Bite-Sized Exegesis – Proverbs 10:18
“Concealer of hatred, lips of deceit; but one who publicizes slander – he is a fool.”
מְכַסֶּה שִׂנְאָה שִׂפְתֵי־שָׁקֶר וּמוֺצִא דִבָּה הוּא כְסִיל׃
mǝkasseh śīnǝʾâ śīpǝtê-šāqer ûmôṣīʾ dibbâ hûʾ kǝsîl
- Phonetically, there is quite a concentration of sibilants in this saying. If the saying is divided into four subunits (every two words, without regard for the presence or absence of a maqqef) each of these subunits contains a sibilant. Also, the first and last words both contain a kaf and samekh while no other word in the saying does.
- The first clause is odd. First of all, which part is the topic and which is the comment? In other words, is this clause more akin to English “He who conceals his hatred is a liar” or “A liar conceals his hatred.” Considering that what comes first in a clause in Proverbs is typically the topic rather than the comment, I would opt for the former, but something does not sit right with me about this. When taken as a nominal sentence, this clause has an odd sense: “A concealer of hatred [is] lips of deceit.” This can be understood metonymically, where “lips” stand in place of the speaker. This is acceptable, but by taking “concealer of hatred” as the topic, the clause expresses a negative evaluation of people who do not confess their hatred, an act of restraint that, in other contexts, might be taken as laudable (see two notes below). Is this saying intended to instruct the reader about wise behavior or about judging the character of others? If the latter (as I read), how do we know that this or that person conceals his or her hatred? We can identify people as liars when a lie is discovered, but what purpose does this saying serve if we are intended to use another person’s concealment of his or her hatred as a basis for a character judgment when such a concealment is, by definition, not discoverable?
- My solution to this problem is to soften the topic/comment contrast between the two halves of the clause. It seems to me better to read this clause in a sentence-fragmentary way (like the second clause, as well – see below) without inserting the copula: “Concealer of hatred, lips of deceit.” One could paraphrase this thus: “Where one finds a concealer of hatred, one also finds lips of deceit.” In this way, both halves of the first clause can be both topic and comment: these two kinds of behavior are found together.
- “Hatred” (śīnǝʾâ) can mean justified hatred arising from legitimate grievances, though it often carries a sense of irrationality arising from jealousy or greed. The latter is probably the intended sense here.
- Toy (248-49) notes this saying’s lack of a typical contrast along one of the two normal axes (righteousness // unrighteousness or wisdom // foolishness). This, along with his feeling that the verb כסה is more naturally associated with the acts of righteous people unless specifically defined otherwise, leads him to prefer the Greek text (righteous lips) or the KJV rendering of the proverb as a single sentence (“He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool.”), or to presume that the original text is lost.
- Acknowledging that the verse is difficult, neither of Toy’s criteria here are well-founded. First of all, while a contrast along one of the two main axes is typical, it should not be presumed to be required. As nearby as Proverbs 10:11 (if we accept the Hebrew text), we have another example of a proverb whose two halves relate along an axis perpendicular to the norm: wicked people do X1, and foolish people do X2. The commonality of the behavior and fate of wicked people and foolish people is an important sub-theme in Proverbs, and it is not one that is directly addressed by the standard contrasts. Righteousness is contrasted with unrighteousness, wisdom with foolishness, but one does not typically find a contrast between righteousness and foolishness, or wisdom and unrighteousness. The two conceptual axes remain disconnected without sayings like Proverbs 10:18.
- In short, whereas a typical saying in the book of Proverbs contrasts a feature of a virtuous person with a related feature of a wicked person along one of two axes (righteous // unrighteous or wise // foolish), some sayings compare/contrast the way a common feature looks in relation to the same pole of both axes (more often the vice pole rather than the virtue pole). Proverbs 10:18 is one of these latter sayings.
- The characteristic that unifies the two halves of the saying is “hatred”: those on one vice pole deal with their hatred this way, while those on the other vice pole deal with their hatred that way. An interesting implication of this saying is that hatred has no place in the heart of the righteous person or the wise person. Righteousness and wisdom are repeatedly associated with love in the book of Proverbs, while unrighteousness and foolishness are associated with hatred. Just another example to show that the New Testament does not have a monopoly on “Christian” ethics: the Old and New Testaments speak with a surprisingly unified voice.
- This saying makes an interesting comparison with other sayings like Proverbs 12:23 that contrast the reticence of the wise man with the loquacity of the fool. Usually, such a contrast is an illustration of the wise // foolish axis with “speech” being the salient feature. Here in 10:18, however, the most salient feature is the subject of the speech – hatred – rather than speech itself.
- The pairing H-stem of יצא + dibbâ is also found in Numbers 13:32 and Numbers 14:36 & 37, where the idea is communicated is the public declaration of a report that may be technically factual but whose spin or meta-narrative is false (meaning evaluated as false by the narrator, not objectively). A similar pairing of H-stem of יצא + the phrase עליה שׁם רע (essentially “to publish against her a bad name”) is found in Deuteronomy 22:14 and 19. While the context dictates that the charges against the woman are baseless, I’m not sure this baseless-ness is communicated by the phrase itself. The charges indicated by the phrase are defamatory, and in the context they turn out to be false. The H-stem, being often causative, when used with יצא (“to go out”) means “to bring out”. The salient feature here is publicity. This is true also in Proverbs 10:18, where it is the contrast with the concealment of the liar of the fool’s handling of his hatred that makes him a fool. See also Strack (338).
- One wonders about the KJV’s decision to render this verse as a single sentence. Is it because of the lack of a “typical” contrast, or does it have to do with the final two words הוא כסיל? The inclusion of the personal pronoun calls out for an explanation. It is not technically required either for good grammar or for meter. Furthermore, a structure more thoroughly parallel with the first half of the verse is easily achieved with something like pî-kesel or leb-ʾiwwelet (“mouth of stupidity” or “heart of foolishness”). The KJV’s single sentence solution (if it does indeed have to do with this feature of the verse) does not seem warranted. Rather, the inclusion of the pronoun disrupts the flow of the second half of the verse and introduces an emphatic element. Strack’s German translation (338) captures this well: “Wer Hass birgt, ist ein Lügenmaul; und wer üble Nachrede aussprengt, der ist ein Thor.”
- If this disruption of the second half of the verse has any meaning, what could it be? Without native speakers of classical Hebrew, this kind of question is difficult to answer, but I would suggest that the emphasis introduced by the pronoun places the category “fool” below even the category “liar.” In other words, it seems plausible to me that there may be an implication of “at least the liar isn’t a fool!”
- Stylistically, then, both halves of the saying are unified in being best translated into English in a disrupted, sentence-fragmentary way.
- מְכַסֶּה – D-stem participle, masculine, singular from כסל (k-s-l). Translated “A concealer/one who conceals”
- שִׂנְאָה – Noun, feminine, singular, absolute of שִׂנְאָה (śīnǝʾâ). Translated “hatred”
- שִׂפְתֵי־ – Noun, feminine, dual, construct of שָׂפָה (śāpâ). Translated “lips of …”
- שָׁקֶר – Noun, masculine, singular, absolute of שָׁקֶר (šāqer). Translated “deceit/deceitfulness”
- וּמוֺצִא – H-stem participle, masculine, singular from יצא (y-ṣ-ʾ), with conjunction w. Literal “but the who brings out”, thus translated “publicizes, publishes, proclaims”
- דִבָּה – Noun, feminine, singular, absolute of דִבָּה (dibbâ). Translated “slander/defamation/evil report”
- הוּא – Personal pronoun, masculine, singular. Translated “he/this one”
- כְסִיל – Noun, masculine, singular, absolute of כְסִיל (kǝsîl). Translated “a fool”