Proverbs 6 – Idleness, Discord, and Adultery & Heart, Breath, Throat, and Intestines: Ancient Hebrew Anthropology

1 My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger,

“be surety…stricken thy hand” –  refers to responsibility for someone else’s debt (cf 22:26) or for some other obligation.  It can end in abject poverty (cf 22:27) or even slavery if you cannot pay.  For example, Judah volunteered to personally guarantee the safe return of Benjamin to Jacob (Gen 43:9), and when this seemed impossible, he had to offer himself to Joseph as a slave (Gen 44:32-33).  Such an arrangement was sealed by “striking hands,” equivalent to our handshake (see 11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:2; cf Job 17:3).

2 Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth.

3 Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend.

“deliver thyself” –  gain release from the obligation  Be as persistent as the man in Lk 11:8 in getting out of this responsibility.

4 Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids.

5 Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.

6 Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:

“sluggard” –  lazy individual who refuses to work and whose desires are not met (see 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 22:13; 24:30; 26:13-16).

7 Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,

8 Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

9 How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?

“How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? ” –  his love for sleep is described also in 26:14.

10 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:

11 So shall thy poverty come as one that travaileth, and thy want as an armed man.

“poverty…want” –  connected with too much sleep also in 10:5; 19:15; 20:13.  Hard work is an antidote to poverty (see 12:11; 14:23; 28:19).

“as one that travelleth…an armed man” –  poverty will come when it is too late to do anything about it (cf Matt 24:43).

12 A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.

 “naughty person” or “worthless person” for the use of this term see Jdg 19:22; 1 Sam 25:25; Job 34”18.

Verses 12-14 – A vivid description of one who uses mouth, eyes, feet, and fingers (all a person’s means of communication) in devious ways to achieve the deceitful plots

13 He winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers;

“winketh with his eyes” –  to make insinuations.

14 Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord.

“deviseth mischief” –  see v 18; 3:19; Mic 2:1.

“soweth discord” –   through slander he creates distrust that culminates in alienation and conflict.

15 Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy.

“shall his calamity come suddenly” –  usually a sign of God’s Judgment (see 1:26; 24:22; Job 34:20).

“Suddenly…be broken without remedy” –  he will suffer the same fate he thought to bring upon another – his punishment will fit his crime. 

16 These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:

“six…seven” –  a way of handling numbers in synonymous parallelism in Hebrew poetry (see introduction: The Nature of a Proverb).  Such catalogues of items are frequent in the wisdom literature of the Ole Testament (see 30:15, 18, 21, 29; see also Job 5:19).

Verses 16-19 – A further elaboration on the theme of vv 12-15, explaining why “calamity” will come suddenly (v 15) on the scoundrel described here.

17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,

“proud look” –  reflects a proud heart that God will Judge (see 21:4; 30:13; Ps 18:27; 10:15).

18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,

19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

“false witness” –  proverbs emphasizes the damage done by the false witness (12:17-18; 25:18) and the punishment he receives.

20 My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother:

21 Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck.

Those who follow God’s wisdom add beauty and honor to their lives.

22 When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.

“goeth…sleepest” –  wisdom guides and protects the godly at all times – when awake and when asleep.

23 For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:

“lamp…light” –  just as the word of God “is a lamp to my feet and a light unto my path” (Ps 119:105; cf Ps 19:8).

“Way of life” – see 3:22; 4:22.  Contrast the way to death for the one who hates discipline (5:23).

24 To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.

25 Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.

“Lust not after” –  Jesus shows the close connection between lust and adultery (Matt 5:28; cf Ex 20:17).

26 For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life.

“brought to a piece of bread” –  both the prostitute (29:3) and the adulteress (5:10) reduce a man to poverty (see 1 Sam 2:26).

27 Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?

28 Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?

29 So he that goeth in to his neighbor’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent.

“shall not be innocent” –  will not go unpunished (see vv 33-34).

30 Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry;

Essentials of Tibetan Traditional Medicine

31 But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house.

“sevenfold” –  Hebrew law demanded no more than fivefold payment as a penalty for any theft (Ex 22:1-9).  The number seven here is symbolic – he will pay in full.

32 But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul.

33 A wound and dishonor shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away.

“dishonor” –  dishonor followed Amnon’s raping of Tamar (2 Sam 13:13, 22).

34 For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance.

“jealousy” –  its strength is also illustrated 27:4; Sol 8:6.

35 He will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts.

Heart, Breath, Throat, and Intestines:
Ancient Hebrew Anthropology

Ancient Tibetan Medicine Poster
Traditional Tibetan medicine also known as Sowa-Rigpa medicine, is a centuries-old traditional medical system that employs a complex approach to diagnosis, incorporating techniques such as pulse analysis and urinalysis, and utilizes behavior and dietary modification, medicines composed of natural materials (e.g., herbs and minerals) and physical therapies (e.g. Tibetan acupuncture, moxabustion, etc.) to treat illness.

The Tibetan medical system is based upon Indian Buddhist literature (for example Abhidharma and Vajrayana tantras) and Ayurveda. It continues to be practiced in Tibet, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Ladakh, Siberia, China and Mongolia, as well as more recently in parts of Europe and North America. It embraces the traditional Buddhist belief that all illness ultimately results from the three poisons: ignorance, attachment and aversion. Tibetan medicine follows the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths which apply medical diagnostic logic to suffering.

Biblical Hebrew, like English, uses parts of the body metaphorically to express personality, emotion or thought processes.

Hebrew, however, does not always allude to the same organs as English to express these functions.  A verbatim, translation of these terms would often be unintelligible in English, and thus even the most “literal” of translations must resort to paraphrase in order to communicate the intended point.

Ancient Chinese medical books

The English reader might have difficulty spotting where the Hebrew word for a body part occurs in the examples below:

* The word leb (usually translated “heart”) can be used literally of the physical heart (e.g., Ex 28:29) or metaphorically for several aspects of the personality.

* Often leb indcates the seat of particular emotions, such as fear, lament, regret, joy, comfort, love, anger, etc. (e.g., Ps 27:3; Prov 19:3).  It can also refer to thought functions, as the equivalent of “mind” in English (4:10).

* Hebrew words for “breath” (ruahnehshamah can refer to a person’s inner being (e.g., Job 32:8; Prov 20:27).  Thus, they are often translated into English as “spirit” or “soul”.

But an individual’s ruah may also experience emotional reactions (Gen 26:35) and consequently exhibit a particular behavior, such as stubbornness (Deut 2:30).

* There are several Hebrew words for neck or throat (e.g., garon or nephesh). The throat is the means by which a person breathes, eats, and thus, so to speak, takes in life.

Therefore, the word nephesh, although it concretely means “throat,” is generally translated to “life,” “soul,” or even “person.”  These words are often used to express the inner character of an individual. As such, the neck or thoat can be deceitful (Ps 5:9), display arrogance (Is 3:16), express determination or stubbornness (Ps 75:5), and praise God (Ps 149:6).

The nephesh can be bitter or hot-tempered (Jud 18:25; the NIV’s “hot-tempered men” is actually “men of bitter nephesh”).

Literally, necks displayed precious metals and jewels (Sol 1:10), as well as the yoke of slavery (Is 10:27).  Figuratively, then, the neck or throat could be siad to display what a person deemed valuable (Prov 6:21), as well as the consequences of an individual’s sins (Lam 1:14).

Arabic medicine was once the most advanced in the world, and now digital facsimiles of some of its most important texts have been made freely available online.

* The words for stomach or womb (e.g., beten) can indicate the seat of the emotions, such as titillation (Prov 18:8) and sexual desire (Sol 5:4).  Other organs that Biblical Hebrew uses in this way are the liver, intestines, and kidneys.

Proverbs 6 illustrates the usage described above.  Verse 16 states literally that there are seven things that are detestable to the Lord’s nephesh (His very being).

An ancient medical book on acupoint treatment was recently uncovered in China.

The book, written 2,000 years ago by the miraculous healer Hua Tuo, has been passed down in the Hua family, according to Hua Tuo’s 62nd generation descendent Hua Quanbing.

Verse 30 notes that men do not despise a thief who steals to fill his nephesh (throat or hunger), while verse 32 claims that the adulterer destroys his own nephesh (life or soul).

Verse 14 points out that the individual who plots evil has perversity in his leb (heart or mind), while verse 32 asserts that the adulterer lacks leb (good sense).

The teachings of the Hebrew sages are couched in terms that are sometimes alien to  the modern English reader, but when understood on their own terms they create a compelling picture of a human being as a bundle of physical, emotions, and spiritual capacities and needs.

A man, woman, boy, or girl is an integral combination of body and soul; the emotional or intellectual aspects of life simply cannot be separated from the nature of the whole person.