Bite-Sized Exegesis – Proverbs 10:15
The wealth of the rich man is his strong tower, the ruin of the poor is their poverty.
הוֺן עָשִׁיר קִרְיַת עֻזּוֹ מְחִתַּת דַּלִּים רֵישָׁם׃
hôn ʿāšîr qiryat ʿuzzô mǝḥittat dallîm rêšām
The wealth of a rich man is a tower of his strength, the ruin of the poor is their poverty.
- 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.
- 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”