Bite-Sized Exegesis, Old Testament, Proverbs, Proverbs 10

Bite-Sized Exegesis – Proverbs 10:15

The wealth of the rich man is his strong tower, the ruin of the poor is their poverty.

Text

הוֺן עָשִׁיר קִרְיַת עֻזּוֹ מְחִתַּת דַּלִּים רֵישָׁם׃

Transliteration

hôn ʿāšîr qiryat ʿuzzô mǝḥittat dallîm rêšām

Literal Translation

The wealth of a rich man is a tower of his strength, the ruin of the poor is their poverty.

Notes

  • This verse has a very elegant structure, in one sense parallel ([construct+absolute][construct+status pronominalis]//[construct+absolute][status pronominalis]), in another concentric ([wealth][person][result]//[result][person][poverty]). The [result] words/construct chains on the inside of the concentrism include feminine construct forms, resulting in a phonetic as well as grammatical similarity.
  • The word rêš (means “poverty”) only occurs in Proverbs. We saw the related word rāš in Proverbs 10:4.
  • Quite a lot of the sayings in Proverbs seem to be making a contrast between immediate appearance and enduring realities, showing how hidden virtues ultimately lead to a better result. In this way they act to mitigate the brutality of reality. A minority of sayings, on the other hand, really only describe the brutality of life without saying anything about how virtue overcomes this brutality. Proverbs 10:15 is one of these latter kinds of sayings (see also Proverbs 18:11 for a similar saying).
  • The sense of this saying is, like a lot of proverbs, one that becomes clearer with real life experience. Wealth, the saying says, acts as a protective barrier between the wealthy man and the difficulties of life. On the other hand, poverty puts a poor man in difficult situations without any kind of protective barrier. In order to survive, the poor man often has to resort to solutions that have regrettable lasting effects that keep the poor man poor. In this way, poverty becomes a kind of trap. A modern saying that observes something similar would be the one that goes “It takes money to make money.”
  • This saying says nothing about the virtue or wisdom of the rich man, and nothing about the wickedness or foolishness of the poor man. The typical polarities of the book of Proverbs are not in view. Nor does this verse say anything negative about the rich man. It does, I think, lead us to have sympathy for the poor man. Contrary to some of the rhetoric one hears from the moderately well-to-do, a poor man is not always poor because he chooses to be or because he makes bad choices that are avoidable. Poverty itself, this proverb observes, brings ruin to the poor.

Full Parsing

  • הוֺן – Noun, masculine, singular, construct of הוֺן (hôn). Translated “The wealth of …”
  • עָשִׁיר – Substantive adjective, masculine, singular, absolute of עָשִׁיר (ʿāšîr). Translated “the rich one”
  • קִרְיַת – Noun, feminine, singular, construct of קִרְיָה (qiryâ). Translated “the city of …”
  • עֻזּוֹ – Noun, masculine, singular, status pronominalis of עֹז (ʿōz) from עזז, with 3rd masculine singular genitival suffix. Translated “his strength”; in construct chain with קִרְיַת, it means “the city of strength of him” or “his strong city”
  • מְחִתַּת – Noun, feminine, singular, construct of מְחִתָּה (mǝḥittâ) from חתת. Translated “the ruin of …”
  • דַּלִּים – Substantive adjective, plural, masculine, absolute of דַּל (dal). Translated “the poor ones”
  • רֵישָׁם – Noun, masculine, singular, status pronominalis of רֵישׁ (rêš), with 3rd masculine plural genitival suffix. Translated “their poverty”
Summary
Bite-Sized Exegesis - Proverbs 10:15
Article Name
Bite-Sized Exegesis - Proverbs 10:15
Description
A translation and commentary of Proverbs 10:15.
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Bite-Sized Exegesis
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2 thoughts on “Bite-Sized Exegesis – Proverbs 10:15

  1. It seems to me that this proverb is the norm of society with no influencing factors while many of the other proverbs that deal with the wise or foolish transcends this norm and may alter it in showing how the wise will get richer/prosper (perhaps not rich completely materially) and the fool gets poorer (though perhaps not impoverished depending on how rich he starts or the nature of his foolishness). Lots to ponder on this one.

    1. I’m sorry I never responded to your comment. Yes. I like that you observe “with no influencing factors.” If this proverb is doing anything other than making a simple observation about the brutality of life, it is urging compassion for the poor, and perhaps that we should be an “influencing factor” that helps break that cycle of poverty.

What do you think?