Verse of the Day 11.18.17: Proverbs 31:26
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.1
פִּ֭יהָ פָּתְחָ֣ה בְחָכְמָ֑ה וְתֽוֹרַת־חֶ֝֗סֶד עַל־לְשׁוֹנָֽהּ׃2
Her mouth opens with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue
Her Mouth Opens (פָּתַח | pātaḥ)
The Hebrew word translated “open” is most often found next to the Hebrew word translated “mouth” (פֶּה | pě(h)). To open one’s mouth is frequently used as a figurative expression synonymous with “talk” or “speak.”3 Thus, other translations simply state that “She speaks…” (NIV, NLT). However, in the Hebrew , the verse begins with “mouth” and ends with “tongue” — bracketing the line with parallel terms concerning body parts involved in speaking. One could argue that the verse is written in a chiastic structure.4 I chose a more literal translation of the phrase to, hopefully, make this poetic device (hover over the previous footnote for more information on chiasm) more evident. In any case, to open one’s mouth is a “a Hebraism meaning to speak at length or with great solemnity or freedom.”5
Instruction (תּוֹרָה | tôrâ)
Tôrâ, which appears around 221 times in the Old Testament, is most frequently translated, “law.”6 However, the word also means “direction” or “instruction.”7 This is primarily what is meant by tôrâ in the Wisdom literature8 — Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc.9
Faithful (חֶסֶד | ḥesed)
Ḥesed is another important — and rich — Old Testament word, occurring around 246 times. It concerns “faithfulness, steadfast love, or more generally kindness” and “has a strongly relational aspect.”10 The KJV often translates ḥesed as “lovingkindness” (30x)11 and that is “not far from the fulness of meaning of the word.”12 Ḥesed connotes the fidelity and loyalty freely given in a committed relationship.
Tôrâ and ḥesed are in a construct chain. Construct chains entail at least two nouns — one construct and one absolute — being placed right next to each other. The construct noun(s) have altered spellings and are in a sort of possessive relationship with the (single) absolute noun (there is no “of” in Hebrew). The construct noun, in some way, belongs to the absolute noun (e.g., the king of Israel — “king” would be construct, “Israel” would be absolute, and the two nouns would be side by side).13
I say that to say, one could also translate this construct chain as “instruction of faithfulness” or “instruction of steadfast love.” The NRSV, ESV, and NASB opt for “teaching of kindness,” while the HCSB chooses “loving instruction.”
Context & Commentary
This line comes at the close of the book of Proverbs (read more about the context of Proverbs here). Proverbs opens with a father admonishing his son to follow his wise teachings (Prov 1:8). Also, in the prologue (Proverbs 1-9), Woman Wisdom (Prov 1:20-33, 8, 9:1-6) — as opposed to Woman Folly (Prov 9:13-18) — provides wise instruction.14
In the renowned Epilogue of the book (Prov 31:10-31), we read about the qualities of “a wife of noble character” (Prov. 31:10, NIV). This section is actually an acrostic poem.15 That is, each of the 22 lines begins with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (in order from ʾālep to tāw). Therefore, one could say the text is offering the A-Z on the matter — the whole picture.17
Part of the portrait of a virtuous wife features faithful, loving, and wise instruction. Such instruction is grounded in the wisdom found in the previous 30 chapters — and in the law of the LORD. The text does not specify, but this instruction is not necessarily limited to merely one’s children (e.g., Prov. 1:8. The word translated “instruction” is, again, tôrâ). “One cannot exclude the possibility that she also sets her husband right from time to time.”18 From time to time, I know I certainly need to be set right!
Memorize Proverbs 31:26 after watching a brief video tutorial demonstrating the How to Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes method below:
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Pr 31:26.
- Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Pr 31:26.
- Since pātaḥ is followed most frequently by peh“mouth,” it will be instructive to see what are the various nuances behind the phrase, “to open the mouth.” In some places this combination is simply a literary device to draw attention to what follows as in “Job opened his mouth,” (Job 3:1). This is comparable to the introduction in the NT to the Sermon on the Mount, “And Jesus opened his mouth,” (Mt 5:2) or “Then Peter opened his mouth and said” (Acts 10:34). Quite often it is simply a circumlocution for “talk,” or “speak.” “When she ‘opens’ her mouth, she does so wisely,” (Prov 31:26; cf. 24:7) Victor P. Hamilton, “1854 פָּתַח,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 743.
- A chiasm is, “A sequence of components repeated in inverted order is known as a chiasm (named for the crossover pattern of the Greek letter chi: X)…Any number of terms may comprise a chiasm, forming either a fully doubled scheme (e.g., A, B, C :: C′, B′, A′) or a scheme with an isolated center (e.g., A, B, C: D: C′, B′, A′).” And the term or terms in the middle of the chiasm (e.g., “wisdom” and “faithful instruction” in this case) are the focal point. P. Overland, “Chiasm,” ed. Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 54.
- Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15–31, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 532.
- “Law, teaching. ASV always “law,” RSV sometimes “teaching,” “instruction” and “decisions.” The word is used some 221 times.” John E. Hartley, “910 יָרָה,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 403.
- E.g., Dt 1:5 Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 435.
- W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 134.
- “The wisdom literature in the OT is that literature which has this special concept of wisdom as its central theme. It comprises principally the books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and may also be found in portions of the psalms and prophets.” Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Wisdom, Wisdom Literature,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2149.
- Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 211.
- Logos Bible Word Study Tool
- R. Laird Harris, “698 חסד,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 307.
- Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Grammar, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 95.
- “…readers of the book are implicitly called on to make a choice: will they dine with Woman Wisdom or with Woman Folly?” T. Longman III, “Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly,” ed. Peter Enns, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 912.
- David Atkinson, The Message of Proverbs: Wisdom for Life, ed. J. A. Motyer, John Stott, and Derek Tidball, The Bible Speaks Today (England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), 166.
- “Acrostic is the term commonly applied to a composition in verse in which the initial letters of successive lines or stanzas are intentionally chosen either to outline a deliberate message (e.g., “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior” [ichthys, “fish”] in Sib. Or. 8:218–250) or to observe a traditional downward sequence of letters of the alphabet (e.g., from ʾālep to tāw in Ps 145).”16C. J. Fantuzzo, “Acrostic,” ed. Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 1.
- Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 251.