Bite-Sized Exegesis: Proverbs 10:12


שִׂנְאָה תְּעוֺרֵר מְדָנִים וְעַל כָּל־פְּשָׁעִים תְּכַסֶּה אַהֲבָה׃


śīnǝʾâ tǝʿôrēr mǝdānîm wǝʿal kol-pǝšāʿîm tǝkasseh ʾahăbâ


Hatred stirs up contentions, but love covers over all offenses.


* This saying has a concentric structure: A (hate) B (verb) C (contentions) C’ (but over all offenses) B’ (covers) A’ (love). The contrast is direct in meaning and morphology between hate and love (both are a feminine singular noun) and between stirring up and covering (both are D-stem prefix verbs). The contrast between contentions and offenses, however, is direct in morphology (masculine plural nouns) but indirect in meaning, being between the effects of an offense and the offense itself.

* The word mǝdānîm is something of a theme word in Proverbs. Of its 22 occurrences in the Hebrew Bible, 19 are in the book of Proverbs. It is particularly associated with foolishness. Thus we see developing in Proverbs a theory of wisdom that is connects it with love and connects its opposite, foolishness, with hatred. This is a stark contrast with modern philosophy. If the goal of modern philosophy can be called “wisdom”, then wisdom, according to modern philosophy, is largely a matter of accurately describing reality, our place in reality, and our way of acquiring knowledge about reality – kind of a meta-science or a proto-science. Ethics is very much secondary, and concepts like “love” and “hatred” have nothing like a central place in modern philosophy. In the Hebrew Wisdom tradition, however, ethics, behavior in society, and love and hatred have a central place in a theory of wisdom, of what it means to be a wise person and to live a good life. A wise person is not simply one who understands reality in a morally neutral manner. A wise person is one who loves and who treats others with respect.

* The absence of the definite article from pǝšāʿîm may be explained as poetic according to Joüon and Muraoka §137f note 4 and §139e(1). Reading through the extended discussion of determinacy and indeterminacy in Joüon and Muraoka I can find no basis for seeing in the presence or absence of the definite article some indication of a slight change in meaning (for example, between “all offenses” and “all manner of offenses.” I am not entirely satisfied that I exhausted this search, so I’ll put this one in the “Needs More Research” category.

* The word pǝšāʿîm also appears to be a theme word in Proverbs, though it does occur commonly outside of Proverbs, as well. It is used in legal texts, for example, as a legal category – a criminal or civil offense in modern legal terms – but also in non-legal texts for personal offenses. The boundary between personal and criminal or civil offenses in the ancient world was more porous and less pronounced than it is in modern Western legal systems. Nevertheless, a relational transgression and a crime are still two different categories that can both be described by the one word pešāʿ. This makes the English word “offense” remarkably well-suited as a translation.

* As a theme word, it is interesting in that it is found in sayings in the book of Proverbs that are concerned both with righteous people and unrighteous people. Even more interesting is the fact that both the righteous and the unrighteous are said at some point to “cover” (kāsāh) offenses. The difference between these two “coverings” is interesting. A righteous person covers the offenses of others. And this is not in the sense of a cover-up of someone else’s crime (aiding and abetting a murderer, for example), but in the sense of minimizing and forgiving personal and social offenses of varying severity. Matthew’s comment about Joseph in Matthew 1:19 comes to mind “But Joseph, being a righteous man and not wanting to expose her publicly, sought to divorce her in secret.” One also recalls Boaz’s behavior in Ruth 3:6-14 where, regardless of how one understands the subtleties of Ruth’s action and Boaz’s response, it is clear that Ruth has put herself in a vulnerable position and that Boaz has responded in a way that avoids her public exposure. In both cases, even something as severe as sexual promiscuity can be covered by a righteous person.

* By contrast, a hateful person seeks to expose offenses and to stir up strife. This person is lumped into the bad category in Proverbs with the unrighteous and the foolish. The same kind of person will cover up offenses but is considered unrighteous for it. The distinction is in motivation and in whose offense is being covered. The unrighteous person covers up the offenses of himself/herself and of his or her cohorts in order to stay concealed and not get caught in some kind of criminal activity. Dishonesty and a lack of grace are the unrighteous person’s motivations. On the other hand, the motivations of the righteous person are honesty and grace. While these differing motivations can produce behavior that is, on the surface, similar, i.e. covering offenses from public exposure, the ultimate effects of their actions will produce different results: peace and reconciliation from the righteous person, strife and contention from the unrighteous person.

Full Parsing

שִׂנְאָה – Noun, feminine, singular, absolute of שִׂנְאָה (śīnǝʾâ). Translated “Hatred/hate.”
תְּעוֺרֵר – Verb, D-stem (polel), prefix, 3rd, feminine, singular from עוּר (I). Translated “she/it rouses/stirs up.”
מְדָנִים – Noun, masculine, plural, absolute of מָדוֹן (mādôn). Translated “contentions/arguments/strife.”
וְעַל – Preposition עַל (ʿal) with prefixed conjunction w. Translated “but over …”
כָּל־ – Noun, masculine, construct of כֺּל (kōl). Literally “the whole of …”, here translated “every.”
פְּשָׁעִים – Noun, masculine, plural, absolute of פֶּשָׁע (pešāʿ). Translated “transgressions/offenses.”
תְּכַסֶּה – Verb, D-stem, prefix, 3rd, feminine, singular from כָּסָה (I). Translated “she/it covers.”
אַהֲבָה – Noun, feminine, singular, absolute of אַהֲבָה (ʾahăbâ). Translated “love.”

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