Bite-Sized Exegesis: Proverbs 10:9


הוֺלֵךְ בַּתֺּם יֵלֶךְ בֶּטַח וּמְעַקֵשׁ דְּרָכָיו יְוָּדֵעַ׃


hôlēk battōm yēlek beṭaḥ ûmǝʿaqēš dǝrākāyw yǝwwādēaʿ


The one walking in integrity walks securely, but the one twisting his paths will be made known.


* The verse’s grammatic parallel structure is [PARTICIPLE] [modifier] [prefix conjugation VERB] [ADVERB] // [PARTICIPLE] [modifier] [prefix conjugation VERB].

* The first clause uses assonance in itself (X-lk bt-X // X-lk bt-X), but no phonetic parallelism unites the two clauses to each other.

* There is a thematic contrast between the first pair of words of each clause relating to straightness vs. twistedness in conduct. The semantic parallelism between the pairs of words is inverted: [walking] [straightness] // [twistedness] [walking]. Integrity, or tōm in Hebrew, connotes well-formed completion in buildings and, by extension, honesty and straightforward-ness in human conduct. One possessing tōm walks a straight path. The “straightness/twistedness” semantic field includes the somewhat more common word group derived from ישׁר (verb יָשַׁר (yāšar) – to be straight/right; adjective יָשָׁר (yāšār) – straight/right; noun יֹשֶׁר (yōšer) – straightness/uprightness). This word group, like that derived from תמם, has both concrete and abstract ethical meanings.

* On the contrary, one who lives dishonestly and whose life is characterized by plots and machinations is said in Hebrew to “twist his path.” The “his” of dǝrākāyw, “his path,” could, grammatically, refer either to the one walking in integrity or the one twisting the path. With the former meaning, the idea would be that anyone trying to trip up or complicate the simple honesty of the one with integrity would be found out. The advantage of this interpretation is that it makes the whole verse essentially concerned with the righteous person. The next verse (Proverbs 10:10) is, on the contrary, entirely concerned with the unrighteous person, so Proverbs 10:9 and 10:10 would together form a couplet (this would also make some sense of their placement together in the larger structure of Proverbs 10:6-11 – see the next several coming posts on this blog). However, more typically in the Hebrew Bible what one twists is one’s own path, so that a twisted path is not one filled with pitfalls and traps for the honest person, but an elusive and sinister path of a cheat and a liar. Admittedly, the verb ʿāqaš (to twist) is not especially common, so even univocal evidence in the Hebrew Bible is somewhat tentative.

* The thematic contrast continues in the second half of each clause. One who walks in integrity has nothing to hide, so he or she can walk in security. On the other hand, one who tries to get ahead by cheating or bending rules is always at risk of being found out, so he or she lives in anxiety. Even if a twisted person doesn’t take the threat of exposure seriously, this proverb doesn’t speak of the risk of exposure but the inevitability of exposure: the cheater will be found out.

* While beṭaḥ, “security”, is listed as a noun in BDB, and two of its occurrences in Isaiah are, in fact, best translated into English as abstract nouns, the word is otherwise always used adverbially, as translated above.

Full Parsing

הוֺלֵךְ – G-stem active participle, masculine, singular from הָלַךְ (hālak). Translated “the one walking.”
בַּתֺּם – Noun, masculine, singular absolute of תֺּם (tōm), with prefixed definite article ha and preposition b. Translated “in integrity.”
יֵלֶךְ – Verb, G-stem, prefix conjugation, 3rd person, masculine, singular of הָלַךְ (hālak). Translated “he walks.”
בֶּטַח – Noun, masculine, singular, absolute of בֶּטַח (beṭaḥ). Translated adverbially as “securely/in security.”
וּמְעַקֵשׁ – D-stem participle, masculine, singular from עָקַשׁ (ʿāqaš), with prefixed conjunction w. Translated “but the one twisting.”
דְּרָכָיו – Noun, masculine, plural of דֶּרֶךְ (derek), with 3rd person, masculine, singular pronominal suffix. Translated “his paths.”
יְוָּדֵעַ – Verb, N-stem, prefix conjugation, 3rd person, masculine, singular of יָדַע (yādaʿ). Translated “he will be made known.”

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