An Analysis of the Structure of Proverbs 28 and 29



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Calvary Baptist Theological Journal 11.2 (Fall 1995) 1-14

Copyright © 1995 by Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary, cited with permission.


An Analysis of the Structure of

Proverbs 28 and 29
Douglas Finkbeiner
Assistant Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church

Lansdale, Pennsylvania


The thematic arrangement of Proverbs 28 and 29 has

been an area of scholarly dispute. Some propose that the

thematic arrangement takes place around the royal court setting;

others disagree.1 It is the position of this writer that Proverbs 28

and 29 are addressed to kingly prospects within the court setting

and that these chapters are skillfully arranged around themes

pertinent to royalty. In developing this thesis, some general

observations about the chapters and some specific observations

about both the structure and theme of Proverbs 28 and 29 are

stated. Following these observations, each section within the two

chapters will be analyzed to help determine its thematic unity and

thought development.


____________________
1Bruce V .Malchow, “A Manual for Future Monarchs,” Catholic Biblical

Quarterly 47 (April 1985): 238; see also W. Lee Humphreys, “The Motif of

the Wise Courtier in the Book of Proverbs,” in Israelite Wisdom: Theological



and Literary Essays in Honor of Samuel Terrien, ed. John G. Gamie and others

(New York: Scholars Press, 1978), 186-187.

2 Calvary Baptist Theological Journal Fall 1995
General Observations
To begin, several general observations should be made

concerning these verses. The first concerns the poetic structure

of this passage.

A significant poetic device used in Hebrew poetry is

parallelism. The majority of the parallelism used in this passage

is complementary. Of the parallelism that is complementary,

thirty-two verses are antithetical while four are comparative.

The use of antithetical parallelism is in distinct contrast to the

“comparisons” and “single sentences” of chapters 26 and 27.2

Other forms of parallelism used are as follows: the

sequential/consequential, eleven verses; focusing (intensification),

seven verses; synonymity (emphatic restatement), one verse.

A second interesting poetic feature of this passage is that

virtually every verse is a couplet. The two exceptions appear to

be triplets in 28:10 and 28:17. A third aspect of the poetic

structure to draw attention is that twenty three out of the thirty

six complementary verses are consequential within each stich.3

This reveals that the author is emphasizing the consequences of

godliness and wickedness. As will be shown later, there is a

greater emphasis on the negative aspect. Fourthly, with the

exception of the admonitions in 28:17 and 29:17, all of the

verses are sayings.

Concerning the unit division, chapters 28 and 29 are

widely considered to be a separate unit of thought. Although

Malchow argues for including 27:23-27 as an introduction to this

unit, those five verses could easily conclude the thought


____________________
2Crawford H. Toy, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book

of Proverbs, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T.

Clark, 1954), x.

3The term “stich” refers to each line or part within a Hebrew poetic

couplet.


Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 3
development in chapter 27.4 The opening of chapter 30 clearly

points to the commencement of a new collection.

Concerning content, the clear emphasis is the contrast

between the righteous (qyDica -Proverbs 28:1,12,28; 29:2,6,7,

16, 27) and the wicked (fwArA -Proverbs 28:1,3,12,15,28;

29:2,7,10,12,16,27). Virtually every verse speaks of these two

types of people either directly or by use of the synonyms.
Specific Observations
The Structure of Proverbs 28 and 29
The structure of Proverbs 28 and 29 seems rather clear.

After personal research, this writer has arrived at a similar

conclusion to that of Bruce Malchow.
The editor of chapters 28-29 has organized his material

through the use of strategically placed proverbs employing

the words saddiq (“righteous”) and rasa (“wicked”). These

chapters begin (28:1) and end (29:27) with couplets using

these words. Then there are four proverbs within the

collection that contain these terms and occur at intervals

(28:12,28; 29:2,16). These four are integrally related to each

other and form a symmetrical pattern. Thus, the first and

third couplets have rather similar first lines (28: 12a; 29:2a).

Then the second line of the first proverb and the first line of

the second match (28:12b; 28:28a). Next, both the second

line of the second couplet and the second line of the fourth

treat the destruction of the wicked (28:28b; 29:16b). Also,

the second line of the second couplet and the first line of the

third mention the rise of the righteous to a position of

authority (28:28b; 29:2a). Finally, the second line of the


____________________
4 Malchow “A Manual for Future Monarchs,” 243-245.

4 Calvary Baptist Theological Journal Fall 1995


third couplet is comparable to the first line of the fourth

(29:2b; 29:16a).5


Thus, these four strategically located verses form the division for

the two chapters. To see these four interrelated couplets as

merely coincidental repetition seems unlikely since no other

verses within the chapters are as closely knit in structure (B with

the infinitive construct opens each verse) or content (“righteous”

and “wicked”). The chapters could be divided as follows:


28:1-introduction (contrast between lifestyles)

28:2-11-first section

28:12-transition

28: 13-27-second section

28:28-transition

29:1-a key to theme (middle of structure)

29:2-transition

29:3-15-third section

29:16-transition

29:17-26-fourth section

27:27-conclusion (contrast between adversions)
Some transitions are also tied into the immediate sections.

Proverbs 28:12a is related to 28:llb and 28:12b to 28:13a. In

addition, 28:28a is related generally to 28:27b and 28b to 29:1.

29:2a is related to 29:3a (“rejoice”) and 29:2b to 29:3b (“grief”

and “loss”). 29:16 is sandwiched between two verses on the

family. Lastly 29:27 contrasts 29:26 (“injustice” and “justice”).


____________________
5Ibid., 239.
Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 5
The Theme of Proverbs 28 and 29
What is the theme of Proverbs 28, 29? Generally these

two chapters present a “manual for future monarchs.”6 The proof

for an addressee who is a prospective ruler is four-fold. First,

the direct instruction to rulers is seen in each section (28:2, 3, 15,

16; 29:2, 4, 12, 14, 26 -princes, oppressor, ruler, king, leader).

Secondly, there are numerous verses referring to the results of

ruling the nation as a whole (28:2, 12, 15, 28; 29:2, 16, 18) and

deprived groups (28:3, 5, 21; 29:7, 14). Thirdly, the only two

imperatives (28:17; 29:17) in these chapters appear to be

addressed to a ruler. Although 29:17 is not very conclusive,

28:17 is. The only one who has judicial authority over people's

response to a murder is a ruler. Fourthly, the recurring themes

of impartial social justice and charity for the poor were common

in the Ancient Near Eastern setting.7 W. Lee Humphreys lists

the following motifs "of wise courtiers in Egyptian literature"

which occur in Proverbs 28 and 29: 1) humility 2) equity 3)

strong family 4) control of tongue.8

Specifically, the theme seems to be that the prospective

ruler is to submit to God's standard of righteousness. To prove

this, the editor arranged these chapters to emphasize the

importance of righteousness and submission. As previously

mentioned, the motif of righteousness pervades these chapters.

Special emphasis is expressed by showing the consequences of

righteousness and wickedness. Submission, or, to be more

specific, the consequences of refusing to submit, seems to be
____________________
6See Malchow, “A Manual for Future Monarch,” 238; Bruce K. Waltke,

Unpublished Class Notes (Westminster Theological Seminary, 1986), 7. Also

see Patrick Skehan' s analysis presented by James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament

Wisdom (Atlanta: John Know Press, 1981), 76.

7Bruce V. Malchow, “Social Justice in the Wisdom Literature,” Biblical

Theology Bulletin, 12 (October 1982): 120-122.

8W. Lee Humphreys, “The Motif of the Wise Courtier in the Book of

Proverbs,” 178.


6 Calvary Baptist Theological Journal Fall 1995
emphasized in the central verse of the structural development

(29:1). When a ruler is prepared to submit, God can instruct him

concerning the standard. In these chapters the standard seems to

be discernment (28:2-11), identifying types of people (28:13-27),

wisdom (29:3-15), and appropriate speech to men and a

realization of God's sovereignty (29:17-26).


Analysis of Proverbs 28 and 29
Proverbs 28:2-11
There is definite unity within the first section. The verb

“discern” (NyBi) appears five times in this section (vv. 2, 5a, 5b,

7, 11) and not again until chapter 29. The noun "law" (hrAOt)

appears four times in this section (vv. 4a, 4b, 7, 9) and not again

until chapter 29. Nouns designating poverty-stricken individuals

( lD and wRA) also appear frequently (vv. 3, 6, 8, 11).

Structural linkage and assonance show the

“interconnection” between individual verses. Verses 7-10 all

begin with participles. Malchow effectively discusses the

assonance between “adjoining” verses.


Thus, ken and ‘en unite vv. 2-3. Three word combinations

couple vv. 3-4: geber-yitgaru, ro’ s-rasa’, matar-somere.

In addition, the second word in vv. 3-7 has the same sound:

ro’ s tora, ra’, ras, and tora. Verses 5-6 are also related

by mebaqse and me’iqqes. Ben and benesek link vv. 7-

8. Verses 8-10 all begin with the letter mem and are

connected by tarbit-tora-ra. Furthermore, vv. 8-9 are

joined by hono’-ozno, and vv. 9-10 by tepillato-yippol.

Finally, yesarim and ‘asir link vv. 10-11.9


____________________
9Malchow, “A Manual for Future Monarchs,” 240-241.

Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 7


There appears to be structured thought development

concerning the discernment of prospective rulers in the first

section (28:2-11). The apparent inclusio in this section, in which

NyBi is written in vv. 2 and 11, give credence to the

“discernment” theme. In addition, the recurrence of the verb

NyB in this section and the omission of the verb in the subsequent

section (29:13-27) indicate the verb's importance to the first

section. “The verb refers to knowledge which is superior to

mere gathering of data.” It “is a power of judgment and

perceptive insight and is demonstrated in the use of

knowledge.”10

The author seems to present his theme in 2 stanzas of five

verses each (vv. 2-6; 7-11). Each verse within each stanza

parallels a verse in the other stanza based on word

correspondence. For instance, NyB links vv. 2 and 7, lza joins

vv. 3 and 8, hrAOT concatenates vv. 4 and 9, frA interconnects

vv. 5 and 10, and expressions for the poor ( wrA and LD) link

vv. 6 and 11. The purpose for two interrelated stanzas may be

emphasis. The following model further clarifies the structural

hypothesis.


Verse 2 Verse 7

Importance of Discernment Importance of Discernment

(setting -ruling) (setting-family)
Verse 3 Verse 8

Negative example of Negative example of

Discernment Discernment (inequitable

(inequitable to the poor) in taxes to the poor)


____________________
10Louis Goldberg, “NyBi” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament

Vol. 1 edited by R. Laird Harris, et al. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 103.

8 Calvary Baptist Theological Journal Fall 1995
Verse 4 Verse 9

Basis of discernment – one’s Basis of discernment – one’s

relation to the law relation to the law

(influences horizontal (influences vertical

relationships) relationship)
Verse 5 Verse 10

Basis of discernment – one’s Basis of discernment – one’s

character in relation to God character in relation to others

(negative/positive (negative/positive

consequences) consequences)
Verse 6 Verse 11

Pervasiveness of discernment Pervasiveness of discernment

includes poor includes poor

(emphasis - character behind (emphasis - act due to

act) character)
Although this model and the thought development it espouses

may be inaccurate in some specifics, the apparent parallels

should not be explained as coincidences.
Proverbs 28:13-27
The second section (28:13-27) is another separate entity.

On the one hand, it is separated from the first and third section

by the two literary division verses (28:12, 28), but on the other

hand there is unity within the second section. This unit may be

described as an inclusio since intra-personal relationships are

expressed by one's relationship to God and sin in vv. 13, 14, and

vv. 25-27. The inclusio is also emphasized by the repetition of

synonyms for “cover” in v. 13a (hs.Akam;) and v. 27b

(MylifimaU). The section depicts all types of men under the

categories of righteous and wicked. The consequences of a

man’s activities are present in every verse except vv. 15 and 21.
Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 9
There is cohesion between the adjoining verses in the

second section. First, there is cohesion in content. II Verses 13,

14, and 25-27 refer to one's intra-personal relationship to God.

For instance, hFaBA (vv. 25, 26) refers to one's relationship to

Jehovah. Verses 15-18 refer to hierarchal relationships (rulers,

vv. 15, 16; subjects, vv. 17, 18). Verses 19-22 refer to extra-

personal relationships (a coined term referring to one's

relationship to things). The focus is on the distinction between

greed and contentment. Lastly, verses 23-24 refer to

interpersonal relationships. A ruler must identify various types

of individuals within these categories and believe that

consequences follow actions.

Secondly, there is cohesion in assonance. Malchow

demonstrates this when he writes,


Verses 13-18 are all united by the series mekasseh, maqseh,

mosel, ma asaqqot, asuq, and ne quas. Verses 14-15

have ‘asre and ‘ari....The assonance between vv. 18-

19 occur in yiwwasea’yisba’ and derakayim - reqim.

The tie between vv. 19-20 is admato – ‘emunot. The first

words in the second lines of vv. 20-22 are we as, we al,

and welo. Lahon, lason, and le’ is link vv. 22-24. Verses

24-25 are related by haber - rehab. Verses 25-26 are united

because both contain the word boteah.12


The thematic development of the second section is based on

content rather than assonance. The following model delineates

the thought development.
____________________
11Malchow treats each section according to content, word-links, and

assonance; see “A Manual for Future Monarchs,” 238-243.

12Ibid., 241.

10 Calvary Baptist Theological Journal Fall 1995


Vv. 13, 14 - Intra-personal relationships

Acts in light of sin (13)

Attitudes in light of God (14)

Vv. 15-18 - Hierarchal relationships

Rulers (15-16)

specific: Negative ruler (comparison) (v. 15)

general: Compare bad and good ruler (v. 16)

Subjects (17-18)

specific: Negative subject (consequence) (v. 17)

general: Compare bad to good subjects (v. 17)

Vv. 19-22 - Extra-personal relationships

Compare content and covetous (19, 20)

Content v. dreamer (19)

Content v. dishonest (20)

Negative man - covetous (consequence) (21, 22)

Vv. 23-24 - Interpersonal relationships (verbal speech)

Compare reprover and flatterer (23)

Negative speaker (consequence) (24)

Vv. 25-27 - Intrapersonal relationships

Compare ‘truster’ in God and in men (25, 26)

Specific application (27)
The author constructs a structure in which a comparison

between good and evil, and a focus on the negative man appear

under each heading (vv. 15-16; 17, 18; 19-22; 23, 24) with the

exception of the first and last heading (vv. 13, 14; 25-27). In

conclusion, a prospective ruler needs to identify various types of

individuals (good or evil) within the various relationships.


Proverbs 29:3-15
The third section of chapters 28 and 29 (29:3-15) is a

unified entity developing a common theme (wisdom). The unity

is seen in the assonance and “word-links” between the adjoining

verses. Once again Malchow demonstrates this when he states

that,

Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 11


Within the group, vv. 3 and 4 share the word is. There is

assonance between ‘ares in v. 4 and reset in v. 5. Pores-



pesa’ and re ehu-ra’ unit vv. 5-6. Both vv. 6 and 7

contain saddiq. The first words in vv. 8-10 are ‘anse, ‘is,

and ‘anse. In addition vv. 8-9 have hakamin-hakam.

Assonance is present in yesabbehenna-maqsib in vv. 11-12,

and both verses share kol. Resa’ im-ras link vv. 12-13.

Verses 13-14 are connected because they contain different

words for the poor. And there is assonance between vv. 14-

15 in ‘emet-‘immo.13


The common theme in the third section is wisdom. The

term "wisdom" or "a wise man" occurs five times in this section.

These words are sporadic elsewhere in chapters 28 and 29.

Verses 3 and 15 form an inclusio for this section centering

around wisdom in the family setting. If a prospective ruler is

going to be righteous, he must be wise.

The section breaks down into three divisions (excluding vv.

3 and 15 which form the inclusio for this section). The first

division (vv. 4-7) describes kingly wisdom. Verses 4 and 7 form

an inclusio for this section since royal justice occurs in each

verse. There seems to be a connection between bribery (v. 4)

and flattery (v. 5). The "young man" (v. 5) may refer to a

prospective king (28:3, 21; 30:1). Verses 6 and 7 are bonded by

qyDica. The second division (vv. 8-11) portrays wisdom that is

under control. Lack of control is portrayed by braggers (v. 8),

fools (v. 9), murderers (v. 10), and angry men (v. 11). Various

terms or concepts are repeated ("men-of' -vv. 8, 9; "fool" -vv.

9, 11; "anger" -vv. 8, 11). The third division (vv. 12-14)

develops the concept of kingly wisdom. Verses 12 and 14 form

an inclusio for this division by discussing the king's public

ministry. Verses 12 and 14 refer to the ruler while verses 13
____________________
13Ibid., 242.
12 Calvary Baptist Theological Journal Fall 1995
and 14 refer to the poor. The structural similarity of the first

and last verses within each division is as follows:


vv. 4, 7 Saying: positive/negative; complementary antithetical

vv. 8, 11 Saying: negative/positive; complementary antithetical

vv. 12, 14 Saying: negative/consequence/negative; consequential

Saying: positive/consequence/positive; consequential


The third section is clarified by the following model.
v. 3 -Wisdom in the family setting

vv. 4-7 -Kingly wisdom

vv. 8-11 -Wisdom under control

vv. 12-14 -Kingly wisdom

v. 15 -Wisdom in the family setting
Proverbs 29:17-26
The last section (29: 17-26) of the collection focuses on

verbal speech (17-24) and Jehovah's prominence over men (25,

26). If the prospective ruler is to be righteous and promote

righteousness, he must submissively adhere to this instruction.

Malchow elaborates upon the internal unity by focusing on the

author's assonance and word-links.


Pasa’-napseka bind vv. 16-17. Verses 17-19 are related by

bin'ka-be’en-we’en. In vv. 19-21, there is the series

abed-bidbarayw-‘abdo. Bidbarayw in v. 20 also connects

with bidbarim in v. 19. The last words in vv. 19-21

constitute another series between these verses: macaneh-

mimmennu-manon. Manon in v. 21 also provides a link with

madon in v. 22. Verses 22-23 are united by two different

words for man and the pair uba’al-usepal. Taspilennu



usepal in v. 23 corresponds to sone’napso in v. 24. There

is assonance between yaggid in v. 24 and yesuggab in v. 25,


Finkbeiner: Proverbs 28 and 29 13
and both verses begin with the letter het. Moqes in v. 25

relates to mebaqsim and mosel in v. 26....14


Verbal speech is delineated in vv. 17-24. Terms such as

“discipline” (vv. 17, 19), “there is no” (vv. 18, 19), “slave” (vv.

19, 21), and “words” (vv. 19, 20) are used in this section.

Verses 17, 18 emphasize the importance of proper speech from

a father to a son (v. 17) and from God to a people (v. 18). Both

are necessary for success and righteousness. Verses 19-23

describe wrong speech. Wrong speech includes advising or

pampering a slave (vv. 19, 21), being hasty with words (v. 20),

releasing anger due to a proud heart (vv. 22, 23), and refusing

to speak when one should (v. 24).

Verses 25 and 26 describe Jehovah's prominence over men.

What could capstone this collection better than focusing on

Jehovah who is behind all human affairs? The key word linking

these 2 verses together is "Jehovah." The author petitions the

courtier to trust God rather than fear men (v. 25), and to realize

that justice comes from God not from manipulating judges (v.

26). A working model of this section is as follows:
vv. 17-24 Verbal speech

vv. 17-18 Necessary speech

vv. 19-24 Improper speech

vv. 25-26 Jehovah's prominence


Verse 27 concludes the collection by reiterating the dichotomy I

between the righteous and wicked.

By way of conclusion, this writer has sought to analyze

chapters 28 and 29 of Proverbs. Although some of the specific

development within each section is subject to debate, there are

some clear literary styles and structures used in this collection

which seem to be more than mere coincidence. It would appear
____________________
14Ibid., 243.
14 Calvary Baptist Theological Journal Fall 1995
that the author is petitioning prospective rulers to submit to

God's standard of righteousness, to see the opposition between

righteousness and wickedness, and to understand the

consequences of right or wrong living for himself and his people.

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary

1300 Valley Forge Rd.

Lansdale, PA 19446



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