Like DAL, it is used for the economically disadvantaged and often occurs in parallel with DAL, Job 34:28; Psa 82:3; Isa 10:2; 11:4; 26; Amos 2:7.
It seems that this word simply refers to a person who is hampered by a low income and in a difficult life situation. Therefore, it has a broader perspective than DAL. It broadens the group that is not to be taken advantage of in a court of law to include: the wretched, cripple, elderly, and those lacking financial resources to protect or defend their legal rights, as noted above. It is used in Prov 3:34; 14:24; 15:15; 16:19; 30:14; 31:9-20.
These mandates were given to Israel in the Law of Moses, especially the “sundry laws,” Ex 23:6-9; cf. Job 31:16; Zech 7:10; Mal 3:5. And, Job 24:2 combines in a single verse both robbery and the moving of boundary stones, the 10th Saying prohibition.
Ex 23:6-9 “You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. 7Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8And you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just. 9And you shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Job 24:2, “Some remove the landmarks; they seize and devour flocks.”
Malachi 3:5, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien, and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.”
Prov 22:23, “For the LORD will plead their case and take the life of those who rob them.”
In this verse, the Lord steps in to the situations where oppression of the poor is rampant, as He has compassion on the afflicted, Isa 49:13, saves the afflicted, Psa 34:6; 35:10, provides for the poor, Psa 68:10, and maintains the cause of the oppressed, Psa 140:12. And in our passage, “For the LORD will plead their case and take the life of those who rob them.”
Psa 35:10, “All my bones will say, ‘LORD, who is like You, Who delivers the afflicted from him who is too strong for him, and the afflicted and the needy from him who robs him?’”
Psa 140:12, “I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted and justice for the poor.”
“For or because,” KI, tells us the reason for this prohibition. What is interesting about this passage is that it uses both the Verb and Noun of RIYB and Verb QABA twice, to go along with the doubling up of DAL in vs. 22.
“Plead their case” uses RYIB for both words and is another one of the legal terms we have in Chapter 22 that means to, “conduct a lawsuit, contend, dispute, or strive.” It denotes some kind of argument or conflict between people. Most uses of this verb have a legal setting, such as when someone feels wronged and accuses another of breaking an agreement or going against the community standards in some way. In our passage, the Qal future Perfect Verb is used for “will plead,” and the Noun that means, “lawsuit or contention,” is used for “case.”
Ex 23:2, “You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice.”
And, the One pleading or defending the case of the poor and afflicted is YHWH, “the Lord.” The “robbers” deceive themselves if they think the poor have no protector. The Protector of the poor is none other than the Lord himself. Therefore, if the ways of justice are perverted, let those who render a false and oppressive verdict remember that the supreme Judge in heaven is observing all. And, He “will render to every man according to his deeds,” Rom 2:6; cf. Psa 62:12; Prov 24:12; Mat 16:27; Rev 22:12.
Next, we have the double use of the Verb QABA that means, “rob, to take the life and/or property of another, to cheat, or plunder.” It is a less used word for “rob,” compared to GAZAL in vs. 22. In Mal 3:8-9, it means, “to keep back what belongs properly to God.” Therefore, in our verse, it can also apply to keeping back or stealing what legally belongs to someone else.
In the first use, it is in the Qal future Perfect for the Lord’s execution of the sentence He will bring to the one who steals or cheats the poor and afflicted in the perversion of justice. The sense is that the Lord will take their “life,” NEPHESH, “soul, life, breath,” here “life,” or “to rob the soul,” which ends physical life when removed from the body. In context, it means the execution of Divine capital punishment, which we also call the Sin Unto Death, the third stage of God’s Divine discipline, 1 Cor 11:30; cf. 1 John 5:16-17.
1 Cor 11:30, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.”
Therefore, as the robbers dealt out death to the defenseless, the great Protector of the poor, who has in His hands the life and death of all people, will hand down a death sentence on the contemptible offenders.
In the second use of QABA, “those who rob them,” it is in the Qal active Participle and refers to the ones who are doing the cheating or robbing of the poor or afflicted inside the court of law. It is referring to those who keep back or steal what legally belongs to the weak, poor, or afflicted.
So, we see that the poor have a Defender Who will protect them and execute judgment upon the offender, cf. Prov 23:10f. When Israel’s judicial system failed in the city gate, the insulted Maker of the poor, Prov 14:21; 17:5; 22:2, takes up their case and gives voice to those too weak to have a voice, and avenges them in the heavenly court, cf. Ex 22:22-24; Deut 10:17-18; Isa 1:23; 10:1-2; 11:4; 25:4; Jer 5:28; Amos 2:6; 4:1; 5:12; Micah 3:11; Psa 72; cf. Prov. 15:25.
Isa 11:4, “But with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.”
Isa 25:4, “For You have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a rain storm against a wall.”
Psa 72:12-14, “For He will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. 13He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy He will save. 14He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in His sight.”
Righteous judgment is precious in His sight because it reflects the integrity of His Divine throne, a great white throne, untarnished by iniquity.
Prov 22:24-25, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, 25or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself.”
In “Saying 3,” similar to other proverbs that speak about friendship, this saying warns that we become like our friends, cf. Prov 13:20; 28:7; 29:3.
Prov 13:20, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
If our friends have certain problems, you will have them too. As the English proverb goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” This saying is close to the teaching in, Prov 1:10-19, as well as, Prov 14:17, 29, and Prov 15:1.
This verse begins with a prohibition not to associate with two categories of people that are similar. It begins with the proscription, “do not associate” is the Hebrew Negative Adverb AL, “not, do not,” with the Verb RA’AH, רָעָה that first means, “to graze, pasture, shepherd, etc.” The second meaning is “to associate with.” It does not necessarily imply a relationship of deep intimacy, but does involve more than a casual involvement. It is in the Hithpael Imperfect Jussive for a reflexive simple action desired for someone. In other words, we should not have a relationship with this type of person or people.
The object of this prohibited relationship is “with a man,” that is actually the noun BA’AL that means, “an owner, citizen, husband, or lord.” The word can also describe possessing a quality, attribute, or characteristic like anger in our passage, i.e., wrath, Prov 29:22; hairy, 2 Kings 1:8; appetite, Prov 23:2; wisdom, Eccl 7:12.
This person is one “whose judgment is clouded by irrational thought and who loses all sense of proportion, acts impetuously, often in a terrifying way, and is incapable of measured utterance. The quick-tempered is like a bomb with a short fuse, ready to explode at any moment with devastating consequences.” (New International Commentary).
Interestingly, this word is also the name for the ancient Canaanite pagan god Baal, who was known as the “storm god” or a “god of war.”
“The most prominent usages refer to Canaanite deity. This false god in the OT is the name of a western Semitic storm god encountered in Egyptian texts (14th century B.C.), Tell-el-Amarna letters (14th century B.C.), Alalakh Tablets (15th century B.C.), Ugaritic texts (14th century B.C.), Amorite proper names found at Mari, Tell-al-Rimah, Chagar Bazar, and later in Phoenician and Punic texts. Thus, different names do not denote various deities but local identifications of this same storm god. The storm god, also called Haddu, was considered a war god. Also, he was the husband of Astarte, he ensured fertility of the earth (a common function for a storm god).” (Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary)
Here BA’AL is associated with the “anger”, APH that literally means, “face or nose,” and figuratively “anger” as we have seen previously in Proverbs, Prov 15:18; 17:17, and most have been in reference to exhorting us to be “slow to anger,” Prov 14:29; 15:1; 16:32; 19:11.
Prov 14:17, “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated.”
Prov 15:18, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute.”
It emphasizes the physical visible state of excitement of an individual breathing heavily as a consequence of anger. So, we see a bit of humor here, calling this “man of anger” a “god of storm or war” that demonstrates physically his anger. That is the imagery first given of this prohibition.
The second category we are warned not to associate with or “to go with,” is the more typical word for “man,” ISH. This man is called a “hot-tempered” man which is the Noun CHEMAH, חֵמָה that means, “wrath, heat,” or sometimes, “poison.” This word emphasized the internal physiological aspects of being angry; the heat or poison on the inside that burns. It speaks to the inner emotional revolt of the soul.
Prov 29:22, “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.”
Psa 37:8, “Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.”
Interestingly, the phrase, “go with” also has idolatry connotations with the Verb, BO בּוֹא in the Qal Imperfect as in Ezek 23:17. But here, it means to not, “go with” or “associate with” this type of person.
Prov 22:25, “Or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself
Here we have the warning of consequences if we “hang around” with angry or hot-tempered man. It begins with “Or you will learn his ways,” is PEN ALAPH ORACH, “so that you do not learn or become familiar with his path way.” That is, “his way of life” that is filled with anger and wrath. ALAPH is a rare verb meaning, “to learn” and is only used here and in Job 15:5; 33:33; 35:11. In Job, it is used for “to teach.” Therefore, it can mean, “to be accustomed to.” So, we understand that when we associate with people, we are taught, learn, or become accustom to their behaviors, their way of life, which then can becomes our own.
1 Cor 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’.”
1 Cor 15:34, “Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”
Not only will we learn their bad behaviors, but it will cause us many problems and difficulties as noted in the last phrase, “and find a snare for yourself,” which is the Qal Imperfect Verb LAQACH, “to take, seize, grasp, etc.,” with the Noun MOQESH, “snare, trap,” that signifies, “lethal hidden danger,” with the Preposition LE, “for,” and the Noun NEPHESH, that means, “soul, breath, or life,” “And seize a snare for your soul/life.” Thus, both Saying 2 and 3, warn about hazards to your soul. In other words, the mentality of your soul will be corrupted by association with these types that will lead to physical problems as well. It is speaking about self-induced misery.
The habits of the hothead are both infectious, vs. 25a, and lethal, vs 25b, and the unsuspecting are often misled by bad company, Prov 1:10ff. Familiarity can breed complacency, so that what may have repelled us at first becomes increasingly acceptable and eventually characterizes us. In this case, the warning is that we will not only begin to share their behavior, but also the problems that result from it. By associating with the hothead, one becomes fatally involved even before he becomes aware of it himself. Since behavior reveals the state of the heart, and because attitudes are often assimilated unconsciously, we need friends who will strengthen, not inhibit, our righteousness.
This metaphor is ironic; in that one avoids traps to save their life, not seize them to kill one’s self. Therefore, it is important to consider carefully those whom we choose for companionship and fellowship. To keep company with a man given to wrath and fury, is to be contaminated by his hasty ways and to bring a snare on one’s own soul. Anger and malice are the works of the flesh. The believer should have no association with one quickly angered, for we are too easily defiled by such conduct. To continue friendship with one displaying these evidences of unjudged carnality is to endanger one’s own life and testimony.
How do you know if you are an angry man?
- Do you speak or strike impulsively?
- Do you yell at your wife or children?
- Do you say harsh things that others question or condemn?
- Do others crave your presence or avoid you?
- Are you known as a gracious or a difficult man?
- Do your wife and children tell you all they are thinking?
- Do you rule by intimidation or affection?
- Does your wife stay with you because she has to or wants to?
- Are you an angry man?
The matched sections of vs. 24-25 and vs. 26-27, present familiar warnings about avoiding certain people and practices, while juxtaposing new motivations. Therefore, “Saying 4” is a warning not to become surety for another person’s loan or debt.
Prov 22:26-27, “Do not be among those who give pledges, among those who become guarantors for debts. 27If you have nothing with which to pay, why should he take your bed from under you?”
The phrase “among those who give pledges” is an idiom in the Hebrew from the Qal Active Participle Verb TAQA, “to pitch, clap, blow,” and the Noun KAPH, “hollow of the hand or palm.” We could literally say, “clap hands.” It is similar to the meaning of a hand shake that seals a deal. We have seen this in its other uses in Proverbs, Prov 6:1, 3; 10:4; 17:18. The word KAPH is found in phrases like “clap your hands,” that can also mean the display of anger or contempt, cf. Num 24:10.
In the second half of this verse we have “guarantors for debts” that uses the Qal Active Participle of ARAB and the Noun MASHSHA’AH. The Verb ARAB, עָרַב means, “to pledge.” It is a technical term meaning, “to exchange merchandise” under the barter trade system. Second, the verb means “to mortgage,” as farmers mortgaging their fields, vineyards, and houses in order to obtain grain during a famine. The third major usage of the verb as here, expresses the idea “to be a surety” or “to pledge” for someone. It means you “co-sign” a loan, or become security for someone else’s loan. The Lord warns us not to become surety for another’s debt, Prov 6:1; 11:15; 17:18.
The Noun MASHSHA’AH, מַשָּׁאָה is only used here and in Deut 24:10. It is a feminine noun depicting a debt or a loan. It indicates something given to a neighbor with the expectation that it will be paid back.
As in the previous “Saying,” taking a pledge is a form of bad association. Just as one stands to lose in associating with a hothead, one can lose all in a bad pledge.
Other references to co-signing agreements explain that this is foolish, Prov 17:18, urging all who have done so to escape the trap that they are in, Prov 6:1-5, maintaining that one aspect of a secure life is to avoid co-signing Prov 11:15.
“If you have nothing with which to pay,” uses for “to pay” the intensive active Piel Infinitive of SHALAM that literally means, “to be complete or at peace.” The most common use of this verb is in the Piel stem, as here, with the meaning, “to pay what is owed.” So, we see a linkage between being able to pay your bills or loans, with having peace within your soul. The negative is that there may not be peace in your soul, if you cannot pay your bills, which is the warning here. The warning is not to over extend yourself financially and then have fear, worry, and anxiety in your soul.
Next, we have the warning, “why should he take your bed from under you?” “Bed” is the Hebrew Noun MISHKAB that means, “bed or sexual relations,” and sometimes “blanket.” Metaphorically, it is also associated with idolatry, Isa 57:7f. So, we see the tie in with the previous Saying in regard to idolatry and the cultic sexual immorality. By analogy, if you over extend yourself financially, you are either worshipping the material things which you have purchased, or you are now worshipping the loan which you have to focus tirelessly on to repay.
But, the meaning here is related to your property that could be repossessed, (taken or seized, LAQACH), because you could not pay your debt(s).
“From under you,” is the Adverb MIN with the Preposition TACHATH that means, “beneath or instead of.” It has the meaning of taking your property with the potential warning that they could take you. So, having your “bed snatched from under you” is like our saying of “losing the shirt off your back.”
The wealthy slept in beds, ordinary people slept on the floor in their garments or under blankets, cf. Judges 4:18. Here, for the wealthy, the bed is his last valuable possession. For the ordinary person, the blanket they slept under is the last valuable possession. Now, all of the sudden, if at the time of payment you lacked the money to repay the loan, you find yourself on the floor without a blanket.
So, these verses explain the prohibition: If the person for whom you have co-signed defaults, then you are liable for their debt. If you have no money with which to repay the loan, then the loan agent will take your property in satisfaction. In other words, the co-signer pledges his guarantee that the loan will be repaid. But, life is uncertain, and who can know whether they will have the money at hand when the time comes. They thus endanger their property and perhaps their well-being and that of their family. And, if he does not have the means of repayment, he may find himself and his family “on the floor.” Therefore, we are to have wisdom when entering into any financial agreement and weigh the consequences against the gain, to make good and wise decisions. Most of which will call for abstaining from being a co-signer to a loan.
Prov 22:28, “Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set.”
In this “5th Saying,” we once again begin with a prohibition, vs 22, 24, 26, utilizing the Hebrew negative Adverb AL, “do not.” This time, it is linked with, “move,” which is the Hiphil Jussive Verb SUGH, סוּג that means, “to turn back, to deviate, to be disloyal.” The causative Hiphil with the Imperfect Jussive of desired action exhorts us to, “not to be caused to deviate from.” This prohibition is also given in Prov 23:10a, utilizing the same structure for the first half of the passage. In fact, five times in the OT SUGH is used to refer to the removing of a “boundary,” GEBUL, גְּבוּל stone that was prohibited under the Law of Moses, Deut 19:14; 27:17; Prov 22:28; 23:10; Hos 5:10.
The Noun GEBUL designates, “a border, boundary, or territory; barrier or wall.” It is used to point out the limits or boundaries of territories, 1 Sam 13:18, or borderland of geographical areas, Psa 78:54, that were to be respected.
The nature of these borders or boundaries that God had allotted to the people of Israel were, “ancient,” OLAM, עוֹלָם that means, “forever, eternity, something everlasting, etc.” We have noted this word in Prov 8:23; 10:25, 30, and will see it in Prov 23:10; 27:24.
Prov 10:25, “When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous has an everlasting foundation.”
OLAM has the sense of eternity, past and future. Here it is in regard to eternity past. The second half of this verse tells us “which your fathers have set.” Yet, those boundaries were ordained by God from eternity past.
“Which your fathers have set,” uses the Relative Participle ASHER, “which,” (to further qualify the boundary and contains the reason), the Qal Perfect Verb ASAH for “to make, made, or set,” with the broader context of “have put into effect or put into place,” (a word prominent in God’s creations), and the Plural Noun AB that means, “fathers, heads of household, ancestors, etc.” Therefore, these borders were set by their forefathers, maybe going back to the apportioning of land when Israel occupied the land of Canaan given to them by God, Joshua 14-21, that refers to the time when Joshua distributed the land by casting the sacred lot. It began with territorial boundaries for the 12 Tribes of Israel, with Ephraim and Manasseh getting portions each, as the double blessing to their father Joseph. Then, within those borders, land was divided by families. Private land boundaries were marked out by stone pillars or cairns (piles of stone) erected between properties to mark legal ownership. So, these boundaries were part of God’s blessings to each family as they entered the Promised Land.
Deut 19:14, “You shall not move your neighbor’s boundary mark, which the ancestors have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the LORD your God gives you to possess.”
But, we also must remember that because the land was the Lord’s in the first place as its Creator, and the Israelites were merely His tenants, Lev 25:23, it was His to apportion, cf. Joshua 14-21.
Lev 25:23, “The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.”
Therefore, to steal someone’s property was thus to reject God’s Lordship, His right to use the land as He wished. The Law cursed anyone who moved a boundary marker, Deut 19:14; 27:17, a curse reiterated in Hosea 5:10.
Deut 27:17, “Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’.”
“In an agrarian society, the ability to feed one’s family (to survive) might depend on the produce from an acre or so of cultivable land. Moving a boundary marker stole not only property, but crops. This loss could well ruin the life of the small farmer.” (Complete Biblical Library Commentary.)
“Throughout the ancient Near East, people had great respect for private and tribal boundaries so essential for a family’s life. Without this understanding, every field would be up for grabs and anarchy would ensue. Unfortunately, the crime was easy to accomplish and difficult to prove. Proverbs is concerned with protecting the fields of the widows and fatherless (see 15:15; 23:10; cf. 14:21, 31; 17:5; 30:14) because the economically disadvantaged, who had limited financial resources and no one to represent them in legal disputes, were most vulnerable to this high-handed, greedy transgression of their rights (cf. Job 24:3). As the era of the monarchy progressed, the powerful class seized the ancestral lands of their subjects (1 Kgs. 21:4; Isa 5:8; Hos. 5:10).” (Waltke, New International Commentary.)
That is why we also see the prohibition to steal from the poor or weak and God’s promise of defense and retribution in vs. 22-23, linked with our verse. As noted above, the parallel admonition in Prov 23:10, is followed in vs. 11, “For their Redeemer is strong; He will plead their case against you.” This reminds us of Prov 22:23, where the Lord is the defender of the weak, and judge, jury, and executioner of the offender!
As such, God wanted them to be satisfied with the provisions He had given to them and seek Him out for the necessary provision of the family. He did not want them to covet the land He had blessed another family with. It reminds them and us, not to covet our neighbor’s property that could lead to illicitly moving boundary lines.
Interestingly, by “moving the boundaries of our fathers,” it actually is breaking three of the 10 Commandments:
- The 5th Commandment of “Honoring your mother and father,” Ex 20:12.
- The 8th Commandment of, “You shall not steal,” Ex 20:15.
- The 10th Commandment of, “You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor,” Ex 20:17.
Further, the land proportioned to each family was rendered holy and not to be tampered with by its sacred origin and antiquity, as Jephthah argued in Judges 11:14-17. Therefore, we see what may seem like a simple action of moving a boundary stone is actually very egregious to The Lord.
We also have several additional principles from this passage:
- The property that you have, has been ordained from eternity past by God.
- There is absolutely nothing wrong with owning and maintaining property.
- Yet, we are not to covet, (lust after), or steal the land or property that belongs to others, especially our neighbors.
- Be satisfied, content, and happy with what God has given you!
- Enjoy the blessings He has for you, and do not lust after the blessing of others.
On a spiritual basis, I present two comments from H.A. Ironside that is very similar to that of J. Vernon McGee’s comment on this verse.
“In this dispensation of grace the allotment of God’s people is heavenly, not earthly. Our inheritance is in the precious truth which He has committed to us. To remove the landmarks—the great distinguishing doctrines of Scripture—will be to incur the divine displeasure. Yet, unfortunately, many supposedly learned doctors are engaged in that wretched business today. No truth of Scripture is too sacred for their irreverent handling. Precious truths like those of atonement and justification by faith—even the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ—are, in their eyes, but common ideas, which they may dismiss or ignore as they please. But a day of reckoning is coming, when God will judge them in righteousness; and those who have been misled by their removal of ancient and venerable landmarks of God’s Word will curse them for the loss of their souls. Terrible will be the accounting of men who, while posing as instructors of the flock of Christ, have all the while been Satan’s instruments for overthrowing the saving truths of Scripture. See Paul’s warning word to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:8-13, and 4:1-5). Compare with Proverbs 23:10-11.” (H.A. Ironside Expository Commentary – Proverbs.)
“Now I am going to make a spiritual application of this. You may think I am square when I say this, but I believe that today we have seen the landmarks of the Christian faith removed. They have been removed by what was first called modernism, and now is called liberalism. These folk with a liberal viewpoint say, “This old landmark, this doctrine that was taught in the days of the apostle Paul, is no longer relevant. We have learned so much that we don’t need the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. We can do away with that. And we can do away with the doctrine of the deity of Christ.” These distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith have been pretty well washed out by a great many of the old line denominations on the basis that we must come up to date. Now I want to say this: Instead of moving forward and removing landmarks, we need to start moving backward to get back to many of the ancient landmarks. Those ancient landmarks made this nation great. The landmarks of moral values, the spiritual truths, the biblical basis — all have been removed. We look around us today and hear everyone telling what he thinks the solution is, and it is always a sociological or psychological solution. I haven’t heard any of our leaders suggesting a biblical solution. I say that we need to get back to the good old landmarks which our nation had at the beginning.” (Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee.)
Proverbs 22:29, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.”
This “6th Saying,” stands out from the others as it is a positive exhortation for doing your job well and a model of success. It begins with the Qal Perfect of CHAZAH, חָזָה “to see, behold, to perceive or consider as the result of reflection or insight.” This is the first time it is used in Proverbs, and will be used again in Prov 24:32; 29:20.
It is used in contrast to its broader synonym RA’A, “to see,” and is predominantly a technical term for a form of revelation to the prophet, consisting of the perception of God’s voice in a vision or deep sleep. However, the word is used here and in Prov 24:32; 29:20, as in Psa 11:4; 17:2, to connote a sharp inspection.
The “man skilled” is ISH MAHIYR, מָהִי that means, “skilled or diligent, quick to communicate, ready, or prompt, that is, being zealous for what is right.” It is used only four times in the OT, Ezra 7:6; Psa 45:1; Prov 22:29; Isa 16:5. In each context, it shows that zeal for the task at hand is a common characteristic of the person or thing described as “skilled.”
The skill spoken of here is “in his work,” BE MELAKHAH, מְלָאכָה. It connotes the idea of the productive, purposeful activity implied by someone being sent to bear a message. And, since it is tied with the “king” MELEKH, we could say the job of emissary or ambassador. But, it is also used generally for any kind of work or business’ civil, political, religious, etc., and for the “work of God.” It can also refer to what can be gained by the earnings of a person’s work, i.e., one’s “possessions, property, substance, goods, articles,” as in Gen 33:14, (herds), Ex 22:11 (what a neighbor owns). So, we also see a tie in with vs. 28, the rightful ownership of property.
MELAKHAH is used in Prov 18:9, for the negative exhortation and 24:27, for another positive one.
Prov 18:9, “He also who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys.”
Therefore, in our passage, it encourages us to think of someone who stands out for his or her ability and emulate them in our own work.
In the second half of the passage, we see the blessing of doing your job well, “He will stand before kings.”
“He will stand,” is the reflexive Hithpael Imperfect of the Verb YATSAB, יָצַב that means, “to stand, confront, or take ones stand.” It is used in a reflexive stem as here, and means, “to station oneself or to take a firm stand,” cf. 1 Sam 3:10. This word pertains to firmly presenting oneself to engage in a mission, in a fight, or in a commission. It is never used of taking one’s stand after fulfilling an assignment.
And, because it is in reference to “before kings,” LE PANIM MELEKH, YATSAB means, “putting oneself in a place of honor,” in our verse. The plural for “kings” suggests this proficient person enjoys an international reputation. The Hebrew actually reads, “Face to face with kings, he will take his position of honor.”
Excellence has rewards, one of which is to be recognized by the most important members of society, those who could also best reward quality, cf. Prov 10:4; 21:5.
In the last part of our passage, “he will not stand before obscure men,” we have a contrasting complementary exhortation using the negative BAL, “not or nothing,” and the reflexive Hithpael Imperfect of the Verb YATSAB, once again. Therefore, it means, “he will not take a position.” The ones in view here are, LE PANIM CHASHOK, “face to face with obscure or insignificant ones.”
CHASHOK, חָשֹׁךְ is only used here in the OT. It comes from the Hebrew Noun for “darkness,” CHOSHEK, and is an Adjective identifying something as obscure or insignificant. It is a detrimental and belittling term used of certain persons who are nobodies on the social scale or in political influence. Therefore, this proverb aims to motivate the son to become competent in whatever commissions he receives in order to rise to his greatest social and economic potential in the service of kings. By receiving these royal commissions and successfully fulfilling them, he earns himself an international reputation and a handsome profit.
- Skill is the result of practice under the oversight of someone who is already accomplished at that skill, trade, or profession.
- Wisdom recognizes someone else’s expertise, is humble to see its own need, and is then willing to submit to being taught so that it can gain that skill.
- Mastery, however, comes only through tutored diligence. Dabbling in many areas may be recreational, but it cannot lead to excellence, which comes only from focused effort over a period of time.
- Excellence, in turn, leads to enjoyment, which encourages further effort.
And, that is the formula for the believer who desires to or has excelled in the spiritual life. God has given us a spiritual gift, with a ministry, and an effect, 1 Cor 12:7-6, as professional Christians, from the moment of our salvation. He has pre-ordained these. Now, it is your job to learn about your gift and develop it to achieve excellence in the service of our King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Skill. Identify your spiritual gift and develop its traits. Find someone who you know also has that gift.
- Wisdom. Humble yourself to learn from the expertise of others with your gift.
- Mastery. Then exercise your spiritual gift under the tutelage of others who have your gift. Ask for constructive criticism to help fine tune your gift. And focus your attention on your gift and not the gifts that others may have.
- Excellence. After focused effort over a period of time, you will have mastered your gift and now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor by excelling like never before in your ministry and effect.
And, all of this is accomplished through the consistent and faithful intake and application of God’s Word from your right Pastor-Teacher; diligence in studying and applying God’s Word.
Jesus taught that the reward will be for the one who is trustworthy in the small things of this world. They will be entrusted with ten cities in His coming kingdom, Mat 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27; cf. John 12:26.
Mat 25:21, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master’.”
Luke 19:17, “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, be in authority over ten cities’.”
His commendation will not be based on the amount of work you have done, or on the number of people to whom you have witnessed, or how hard you have worked, but on how faithful you have been to the task He has given you. He may have given you the task of being a mother to a little one in the home. Moses’ mother was faithful in that way, and her name is recorded in the Word of God. The reward will be for faithfulness in the application of your gift.
Rom 12:10-11, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
If you would like more information on this subject, you may watch/listen to lesson:
# 18-126, 18-127, & 18-128
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A PERSONAL NOTE FOR YOU
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I am here to tell you that Jesus loves you. He loves you so much that He gave His life for you. God the Father also loves you. He loves you so much that He gave His only Son for you by sending Him to the Cross. At the Cross Jesus died in your place. Taking upon Himself all of your sins and all of my sins. He was judged for our sins and paid the price for our sins. Therefore, our sins will never be held against us.
Right where you are, you now have the opportunity to make the greatest decision in your life. To accept the free gift of salvation and eternal life by truly believing that Jesus Christ died for your sins and was raised on the third day as the proof of the promise of eternal life. So right now, you can pause and reflect on what Christ has done for you and say to the Father:
“Yes Father, I believe that Your Son, Jesus Christ,
died on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins.”
If you have done that, I welcome you to the eternal Family of God!