Bite-Sized Exegesis: Proverbs 10:13

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In the lips of one with discernment wisdom is found, but the rod is for the back of the one lacking judgment.


בְשִׂפְתֵי נָבוֺן תּמָּצֵא חָכְמָה וְשֵׁבֶט לְגֵו חֲסַר־לֵב׃


bǝśiptê nābôn timmāṣē ḥokmâ wǝšēbeṭ lǝgēw ḥăsar-lēb


  • The words ḥokmâ and nābôn (wisdom and judgment/intelligence/discernment) are a conventional pairing found a few other times in Proverbs, twice in Deuteronomy, and once in 1 Kings. Their meanings are difficult to distinguish from one another, and when they occur in a pair they produce a cumulative meaning, so that to try and determine what is meant by one as opposed to the other is somewhat futile.
  • The saying has to do with the contrast between the way wise people and foolish people gain wisdom. Wise people listen to the words of wise people and acquire wisdom thereby. Foolish people, on the other hand, are incapable of acquiring wisdom by any means other than the rod of correction. This is part of a recurring theme in Proverbs: wise people seek out wisdom, which is readily available to those who seek it, whereas foolish people resist wisdom, even when it is obvious and readily available. Fools only learn the hard way, if they learn at all.
  • The second half of the verse was formerly the subject of some text-critical speculation that is still preserved in the BHS critical apparatus where two reconstructions are suggested: וּבִשְׂפָתָיו נִלעַג or וּבְשֵׁבֶט שְׂפָתָיו נִלעַג (meaning, respectively, “and by his lips [the one lacking judgment] is derided” or “and by the rod of his lips [the one lacking judgment] is derided”). Neither suggestion has any basis in the witness of manuscripts or of the ancient translations. Neither is there any problem in the text as it stands that could be considered a corruption. The only reason for the suggested emendation that I can see is an attempt to bring the saying into line with an aesthetic sensibility foreign to the text, that is, to make the parallelism more precise. But we have already seen (and will continue to see) that Hebrew poetic parallelism is very flexible.
  • We once again see “heart” as the seat of rational thought rather than emotional thought.

Full Parsing

  • בְשִׂפְתֵי – Noun, feminine, dual, construct of שָׂפָה (śāpâ) with prefixed preposition b. Translated “in the lips of …”
  • נָבוֺן – N-stem participle, masculine, singular of בין. Translated “one with discernment”
  • תּמָּצֵא – Verb, N-stem, prefix conjugation, 3rd, feminine, singular of מצא. Translated “she/it it is found”
  • חָכְמָה – Noun, feminine, singular, absolute of חָכְמָה (ḥokmâ). Translated “wisdom”
  • וְשֵׁבֶט – Noun, masculine, singular, absolute of שֵׁבֶט (šēbeṭ) with prefixed conjunction w. Translated “but a rod”
  • לְגֵו – Noun, masculine, singular, construct of גֵּו (gēw) with prefixed preposition l. Translated “for the back of …”
  • חֲסַר־ – Substantive adjective, masculine, singular, construct of חָסֵר (ḥāsēr). Translated “the lacker of …/the one lacking …”
  • לֵב – Noun, masculine, singular, absolute of לֵב (lēb). Translated “mind/judgment/reason”

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