Bite-Sized Exegesis – Proverbs 10:25
“When the storm wind has passed a wicked man is no more, but a righteous man is an everlasting foundation.”
כַּעֲבֹור סוּ֫פָה וְאֵין רָשָׁע וְצַדִּיק יְסֹוד עֹולָם׃
kaʿăbôr sûpâ wǝʾên rāšāʿ wǝṣaddîq yǝsôd ʿôlām
As the passing of a storm wind, and there is no wicked man, but a righteous man is an everlasting foundation
- Another asymmetrical 4-3 rhythmic structure (the same since v. 19).
- Phonetically, this mashal hints at a chiastic structure.
- The first and last words derive from a I-ע root and contain an unchangeably long waw vowel (cholem waw; second syllable in the former, first syllable in the latter)
- The second and second-to-last words derive from a I-ס root and also contain an unchangeably long waw vowel (shureq in the former, cholem waw in the latter; first syllable in the former, second syllable in the latter – reversed from the first word pair; both may also be feminine nouns, if the latter is; see parsing below)
- The third and third-to-last words both start with an identical conjunction waw and contain an unchangeably long yod vowel (tsere yod in the former, hireq yod in the latter)
- The middle word, rāšāʿ, has no phonetic parallel
- The first word kaʿăbôr is an unusual plene (full) spelling of a G-stem infinitive construct. Typically, the cholem-waw (i.e., with mater lectionis) is characteristic of the infinitive absolute, while the infinitive construct is spelled with a simple long vowel (i.e., cholem). It must be an infinitive construct for two reasons: (1) the reduced vowel under the first consonant; (2) the prefixed preposition (it happens rarely with an infinitive absolute, and in these cases it may be the result of a mistake or corruption; see Joüon-Muraoka § 123c – “It is … anomalous for an inf. abs. to be governed by a preposition”).
- The G-stem infinitive construct of ʿābār with prefix k occurs only twice in the Hebrew Bible: once here with plene spelling, and once in 1 Kings 18:29 with the shorter, defectiva spelling (i.e., kaʿăbōr). This particular piece of information is conveniently contained in the masorah parva and magna, a reminder of why it is useful to learn how to use all the parts of the BHS and not just the critical apparatus.
- Preposition k before an infinitive with temporal meaning differs from preposition b with temporal meaning in their relation to the temporal event. Preposition b will tend to situate text time within the time of the infinitive (while the inf. is occurring), whereas preposition k (which is far less common) will tend to situate text time at the end of the time of the infinitive (as soon as the inf. has occurred). So here, baʿăbôr would more naturally mean “while it is passing” whereas what we have here, kaʿăbôr, means “at the passing” or “once it has passed”.
- It is tempting to try to interpret this k as a comparative rather than as a temporal. This is, in fact, how the Syriac understands it. What it would mean, then, is “as the passing of a storm wind, the wicked one is no more.” I am concerned, however, about the conjunction w in front of ʾên (“and there is not”) and what to do with it, when the simplest interpretation is sequence (“the storm wind passes and the wicked one is no more”). Also, as Toy (216) points out, one would expect kēn in front of the thing being compared to the passing storm wind (k = “as” … kēn = “so”).
- Perhaps we could read wǝʾên as belonging with kaʿăbôr sûpâ (“as a storm wind passes and is not”) and a wicked person being compared to the whole thing (so “A wicked person is like a storm wind that passes and then is not”). In this case, we are still lacking the kēn that we would expect. Moreover, while this is not a deal-breaker, the Masoretic vowel pointing and accentuation do not support this division of the clause:
- The vowel pointing of wǝʾên makes this a construct form that needs a following absolute form. We would have to emend the vowel pointing to wǝʾayin to make it absolute and unconnected to the following rāšāʿ
- The stronger conjunctive accent is on wǝʾên rather than on sûpâ, indicating that wǝʾên should be read with what comes after
- The absence of kēn is not completely decisive here. While it is the typical word used to introduce the apodosis of a comparative clause (in prose and poetry), the conjunction w is on rare occasions used in this manner (Ex 16:34 and Nu 1:19; cf. Joüon-Muraoka §174b).
- It is possible, then, to make an argument for a minority reading of the first clause: “Like the passing of a storm wind, and the wicked one is not.”
- The most natural interpretation of the conjunction w in wǝʾên, however, is as a waw of apodosis in a temporal clause (Joüon-Muraoka §176f). This is mutually supportive with the fact that the most natural interpretation of kaʿăbôr is as introducing the protasis of a temporal clause. This is its function in its other occurrence in 1 Kings 18:29 (“And it came about when noon had passed …”). We also see this kind of construction in contexts such as Genesis 27:34 (preposition k with inf. con. and the conj. w introducing the temporal apodosis – “When Esau heard the words of his father, then he cried out with a great and bitter cry …”.
- Therefore, while I find the comparative interpretation suggested by the Syriac interesting and perhaps worth exploring theologically, I am, nevertheless, begrudgingly persuaded by the consensus reading here. The most natural reading both of the preposition k and the conjunction w points in this direction, and the Masoretic accentuation supports it. Generally, the simpler of two options is the better one. So the best translation of the first clause is, “When the storm wind has passed, then the wicked one is not.”
- A recurring theme not only in Proverbs but throughout the Bible is the endurance of the righteous and transience of the wicked. Psalm 1, for example, likens the righteous to a tree planted by a flowing river which always bears fruit and never withers, whereas the wicked are chaff driven by the wind. The primary contrast is duration, but there is also a contrast of usefulness: the righteous man who is like a tree not only endures in a single spot and continues to live, but he produces good fruit – he has an enduring positive effect on those around him. The wicked man, however, is likened to the waste product of the grain harvest. Not only does it blow away in the wind and cease to have substance, but it is the part of the plant that really did not have any use, anyway.
- Psalm 1 and numerous sayings in Proverbs, just in chapter 10, show us that there is an inherent connectedness between durability and usefulness. Proverbs 10:7 says, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the reputation of the wicked will rot.” The righteous will be remembered, and that memory is a blessing to their community. The wicked, on the other hand, will be forgotten, and everyone is pretty much glad to see them go. Proverbs 10:14 says, “The wise, they store up knowledge, but the mouth of the fool is imminent destruction.” The wise create storehouses for a rainy day, not of money or food but of knowledge. Someday, this knowledge will come in handy. The fool, on the other hand, stores nothing up, utters everything he knows, and is just waiting to be found useless. We can see this same dynamic interplay between durability and usefulness at work in Proverbs 10:25, as well, especially when we deal playfully with the text and consider possible alternative translations of its first clause.
- What this saying tells us is that the storm wind comes on both the wicked and righteous, but its effects on the two are vastly different.
- This “storm wind” we are talking about seems, from its usage and etymology, to be a sudden and terrifying storm wind, something that typically brings destruction, perhaps a cyclone or a Mediterranean hurricane. In Proverbs 10:25, the word is probably used metaphorically. It is talking about disaster: natural disaster, military invasion, famine, or economic collapse.
- When disaster comes, this proverb says, the wicked do not endure it. They are swept away by disaster along with any trace of them or their work.
- One might object that many a wicked person has endured economic hardship with the help of ill-gotten gain, using money or resources they unethically acquired from others less powerful or less well connected. But they do tend, in the end, to be found out, or else their ill gotten wealth destroys them in some other way. One of the main reasons for this is that a life built on wickedness tends to be this gigantic balancing act of lies and deceptions and manipulations. While things built honestly stand on their own, something built dishonestly requires continual maintenance to keep up the appearance of everything being okay. This is hard enough to do when circumstances are congenial. When disaster comes, it becomes impossible.
- On the other hand, the second clause of Proverbs 10:25 tells us that once the storm wind has passed, the righteous person remains an everlasting foundation. Disaster hits everyone. Everyone suffered from a financial crisis. When a hurricane hits, the righteous and the wicked experience it alike. But the righteous endure it and remain just as useful after it as before it. Why? Because their lives are built honestly rather than on lies and manipulation. The life built righteously may suffer some loss during disaster, but it isn’t swept away. The foundation remains.
- The alternate translation mentioned above is also theologically suggestive. Taking the first clause as a comparative, the wicked man is not being destroyed by a storm wind, he is a storm wind. Here the wicked person is the one that brings destruction. This translation views the wicked person as an oppressor, someone in a position of authority who bullies and manipulates. But this proverb says that wicked people only have a short time to be destructive and threatening. Their wickedness is self-destructive. The more a wicked person acts wickedly, the more elaborate and unbalanced the balancing act that is their life becomes. At some point, it becomes unmaintainable and exhausts itself. The life built on wickedness suddenly comes crashing down and brings destruction with it. But in the end, the wicked person is no more. The life they built on lies is gone.
- If the public effect of the wicked person is destruction both in their active and self-destructive states, the public effect of the righteous person is construction. The righteous person is a cornerstone for a community, someone that can be relied upon, someone who helps others build their lives. And their work in building a community isn’t taken away when they move on or die because they have invested in people rather than in things, and in others rather than in themselves. They are an everlasting foundation both in life and in death.
- There is certainly a comparison to be drawn with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:24-27. There are multiple points of contact, as well as some interesting differences.
- Points of contact include: two kinds of people, the storm, and the foundation
- Differences are, first, that Jesus talks about the wise man first then the foolish man, rather than the wicked man first. Second, he talks about wise and foolish rather than righteous and unrighteous. Third, the wise individual is someone who builds on a good foundation rather than is a good foundation.
- In the Christian evolution of the theological language of the Bible, it became not entirely acceptable to talk about individuals as righteous or unrighteous in their own power. Jesus is the righteous one who declares the believer righteous and makes the believer righteous through the Holy Spirit. To follow Jesus is the wise thing to do, and it will make one righteous. This in part may explain the focus on “wise” and “foolish” versus “righteous” and “wicked”.
- The Christo-centric nature of Christian virtue also can explain the transformation of the “foundation” element from something that is identified with the righteous individual to something (i.e., Christ) on which a wise individual builds. The wise individual endures the storm wind not because he is a righteous, everlasting foundation, but because wisdom leads him to build his life on a righteous, everlasting foundation, that is Christ.
- Proverbs 10:25 also has strong points of contact with Proverbs 1:20-33 (as well as, to a lesser extent, other parts of the prologue chapters), especially 1:27, where the word for “storm wind” (sûpâ) occurs.
- It is telling that Proverbs 1:26, the immediately preceding verse, is similarly thematically connected to Proverbs 10:24, the verse that immediately precedes today’s verse. In other words, this suggests that, perhaps, 10:26-27 should be read as a couplet. I don’t see any phonetic connections, but these two verses certainly read well together
- The first clause in each is grammatically complex (consisting of two sub-phrases) and concerns disaster coming on the wicked. The second clause in each is grammatically simple (one phrase each) and relates an aspect of the contrasting fate of the righteous: in the former, righteous receive their desire; in the latter, they endure the storm wind that destroyed the wicked.
- כַּעֲבֹור – G-stem infinitive construct of עָבָר (rare plene spelling) with preposition k. Translated “When it has passed” or “As soon as it passes”
- סוּ֫פָה – Noun, feminine, singular, absolute of סוּפָה (apparently pausal emphasis on the penultimate syllable). Translated “a storm wind”
- וְאֵין – Particle of negation, construct of אַ֫יִן with conjunction w. Translated “then there is not”
- רָשָׁע – Substantive adjective, masculine, singular, absolute of רָשָׁע. Translated “a wicked person”
- וְצַדִּיק – Substantive adjective, masculine, singular, absolute of צַדִּיק with conjunction w. Translated “but a righteous person”
- יְסֹוד – Noun, feminine (could be masc.; no way to tell here; elsewhere it is sometimes m., sometimes f.), singular, construct of יְסֹוד. Translated “a foundation of”
- עֹולָם – Noun, masculine, singular, absolute of עֹולָם. Translated “continuous existence” or adjectivally as “everlasting”