Bite-Sized Exegesis – Proverbs 10:17
“One who heeds correction is a path to life, but the one who neglects reproof leads astray.”
אֹרַח לְחַיִּים שׁוֺמֵר מוּסָר וְעוֹזֵב תּוֺכַחַת מַתְעֶה׃
ʾōraḥ lǝḥayyîm šômēr mûsār wǝʿôzēb tôkaḥat matʿeh
A path to life is the who heeds correction, but the one who neglects reproof is one who leads astray.
- The saying has a concentric form: [good path] [G-stem ptc for one listening to correction] // [G-stem ptc for one ignoring correction] [bad path]. Both clauses are nominal sentences.
- The sense of the first clause is generally accepted to mean “the one who heeds correction is on the path to life”, but precisely how this clause functions grammatically is not uncertain (see most every major translation, including KJV, ESV, NRSV, NASB, HCSB, NLT, CEB).
- The word ʾōraḥ, which literally refers to a path, here could metonymically refer to the one who travels the path (“a wayfarer to life is the one keeping correction”). Generally, this seems a better solution to me than understanding the participle šômēr as a gerund (“the path to life is heeding correction”, for which I would expect a Hebrew infinitive or some other construction altogether; see Waltke and O’Connor, IBHS §37.1a).
- Else, we have to understand some sort of implied preposition. This is like understanding ʾōraḥ lǝḥayyîm as an adverbial construction, but this strikes me as odd (certainly not typical of Hebrew). Duane Garrett (Proverbs, 119-120) suggests a grammatically easier solution, namely that this proverb concerns the wider effects of those who do and not listen to correction (so also the NIV, taking a minority position).
- A related problem is how to translate the last word, matʿeh. This is an H-stem participle, and other examples of the H-stem of the verb are causative – “to lead astray” rather than “to go astray.” Many older scholars (these include Toy and Delitzsch) rejected the causative sense as “less natural”, although Strack (338) seems more positively—if not conclusively—disposed toward the causative interpretation. But surely allowing the H-stem to have its more usual causative meaning is more “natural.”
- These older commentators were operating under two questionable presuppositions: 1) the first clause of this verse is concerned with the destiny rather than the effects of the one who listens to correction; 2) that Hebrew proverbs, properly understood and in their most original forms, present symmetrical comparisons and contrasts. This second presupposition we are continually seeing is ill-founded. On the contrary, more often than not, some kind of asymmetry characterizes the relationship between the two clauses of a Hebrew proverb.
- Even though we know that we don’t need to find symmetrical contrasts between the two clauses, Duane Garrett’s understanding of the first clause allows the more natural causative interpretation of the final H-stem participle to form a more or less symmetrical contrast with the first clause. The meaning of the saying as a whole is that people who listen to correction (which we already know are in the category “wise”) have positive effects on those around them in leading them along the path to lead. On the contrary, those who do not listen to correction lead those around them into error. The moral of the story is: surround yourself with humble people.
- אֹרַח – Noun, masculine, singular, absolute of אֹרַח (ʾōraḥ). Translated either as “a path” or metonymically as “one traveling the path”
- לְחַיִּים – Noun, masculine, plural (pluralia tantum), absolute of (ḥayyîm), with prefixed preposition l. Translated “to life”
- שׁוֺמֵר – G-stem substantive participle, masculine, singular of שָׁמַר (šāmar). Translated “the one keeping/heeding”
- מוּסָר – Noun, masculine, singular, absolute of מוּסָר (mûsār). Translated “correction”
- וְעוֹזֵב – G-stem substantive participle, masculine, singular of עָזַב (ʿāzab), with prefixed conjunction w. Translated “but the one neglecting”
- תּוֺכַחַת – Noun, feminine, singular, absolute of תּוֺכַחַת (tôkaḥat). Translated “reproof”
- מַתְעֶה – H-stem substantive participle, masculine, singular of תָּעָה (tāʿāh). Translated causatively as “one who leads astray”